Berlin Urban Design – A Short History of a European City (25 Feb 2013)

A spot of self-publicity, as the 2nd, revamped edition of Berlin Urban Design, by Harald Bodenschatz, has been published recently, English translation by me*.

I notice that amazon.co.uk has the old, out-of-date edition, so check carefully before you buy. The new (2nd) edition has additional and extended chapters, bringing the narrative up to date with various current projects, including the building of the glorious new BER airport, due to open in 2012. 2013. 2014 the 21st century**. (Edit July 2017: still hasn’t opened…)

Also July 2017: can’t now find the English version on the publisher’s site, but you can get it on evil Amazon.

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I reviewed the original edition on this blog about three years ago, commenting that it was a good book with a poor English translation. As a consequence, I was given the chance to have a go myself, including some updated and additional chapters. Hope you like it.

The book is a short but oh-so-informative history of Berlin’s urban development, cantering quickly through its medieval roots to focus on the city’s colossal 19th century expansion, 20th century utopianism, and post-wall euphoria-to-debt story, with much more along the way. Maps and images are fantastic, text is not too shabby either.

Will bring some copies along to Wednesday’s book club.

 

* The intro was written in English by Karl Friedhelm Fischer. Original translation of 1st edition by the amazingly improbably named Sasha Disko.

** See press for details. Mayoral careers can go down as well as up.

Film Night: Berlin Babylon, Wednesday 5th December (2012)

Am very excited that Hubertus Siegert, director if the 2001 documentary film Berlin Babylon, will be joining us for a screening of his film, with a chance to chat about it afterwards.

The doc follows many of the key architects and other players in the ‘euphoric’ first wave of Berlin’s reconstruction in the late 1990s, including Renzo Piano, the late Günter Behnisch and others as they muse on the business of reconstructing huge areas of the city from scratch.

Plus it’s got a soundtrack composed by Einstürzende Neubauten, which you can’t say about many architecture documentary films. Or indeed most films.

As usual, 7.30pm at Hudson’s Cafe, Schönleinstr 1.  Be punctual, as we want to have some time at the end!

Hardt-Waltherr Hämer, 1922 – 2012 (30 Sept 2012)

Sad news that Hardt-Waltherr Hämer, the father of ‘careful urban renewal’ (‘behutsamen Stadterneuerung’) and director of the Altbau half of the IBA 1987, died on Thursday.

http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/zum-tod-von-hardt-waltherr-haemer-retter-von-kreuzberg/7190412.html

Image, Karl-Robert Schütze, wikicommons

Hämer was a key player in the movement against the excesses of modernist planning of the 1960s and 70s, which in Berlin reached its nadir with the redevelopment of Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg.  He took the (at the time radical) view that cities could be revived by retaining the existing built fabric and working with local residents to improve their own homes and environment.   This stood firmly against the orthodoxy of the time – the scorched earth policy of urban renewal through large scale demolition and rebuilding, including major new road networks, which was of course much more profitable for investors and contractors than Hämer’s ‘slow architecture’ approach.

His much publicised and successful project to put these ideas into practice at Chamissoplatz in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district led to his heading of the Altbau element of the International BauAustellung of the 1980s in West Berlin.  The legacy of his work here was later to be largely ignored during the redevelopment of Berlin following the fall of the Wall, with rabid gentrification, displacement of long-standing communities and the general blandifying of large parts of the city.

Various things.

Most of my time these days is running a bakery and cafe (those who know me know this has taken up… quite a lot of life recently).

Anyway, some things to do / see / things I have going on…

Firstly, this looks really good, starting this weekend, at Kraftwerk Mitte, close to the DAZ and sort-of part of the same power station complex that houses Tresor.  I think I might go along to the opening on Friday night, let me know if you fancy it and we’ll meet up.  Not sure about the English version of the title – “REALSTADT: Wishes Knocking on Reality’s Doors” (?!) and can’t grasp the numbers, but it describes itself thus:

“The selection of 250 architectural and urban models and 65 exemplary projects is based on nationwide calls including the competition «National Prize for Integrated Urban Development and Baukultur». Projects were submitted by municipalities, architectural practices, universities, initiatives and individuals. In the exhibition at Kraftwerk Mitte the projects from all over Germany are fused into a temporary city, where Bremen and Aachen, Görlitz and Ulm find themselves next to each other.”

