Various things.

Most of my time these days is running a bakery and cafe (those who know me know this has taken up… quite a lot of life recently).

Anyway, some things to do / see / things I have going on…

Firstly, this looks really good, starting this weekend, at Kraftwerk Mitte, close to the DAZ and sort-of part of the same power station complex that houses Tresor.  I think I might go along to the opening on Friday night, let me know if you fancy it and we’ll meet up.  Not sure about the English version of the title – “REALSTADT: Wishes Knocking on Reality’s Doors” (?!) and can’t grasp the numbers, but it describes itself thus:

“The selection of 250 architectural and urban models and 65 exemplary projects is based on nationwide calls including the competition «National Prize for Integrated Urban Development and Baukultur». Projects were submitted by municipalities, architectural practices, universities, initiatives and individuals. In the exhibition at Kraftwerk Mitte the projects from all over Germany are fused into a temporary city, where Bremen and Aachen, Görlitz and Ulm find themselves next to each other.”

What else? Oh yes, a couple of weeks back I went on a manic but very interesting tour of the Saxony-Anhalt IBA 2010, based around 19 cities, each with its own theme and approach.  This was less about ‘big architectural statements’ (in fact, one of the aims was to avoid these) and more about how to do something positive with the fact that these cities are shrinking.  It’s been developed over the last ten years by the Bauhaus Foundation Dessau, (Dessau-Roßlau is included) and focuses on a different series of projects within each city/town.

(Photo above looks like a brochure, but was just a random snap, oddly).

I was first drawn toward this subject a couple of years ago, via the Shrinking Cities project and exhibition.  The idea of cities shrinking on any sort of significant scale is something that feels like an alien concept, but in fact one in four cities and towns in the world are losing population.  By the middle of this century, when the global population begins to fall in absolute terms, it’s going to be an issue everywhere.  The demographics of all this fascinate me, and I need to write seriously about the whole thing soon.

Anyway, moving on…

Some images of the thing they call the Schwerbelastungskörper (my current favourite german word), which translates here as ‘Heavy Load-Bearing Body’, which says it all really.

(My wife waving while I took the photo – it makes us look like alien lifeforms.)

It stands as an unintentially profound monument to the sheer pompous ambition of the Third Reich; essentially a massive lump of concrete built to test the ability of Berlin’s marshy ground to take the massive weight of Hitler & Speer’s colossal but massively ugly design for a triumphal arch, as part of their plan to rebuild Berlin as Germania.

The planned arch would have stood at the end of a triumphal parade route, the ‘North-South Axis’ that ran up to the Great Dome, which would have straddled the Spree to the north of the Reichstag.  When I first spotted the Schwerbelastungskörper a while back, I wondered what it was doing way out near tempelhof airport.  It was then that the sheer scale of the plans hit me.  If you stand on the viewing platform that places you just above the top of this vast piece of concrete, you can look north and try and imagine a road wider than several city blocks, ending in a dome larger than, well, all sorts of huge buildings stacked on top of eachother.

It’s open two or three days a week, but also as part of  the ‘The Tag des Offenen Denkmals’ the other weekend.  I normally find the problem such ‘open house’ days, is that there’s such an overwhelming amount to see for archi minded folk such as us, that you end up feeling exhausted before it’s begun, and see none of it.  I then go on to console myself with the thought that I’ll use that year’s catalogue of all the buildings to organise small or private tours at other times of year.  Which then happen infrequently.

Anyway, this year bagan the same way, with the added confusion of this year’s Berlin Festival at Tempelhof, which, as most Berliners will know, was something of a disaster, being closed early on the first night by the police (overcrowding was blamed, over-zealous security following the Love Parade tragedy the more likely reason) and the remaining acts being compressed into a few hours on the following afternoon.  So I gave up on the second day, and went to see the Schwerbelastungskörper, which is nearby.

Right, then I was going to write about some of the many Berlin works of Hans Heinrich Müller, the architect who built so many of those fantastic brick power and transformer stations around Berlin.  But I’m too tired now, so will save this for another day.  Except to say that the first one I saw is right next to the block I live in, on the Landwehrkanal in Kreuzberg, and is fantastic.

(Above photo taken in the snow in Jan 09 – the building just to the right has been replaced with something horrible, which I also need to include in a blog post soon).

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I know what I did last summer.

I may have mentioned previously (at least twelve times) how I’m not getting out much lately to look at architecty things.  So in order to have something to blog about, I thought I’d employ some nostalgia.   Moments from the tale end of this summer in fact, when I was working at the Art Forum Berlin up at the Messehalle.  It’s part of that site which also includes the immense 1970s bulk of the ICC (International Conference Centre) as well as the almost-certainly-doomed Deutschlandhalle.

