EXPERIMENTDAYS 17, Berlin 6-8th October

Just a heads up that that EXPERIMENTDAYS 17 is coming around – a chance for those involved in cohousing and and other collaborative housing forms across Europe to meet up, share and discuss.

I’ll be involved with at least one of the sessions I believe, will post more details as they evolve. Info so far:

“Representatives of collaborative housing projects, umbrella organizations, professionals, researchers, and housing activists will gather in Berlin in October 6-8, 2017 to present and discuss current projects and strategies in the framework of EXPERIMENTDAYS 17. The European Collaborative Housing Hub invites to join the collaborative housing movement and exchange on what we can learn from the implemented projects and which ideas are emerging in different cities and regions.”

Coordinating Partners:
id22: Institute for Creative Sustainability, urbaMonde-France, Stiftung trias

Cooperating Partners:
Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Wohnen Berlin, Robert Bosch Stiftung,
Agora Rollberg, Vollgut, Stiftung Edith Maryon, Actors of Urban Change, Mitost e.V., urbanPlus, Deutsch-französisches Institut, Building and Social Housing Foundation

A sliver more info here.




(couple of snaps from the first part of Experimentdays17, held earlier this year)

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!).

Wedding day

I was in the Berlin district of Wedding the other day (of which I know little) and spotted some interesting buildings (of which I know nothing).

If you can tell me anything about these, I will by you a beer/drink of your choice (if you come along to the next Stammtisch – see previous post).

These are the kind of days I love in Berlin.  Just me, a bike, and some unfashionably arcane architecture.

The first one is on Kolberger Strasse, and appears to be a kind of curious cross between hardnosed brutalism and, er, fey postmodernism.  It’s just wrong.  But I love it.

Excuse the new photo size, by the way.  Flickr has just redesigned itself to be less flexible.  Which is not particularly interesting, sorry.

Also on the same side of the street (below).  You hate it, don’t you?

Immediately around the back of the buildings across the street, following the little river, is a classic Berlin abandoned-victorian-industrial affair which, unusually, was really securely fenced off.  So I failed to gain entry, sadly.  What’s the world coming to if you can’t break in to an abandoned building?  Looks like a pumping station, by the way.

Someone told me the other night that cool dance/event space Radial System V, converted from a pumping station, is in fact one of five (the ‘V’ is a clue here, I see) named ‘Radial System I’, ‘Radial SystemII’ etc.  Is this one perhaps?

Just up the road, at Brunnenplatz, is an extension (or rather rebuilding) of the rear wing of the crazy ‘Addams Family’ castle-cum-Amtsgericht.  I know that I’m now in a minority of one, if I say I like it.  Persuade me otherwise, over that beer:

Note, in the image above, the ‘hilarious’ neogothic window references, turned 90 degrees at the top of the main facade.  Is this charming-but-not-great, quite clever, or just awful?  My internal battle of taste continues…

The original building:

Heinrich-Zille-Grundschule – Werkfabrik Architekten

For ages now I’ve really wanted to look more closely at some of the buildings I blog about, rather than just a few snaps and some jokey comments.  So here’s the first of them.

Regular readers will be unsurprised to hear that it’s a project which was a part of the 1987 International Bauaustellung (IBA).  It fell under the ‘Altbau/Careful Urban Renewal’ half of the programme, i.e. projects which worked with local communities and user groups to expand and improve existing buildings and facilities; intervention rather than freestanding architecture.

The Heinrich Zille school occupies the core parts of Block 101, the block immediately to the west of Lausitzer Platz, Kreuzberg, bounded by Skalitzer-, Manteuffel- and Waldemarstrasse.  It intrigued me, because so little can be seen from the street – just a few tantalising glimpses of odd shaped buildings locking ingeniously into older structures.  The site is complex – buildings from the pre-existing school were integrated into a new plan, to include a child daycare centre.  Multiple architects were involved at the time, and the waters are further muddied by the fact that the daycare centre has been removed and additional school buildings added over the proceeding years.

