Bunkers and Ballers

Find the buildings of the late Denys Lasdun too flowery?  The work of the Smithsons not brutal enough?  Then Berlin has just the thing for you.

A large number of the capital’s WWII bunkers survive intact. But they’re not underground, or hidden away in woods on the outskirts of the city.  One is a private gallery, another integrated into a school.  They’re essentially just too big and solidly constructed to demolish without vibrating the rest of Berlin to ruins (they were built to survive bombs after all) so they just remain where they are.

This one, on Pallasstrasse, doesn’t appear to be used for anything much.  Instead, a housing block was built to span over it;  responding to the sheer scale of the bunker with a piece of, er, robust design on an even bigger scale.  Which, if nothing else, is terribly impressive.  And the flats have good views.

Hang on, it’s gone…

No, there it is.  It’s hiding behind those trees.

Some impressive engineering to span the bunker without bearing any load directly onto it.  On the left you can see the base of a cantilevered staircase, suspended several stories up.

Note added 12 feb 09 – was cycling past recently and there’s a clear view of the graffiti on the roadside elevation of the bunker, depicting, I guess, a postcard of the ruined state of the place in 1945:

Anyway, back to the original post…

Ironically, 100m up the road is a sports hall complex by Hinrich & Inker Baller, more recent than their IBA project on Fraenkelufer, and even more whimsical. There’s a slightly unsettling feel of ‘fantasy grotto’ about the building, with ts various elements occasionally glimpsed through foliage, making it difficult to represent photographically.  It’s part of a suite of buildings on Winterfeldtplatz, including landscaping and street furniture around the market, which I’ve also covered previously.  It seems ludicrously overworked, particularly in a city as frequently grimy and tough as Berlin.  More comfortable in a wealthy Parisian neighbourhood perhaps?

The sports hall itself, well concealed, and competing with the stuff of the street:

The best time to see and understand the sportshall element is perhaps at night, when the brightly lit interior shines more clearly through the surrounding whimsy.  And looks quite impressive.

More images of both at my own  Flickr, plus some better ones by Pete Shacky here, and even more at an interesting site called Belle Epoque, here (has lots of Baller stuff).


Destruction at Lützowplatz

Here are the reasons I can think of to demolish a building which is only 20 years old:

1. It was built to be temporary

2. It was an unmitigated disaster on technical grounds (ceilings too low to stand up, they forgot the foundations/roof/stairs etc)

3. Something unspeakably horrible happened there (and even then demolition is highly debatable)

O M Ungers’ housing on Lützowplatz, completed in 1984 as part of the International Bauasutelling, is none of the above. Apparently well liked by its residents, who fought a legal campaign against demolition, it’s to be replaced by a predictable mix of office space, luxury flats and a hotel.  Unger’s trademark rectilinear facade, based as always around squares and cubes, is not to everyone’s taste. But here I think it works well, given the difficult setting of a long frontage against a busy road.

But as is often the case with Berlin’s IBA projects, a strong, defensive facade protects (sorry, protected) inner courtyards and open spaces where the larger froms breakdown into freestanding townhouse blocks and tiers of balconies.

As of today (31st October) the front block is still occupied above the ground floor, but I assume these will be moving shortly. So from the front all still appears well. But round the back…

The individual townhouses are gone, and the two ‘bookend’ blocks onto the side streets at either end of the site are coming down fast.

As far as I’m aware it’s the first demolition of an IBA Neubau project (many of the Altbau projects have been altered, but often this was the plan). Cities have to change to live, but I find this particular example unnecessary and an act of architectural vandalism.

A bit of useful info here, more of my images here.

Die Temporäre Kunsthalle ist geöffnet!

A slightly ironic title, as the opening of this temporary building has been an extended affair: the ground breaking ceremony, the opening of the outside of the building (yes, the logic defeats me too) and finally, last night, the opening of the inside of the building, with the first part of Candice Breitz‘ video installations.

The mayor was there at the ground breaking and at last night’s bash – I don’t know if he was at the ‘opening of the outside’ as I didn’t go (I wasn’t sure how you could open just the outside of a building). Anyway, that’s my last mention of the mayor, as he hardly needs my single grain of publicity on his expansive media beach.

Well worth a trip though. You can’t miss it – it’s the enormous blue and white thing near the Berliner Dom, pictured below, the building itself designed by Adolf Krischanitz.