La la la, I’m putting  a line in here as the site design won’t allow me to space out the images to avoid visual confusion.  So no need need to read this bit.

Not knowing the building, I’d imagined that I’d be stuck manning a stand in some dismal artificially lit exhibition cavern, and have a rubbish time.  It turned out not; although the front of the ICC is all imposing overblown fascism, although you can’t help being grudgingly impressed by the entrance hall as the sunlight floods from high above – but carry on through to the back section (the restaurant area, usually my first port of call at any trade fair) and you suddenly find yourself in endearing postwar light-touch modernism.  To me it had the feel of London’s South Bank during the Festival of Britain (I hadn’t been born at the time – it was 1951 – but I’ve looked at lots of pictures, and my dad used to bore regularly on the subject when I was a teenager).  Anyway, it’s nice isn’t it?

I haven’t tried very hard, but haven’t found any information about the back of the building.  1950s?  1960s?  Let me know if you know!

Also, straight across the road, if you’re out and about in that direction, is Hans Poelzig’s Haus des Rundfunks* (House of Radio).  Not to be missed, although I only had time for a jog round during a quick lunch break, hence not many photos of it on my Flickr.

*It’s Rundfunks with an ‘s’ by the way, because it’s in the Genitiv (Possessive) case.  Every second building in Berlin is a grammar test…

And finally, (from that particular jaunt), as you come out of the nearest U-Bahn up at Kaiserdamm, you can see a Hans Scharoun housing block across the road.  I recognised it as probably Scharoun, but guessed it as 1950s, maybe 1960s.  Actually, it’s 1928-1929.  Amazing really.

Was just browsing through my photos from ’09, and have tonnes of this sort of stuff to blog, so won’t actually have to go outside again until spring.  Luckily, thanks to the gift of Christmas, I have a supply of chocolate that will last until May.  Happy New Year!

I took all the above photos by the way, and license them under a Creative Commons license, so you’re welcome to use them for non-commercial purposes (unlikely they’d be good enough for anything else…) but do credit me/my blog if you do use them on your own blogs/dissertations/Wikipedia etc (you know who you are!)

Good old days?

I’m possibly the last person to know about this (wouldn’t be the first time) but last year the Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive) put around 100,000 images onto Wikimedia commons, for us all to wonder at.  A link here into the page giving an overview by year (this was initially a bit tricky to find, I thought).

I’ve picked out a few images (below) which all feature architecture (since this is an architecture blog), but actually the buildings are perhaps the least fascinating element. So far I’ve only skimmed through 1919 to 1939, but the overriding impression of utter chaos, civil unrest and the rising tide of Fascism is disturbing, to say the least.

Photography is of course a self selective process, or at least used to be in pre-digital times, so is perhaps as much a record here of what was considered important then. Add to this the not inconsiderable factor of being filtered through the ‘random survival’ of time – war destruction, political repression, accidental loss.  I sometimes wonder whether in a few hundred years absolutely every digital image will survive (perhaps recorded on a small chip that can be fitted in your ear, say) or whether absolutely every digital image will be lost.  Or at least unreadable. Much like Betamax videos.

Mendelsohn’s Mossehaus, 1923:

The Schloss, 1919, I guess at the conclusion of the revolution:

Einsteinturm, 1928

The Europahaus, 1931:

Poelzig’s Babylon Kino, under construction, 1929:

Living with your car? Surely a bad idea…

Potsdamerplatz, 1932:

(A comment left by Tamar, which I’ve moved up here:

The Potsdamer Platz picture with the ads is very interesting:
“Vote Hitler” (on the two signs under “Chlorodont, White Teeth”) and all of that above a confectionery (Conditorei). This is the poster in the middle:
“Schluß jetzt, wir wählen Hitler!” (we had enough! we vote for Hitler)

Next to Hitler, “Vote for a Person, not for a Party”, and since everything is so symbolic in this picture, you can also see a sign for “vegetarische Kueche”

The same building, I would imagine few month before that, with film posters – link).

The Reichstag, before fire, bombing, abandonment, reconstruction, reuse, reunification, reconstruction (again), and the return of the parliament:

Mendelsohns Columbashaus, Potsdamerplatz, with campaign image of Hindenberg.  Later to be war damaged, then demolished:

Oberbaum Brucke, 1932 (blocked by the wall during the city’s partition, rebuilt in the 1990s by Santiago Calatrava)

The morning of the Reichstag fire:

Construction of the Reich Aviation Ministry (still standing, next door to the Topography of Terror site)

Enough already.  I could keep going for hours, but will stop here. Perhaps I’ll do a proper trawl through at some point (it’s only 100,000) and make sure I have the best ones…

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.

*Footnote

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.

Erich Mendelsohn: the Mossehaus & the Metalworkers Union Building

Also see other post for Mendelsohn’s Einsteinturm in Potsdam, just outside Berlin.

