Along Kochstrasse… part 1

I know, I know…  I haven’t blogged for ages.  Excuses?  Loads, including the fact that I’ve been writing some actual paid for writing, which I’ll mention again ( when October’s edition of Blueprint magazine come out).   And I’ve been in London, where I’m always instantly thrown by all the traffic and people, and remain in shock for about a week on my return to lovely calm, quiet Berlin.

Anyway, what better way to return to blogging with some ever-untopical IBA buildings.  Some of which I’ve written about before, but I was just passing these on the way along Kochstrasse*, coming back from the Modell Bauhaus exhibition at the Gropius Bau (previously recommended).  So a bit of a ramble.

*at least one end of which has recently been renamed, confusingly, but I can’t remember what to.

A few months back I found myself sitting next to David Mackay, of MBM architects (a friend was designing his autobiography).  He was saying that the design of one of his  Kochstrasse buildings – this one in fact:

…was turned 90 degrees at a late stage, so that if need be, allied tanks could bypass Checkpoint Charlie and head up an alleyway between his building and Rem’s next door.  Not sure how this would have worked; it seems terribly narrow. And tanks are quite wide.

While I was musing on this, I took some photies of the back of the Koolhaas/OMA building.  I like the backs of buildings.  Especially the place they keep the bins – it sometimes tells you more about the architecture than looking at the front/insides does.  It’s an early one for Mr Koolhaas, but has some tell-tale details:

Note the sloping transome bar, obscured by some cabinets:

Will do the rest of this in parts, so that I can seperately tag them, as I’m anally retentive like that.  Back shortly.

A world away from Kottbusser

Seems like Summer’s arrived  in Berlin, thus dispensing with the awkward middleman of Spring altogether. It probably won’t last, but after months of low grey sky, everyone’s gone a bit mad with the joys of premature summer.  Walk into our local park (it’s Gorlitzer, admittedly) and it feels like the third day of a music festival.  But with much more rubbish.

I mainly mention all this because the images I’ve been collecting in the last few weeks were all taken while it was still uniformly bedeckt, and I just wanted you to know, if you’re not here in Berlin,  how beautiful the city looks on this glorious sunny easter weekend.  This explains the seemingly irrelevant* image below, depicting some people playing  boules on the canal just down from us the other evening:


*Not entirely irrelevant actually, as the boules courts, and the whole of the landscaping of the north bank, were part of the IBA Altbau programme – a wholly overlooked part in fact.

Anyway, on with the archistuff.

Just down the Landwehrkanal from the scene above, is a block of housing which I’ve often mentioned – it’s the one which was replanned and partly rebuilt by Hinrich & Inker Baller, and features regularly in things you read about the IBA 1984/1987.  You know, it’s this one:

Anyway, what’s less often mentioned (and rarely photographed) is the rest of the block – collectively known in IBA nomenclature as ‘Block 70’.  The curvy Baller designs form three apparently separate buildings in the terrace facing onto the canal, and a larger rear block, which is only accessible via the large landscaped courtyard within.

Yet the whole IBA-defined ‘block’ is much larger than this.  Although much of it comprises reworkings of existing 19th century buildings, it’s of great interest to me, partly because

a) it’s a perfect example of the complex interweaving of old and new to create communities within a dense, fascinating mix of urban typologies

but mainly because

b) it includes a good pub, which runs a decent pub quiz on thursday nights.

As I wobble back home on my bike from the above mentioned institution, I’m aften given to musing  on the nature of planning, modernism and postmodernism.  It’s mainly the Guinness talking, but the immediate locality is like a planning lecturer’s dream;  directly to the north of Block 70 stand the monolithic 1970s concrete towers of Kottbusser Tor – essentially west Berlin’s attempt to match some of the East’s most visually unappealing Plattenbau estates with one of its own, but without the social infrastructure.  Nowhere else in Berlin, and possibly nowhere in most western cities, can you so clearly the excesses of brutalist ‘We Are The Planners, You Are The Planned’-type urban thinking, standing so close to its successor and antidote.

I should add that in strict architectural terms, I use the term ‘brutalist’ wrongly.  I love Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre as much as the next man (assuming that the next man is a member of the Twentieth Century Society), and I’m also not one of those people who believes in the power of architecture to solve deep-seated social and economic problems. But sometimes bad architecture can just, well, get you down.

The 1980s IBA did what it could in and around these structures (including turning a multistorey carpark into a community centre, complete with roof garden (see the sort of ‘I’ shape in the green square to the bottom left of the image above). But the housing blocks continue to be the local authority’s number 1 choice for housing its poorest residents.  ‘Kottie’ is notorious as a location for dealers, and although I don’t feel unsafe walking through it (I’m from southeast London) it’s not a place I’d want to live given a choice.  Apparently, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the whole monolithic ‘Kreuzberg Centre’ project was planned as a tax-saving write-off.

