Abroad in Britain

2014.02.11

I’m not in Berlin at the moment, indeed for a while (till the spring?). I started setting up an ‘abroad’ blog, but basically couldn’t be bothered, so will just post my any non-Berlin ramblings here for a bit.  Sorry.

Anyway, what’s the oldest thing in the picture below?

It’s the VW Beetle. Because this is Poundbury – Prince Charles’ curious urban extension to Dorchester. The oldest part has recently reached the venerable age of twenty (of Poundbury that is, not the oldest part of Prince Charles, who apparently dates from the late middle ages.)

A grim, rainy day found me passing nearby, and having never seen it, I was curious. More curious at least than my wife, who sat in the car listening to Radio 4 for an hour as I wandered about, taking photos and annoying the locals. True, it wasn’t ideal flaneur weather.  And rather than the villagey hamlet location that I’d envisaged (and that perhaps the architects also envisaged?) Poundbury is actually on top of a hill, in a surprisingly windswept location.

Ignore for a moment, if you can, the architectural style(s). I use the term style advisedly, as the actual function of each of the buildings is almost aggressively divorced from its appearance. More on that later.

In fact, the thing that immediately struck me first and most forcefully was not the toy town appliqué of different historical periods, but cars, and how they are treated. Poundbury in the flesh seems much less about designing for people, or even pastiche architectural gestures, than about the car: how best to avoid annoying our four-wheeled friends with the irritation of road markings or signage, with matters as mundane as finding a parking space?

The car-based nature of the development was discussed to some degree in early reports, but perhaps it should have been at the centre of every discussion. Oddly, there is no road/street signage of any kind; no one-way systems, yellow lines, parking bays, meters or any such street clutter. Anyone can park anywhere they like, it seems. Surely therefore, parking should be a major problem? It isn’t, I think for two reasons: one is that the Poundbury is in the middle of nowhere – the place is not swarming with tourists (I was, I suspect, the only tourist, and for all the wrong reasons). But secondly, the spaces that at first glance appeared to be walled back gardens are on closer inspection… car parks. The contrived, ‘kooky’ alleyways what you would expect to lead to interesting inner courtyards (as they do in Berlin) or to other streets, in fact lead to… more car parking. Tudorbethan garage doors are studiously avoided; the architecture is more ambitious than that. Instead, whole fake coach houses are constructed as ‘instant conversions’.

It’s the VW Beetle, obviously, because this is Poundbury – Prince Charles’ curious urban extension to Dorchester. The oldest part has recently reached the age of twenty (the oldest part of Poundbury that is, not of Prince Charles, who apparently dates from the late middle ages.)

I found myself passing by (don’t ask why – I’m cruising round some odd parts of Britain-on-Sea at the moment) and having never been, I was curious. More curious at least than my wife, who sat in the car listening to Radio 4 as I wandered about, taking photos and annoying the locals. True, it wasn’t ideal flaneur weather. And it didn’t help that Poundbury turns out to be at the top of a windswept hill, rather than the down-in-the-valley hamlet location you might have envisaged. If you’d envisaged at all. Perhaps its architects had been similarly misled.

But I went with an open mind, because one should.

The development, which is now greatly expanded from the small first phase completed twenty years ago, has been largely forgotten by the architectural (and other) press.

Ignore for a moment, if you can, the architectural style(s). I use the term style precisely, by the way, as the estate’s buildings are almost aggressively divorced from those same buildings’ appearance. More on that later.

In fact, the thing that immediately struck me first and most forcefully was not the toy town appliqué of different historical periods, but the cars, or rather what is done with them. For in the flesh, the Poundbury concept seems to be much less about design for people, or good-end pastiche, than about how to keep cars contented. How best to avoid our four-wheeled friends being annoyed by irritating road markings and signage, with matters as mundane as “finding a parking space”.

The car-based nature of the development was discussed to some degree in early reports, but perhaps it should have been at the centre of every discussion. Oddly, there is no road/street signage of any kind; no one-way systems, yellow lines, parking bays, meters or any such street clutter. Anyone can park anywhere they like, it seems. Surely therefore, parking should be a major problem? It isn’t, for two reasons: one is that the Poundbury is in the middle of nowhere – so not much pressure on parking from out-of-towners. But mainly, it’s because the spaces that at first glance appear to be walled back gardens are on closer inspection… car parks. The contrived, ‘kooky’ alleyways what you would expect to lead to interesting inner courtyards (as they do in Berlin) or to other streets, in fact lead to… more car parking. Tudorbethan garage doors are studiously avoided; the developers are more architecturally ambitious than that. Instead, entire fake coach houses are constructed as ‘instant conversions’.

In fact, the thing that immediately struck me first and most forcefully was not the toy town appliqué of different historical periods, but the cars, or rather what is done with them. For in the flesh, the Poundbury concept seems to be much less about design for people, or good-end pastiche, than about how to keep cars contented. How best to avoid our four-wheeled friends being annoyed by irritating road markings and signage, with matters as mundane as “finding a parking space”.

The car-based nature of the development was discussed to some degree in early reports, but perhaps it should have been at the centre of every discussion. Oddly, there is no road/street signage of any kind; no one-way systems, yellow lines, parking bays, meters or any such street clutter. Anyone can park anywhere they like, it seems. Surely therefore, parking should be a major problem? It isn’t, for two reasons: one is that the Poundbury is in the middle of nowhere – so not much pressure on parking from out-of-towners. But mainly, it’s because the spaces that at first glance appear to be walled back gardens are on closer inspection… car parks. The contrived, ‘kooky’ alleyways what you would expect to lead to interesting inner courtyards (as they do in Berlin) or to other streets, in fact lead to… more car parking. Tudorbethan garage doors are studiously avoided; the developers are more architecturally ambitious than that. Instead, entire fake coach houses are constructed as ‘instant conversions’.

