Gleisdreick – A Park of Two Halves

I have a review piece in the UK’s Landscape magazine (from the Landscape Institute) that looks at the newly-completed Gleisdreick Park by Atelier Loidl architects.

I remember when all this were trees, mind. More accurately, when it was a golf range.


First image (c) Atelier Loidl, second one by me. Lots more on my Google photos thingy.


Linienstrasse 40, BundschuhBaumhauer Architekten (24 April 2010)


The scaffold recently came down on BundschuhBaumhauer‘s new apartment block on Linienstrasse, on the northwest corner of Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. Our group got a sneak preview, courtesy of its architect Roger Bundschuh, so a few snaps included below.

The building was co-designed with artist Cosima von Bonin, and actually started as a project for a public sculpture nearby; when this didn’t work out, architect and artist decided to try for something on a bigger scale…

I was a bit rude about the design for this a while back, and was taken to task by Roger, who offered to better inform me with a site visit.  Obviously, rude not to take the offer up, and I have to admit that my concerns about tapering angular staircases were unfounded (I didn’t fall down/up them, and didn’t leave with a headache).

What’s most surprising, when you first turn the corner and see the building, is how incredibly like the architect’s early renderings the real-life building appears.  Much thought was given to how to make the building look as massive and dense as possible (‘massive’ in the sense of ‘full of mass’, rather than ‘very big’).  The structure is insitu cast concrete, with a colour additive to make it as dark as possible. Its texture is deliberately rough cast, which is hard to make out from my (typically poor) images.  The overall  impression from the outside of a vast immoveable object, slightly alien. The interior, with the windows closed, is eerily quiet despite the busy Torstrasse below; a result, apparently, of the building’s foundations not being directly connected to the ground, being poured onto a raft of insulation material.

[2nd image, link lost, sorry!]

Actually, I think the windows ‘as built’ are much better.  The rendering looks awkwardly proportioned when you compare the two.

Anyway, what I like most about the building is its total lack of compromise, its ‘modern’ modernism in the face of Berlin’s current architectural conservatism.  It took four years to get through planning, in the face of opposition from the local conservation society, responsible for the Platz where it’s located. Hans Poelzig masterplanned the Platz and designed many of its buildings, including the Babylon Kino – the society felt the new building to be out of keeping, preferring a recreation of the missing Poelzig block – an argument I’m finding increasingly tedious.

More images, as ever, on Flickr, and below.

Do stay tuned to the blog for future building visits – I have a plan for late May to do a ‘mini-IBA’ tour around Kochstrasse, as I now have some contacts who live in two of the blocks there, plus of course the much talked about  Hejduk Tower nearby.  We have a Facebook group, if you’re down with that sort of thing.

Image added 2017:


Still here.

It’s been manic lately, so not much time to blog, sorry. So instead, a few snaps of things I’ve been up to recently, like a sort of intermission, while I’m away. Will have a bit more time next week, so prepare yourselves for more incisive, thoughtful and witty writing on architecture. Then be disappointed, and just read my blog instead, ha, ha.


The Tag des Offenen Denkmals was good fun, although I got lazy on the sunday (2nd day) and decided not to do much.  Did the Akademie der Kunst (new branch on Pariserplatz) in which the highlight was the basement (below) and the Haus des Lehrers, in which the highlight was the bit where they stopped the dumb corporate light show in the main chamber so we could actually have a good look at it:


… an amazing school on Lausitzerplatz (which I’ve mentioned before, part of the IBA) which I was able to go round with Werkfabrik, the original architects:

and from tomorrow, I’ll be manning a stand for Art in America magazine, over at the Art Forum Berlin:

Popping across the road to see Hans Poelzig’s wonderful Haus des Rundfunk (House of Radio)

and wondering why so much new architecture in Berlin is just so, well, crap. This, the Zoofenster building, which could have been so much better.

Will write lots about each of these very soon. Promise!

Tchoban Foundation, Museum for Architectural Drawing

A review for the RIBA Journal, published Autumn 2013 (paywalled online). Am not very good at architectural opinions under pressure – I like to know a building for 30 years or so before finally rushing to a provisional view. But mulling it over later, I did decide that although I like the idea, there’s some dimension of the building that’s not right in practice, a certain awkwardness of ideas and detailing at the ground floor level, inside and out. Needed fewer ingredients, perhaps.

Apologies if Sven is reading, I know your dislike of this building. But it’s work, what can yer do?


The first glimpse from the street is striking: a number of huge stone blocks, each carved with intricate hieroglyphs, seems to have been stacked against the end of a nineteenth century Berlin terrace. On closer inspection, the blocks become a building, with each floor level presenting a massive solidity, contrasting only with the top floor – an entirely glazed box that reflects and merges with the sky.

Lots more images here.

