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.

jrs

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).

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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.

Disappointment at Prager Platz (but enlightenment at the Technikmuseum). (6 June 2010)

A lovely evening here in Kreuzberg, sat on the balcony watching the sun go down.  My partner (soon to be wife) is off on her hen night, so what to do?  A drug-fuelled night of depravity with a group of erotic dancers?  No, it’s Saturday night, I want to do something special.  So a spot of long overdue blogging.

I was on an errand the other day (back when it was rainy and cold here in Berlin, a period that lasts from roughly October until the end of May), and this errand took me through Prager Platz, another part of – you guessed it – the 1980s IBA.  Along with the development up at Tegeler Hafen,  it stands physically apart from the rest of the IBA programme.

It didn’t help that it was cold and raining of course, but there was something distinctly underwhelming about this particular piece of urban design.  Nothing wrong with the idea; the recreation of a 19th century square using contemporary architecture.  And I’ve long become accustomed, probably too much so, to some of the PoMo excesses of the aforementioned IBA.  But I found the Rob Krier block frankly a little scary – hard to put my finger on exactly why (perhaps Tragedy Hatherley can help here, whose way with words and seemingly colossal output always put my infrequent posts to shame).  Why though is there always something of ancient Rome about Krier’s buildings, often with nightmarish almost-but-not-quite-abstract sculpture.  Something a little too unrelaxed and self-consciously odd?

I tread carefully here, because there’s architecture that I’ve not initially loved, then have subsequently campaigned to save, but architecture the like of John Hejduk’s is absent here.

Part of the problem for me is that there was nothing good round the back.  So often with IBA buildings, particularly in Kreuzberg and Luisenstadt, further to the east, you get nothing very impressive on the street elevation, but much more excitement in the interior courtyards (the Höfe, to give them their correct plural-of-Hof name).  Secret gardens, cascading balconies, wavy elevations, overgrown ruins and the like.  None of that here, perhaps because this a richer and, pre-IBA, a more developed part of town.  We’re talking West-end, Wilmersdorf/Schöneberg, and actually the strength here is the understated and pleasantly sleepy1950s domestic architecture, which is beginning to exert a strange hold on me (more about this another time, except to say that I’ve started fantasizing about living in a well-to-do part of West Berlin of this period, rather than the parts that you’re meant to fantasize about).

So anyway, onto the buildings, architects and such things.  I include this kind of detail, in the probably errant belief that it lends my blog a little depth and class.  Or whatever.

The overall idea seems to have been jointly by Rob Krier and Gottfried Böhm, with Klaus Kammann acting as Berlin contact architect for each of the buildings.

Firstly, that scary Rob Krier block (you’ll remember him, brother of Leon, who is/was architectural advisor to Prince Charles –  both brothers big noises in the why-does-it-present-itself-so-like-Scientology New Urbanism movement).

In classic PoMo style, there are elements that at a glance appear to be structural, but then obviously aren’t.  A bit like a later James Stirling building, except not as good.  Like this bracket supporting the balcony, but actually just pretending to, ho, ho.

Next, the residential block by Gottfried Böhm, an architect with a long career with some good work. But not here, to my taste at least.  It’s quirky enough, but I was strangely taken with the idea that Richard Rogers could have done the same building in a High-tech stylee (if the British High Tech folk had been interested in such lowly things as housing back in the 1980s).  Still, I noticed recently that someone had tagged my blog on Delicious as ‘ugly Berlin architecture’ (I decided to be flattered) and this will add to their collection.

What to do with all those spare tiles? Oh, I know, let’s cover the whole building with them…

…and a building by Carlo Aymonino, who, unlike Rob Krier, actually is italian, although he hasn’t included any clay pantile roofs, rusticated balconies, false brackets etc.  It’s hiding behind a tree though, for some reason:

It seems that where the shopping centre now stands, there was a plan to build a municipal leisure pool, library and an adult education centre.  I didn’t venture into the shopping centre, but it didn’t look like any of these things would be located here.  Do correct me if I’m wrong.

Perhaps I’ll return to all of this at some future point in a different frame of mind, but for the time being, inspired by the aforementioned Mr Hatherley, I’m going to press on with a longer post than usual (which isn’t saying much) by switching subject to something I do like. Nothing to do with the IBA!  Plus, all photos guaranteed to depict a sunny day.