I’m a bit of a fan of Breitz as well.  Of her initial three pieces here, Working Class Hero is the best (in my view), featuring twenty-five larger-than-life-size faces singing along in unison to unheard (by us) John Lennon album.  There’s often a gap, presumably for an instrumental part of the song – the momentary silence and the wait for them to sing again is oddly unsettling.  The other ones follow the same idea; Queen (Madonna) and King (yep, Michael Jackson).

Worth a visit to that whole area in fact – the huge demolition site of the former Palast der Republik (across the road from the Berliner Dom on Unter den Linden). It’s maybe not a place you’d go regularly if you live in Berlin, as it’s something of a tourist ground zero. But the day-by-day disappearance of the Palast, with only a shrinking number of its vast concrete stair towers remaining (as at yesterday), is a fascinating site.

Image courtesy of IsarSteve – I love the way the shadow of the Fernseturm falls on the Park Inn hotel. (I say ‘courtesy’ – I haven’t actually asked him, but I’m hoping he won’t mind.)  A view that will eventually be obscured by the construction of the Humboldt Forum (I refuse to use the term ‘reconstruction of the Schloss).

The Temporäre Kunsthalle, by the way, has a surprisingly good architecture section in its bookshop. I pored over it for a while, until the assistant started glaring at me due to the way I was balancing a glass of wine precariously close to a weighty tome about O M Ungers.

See earlier post on the Kunsthalle, which includes my rant about the planned Humboldt Forum.

Architecture in Berlin (and Porto)

The Iberian peninsula has been at the cutting edge of all things architectural for a while now, but despite this, it also seems to be cornering the market in debating architecture elsewhere.

“Berlin: Critical Reconstruction” is a conference being held 4th – 8th November in Porto, Portugal (if only there was this level of interest here in Berlin…).  It describes itself as

“…providing a forum for debate on the history of architecture and urbanism in the 20th century, by means of a critical reflection on the mythical urban experience of Berlin. The event’s subtitle, ‘Critical Reconstruction’ allows for two interpretations – a direct allusion to the urban planning method developed by the architect Josef Paul Kleihues in the eighties, during the Internationale Bauausstellung – IBA; and the desire to critically reconstruct Berlin, to return to its history, its dilemmas, its controversies, reassessing and debating the results of this method.”

The ‘big day’ is saturday 8th, when speakers will include Álvaro Siza Vieira himself, recent RIBA gold medal winner (not to mention the Pritzker a while back) and a man with previous form here in Berlin of course.

So highly recommended if you’re in Porto/Portugal, or are one of those glamorous people able to shoot off to conferences around the world as the mood takes you.




No business like Schau-business.

About a year ago I visited the city of Wroclaw in Poland, which as everyone knows (I didn’t) used to be called Breslau, and was the capital of the German province of Silesia*.

A friend took me to see the Jahrhunderthalle, a vast concrete framed auditorium opened in 1913, and now known as the Centennial Hall.

Kaiser Wilhelm II turned up to attend part of the celebrations there that year, but at the last moment refused to go in, partly because he didn’t like the ‘socialist’ theme of the earlier opening event, but it was thought also because he didn’t like the unadorned ‘modern’ design, which failed to pay deference to the monarchy. Ring any bells, in relation to a current British Prince?

I knew nothing about it all this at the time, but cut to a year later, and I’m halfway through a rather excellent book called German Architecture for a Mass Audience. The author sets out an alternative view of the history of 20th century german architecture; looking at how key buildings were built for a new audience – ‘the masses’ – as opposed to a middle or upper class elite. Seen from this angle, a theme runs from early modernism and expressionism, through, gulp, the architecture of the Third Reich, and on through postwar modernism, taking in religious, commercial and secular public buildings along the way. In short, ithe book proposes that “…the founding moment of high modern German architecture cannot be detached from the mass culture in which it was a willing partipant.”

Anyway, two buildings discussed in detail are the Jahrhunderthalle, and Hans Poelzig’s Grosses Schauspielhaus in Berlin, the loss of which I’ve previously mourned.

On the face of it, the two buildings have nothing in common. The first, a vast exposed concrete arched structure celebrating the limits of engineering, by Max Berg, in Breslau.

The second, a highly decorated expressionist reworking of an existing building, heavily reliant on lighting to achieve its interior effect, built a few years later by Hans Poelzig, in Berlin.