Today we’re pretty used to the idea of putting modernist (usually high-tech) elements into buildings from previous eras; Foster at the Reichstag, I M Pei at the Deutsche Historical Museum, to name a couple of Berlin examples.

But in the early twentieth century the idea would have been almost unheard of. So how groundbreaking must Mendelsohn’s Mossehaus have been?

The original building of 1900-1903, by Cremer & Wolffenstein, was a neoclassical sandstone affair, the corner of which was badly damaged by post first world war rioting (it must have been pretty extreme rioting, but such were the conditions in Germany at the time, I guess).

Mendelsohn retained most of the building’s main facades, but completely rebuilt the corner, and added two/three additional stories, in a totally original, streamlined expressionist style.

What was also radical for its time was the focus on the corner of the building, seen by Mendelsohn as the focus of movement; at the junction of streets, as opposed to a ‘static’ entrance in the middle of a facade.

Oddly, section of ‘original’ facade on the southern elevation which should date from 1903 has been replaced by a recent, bland, office curtain wall. Perhaps this part was lost in WWII and the whole elevation rebuilt, including the Mendelsohn additional stories?

Elevation on Jerusalemer Strasse

Elevation on Schützenstrasse – more recent, but why?

Following the Einsteinturm, (see other post on this) Mendelsohn became hugely successful, running Germany’s largest architectural practice between the wars, with commissions including department stores in Stuttgart, Chemnitz and Berlin (Potsdamer Platz, demolished after the war).

It’s interesting that the Mossehaus was Mendelsohn’s first major commission following the Einsteinturm, and the expressionist ideas are evident. But by the time he was forced to flee Germany in the 1930s (he was a Jewish, successful, modernist architect, so not exactly popular with the Third Reich) he was producing buildings that we would recognise as entirely modernist. The Metal Workers Union building (Industriegewerkschaft Metall), at the southern end of Alte Jakobstrasse, is one of these.

Unlike the Mossehaus, which is currently occupied by Total, who don’t like you even peering into the entrance area, reception staff at the Union building allow access to the entrance area and main staircase (if you ask nicely).

Annoyingly, the staircase was completely scaffolded when I went; I’ll drop in again soon and replace the images with better ones.

The original commission was for a substantially larger building over two blocks, linked by a bridge; someone at Manchester Uni has done a quite cool video for the building.

The building has just been completely refurbished, and is classic ‘streamline moderne’ – long, long brass handrails, strip windows and expanses of white render. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lobby bears a striking resemblance to the interiors of his pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea – Mendelsohn’s only major building in England. The spiral staircase, with its sweeping handrails and vertical lighting system suspended throughout its height, seems near identical.

staircase.jpg Bexhill

And then Berlin…

Rear elevation, which fittingly enough looks out over Libeskind’s Jewish museum directly to the north.

Alte Jakobstrasse elevation. An unsettling image on show in the atrium shows the Union symbol replaced with a swastika in the same circle design during the 1930s.

Oddly, the atrium information boards also describe Mendelsohn’s Bexhill pavilion erroneously as being in Bexley (a part of south east London, in which it definitely isn’t).

Erich Mendelsohn and the Einsteinturm

See also post on two other Mendelsohn buildings in Berlin – the Mossehaus and the Metalworkers Union building, here.

When you actually see them ‘in the flesh’ for the first time, some seminal modern buildings are a disappointment. Buildings hardly ever look like they do in photos, and the sun’s not always shining (especially here in Berlin).

Not so with the Einsteinturm (Einstein tower), probably the best known work by architect Erich Mendelsohn. The tower, actually a solar observatory, forms part of a cluster of other observatories and related research buildings on a wooded hill on the edge of Potsdam. The Mendelsohn building is the last one you reach, after passing the various much larger Victorian structures (Wilhelmisch, in Germany?). When you finally catch site of it, it seems tiny; an effect magnified by the fact that it’s lower down the hill, and that the lowest level is set into the ground. Small but perfectly formed though. It’s as if the rest of the site was built for the use of ‘great men of science’ and the Einsteinturm for tiny fairy folk.

Einstein tower

The telescope itself has a vertical and a horizontal component; the vertical part is housed in the tower, with the horizontal part running the length of the whole building. This lower section of the building is partly buried, with its windows poking out of the turf, adding to its hobbit-like qualities. No need to describe its technical aspects further, as there’s an excellent simulation here (what did we all do before Youtube?).

The structure is actually brick with a cement render covering, rather than the solid concrete which Mendelsohn claims was his original intention. The overall effect though is quite unearthly, in an early sci-fi, Flash Gordon kind of way. It’s also a surprisingly pretty building.