I was cycling about round the Tempodrome recently.  It’s a permanent, concrete version of a kind of big circus tent, which previously really did exist as an actual circus venue in various locations around Berlin, once hosting an event featuring both Westbam and Einstürzenden Neubauten, which must have been good.  The Neues Tempodrome is a faint echo of the original, being given more to Coke-sponsored major rock tours than anything more leftfield. It also has the Liquidrome beneath, but you can look all this up on Wikipedia if you want.  It was built, as many such big german things are, by GMP (von Gerkan, Marg & Partner).

The flower pots are very large, by the way.  I got my girlfriend to stand next to one for scale, but don’t like to feature her in the blog, so you’ll have to imagine her standing to the right of the closer one, being about the same height as it.

More interestingly, it is built on the site, and on the remains, of the Anhalter Bahnhof, one of the capital’s largest stations before the war, but which was demolished postwar after heavy bomb damage and lack of anywhere to need to trravel to from West Berlin.  If you live in Berlin you’ll be familiar with the bit that still stands:

But on the other side of the Tempodrome, there are remains of the station platforms and tracks, which rather reminded me of a recent post by the ever-reliably interesting Charles Holland at Fantastic Journal, telling of the self-consciously hip and not-so-hip reuse of abandoned urban industrial architecture.  The difference here being  that Berlin is virtually made of this sort of thing, with far too few inhabitants to pay attention to it all.  Not quite as self-consciously a piece of ‘Architecture’ as New York’s High Line, but the Anhalter Bahnhof tracks run into a series of derelict and semi-derelict spaces which previously formed one of the largest interchanges/good yards in Europe. Remains of the platforms can be seen, with some landscaping at the ‘neater’ Tempodrome end with beds of railway gravel marking out the route of the tracks.  The whole thing is being allowed to slowly turn into woodland, deliberately I assume.

I’m slightly baffled as to how the tracks are at the same level as the Tempodrome, far above the level of the front of the station; perhaps someone can explain…

I’ve come to believe that I’ll never be able to embed Google maps, but if you look here, you can see the Tempodrome, and the site of the Anhalter Bahnhof (the white circle in a rectangle, centre top) with the goods yards and tracks running through a large site to the south, still partly empty.  But a large part of the area, including the three vast ruined turntable sheds, have been incorporated into the Deutsches Technikmuseum.

As you pass by on the main road, the very prominent (and apparently very expensive) new building of the Museum looks impressive enough.  I guess any building with a Dakota bomber hanging off it would be impressive anyway, but I’ve recently realised that structurally the whole building is something rather fantastic.  Essentially, it’s a colossal pillar in the centre, from which the rest of the building (and the aeroplane) is suspended.  You might counter that this is a rather Grimshaw-esque approach; create a structural problem and then try to solve it.  Whatever.  But it does become more apparent if you explore round the back, where they’ve done this:

It appears to be a structural frame with the columns taken away, but you’re actually seeing the bottom end of the suspension rods, holding up the floors.

It’s by Ulrich Wolff and Helge Pitz, 1995-2001 by the way.  Apparently building costs were such that when originally finished, there was no money for anything to go in it.  But I say ‘apparently’ because architect bloke down the pub told me, and you can’t believe everything he says.

I also love that from the south, only the ‘head’ of the building is visible, appearing like some vast piece of abandoned german industrial machinery.  Built on top of a bunker.  Which I can’t believe wasn’t at least part of the intended effect.

Some other images included, as there’s all sorts of other recent and less recent structures nestling in the undergrowth.  The museum itself is also well worth a visit, if you’d like to see some of this from the other side of the fence.  Plus if you get a chance before the end of June, this looks very interesting.

Rem(oved) (12 May 2010)

It’s the best title I could come up with, even though someone pointed out in a comment on an earlier post that the building I’m writing about here was designed not by Mr Koolhaas, but by his partner Elia Zengehlis, along with Matthias Sauerbruch and others, as OMA.