Kottbusser images, by the way, from the site, a project aiming to reintegrate socially deprived areas of inner city Berlin. The page I’ve linked to gives a good overview of what went wrong; a microcosm of bad 60s and 70s planning, complete with the blight of a planned-for-but-later-abandoned motorway project.  Add to this the peculiar geographical side-effects of a divided Berlin – this part of Kreuzberg was a peculiar dead-end peninsular surrounded on three sides by the wall.  Then of course the wall came down and changed… well, not everything.

Still not sure how to import Google maps, but if you look here, you can see Block 70 bounded by Fraenkelufer to the south and Kohlfurter Strasse to the north, with buildings gradullay rising in scale and ugliness immediately to the north of Kohlfurter Strasse, reaching their peak (if that’s the right word) at Kottbusser Tor itself.

Amazing then that such a contrast exists, like some rift in time between decades.  On the south side of Kohlfuter Strasse is my favourite building – as ever images here don’t do it justice.  It looks at its best at night, when you see that the original 19th century block has had its end wall opened up to create lighter, more open apartments, and making best use of the roof level with a greenhouse structure – both popular ‘tricks’ of the IBA Altbau programme.

Fragments of lost buildings are glimpsed in gardens; an antidote to the scorched earth policy of postwar planning up till that point:

Meanwhile, across the road, the 1970s:

Anyway, back at Block 70, arguably the best bits are those facing onto Erkelenzdamm.  Interestingly, these used to face onto another waterway – the Luisenstadt canal – filled in before the first world war I think, but whose route is still clearly visible (if you look at the map again, you can see how it ran north from the Landwehrkanal (east west), through Wassertorplatz (clue’s in the name) up to Michaelkirchplatz (a basin still filled with water) then turned 90 degrees east to curve round and up to the Spree.  Basically, just follow the streets ending in ‘damm’. Perhaps I’ll start a campaign to reopen it, just after I’ve bought a flat in a prominent overlooking position.  A view of water adds soooo much to property prices you know darling…

Might have to lengthen the Ballers’ cute little bridge though:

More of the original buildings facing onto Erkelenzdamm below.  This one has a certain faded beauty about it in my opinion. Pub just off to the right, out of shot :

When you look closely, you notice that there’s interesting things going on at roof level.  In fact, nearly all of the buildings within the block are linked high up by communal routes and spaces.

About a year ago a new block arrived to fill in a gap in the curved terrace of buildings, by architect Barbara Brakenhoff.  I quite like it, and I’m also quite jealous.  Essentially, it’s a residential community built by and for women, living singly or attached, but aimed at attracting women of all ages, and including fully accessible design for its older residents.  And a communal roof garden, damn them.  I’m a boy, so not worth putting my name down, obviously.

The project is a specific, women-orientated example of a german/Berlin trend for community building that’s sadly lacking in the UK.  Also a good example of how you can only make a good building with a good client, in this case an organisation formed by the people who will live in the building and have obviously placed some value on design.  I’m worried here that I’m sounding a bit like someone from one of those endless British design/urban/housing/planning/placemaking/benchmarking/taskforce-proposing organisations, but it’s true.

Off to sit in the sun now, so next post will probably be just wittering on about parks and stuff…

Dusk in Tegel.

Readers of a nervous disposition should look away now; there’s about to be more 1980s postmodernism.

As promised, a post with some images of housing at Tegel, with a selection of buildings forming part of the IBA 1984/1987. These are a long way from the regeneration-needy areas of Kreuzberg in southern Berlin where most of the IBA projects lie; Tegel is a much wealthier spot, and these blocks are set on the harbour opening out into the lake. In this part of the IBA the accent was perhaps more show home than urban regeneration.

The final stage of the original masterplan – buildings on the harbour island – remained on paper. My IBA source book indicates this was to be an Arts, Education and Leisure complex, although there is now new housing going up instead. The Humboldt library building immediately to the east was built though, as well as Gustav Peichl’s phosphate elimination plant across the road. I didn’t get that far mind you, as I was freezing my knackers off, frankly.

Dated po-mo? You bet. But strangely… well, you decide.

I was just struck, by the way, by how ‘American Gothic’ the pair of John Hejduk houses look (see the couple of images at the end).

By the way, it’s generally thought that the best architecture photos are those taken in bright summer sunshine.  These were taken at freezing dusk in the middle of winter. It gives them a melancholy air though, don’t you think? And as an added bonus, the landscaping of much of the site reminded me of the snow-bound topiary in Kubrick’s The Shining. Oh dear.

A much fuller set of images as usual over at Flickr.