This is the Tchoban Foundation’s Museum of Architectural Drawing, a small and in every sense personal work by architects Sergei Tchoban and Sergey Kuznetsov of SPEECH Tchoban & Kuznetsov. The Foundation will be home to Sergei Tchoban’s own collection of (currently) around 600 drawings, and the architect has designed every detail, down to the door handles and furniture. The foundation aims to show three exhibitions a year from other collections, temporarily lending some of its own collection in return: currently on display is a collection of beautiful drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, on loan from London’s John Soane museum, which in turn is currently showing a selection from the Tchoban collection. The foundation’s collection ranges from the 16th century to the present day, from from Cerceau to Gehry, and also includes a great number of Tchoban’s own drawings. Its aim is to promote the use of architectural drawing – increasingly a lost art, and a subject close to Sergei Tchoban’s heart.

The building’s form and orientation were carefully considered, as was the use of enlarged fragments of drawings from the collection (the “hieroglyphs”) on the façades: “This specific corner lot was chosen to accommodate the Foundation, since it allowed for a distinctly sculptural appearance of the building. The contrast of fine architectural drawings and the three-dimensional composition of volumes is to express the special relation between drawing and construction. It alludes to the fact that the drawings on thin paper sheets are referred to as rather delicate, sensitive and of course plane objects whereas built architecture is much more robust, much larger in scale and, in a sense, archaic. And yet, the building derives from the drawing.”

The five storeys (plus basement) contain two small picture galleries, a storage room for the rest of the collection, a reception area and a fifth floor office with two large roof-top balconies. For its size, the building’s volumetry is more complex than it first appears: each of the storey-height “blocks” is different: each has a slightly different orientation or shape, with small cantilevers, and a larger cantilever for the glass box of the fifth floor. (Unlike most architectural attempts to make glass buildings “dissolve” in the sky, from certain angles it really is successful, with the occasional puzzling reflection of a brick chimney or two). Tchoban describes the cantilevered glass upper storey as the “crest” of the building, “… creating a relationship between corpus and top that is characteristic of European architecture.” The glass signals the functional difference of the top floor, and creates a beacon of light at night.

The new building stands on the perimeter of the former Pfefferberg brewery, an extensive complex of 19th century red brick buildings now converted into other functions, most notably the Aedes architecture gallery/campus, and the multi-storey workshop and office of artist Olafur Eliasson (his building directly abuts that of the museum, and some of his works-in-progress can be glimpsed through adjacent windows). Surprisingly, the minimalist, irregular form fits comfortably among its neighbours, helped in part by the exuberant range of 19th century styles that surround it (the brewery itself crashes neogothic with industrial, and then competes with the wedding-cake stucco of the surrounding street façades). It also helps that sleek minimalist residential interventions are a familiar sight in this highly gentrified district in the former east Berlin.

A small criticism would be that the scattering of irregular window openings at ground level and to the rear elevation overpowers the façade engravings whose lines they follow. The windows’ flush glazing is very dark in contrast with the sandstone-like finish, and somehow detracts from the illusion that this might be a building hewn from solid stone.

The motifs derived from the drawing collection continue inside the building, reappearing on the longest wall of the entrance room, where they are inscribed into walnut-veneered full height panels. The museum is open to the public, although the atmosphere on entering is one of hushed privacy: a private members’ club, finished almost entirely in dark wood. Bespoke glass display cases along one wall are already stacked with a selection of architectural tomes. The only daylight is filtered through a number of small, irregular shaped obscure-glazed openings.

The two gallery rooms themselves have no natural daylight (due to the sensitivity of the collection), with low level lighting and, at the time of writing, muted red and grey colour schemes that echo similar colours at the Soane Museum, and underpin the greys and reds of Piranesi’s beautiful drawings.

The top floor office level, by contrast, is an explosion of light, glazed on three sides, and with two deep balconies. The structure has an outer, fresh-air ventilated glass façade, and solar gain is mitigated by automated blinds, which lower themselves automatically in bright sunlight (creating an unexpected “Bond villain’s lair” moment). The rooftop view is surprisingly impressive – Berlin is a not a high-rise city, and even now new construction is largely restricted to a building height of 22 metres.

The attention to detail continues up through the whole of the building, including the casting of the dark grey concrete staircase, the bespoke brass handrails, matching brass door handles and other fittings, and the walls behind the glass lift, where the external engraved pattern is continued. The dark walnut theme that dominates the ground floor also continues through the galeries. Accessed from the second floor picture gallery is a small room with a single fully glazed wall that looks onto the street. The room is furnished only with three concrete cubes, which are also also “engraved” and appear to be cut directly from the façades. They serve here as seats – it is, perhaps, the best space in the building.

To describe a building as a “jewellery box” is a well-worn cliché, but here it is geneuinely applicable, and clearly a concept that the architect had directly in mind, successfully executed. The design gives Berlin’s newest museum a magazine-friendly iconic image, but more importantly a thoughtfully designed home for its collection.

Zu Hause

The recession doesn’t seem to have greatly slowed the gentrification of the poor-but-central parts of Berlin.  From where I sit, I look across the Landwehrkanal into Reuterkiez, a rapidly trendifying are of new nightlife and newly annoyed neighbours.  Old Ecke bars are closing on a daily basis and being replaced by the Berlin cliché of bar-galleries, replete with 1970s cast-off furniture and missing patches of plaster.

