Destruction at Lützowplatz – Final (4 March 2013)

A few years back (scarily, it was 2008, how time flies) I blogged about the partial demolition of an IBA block by O M Ungers.

Sadly, as noted by Isar Steve, the remainder has now come down.

While nothing is sacred, it’s depressing when something thoughtless like this happens, especially as it’s essentially replacing much needed social housing with private luxury development (if anything actually gets built at all).


Hip to be square?

I’ve previously blogged about the fact that Berlin is in the process of losing one of its O M Ungers buildings. Though he was not universally popular as an architect, this is a great loss, I believe, as well as a symbolic one:  it marks Berlin’s transition from the Critical Reconstruction of the 1980s and 1990s into a new period defined by the free reign of developers.  I hope I’m wrong about this.

Anyway, this will leave two Ungers buildings that I’m aware of in Berlin – the other block which he did as part of the IBA, and a court complex at Hallesches Ufer (no.62).  It’s an unassuming building at a glance, not helped by my customary camera phone low-res, low quality images.

As with many of his works, the square and cube are repeated devices in, and you might even say the basis of, the design.  Windows, cladding, plan form, elevations, sections, structural grids

The plan form is interesting too – the newer Ungers building wraps around three sides of the older courtbuilding, with prominence given to the largest cube form of the building, in which the main court chamber and council rooms are located.

Integration of the new and old buildings accounts for some of the labyrinthine quality of the building, but not all of it.  The problem for me is a suspicion that at times Ungers is less the master of the square and more a slave to it.  Can plans and sections based on fundamentally squares always be the best solution?  And if the square is so fundamentally important, what happens in locations where it just can’t be achieved? The staircase at the back of the entrance hall just can’t be tamed, and the grids go awry, as one example.

Even the bike racks confirm to the ‘tyranny of sqaures’

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.