View from Lausitzer Platz:

But I’ve been really lucky here.  The original architect, Margarete Winkes of Werkfabrik, agreed to meet me and walk around the building (she’d left a comment on the blog pointing out that when I first mentioned the school – I’d listed the architects incorrectly).

I’d spent some time beforehand trying to work out which architects designed which parts of the complex site, but the first thing Frau Winkes emphasized was that trying to describe the whole thing in formal contractual terms, ‘who did what and exactly where’, was to miss the point.  IBA Altbau gave local groups, architects and others the chance to experiment.  The IBA organisation had no brief or programme for the design.  Instead, this was negotiated over the period of a year, between the school, four architects’ practices, and other stakeholders, all working collaboratively to come up with a single solution.

At first, the project manager in me (I used to be one) wanted to shout “But how did this possibly work? What about cost control?”  But these projects, while not free of budget limits, were at least free of the thinking that has eventually became the dead hand of ‘Value Engineering’, and are perhaps all the better for it.  I’m not sure that such a level of invention and genuine stakeholder involvement would be at all possible now.

The project outlived the IBA, which at the end of the 1980s transformed itself into S.T.E.R.N., the private body which took over the IBA Altbau‘s legacy and oversaw completion of many of the ongoing schemes, albeit with a much reduced budget.  It’s interesting that, according to Frau Winkes, there was little contact between the Neubau and Altbau IBAs; they were two almost unrelated programmes, with very differing aims.  I’ve often heard them referred to as the ‘rich and poor IBAs’, mainly by those who worked on the Altbau programme such as Alvaro Siza.

As noted above, Frau Winkes emphasized that, as with many IBA Altbau projects, the aim was not to produce Architecture with a capital ‘A’, but to create working facilities for local groups and institutions, which in Kreuzberg by the 1980s were in a state of advanced urban decay, where poverty, high levels of squatting and social disadvantage had become a political embarressment for West Berlin.

Having been told that ‘it’s not about the architecture’, we proceeded to walk around the school, and  I found Werkfabrik’s designs both impressive and – a term not often used in architectural criticism – full of charm.  I was reminded of some of the late Ralph Erskine‘s work, famous for his inclusion of residents and building users in the design process to produce a quirky non-standard architecture.

A note here: this summer the school has been undergoing external renovation works, which are still ongoing at the time of writing.  The outside of the key buildings were scaffolded, and as it was an informal visit, we couldn’t access all the interior rooms.  I’ve included some shots here to give a flavour (with more here) but will be going back to do a proper session soon.

Frau Winkes pointed out that the ongoing works had made some significant changes to some of the exerior detailing – compare these two images for instance:

This led to discussion about the legality of such changes.  In Germany (as I understand it) legal copyright rests in the first instance with the architect, who should be consulted on such changes – a very different position to the UK.  I’m no expert in this area, so will say no more on the subject, as so far this blog has remained free of legal action.  But perhaps a later post on this theme – it’s an interesting and important one – with the case of Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof being the most notable.

Werkfabrik were, at the time, the youngest of the architectural practices involved in the project, and felt they were working more in the spirit of the IBA and experimentation than their more conservative colleagues.  I’m under the impression that Werkfabrik led the design process, although can’t confirm the contractual positions.  The listing in the IBA 1987 Project Report is complicated, and I’m guessing further confused by translation (the terms ‘planning’ and ‘design’ seem interchangeable) so for completeness I will quote in full:

School: preliminary report Burtin/Schulz, co-operative planning procedure (Archiplan, Burtin/Schulz, Werkfabrik); work on planning documents: Werkfabrik; educational plan for the neighbourhood school: Zimmer.

Child day-care centre: preliminary design – Werkfabrik.