However, Poelzig was responsible for designing every other aspect of the celebrations surrounding Berg’s hall, including buildings and landscaping, and had himself designed an early reinforced concrete building in Breslau two years previously, which still stands:

Also, Poelzig’s client for the Grosses Schauspielhaus was Max Reinhardt, a theatre impresario who had organised the Breslau pageant. It’s also worth remembering that a world war had occurred between the building of the two; by necessity, the Schauspielhaus had to rely on the use of plaster decoration and clever use of light.

Most annoyingly, at the time I visited I knew nothing of either the Wroclaw Poelzig building, or that a rare surviving department store by Erich Mendelsohn also survives there, adding another Berlin/Wroclaw connection.

By the way, I’m indebted for the above image and for the interior shot of the Jahrhunderthaalle to wouterschenk on Flickr.


I’m well aware of the sensitivity of throwing around phrases like ‘used to be in Germany’ in this complex historical context. To be more accurate, it was a part of the Germanic state of Prussia, a fuller explanation available here, or better still, consult a professional historian.

The Britz ‘Horseshoe’ Estate, Bruno Taut, Martin Wagner

Another sunny day, and a trip to one of city’s Pioneering Modernist Works. I phrase it like this, because I have a list of all the buildings and places I should see, but don’t often make the effort, because I come across so many other interesting things just wandering randomly through odd parts of the city.

Anyway, the Britz estate was built to designs by Bruno Taut (with a block by Martin Wagner), between 1925 and 1933, and is known as ‘the horseshoe estate’ (Hufeisensiedlung) due to the horseshoe-shaped design of the central block. A good summary on the Berlin.de page here, and a page from the always-handy Housing Prototypes here.

I took quite a few images, all in a Flickr set here.

Like much early modernist design, you’re struck by how, well, very modern the buildings seem, I guess in part because of so much later modernist pastiche. But what surprised me was that actually much of the architecture, interesting though it is, is of secondary importance to the kind of place the Britz estate is. The overall impression I got was a much stronger connection with the English Arts & Crafts and Garden City movements than with pioneering German modernism, despite how much we’re taught about the links between the two.

Much as I knew I should be looking at this sort of thing

…I was equally fascinated by this other sort of thing:

– by the slightly mysterious maze of pathways between the private gardens. Maybe it’s a sense of nostalgia; I can imagine what it must be like to play here as a kid (unlike the UK, children are still allowed out in Germany, without the security of a Humvee or other military vehicle).

Having said that, I didn’t really see anyone much that friday morning, child or adult.

Although the architectural style on the Horseshoe estate side was markedly different from those across the street, the mood seemed quite the same. Peaceful, quiet, neatly trimmed gardens; an old fashioned, well established working class neighbourhood.

One side:

and the other:

Having read what a shame it was that many of the building’s original detailing had been lost, I couldn’t find any evidence. There seemed to be quite strong enforcement of window replacement etc, including colours, which in the case of the windows are clearly important on some of the low rise block designs, where all frames have identical De Stijl-like designs.

These particular houses are arranged in terraces with access via their southern orientated gardens. You can therefore walk along pathways giving access to the gardens/houses on one side, and look into the gloomier rear of the houses in the next row. I noticed several were empty or being refurbished; in the end property, recently redone, were clear signs of a middle class design-aware type moving in, their attempt to use period furniture strangely incongrous (a good commentary on that sort of thing here, by the by).

An almost rural feel within the horseshoe itself, designed around a pre-existing pond, apparently. I stood and watched as a lone heron took off from the water and settled in a nearby tree.

The main entrance route to the horseshoe, which has the feel of an abandoned Olympic stadium structure:

And what I’m guessing is the row of Martin Wagner-designed houses:

Anyway, tempting as it is to witter on like someone showing you their holiday slides, I’ve put the rest here.

Post-blog note:

Of course, this is an rather superficial commentary, based entirely on my personal response to the place. If this was a proper blog, I would have explained the background; that to understand the ideas behind the estate, you have to understand that its first residents would have largely moved from utterly squalid, overcrowded conditions, have fought through a disastrous war, crippling inflation and economic collapse, and that such a place could have seemed like heaven on earth in a place a unstable as Weimar Germany. I also make no comment on the appeal of the emerging ideas of modernism and how well they fitted with the need for cheap construction by local housing authorities, or attempt to reconcile Bruno Taut’s outlandish theorising at the time with the calmness and practicality of his housing designs.

Which all goes to show that if you really want to know about something, best to get hold of a good book about it.

An interesting article here about the protection of Berlin’s modernist estates, by the way.