Einstein tower rear view

The tower was completely refurbished in the late 1990s and is now once again in use as a solar observatory. Access to the interior is therefore limited – you can visit by appointment on certain Saturdays in winter only, but can walk up to and around it pretty much anytime during the day (staff at the gatehouse to the site were friendly and obviously used to archi-tourists).

Some fine shots by velvetairProjects here at Flickr, including a photo of the cut through model.

Like Hans Poelzig, Mendelsohn’s career spanned from early expressionism to international modernism. As well as the Einsteinturm, his key surviving buildings in Berlin are the Kino Universum (now the Schaubühne), the alteration of the Mossehaus, and most notably the Metal Workers Union Building – see my other post for these last two.

Hans Poelzig

I didn’t know that much about Hans Poelzig – he’s less well known to the public at large than the ‘big names’ of modernism – Mies, Gropius and others. So I got a lot out of the recent exhibition at the Akademie der Kunst (ADK), a really extensive show covering the full breadth of his work as architect, film & theatre set designer, teacher and painter.

Poelzig’s output was prodigious, and his career spanned that fascinating period from turn-of-the-century Expressionism through to the white walls and strip windows of so-called International Modernism. He’s categorised as an expressionist, but his work was entirely original. His designs have no ‘house style’, but Poelzig was at the forefront of the search for a ‘new’ architecture, one capable of expressing the new buildings of the early 20th century; factories, cinemas and office buildings.

Poelzig died in 1936, just as the National Socialists were turning firmly against modernism in favour of a dull stripped neo-classism (I note this is described in several Berlin guides as ‘anti-modernism’). Like many of his contemporaries, Poelzig had no desire to reach an accomodation with the Nazi regime, and had made plans to relocate to the more enlightened atmosphere of Istanbul.

As with so much in Berlin, WWII bombing was responsible for the loss of many buildings, but some very significant Poelzig projects have survived. To my knowledge, these are the key ones.

The Haus des Rundfunk (House of Radio) – frequently and incorrectly decribed as art deco – is Poelzig’s largest extant building in the capital. A 1987 renovation restored the building to its former glory and revealed some very impressive interiors (in stark comparison with Poelzig’s Großes Schauspielhaus on the eastern side of the wall – see below). The building is vast, with a long low frontage built in a gorgeous dark brick, which I’m very drawn to (a similar brick is used to impressive effect in a building virtually next door to me in Kreuzberg – more on this another day). Like the BBC’s Broadcasting House in London, it’s still in use by a broadcaster, RBB (Radio Brandenburg Berlin), although the Rundfunk predated Broadcasting House by a couple of years as the first purpose built radio broadcasting facility.

Most accessible in central Berlin is the Babylon Kino (cinema) on Rosa-Luxemburg Platz. Some more images here.

The cinema forms one of two surviving blocks from Poelzig’s original masterplan for the whole area, which included the Volksbühne (People’s Theatre). The impressively severe version of the Volksbühne now standing was rebuilt by Hans Richter between 1950-54, replacing the heavily bombed original 1914 design by Oscar Kaufman. The Poelzig blocks themselves also suffered from bomb damage and have been altered, but retain a real sense of the originals – the cinema is still in operation as an important art house venue; there’s also a very cool music store at ground floor. On a trivia note, this is the theatre that features in both pre and post Stasi-era Berlin in Das Leben der Anderen (‘The Lives of Others’), as well as several other notable Berlin locations.

According to the AKD exhibition, Poelzig’s own house in Grunewald (a pleasant Berlin suburb) was in fact almost entirely designed by his wife Marlene. Apparently Hans had a lesser interest in housing than some of his contemporaries. I’ve not had a chance to see this yet, and don’t know about access/ownership. Maybe a follow-on spot for this one, on the theme of modernist family homes in Grunewald and neighbouring Dahlem…

Maddeningly, one Poelzig work in Berlin which you won’t be able to see is his spectacular Großes Schauspielhaus (Grand Theatre).

The Nazis remodelled the main space, then the GDR allowed it to fall derelict, then tore it down in the late 1980s. The exhibition includes some heartbreaking shots of the demolition, including the destruction of the beautiful plant-frond-like structures of the foyer.

Poelzig adapted the existing building to form a huge theatre space with the overall effect of a guilded cavern, with stalactite-like structures descending from a central dome.

On a really arcanely trivial note, the expressionist design appears to have heavily influenced the sets in David Lynch’s otherwise terrible sci-fi film Dune, although this fits in a sort of logical loop, given that Poelzig designed film sets, most notably an entire village for the film The Golem.

Post-blog note: It’s not just me; someone else had the same thought, and has tracked down some images to prove the point, including this one by way of comparison:

Dune evil leaders

(bizarrely this is sourced from a blog about bulldogs)

Its influence is clear…