There would be greater building work visible here, but it tends to be internal refurbishment of the existing blocks.  But just to the north of me, where the Wall left a swathe of open spaces, the gentrification is more visible.  A few snaps I took the other evening on my way into Mitte, mainly of the sites being infilled around where the upper part of Dresdener Straaße meets Waldemarstraße (still a blank patch on Google maps at time of writing).  The line of the wall visible as a double line of cobbles across the road in at least one of these:

Here’s how I thought it worked:  in the early 1990s after the wall came down, a huge amount of capital flowed into Berlin, invested on the assumption that the newly reinstated capital would grow significantly and become a bustling metropolis once again.  The big money went into office construction and such-like (see Potzdamerplatz and similar) but was later followed by lots of smaller investors pouring their Irish and Spanish euros / British pounds into apartments-to-let.

Then everyone realised that Berlin had no real industry anymore (east german industry had all closed by this point).  The only ‘industry’ to speak of was government, and even then most people working in government still secretly lived in Bonn and commuted.  Berlin had spent lots of money on its new infrastructure but recouped not much at all through business tax, and is now very broke.

Some days, all the above seems to be true.  The Berlin government certainly is broke, and it seems that a range of terrible, lacklustre designs are waved through by planners on the basis that anything is better than nothing.  The ongoing development of the Media Spree has ground to a halt.  But no-one seems to have told housebuilders, who are carrying on regardless.  There still appears to be a steady stream of luxury apartments going up, at least at all points east.  Recession-proof Berlin?  Seems unlikely.

So I welcome comments from economists,  investors, planners, architects or builders who can explain this.  Are people moving from west to east because it’s cheaper?  Are people moving back in from surrounding Brandenburg, where they spread out to over the last two decades?  Or is it just my selective perception, where I spot all of the relatively small number of new buildings going up?  Do get in touch if you know the answer.

Between the Devil and the deep blue suits.

Have just been to the opening of same same but different,  a show comprising two projects by up and coming Swiss practice EM2N, at the Architektur Galerie on Karl-Marx-Allee.  It was rather good, and the free wine and pretzels were also not bad.  The two projects are ‘Toni Areal‘ – a conversion of a milk factory into an art school for 3,000 students, and a second vast neubau school project in Ordos, China, also for around 3,000 pupils.  Both projects are huge for such a young practice (founded twelve years ago) and on the face of it confidently done, in that understated but highly crafted Swiss late modernism.

But I’m coming over all ‘architecture critic’ on you; I felt a bit underdressed and overwhelmed amongst all the sharp-suited/coolly bespectacled architects and assorted in-crowd, and left well before the wine ran out.

I thought I’d take a back route home and cycled south, past the Hochhaus an der Weberwiese.  It’s a curious area, which I now realise I don’t know at all, between Karl-Marx-Allee and the ever wonderful Berghain (which, if you didn’t know, is the world’s best club – if you only have 48 hours to spend in Berlin, spend them all at Berghain). It’s like the other good Berlin clubs to the power of ten – where others occupy parts of previously abandoned factories, Berghain occupies all of a very big abandoned factory.  A strange place to pass by late on a sunday afternoon, with dazed survivors stumbling confused into the sunshine,  to the thunder-like bass throb of techno still rattling the windows.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

Anyway, I digress.  Between these two extreme nodes (immaculately dressed architects / sweat-drenched techno) are some apartment buildings clearly built as part of Karl-Marx-Allee, but strangely neglected.  They’re not in my miniguide to ‘the Allee’ (as I’ve just decided to refer to it) and are presumably considered of less greatness, by those in the know.  Hopefully, as is often the case, someone reading this who knows much more about it will leave a comment.

The blocks centre around the junction of Gubener Straße and Wedekindstraße:

I blogged very early on (well, about a year ago) about Karl-Marx-Allee and how much I liked it, views which have changed with time (it reads now as a bit naive), but clearly I seem to have an affinity for the underdog: I was slightly saddened by the contrast between the shiny new creations on display at the Galerie and the neglect of the buildings around the corner. Not everyone’s cup of tea, sure (well, in fact probably almost no-one’s cup of tea) but I’m drawn to them, because… well because no-one else is.  Which is just odd.

A Career in Ruins

Given that this is a Berlin architecture blog, it seems a shame to say nothing about the Neues Museum, whose doors were opened to the public a couple of weeks ago for a quick glimpse of the completed reconstruction, prior to being filled with all the things that museums are full of.  I do of course take an increasingly perverse joy in steering away from the well known towards the arcane, and I’m sure you’ve read loads about it everywhere else.

I did go along though, along with the other zillion people who visited in those three crowded days, and have dutifully put my photos on Flickr.

I would just say that if you do somehow get a chance to see inside before the official October opening, take it.  The (apparently controversial) reconstruction of Stüler’s building by David Chipperfield Architects and Julian Harrap is an entirely more complex affair than the ‘this bit is old, this bit is lovely new high tech’ approach typified by Foster* and such.  It’s all the more fascinating for the fact that the building was a real ruin for over sixty years, despite being in the middle of a major city.

*Not that I have anything against Lord Norman’s approach, but I found myself at his rebuilt Hauptbahnhof in Dresden a while ago, and couldn’t help thinking I’d seen it something similar by him somewhere before…