What else? Oh yes, a couple of weeks back I went on a manic but very interesting tour of the Saxony-Anhalt IBA 2010, based around 19 cities, each with its own theme and approach.  This was less about ‘big architectural statements’ (in fact, one of the aims was to avoid these) and more about how to do something positive with the fact that these cities are shrinking.  It’s been developed over the last ten years by the Bauhaus Foundation Dessau, (Dessau-Roßlau is included) and focuses on a different series of projects within each city/town.

(Photo above looks like a brochure, but was just a random snap, oddly).

I was first drawn toward this subject a couple of years ago, via the Shrinking Cities project and exhibition.  The idea of cities shrinking on any sort of significant scale is something that feels like an alien concept, but in fact one in four cities and towns in the world are losing population.  By the middle of this century, when the global population begins to fall in absolute terms, it’s going to be an issue everywhere.  The demographics of all this fascinate me, and I need to write seriously about the whole thing soon.

Anyway, moving on…

Some images of the thing they call the Schwerbelastungskörper (my current favourite german word), which translates here as ‘Heavy Load-Bearing Body’, which says it all really.

(My wife waving while I took the photo – it makes us look like alien lifeforms.)

It stands as an unintentially profound monument to the sheer pompous ambition of the Third Reich; essentially a massive lump of concrete built to test the ability of Berlin’s marshy ground to take the massive weight of Hitler & Speer’s colossal but massively ugly design for a triumphal arch, as part of their plan to rebuild Berlin as Germania.

The planned arch would have stood at the end of a triumphal parade route, the ‘North-South Axis’ that ran up to the Great Dome, which would have straddled the Spree to the north of the Reichstag.  When I first spotted the Schwerbelastungskörper a while back, I wondered what it was doing way out near tempelhof airport.  It was then that the sheer scale of the plans hit me.  If you stand on the viewing platform that places you just above the top of this vast piece of concrete, you can look north and try and imagine a road wider than several city blocks, ending in a dome larger than, well, all sorts of huge buildings stacked on top of eachother.

It’s open two or three days a week, but also as part of  the ‘The Tag des Offenen Denkmals’ the other weekend.  I normally find the problem such ‘open house’ days, is that there’s such an overwhelming amount to see for archi minded folk such as us, that you end up feeling exhausted before it’s begun, and see none of it.  I then go on to console myself with the thought that I’ll use that year’s catalogue of all the buildings to organise small or private tours at other times of year.  Which then happen infrequently.

Anyway, this year bagan the same way, with the added confusion of this year’s Berlin Festival at Tempelhof, which, as most Berliners will know, was something of a disaster, being closed early on the first night by the police (overcrowding was blamed, over-zealous security following the Love Parade tragedy the more likely reason) and the remaining acts being compressed into a few hours on the following afternoon.  So I gave up on the second day, and went to see the Schwerbelastungskörper, which is nearby.

Right, then I was going to write about some of the many Berlin works of Hans Heinrich Müller, the architect who built so many of those fantastic brick power and transformer stations around Berlin.  But I’m too tired now, so will save this for another day.  Except to say that the first one I saw is right next to the block I live in, on the Landwehrkanal in Kreuzberg, and is fantastic.

(Above photo taken in the snow in Jan 09 – the building just to the right has been replaced with something horrible, which I also need to include in a blog post soon).

Das ungebaute Berlin (9 Aug 2010)

Just a quick post to recommend ‘Das ungebaute Berlin‘, an exhibiton at the recently refurbished Cafe Moskau.  It’s only on until the 15th of August, and won’t take you hours.

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Norman Foster’s original proposal for the Reichstag.

It covers 100 projects which, as you guessed, failed to get built in Berlin in the twentieth century, ranging from the very well known (Mies’ skyscraper on Friedrichstrasse) to the less so (Peter Cook, once of Archigram, happily wittering about some wonderfully odd plans for the western end of Kudamm).

The projects perhaps tell as much about the history of Berlin and of modern architecture as much as what was actually built – the megalomania of Speer, the almost-as-mad 1960s project to build a colossal motorway interchange by demolishing much of Kreuzberg, and the arguments and proposals over the big post-wall sites such as Potzdamerplatz.

There’s an extremely enticing book to go with it, which I’ll try and do a review of soon.

German text only by the way, with the odd english speaking architect in the interview videos (actually, pretty much all the interviewees are pretty odd, not least of all Peter Cook, bless ‘im).