Firstly, the mid-rise ‘courtyard’ blocks by Moore, Ruble, Yudell:


The Humboldt Library at Tegel, also by Moore, Ruble, Yudell (same architects who just finished the new American Embassy in Berlin, to much thunderous indifference). Closed that day, but interiors are interesting, from the images in the IBA guide:


Coming to a waterside area near you, soon:


Below – Moore, Ruble, Yudell (left) Poly, Steinebach, Weber (centre) plus Robert Stern (right).  Quite cold now.


Poly, Steinebach, Weber (detail):


Stanley Tigerman. Really very cold by this point:


Paolo Portoghesi:


Residential terrace by Bangert, Jansen, Scholz, Schultes:


Antoine Grumbach (Freezing):


Finally, John Hejduk. See one of his other two IBA projects here.  Too cold after this to work the camera, so back to the U-Bahn:

Out of town.

In London at the moment, with a bit of time to spare. So cunningly, before leaving Berlin, I put a pile of recent images I’d taken onto a disk, in order to edit and upload from here.

A shame then that I left the disk on the table in the flat in Berlin. Arse.

So instead of a blog about a trip to the IBA buildings at Tegel on a freezing winter evening, or another one about the demolition of a building near me on the Ufer which is being replaced with something ghastly, or an update on ‘Carloft’, just a bit of random wittering.

My girlfriend uploaded the Tegel pictures she took; here are a couple, to keep you distracted from this post’s lack of real content:

Tegel is the north westerly part of Berlin, a quite posh part in fact, and rather beautiful on the day we visited. Tegel (or to be more accurate, the borough of Reinickendorf) seems to be twinned with Greenwich (in southeast London, not New York) which sort of makes sense. The main promenade features London street signs and a red phone box. Curiously, both areas have large scale construction from the eighties – the former being the money-fuelled blandless of Canary Wharf, the latter being the IBA-fuelled madness of postmodernism. More on this when I get home and upload all the images.

We had no idea that the lake and harbour would be completely frozen, with skaters and assorted winter sports.

What else?

Oh yes – following my recent rants about the reconstruction of the Schloss (see ‘All Just A Facade’), I came across a good site here, summarising items in the press about it (some in english), and also ‘Kein Schloss in meinem Namen‘ (No Castle in my name) – a petition against it. You put your protest photo in, it’s cool. Not sure if I can add mine, as I’m not german, so it’s not strictly speaking ‘in my name’ at all. I pay taxes to Berlin though (any thoughts, readers?).

I note from the Schloss’s fundraising newspaper that, bizarrely, the apparently-not-dead Henry Kissinger is backing the Schloss scheme and attending fundraising dinners. Judge your enemies by the friends they keep, to misquote a phrase. In fact, it’s like hearing that Albert Speer is still knocking around, and has thrown his weight behind the construction of a new triumphal arch. (Weirdly, Albert Speer’s son, also named Albert Speer, is still around, and is an architect. You’d change your name, wouldn’t you?)

Right, off to look at London things now.

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’

BERLIM: Reconstrução Crítica

Just back from a very rewarding conference in Porto on “Berlin: Critical Reconstruction“, an event covering, well, just about everything I’m interested in here Berlin.

Speakers included Alvaro Siza Viera, together with other architects who have built, or competed to build, in Berlin, as well as film makers, planners and commentators.

A big question was whether ‘Critical Reconstruction’, i.e. the carefully planned and controlled reconstruction of post-wall Berlin established largely by J P Kleihues through the International Building Exhibition of the 1980s, is now dead.  Strong arguments were put that this was the case – that Critical Reconstruction as a policy had worked when money was pouring into Berlin in the 1990s, with investors and architects having to bend to the will of the city authorities, but is now failing, due to the city’s current desperation to attract any construction investment, however gaudy the proposals.  Understandably, this theory was rejected by those representing Berlin’s planning authority.

It was interesting to hear Siza refer to ‘rich IBA’ and ‘poor IBA’ rather than the official ‘Neubau’ and ‘Altbau’ labels, referring, I guess, to the fact that much of the Altbau work was in the much poorer district of Kreuzberg, as opposed to the Neubau townhouses across in Tiergarten. (For examples compare Siza’s own Bonjour Tristesse block with the buildings at Rauchstrasse.)

I could write for hours on the whole thing, but will resist doing so as I don’t want to deter any readers not passionate about architectural theory.  Instead, will just mention what a beautiful city Porto is, and that in the short period I was there I just had time to see Rem Koolhaas’s spectacular Case da Musica, as well as the finely crafted new metro stations (by Siza’s partner Eduardo Souto de Moura).

The venue for the conference, by the way, was Siza’s own building for the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art.

Need to upload the images I took shortly, in the meantime have stolen a couple from z.z on Flickr.  Actually, well worth a browse:

One of the Metro stations, Casa da Musica, Serralves Museum:

I went on a tour of Rem’s Dutch embassy here in Berlin last week, by the way, so a post on that forthcoming, with lots of comparisons with his Porto building.

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).