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)


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:

SLAB Magazine

Strange that having spent so much time idly wandering Berlin-related areas of the web, I hadn’t come across SLAB Magazine before now.  A shame, as it’s jolly good.

A thread running through many of its posts is Berlin’s increasing habit of filling up its gaps with ever blander buildings (something I was hoping only I perceived, and that elsewhere in the city people were spotting groundbreaking new contemporary architecture on a daily basis).

On days when I’m feeling a bit down, it seems that Berlin has lost its confidence at some fundamental level, and seems pathetically grateful for absolutely anything any developer chooses to throw up, in the mistaken hope that a big bland corporate style will lend the city more gravitas.  Which of course it doesn’t.

On days when I’m not feeling down, I give the whole subject no thought at all, in case you’re wondering.


PS – If, like me, you’ve looked at the site and wondered what the word ‘heuristic’ in SLAB’s byline might mean:

1. serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of furthering investigation

2. encouraging a person to learn, discover, understand, or solve problems on his or her own, as by experimenting, evaluating possible answers or solutions, or by trial and error: a heuristic teaching method

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.

Mediaspree gesunken. Sort of.

Just a quick follow up to my ‘Spreeufer fur alle’ rant the other day, to mention that the result was a landslide against office development and in favour of retained and improved access to the river.

Lots about in the German language press, but a brief summary in english here.

Cynics will note that the vote has no legal standing, but hey, it’s a vote from the heart against the world of international business travellers checking into bland hotels, to a neverending soundtrack of Elton John/Celine Dion/Bon Jovi bellowing out across the river from the O2.

Off to the beach now to party like it’s 1989.

Berlin Alexanderplatz: the plot thickens

God knows, Berlin has some ugly buildings. But occasionally something gets built whose sheer awfulness makes it worthy of note.

The new Alexa shopping centre at Alexanderplatz is just such an edifice. Perhaps it’s the way the strange mottled pink ceramic facade panels clash with its gold-tinted atrium canopy. Perhaps it’s the way the canopy extends into the building and frequently reappears as a kind of giant floating turd motif. Perhaps it’s the fact that all that cladding is bespoke; somebody expended serious money to make it look this awful.

What’s it meant to be? What does this ‘unique’ use of materials signify?

To be fair, the Alexa (as in Alexanderplatz’s little sister, I presume) does seem to be working, in terms of putting something next to the Platz which someone has a reason to go to. There are now people, lots of people in fact, swarming around the strip of retail buildings running parallel to the station.

When I first visited Berlin in 2002, Alexanderplatz was a confusion of cones, barriers and temporary traffic systems, but with no actual building work going on.  Today it’s worse, but at least there’s some real building work, namely a second new shopping arcade, which currently looks like this

It’s been given the ingenious name ‘Die Mitte’. Because it’s in the middle of Alexanderplatz.

Blog update, July 09. It now looks like this:

In any case, Alexanderplatz has long been a work in progress. A competition was held in 1929 to expand Alexanderplatz into a ‘big city plaza’, based almost entirely on traffic flow – a virtual fetish of urban planners at the time. The actual buildings were of secondary importance, with a required lifespan of only 25 years.

The competition was won by the Lockhardt brothers, but for some reason Peter Behren’s runner-up design was chosen, of which the Alexander and Beroliner buildings are the only survivors. Interestingly, there was a competition entry by Mies Van Der Rohe, featuring seven huge unconnected rectilinear blocks, not entirely unlike the later GDR scheme in its thinking.

Most of the Behrens plan remained unbuilt, due, I guess, to the onset of the Great Depression. Then the war. Then the GDR, who built something else instead. So there’s still a sense of ‘unfinished business’, from a city planner’s point of view.

On the plus side, the new buildings will go some way to banish the ‘windswept wasteland’ feel given it by GDR postwar planning. It’s a shame though that the solution is so entirely based on shopping. The Alexa is huge, and entirely filled with global-brand shops, ensuring that this could be absolutely anywhere. It adds its considerable retail weight to Galeria Kaufhof, and the shops Alexander & Berolina, which will be further increased by Die Mitte.

Berlin (or at least its government) perceives that the only way forward for the city is to become a place like other western metropolises – an international flight hub, shopping ‘experiences’, vast entertainment venues. And they’re probably right; commerce hasn’t exactly been swift in coming to the capital. But something of Berlin’s rough spirit will undoubtedly be lost in the process.

The key buildings of Alexanderplatz, for the trainspotter in you…

Alexander and Berolina buildings. Virtually reconstructioned due to devastating war damage (the Soviets fought their way into Berlin via Alex), with the latest makeover (of Berolina) by nps tchoban voss, who also did the Cubix multiplex south of station.


and Alexanderhaus

The 123m Park Inn, originally the GDR’s Stadt Berlin, by Roland Korn, 1967-70.

The GDR’s answer to KaDeWe was the Zentrum department store, by Josef Kaiser, 1967-70. A couple of years ago the building was cocooned and reborn as Galeria Kaufhof, thanks to a rather bland makeover by Paul Josef Kleihues, his final work.

I notice that there’s a substantial monograph available on the project, bizarrely. Maybe I’m missing something? At best it seems nothing special (compare it with John McAslan’s fine reworking of the Peter Jones store in London). At worst, the exterior seems uncomfortably close to the stripped neo-classicism of the Third Reich. I know that Kleihues’ office had no house style, but this seems an unnecessary low point.

You could argue that Kleihues was West Germany’s chameleon architect, and that Hermann Henselmann was East Germany’s. So it’s ironic that across the Platz from Galeria are arguably Henselmann’s best works – the Haus Des Lehrers and the Kongresshalle. Both are largely uncompromised modernism (if you ignore the enormous Soviet Realist mural around the tower). Compare and contrast with his very compromised work along Karl-Marx-Allee.

Haus Des Lehrers

Kongresshalle (now BCC)

The 17 storey Reisehaus (House of Travel,I guess) 1967-70, is also by Roland Korn. Along with the unreadable ‘atomic’ clock across the square, this seems like a particularly cruel GDR joke; a travel agency for citizens not allowed to travel, and a world clock to show what time it was in all the places you couldn’t go. By way of interest, I was going to tell of a visit to the Week12End club, which now occupies two floors and a roof terrace. But someone’s said it better here already.

The Electrical Industry Building (now re-wrapped) and in the background the Berliner Verlag building, by Heinz Mehlan 1967-69, and Karl-Ernst Swora 1970-1973, respectively.

To the south of the S-Bahn is the Cubix multiplex, 2001, by nps tchoban voss (their lower case, not my typo).

Next to this is a vast plattenbau facade, which apparently disguises a building by Phillip Schaefer dating from 1930/31, formerly Karstadt’s HQ, then a police headquarters after the war. I read all this in some guidebook, but I’m not 100% sure this is the right building. Not sure where else it would be though. (See comment below – I was mistaken)

And, of course, the TV Tower – first draft apparently by Henselmann, design by Gunther Kollmann and others, with origami-like base buildings by Walter Herzog (and others… these were collective times, no starchitects in the GDR, with the exception of Henselmann himself, perhaps). I’m not going to post a picture of the tower itself – just look upwards when in Berlin – so here’s another bit.