In any event, Frau Winkes/Werkfabrik were clearly responsible for the design of the elements of the school which we looked at.  There were an amazing twenty detailed drafts of the design before the final scheme, done over the period of a year.  The construction process ran on into the 1990s, and “became horrible” after the demise of the IBA (I take it from this that S.T.E.R.N. were much less involved).  Despite strained relations with the school in the later phase of the work, Frau Winkes felt that Werkfabrik got their way with the design as finally built, and this rings true when you see some of the detailing and the carefully thought through interior spaces.

Some major elements of the original design, including a large hall between the firewalls of the existing buildings, along with ambitious plans to place the gym underneath one of the old retained buildings (by architect Ludwig Hoffmann, apparently) failed to make the final cut.  But these issues were evidently due more to budget restraints and technical issues than objections from other involved parties, and the end solution worked well for the teaching staff.

And the final result achieved the real aim: to promote the spaces and interstices around the buildings, to improve the overall ‘urbanity’ of such places without creating expensive ‘show architecture’.

We chatted more generally about the legacy of the IBA, and about my pet theory that ironically, the IBA’s role in helping to rescue run-down Kreuzberg sowed the seeds of the gentrification now pushing its original beneficiaries out of the area.  Frau Winkes felt there was some truth in this, but also felt that the IBA saved communities and anchored residents to an area which would otherwise have been decimated by the planned motorway, and by more development such as that at nearby Kottbusser Tor.

Werkfabrik did one other building as part of the IBA; a creche at nearby Oppelner Strasse 21/22, although they tell me that this has since been heavily altered and there is little to see of their original scheme.

Huge thanks to Margarete Winkes and her partner, and also to Helen Ferguson, for her invaluable translation work!

Some more images, as I know you like them.  Like I say, will be back to do this properly soon, plus have a few more here.

Students’ storage and toilets provided for each classroom (with the structure suspended from above to minimise load on the floor)

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!

All just a facade (4)

News reaches me* that the Humboldt Forum, Berlin’s deeply pointless and Disney-esque plan to rebuild Berlin’s Baroque palace for the benefit of vacuous tourists, has hit a major glitch, with the winning architect being disqualified when it was realised his practice never met the criteria for entry into the competition.

A more coherent summary over at SLAB mag, and piece at der Taggesspiel (auf Deutsch).

My own previous witterings on the matter here, here and here, and a good site on the subject over at Schlossdebatte.

I can’t be the only person who’s already growing quite fond of the existence of a great big space in the centre of Berlin, complete with surviving hints of a colossal concrete basement, all overseen by the micro-presence of the Temporäre Kunsthalle.  Enjoy the view while it while it lasts.

*Quickly, for once.  The fact that’s in all the press, and several people told me yesterday, means I’m actually briefly up to date, rather than writing excitedly about something that occurred in 1984.

Thanks to Stibatz at Flickr for the image.

House of Travel, travelling

Here’s a funny thing.  Artist Alexander Callsen has created a scale replica of the Haus des Reisens (‘House of Travel’) in Alexanderplatz, and erected it up a mountain in the south of France.

Images above, copyright Alexander Callsen.

The information he circulated is brief, but it’s part of the Horizons art festival in the Auvergne region of France.  Ends on 20th Sept, so depending on when you’re reading this, you’ve probably missed it. Sorry.

Essentially a scaffold structure has been covered in canvas with photo-images of the original building’s elevations – pretty effective, looking at the images.

The real Haus des Reisens was built by the GDR between 1969 and 1971, and stands in Alexanderplatz, a place on which I have previously wittered. I’m not sure why such a large building was needed, since most citizens of the GDR weren’t able to travel anywhere much.  Ironic then that the building itself has been on a trip, sort of.

The Haus des Reisens, back in the day.  (Image from Wikimedia commons)

The building is currently only partially occupied, with the Week12end club (sic) having two floors, including the roof terrace (worth a visit just to see the view, if you can force your way past the neverending flow of drunken italian 17-year-olds on the staircase).