Anyway, last week, a new chum (who lives in the MBM-designed block behind it) showed me some ongoing alterations to the block for a new McDonalds.  Residents are apparently concernd that a terrace being constructed to the full width of the Scary Burger Clown’s frontage will place its ‘al fresco diners’ (heavy-petting burger-wielding Italian teenagers) rather close to the windows of first floor residents.  Not in any sense a good thing, but I guess architecturally neutral, as McD’s will replace a line of previous fast food outlets which in turn replaced the open space for vehicle turning that originally occupied the ground level.

This building, as regular readers might guess, was built as part of the IBA housing exhibition of 1987.

But of more concern form an architectural point of view is what seems to be the creation of a separate small commercial unit, formed by cutting a chunk out of the ground floor entrance to the apartments:

The once spacious entrance lobby is now reduced down to a narrow corridor, with the central column facing cut away and a ceiling for the commercial space inserted:

So another little piece of built history from this period eroded, a piece of architecture thoughtlessly screwed.  Did this work get planning consent?  Did anyone care?  We’ll be finding out shortly.

Put on Eis. (10 May 2010)

A recent Tweet from Baustelle drew my attention to the fact that demolition has begun on one of the last ‘fabulous industrial ruins’* in central Berlin. (As always with links to the Morgenpost, just Google the headline, and you can sidestep the charging system).  Although the ‘Eisfabrik’ (icecream factory) element is to remain, the cold stores and other buildings are to go. Or something.  To be honest, I’m not very clear from the article: part is being demolished, part has been demolished/allowed to collapse in the past, part will remain. Senate Building Director Regula Lüscher (my new hero, since her decision on the Hejduk tower) remains optimistic, although I’m unclear why.
Current owner of the site, TLG, asks why anyone should care, suggesting that their new designs for the site could be considered worthy of protection in 300 years time.  Discuss.

I climbed through a whole in the fence to take these images, back in April 2008. I was spotted by someone across the river at Radialsystem V (a former pumping station, converted, admittedly with some style,  into a venue for contemporary dance). The police came, expecting a chance for some exciting harrassment of the people from the squat across the road, but were disappointed to find only me.  I was sent on my way.

And across the river, Radialsystem V – so named because it was the 5th of five pumping stations, and, er, designed as part of a radial system of some sort:

*Or grim reminder of the collapse of east German industry, which led immediately to large-scale structural unemployment that still remains a huge problem twenty years later. And now provides nothing but photo-fodder for idiotic British and American expats with time on their hands.

Post-blog addition: not only did I miss a protest a week or so ago about the demolition, but I missed fire there too.  Luckily, everything that occurs everywhere is now captured on video:

Success! And more… (24 April 2010)

It’s like a sort of IBA-related Christmas, Easter and birthday come at once. Early last week, a Senate Baukollegium was held, where our ‘campaign team’ was able to put its case to Senate Building Director Frau Regula Lüscher, the Mayor of Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain and others.  Robert Slinger, Florian Köhl and Matthias Reese represented the campaign.

The result, officially announced via an interview with Frau Lüscher in today’s Morgenpost, is that the building is to be restored to its original design, including its distinctive colour scheme, which is fantastic news in itself.  But in addition, the borough of Kreuzberg is keen to see the area in front of the tower properly landscaped, and even to see Hejduk’s designs for two small pavilions, Studio for the painter, and Studio for the musician, built on the site.  Both formed part of the original design, and were intended to flank the entrance route to the tower – they were actually constructed for the 1987 IBA exhibition in the Martin Gropius Bau, but are assumed not to have survived.  Images of all this to be added here shortly, in the meantime, a glimpse of the Musician from beneath the Painter (I think) at the exhibition:

Frau Lüscher goes on to say in the interview that although Denkmalschutz (statutory heritage protection) is not the right tool for protecting IBA buildings, a formal procedure is to be established for building owners proposing alterations.

Finally, links to a couple of previous Morgenpost pieces, one on the future of the IBA buildings, the other an interview with Renata Hejduk.  If you have problems reading the full articles, you can usually just google the complete headline, which allows you to bypass the charging system. Oddly.

And finally finally, I notice someone has picked out the Kreuzberg Tower complex on one of the Google-earth-bird’s-eye-view-type things, here.  Interestingly, the building immediately to the west, with a semicircular rear facade, is another IBA building, by Raimund Abraham, who sadly died just a few weeks ago.