Direktorenhaus, and around. (30 July 2010)

Events have led me to the recently-opened Direktorenhaus a couple of times lately.  It’s a “permanent exhibition space for the whole neocraft-art-versus-design debate” apparently.  Or, in other words, it’s a gallery space for design and craft-based work that isn’t quite pure ‘art’.  Anyway, well worth going to have a look, partly because of the exhibitions that they hold there, but also because of the buildings.

In fact, you could make a day out of it and see Koolhaas’ Dutch Embassy just a block away to the east. There’s nowhere much to eat/drink in the area – we once found ourselves on a cold winter’s day inside a rather odd hotel restaurant in nearby Nikolaiviertel (which let’s face it, is an entirely odd place to begin with).  The Wasserbetrieb’s staff canteen is open to the public, but Direktorenhaus hope to open a cafe soon on an upper floor of their building, which should be cool, and will have amazing views (see photos of amazing views, below).  We’re talking the bit around here. anyway – it feels out of the way, but is actually quite central.  Albeit ‘central’ in Berlin is oddly the bit with least in it.

The ‘Direktorenhaus’ itself is one wing of what was the old German Reichs Mint, built in 1935, and was basically just a license to print money… ha ha.  It’s now a part of the Berlin Wasserbetiebe (the Berlin water company) with the original buildings wrapped around some new ones, the most notable being by Christoph Langhof, 1998-2000.  Have just noticed some good shots and a bit about this over at the Deutsches Architektur Forum.  Anyway, am becoming scattergun, so here it all is in an orderly fashion:

The entrance is quite tricky to find.  It’s at Am Krögel. 2, so you go in on the side away from the river. And it’s helpfully unsigned.

PS – have accidentally downsized some of my images to about 4 pixels.  The best ones, annoyingly.  Damn Picasa and its strange export function.

Now, it should be noted that German architecture during the period 1933-45 is a complex business, with perhaps more continuity than many of the stripped neoclassical ‘banality of evil’ designs would suggest, albeit that modernism was relegated relegated to industrial buildings, where it survived at all.  And one should not forget the need to consider the context of the buildings and the horrors of the regime, to avoid becoming one of those weird people with an unhealthy obsession with the subject.   But, well, ooh, I love a good Nazi building, don’t you?

Something a bit scary greets you as you enter:

I guess it’s really just the facades – the interiors are less distinctive, although the staircase is lovely, and there’s the odd ‘overblown’ detail, like the neoclassical seat (see below, this bit is under refurbishment, they don’t normally leave coffee cups everywhere like this).

Those aforementioned views, possibly to be what you’ll see from the cafe:

The newer buildings immediately behind the Direktorenhaus, and to its right on the river, are by Joachim Ganz, and have some borderline-lame (in my opinion) wavy facade metaphors for water.  The most interesting bit is the inclusion of some apartments in the elevation onto the Am Krögel side, with each apartment having a mezzanine level with internal glazed rooms and winter gardens.

Then, round the front, is the more Christoph Langhof building, added onto the industrial part of the 1935 mint complex, but rather different from it. It has, in my mind, a mix of early Czech modernism, that weird style that’s being used to complete Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, and Blake’s 7/Doctor Who sets circa 1978. Which overall is a good thing, I think.

The coolest scifi door in Berlin?  A Dalek might suddenly come out.  It’s way cooler than the actually-not-very-good door in the Chinese embassy just down the river.

Books and more books. (4 July 2010)

Back in Berlin after break (wedding and honeymoon), to discover that it’s very warm. Tried to sit down with Aldo Rossi’s Architecture of the City, but kept nodding off. Newspapers filled only with yesterday’s Germany/Argentina game. So having failed to read anything, thought I’d write about some books instead – one in particular, followed by a fairly random list of Berlin architecture-related things that I’ve been reading, as I thought you might be interested.

This all stems from my guilt at not having reviewed Berlin Urban Design: A Brief History, sent to me by Dom publishers a little while back. I was surprised to be sent further books by them, as I was lukewarm about the previous one. But this new publication is much more to my liking; a breezy canter through Berlin’s urban planning history, from its military and industrial roots up to the present day. It’s an easy read (despite a few awkward english translation moments) and a good short guide for anyone wanting a grounding in the subject.

