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.

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.

Haus of Pain

An update on ‘Carloft‘, the bizarre new apartment block round the corner from me (Kreuzberg SO36) which allows you to take your car to bed with you. Or at least bring it into your apartment, with the use of a big lift. From the sales site, it looks like you have to have quite a flash car if you want to live there (not really worth paying for all that extra space just to keep an old VW campervan in your living room I suppose, although that would be quite cool – you could put guests up in it and they wouldn’t have to buzz to come in and use the toilet).

The whole thing is bemusing, as Kreuzberg isn’t really the sort of place people have expensive cars. In fact it’s the sort of place where most people don’t have a car at all. Schöneberg perhaps? Maybe the developers spotted a gap in the market for people who live in Kreuzberg with nice cars and want to avoid having them torched (there’s been quite a lot of this going on in Berlin lately).

Whatever your view on such things, Carloft in nearly-finished form is a disappointment. I was expecting a glass facade which you could gaze at in awe as cars moved silently between floors, even though you hate the whole idea on principle. In fact, Carloft looks like an old 1930s garage building converted into apartments, with a singular lack of flair. In fact, it appears that the car isn’t even quite in your apartment, but in a semi-open bay next to it. Which could have been a nice balcony instead.

The concept, for those who struggle with the idea of a car, a loft, and a lift:

And some images of the outside

Aesthetically though, it could be worse. Even closer to me, on Paul-Lincke-Ufer itself, they’re demolishing a perfectly good two storey 60s building to build a piece of apology architecture:

I use the term ‘apology architecture’ as it’s designed to apologise for its presence; not for this building any recognisable style (especially modernism) which might offend. It’s timeless, but in a bad way. The worst thing is that just to the left, out of shot, is H H Müller’s rather wonderful Abspannwerk, which was clearly designed to form part of a continuous terrace, which the existing building continues. The new building will create an unnecessary gap, in order, I guess, to create far more (saleable) frontage facing obliquely onto the canal.

Is every new residential building going up in Berlin wrongheaded pastiche? No. There’s some possibly wrongheaded cutting-edge modernism as well , currently emerging out of the frozen ground up on the junction of Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße and Tortraße, by architect Roger Bundschuh and artist Cosima von Bonin, called L40. Lots of images, and floorplans, over here at Dezeen.

Actually, I quite like the look of this. It’s different from the neo-wedding-cake approach (e.g. Paul-Lincke-Ufer) and the default-setting modernism-lite (most of Prenzlauerberg) – it’s actual Architecture, with a capital ‘A’. I assume the surface is intended to be dark grey shuttered concrete, giving it the look of a converted military installation. Which can be a good thing, I think. Nonetheless, I used the word ‘wrongheaded’ earlier, as the floorplans seem to be utterly enslaved by the shape of the building’s footprint (the comments section on the Dezeen piece is worth reading).

Nice as it undoubtedly is to live in a contemporary art gallery, one is given to wonder whether the digital rendering of an interior, viewed on a flat screen, reflects how such pointy rooms will feel when you’re actually in them. What if our own curvy, wide angle, binocular vision makes something quite different of the spaces, so that we’re unable to walk up one of those acute staircases without bumping into the wall and feeling queasy?

I’m not sure anyone living there would invite me round anyway, so have decided not to worry.

Post-post note:

It’s only fair to say that just after I posted, Roger Bundschuh sent me a surprisingly friendly email, offering to let me have a look round the building as it progresses, and pointing out that that, at the very least, my final statement is incorrect.  This caused me to re-read what I’d written, and I was surprised at how randomly harsh I’d been.  I won’t rewrite it, since that’s not in the spririt of ill-informed, self-opinionated blogs like mine, but I have written the paragraph that you’re reading now.

Architektur clips

I came across this site recently – a collection of architecture related video clips, mainly Germany based, with quite a few Berlin gems.

Best is this one – a beautifully shot short film about Ostkreuz station, soon to be rebuilt.  The soundtrack, of Berlin’s minimal-click-house grooves, is perfect.

Other Berlin-related goodies include Libeskind’s recent courtyard infill to the Jewish Museum, a New York / Berlin comparison (filmed on the Spree, from my favourite boat) which looks at the upside of Berlin’s bankruptcy, Berlin’s Hungarian Cultural Institute in action and much more.

That’s another day filled then…

Talking of bunkers…

Speaking as a pedant (although I admit to numerous mistakes on this blog, which I try to put right when spotted) I’ve noticed all sorts of errors in press articles about the Boros collection – a rather fabulous conversion of one of Berlin’s best looking bunkers into a private gallery, for millionaire Christian Boros. Completion was earlier this year.

So just for the record, the bunker was built in 1942 to a design by Karl Bonatz for the Reich railroad company.  It wasn’t designed by Albert Speer (there are no surviving Speer buildings in Berlin, as far as I know).  It wasn’t built personally for Hitler, and it wasn’t part of Hitler and Speer’s plans for Germania.

The conversion was done by Jens Casper by the way.  Boros Collection home here.

Needless to say there’s a zillion good images if you just pop ‘Boros collection’ into Flickr, but a couple of images here (before and after conversion).

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.