The introduction makes the point that Berlin is very much a 19th and 20th century city. Minimal page space is given to the medieval and Baroque periods, since, despite the Berlin government’s tourist-friendly focus on rebuilding a Baroque castle and other such retro weirdness, these periods do not dominate the capital’s dominant urban history. Rather; between 1871 and 1918, it was the largest industrial city in Europe – something that you’re constantly reminded as you explore the eastern part of the city along the Spree, where Berlin’s monumental industrial remains are only slowly giving way to the offices and apartments of the ‘creative class’ (I hate this term, but as its use becomes increasingly pejorative, I use it more and more. It’s a phrase that makes you shudder, much like ‘World Class’). And important to remember also, as you cycle back late from a friend’s place out at Stralau, that these buildings existed for a purpose other than venues for dimly lit but achingly seductive techno parties.

Anyway, back at the book: the Hobrecht Plan of the 1860’s is compared in some detail with Haussmann’s Paris and Cerdà’s Barcelona projects of the same period, mounting a partial defense of Hobrecht by pointing out that the creation of high density slums was not directly the fault of the plan, which simply laid down street and overall block sizes. It did not regulate the number or quality of buildings per block, although perhaps this omission is in itself a failure on the part of the planning authorities – having been staying in Barcelona’s Eixample only days ago, it’s hard not to see the latter as far superior to the former.

The book gives short shrift to National Socialist city planning, although a reproduction of Speer’s North-South axis ground plan makes you realize just how madly destructive its enormous scale would have been, with single buildings the size of small districts, and a complete disregard for the exisiting city. (Although insensitive urban planning was possibly the least of the Nazi’s crimes.)

Greatest depth is allocated to post-Wall planning, to which I haven’t really paid much attention to be honest, save for the odd critical sneer, due to my personal obsession with the late 1970s and early 1980s and the seemingly general agreement that since the wall came down all development has been poorly planned and dominated by commercial interests. Worth noting though that there is more to Berlin’s current plans than neverending gentrification, even if it often seems that way. But most interesting to me was mention of the ‘pilot projects’ for the IBA housing exhibition of the 1980s, which the author sets out clearly as a turn away from modernism, in terms of urban development. These included “Block 118” – careful urban renewal of existing buildings at Klausener Platz, Charlottenburg, as well as similar planning around Chammissoplatz in Kreuzberg.

Berlin Urban design – A Brief History. By Harald Bodenschatz, Dom Publishers. English and German (link is to English).


Other things I’ve been reading…

Some more books:

Stadt & Haus: New Berlin Architecture in the 21st Century

Bruno Taut: Master of Colourful Architecture (not such a great title but a good book!)

Traces of Terror: Sites of Nazi Tyranny in Berlin – not for sad ‘obsessed with Nazis’ types, but a sober reflection on sites rather than just buildings.

Berlin Modernism Housing Estates (Siedlungen der Berliner Moderne) – have just realised that although the publisher sent me this rather fabulous tome, I never actually properly reviewed it. I should have done, as it’s a detailed report on the background and reasons for giving UNESCO heritage status to the six key Berlin modernist estates of the 1920s,
including the Britz ‘Horsehoe’ estate. Braun are a pretty big publisher of all things Berlin architectural, including the essential, I-never-leave-home-without-it, Berlin Architekturstadtplan (Architecture City Map), the Berlin Architecture Guide and also the annual guide to new architecture in Berlin.

Deutschlandscape/Deutschlandschaft – Epicentres at the Periphery. A book produced from Germany’s pavilion at the 2004 Venice Biennale, covering Berlin and elsewhere. Mainly elsewhere. Where it turns out there is much more interesting new architecture than in Berlin itself.

Modern Architecture In Berlin – an excellent guide by architect Rolf Rave, with a selection of 466 buildings, covered ‘briefly but informatively’, as they say, and available in all good bookshops. The kind of book that I like to flick through endlessly, frequently annoying my wife by saying “oh that’s who did that building”.

A Life In Cities – autobiography by David Mackay, of Catalan architects MBM, whose work includes masterplanning the Barcelona Olympics, and Berlin projects including IBA buildings on Kochstrasse. He graduated from the AA in London in the early 1950s and moved to Barcelona with his new catalan wife directly afterwards. A fascinating mix of personal reminiscence and commentary on cities and architecture. I notice Scotland’s RIAS, who published it, are doing them for £15 at the moment.

And my current favourite: “The Language of Postmodernism“, fourth edition, by Charles Jencks. Often unintentionally amusing (this edition is from 1987, when Postmodernism was seen as the only possible future after the death of modernism) but equally as often intentionally amusing, wry and intelligent. Found it in a secondhand bookshop, am sure you can find a copy somewhere on the web if you need one. A much later edition, which must have been losing its point somewhat, is available.

There’s lots more, but books are all in teetering stacks around the place and thus a bit confused at the moment.