Despite attempts to form small parks, squares and meeting places, the royally-patronised exurb’s beating heart (I use the term wrongly) is a vast windswept space on the eastern side of town. I don’t think it was intended to be such a location, but it’s where Waitrose is located, so that’s that. The space is essentially a big car park, but without any road markings or parking bays. Instead, the vehicles using it just kind of circle each other slowly, each giving way to the other, like absent-minded kerb-crawlers. There’s an idea at work here (I think) – the transposing of Dutch-led thinking on the mixing of cars and pedestrians by doing away with traffic control clutter, meaning that drivers have to slow right down and be more aware.

To criticise the architectural styles used (as opposed to the architecture) is perhaps to miss the point. But hell, let’s go for it anyway (when in Rome…). Friends have often accused me of being a lover of that most unfashionable of styles, postmodernism, and there’s some truth in that. But Poundbury’s architecture is not postmodern; it lacks the humour, the nod-and-a-wink that made Pomo such fun. These are po-faced, pompous buildings that take themselves entirely seriously, a careful attempt to replicate… well what exactly?

The oddest thing, for Charles and the New Urbanism movement that claim to value the organic growth of the urban landscape, is that Poundbury’s mix of styles is simply too mixed. There is no medieval core, surrounded by Georgian streets, added to by the Victorian and ending in 1930s sprawl. Instead, architectural styles spanning, I would say, about three centuries, are exactly evenly mixed and disbursed, entirely pointlessly. A late medieval market building, a Victorian pub, Georgian Cottages, some Arts & Crafts er, luxury apartments. Of course the styles end at the dawn of the 20th century. There’s no modernism here. No tilts towards the Bauhaus, but also no interpretation of classicism to create something new, as Lutyens did. Poundbury is pastiche in its dullest, well-built form.

And the odd incongruity; I’ve long been mystified by the British way of incorporating (or failing to incorporate) solar panels into the roofs of newbuild homes. Perhaps the idea here was to make the building look older than the photovoltaics:

And let’s just call this, er, unsuccessful by Poundbury’s own standards:

I said at the beginning that the buildings’ functions are often completely at odds with their appearance. Obviously houses are houses, but some of the houses are offices, supermarkets, light industrial units and in two cases, offices for emergency services (a fire station and an ambulance station). Leaving aside my taste-based critique of the architecture*, my stroll about town brought to mind some of Poundbury’s chief planner Leon Krier’s writing on cities and architecture. His gripe in that particular piece (and many others) was that the modernist ’style’ lacked validity because it presented every building typology in the same way; a church, a factory a school all were apparently interchangeable in appearance. Odd then that his theory is the first to be thrown out of the (Neo-Georgian) window. Know what this is? (below)

This is offices, I think. And Waitrose:

And this is an ambulance station. You can tell it is, only because someone has thoughtfully painted a big sign on it, saying “St John Ambulance Station”.

To be fair, the local community hall looks the part:

…if it had been built in the late middle ages.

Despite Poundbury being pretty good in terms of build quality, it’s not ageing in the way it would if the buildings were ‘real’. Render is, ultimately, not stone.

Some of the designs are sweet…

Some are frankly a bit scary…

Some are almost convincing. A sort of arts’n'crafty Charles Rennie Mackintoshy anyone?

And some of it is just a bit eighties. I partly take back my positive inflection about Pomo – some of it was good, much was terrible. And enough with the f*****g balls on top of things, already:

Maybe all of this is unfair. Mr snobby architecture critic  comes along**, imposing his taste on others. Those who aspire to live in Poundbury are not comparing the homes offered here against the best that contemporary architectural design has to offer. They are comparing Dorchester’s new car-based exurb with other places’ new car-based exurbs. I spoke to/accosted a few people about town, who seemed to genuinely either like living there, or were at work and would like to live in Poundbury if they could have afforded it (tellingly).

*God save me from eclectic taste, as Grayson Perry recently said.

**I wish. I’m neither a good enough writer nor well connected enough to be an architecture critic. But a boy’s gotta dream…

Der Hinterhof in Berlin – Brennpunkt des Berliner Städtebaus

2013.07.03

Short notice, but I’ll be giving a short talk tomorrow with Prof. Harald Bodenschatz at the TU, as part of an event for the launch of the Berlin Urban Design book (see earlier post).

I’ll stick to the point, and they’ll be slides!  All details below:

Der Hinterhof in Berlin
Brennpunkt des Berliner Städtebaus

Abendveranstaltung
anlässlich des Erscheinens der zweiten, erweiterten Auflage von
* Städtebau in Berlin. Schreckbild und Vorbild für Europa
* Berlin Urban Design. A Brief History of a European City
Verlag DOM publishers

Zeit: 4. Juli 2013, 18 Uhr
Ort: orangelab, Ernst-Reuter-Platz 2

In der städtebaulichen Debatte fungierte der Hinterhof über Jahrzehnte als schlimmste Verkörperung unmenschlichen Wohnens, als finsterer steinerner Ort ohne jede Nutzungsqualität, als Hölle für aufwachsende Kinder, als Mahnmal der nicht erhaltenswerten, ja unbedingt zu beseitigenden Mietkasernenstadt. Heute ist der Hinterhof wieder rehabilitiert, als ruhiger, oft grüner Raum, dessen Struktur bei Neubauten sogar eine Wiederauferstehung feiert. Kein städtebauliches Element wurde in der jüngeren Städtebaugeschichte dermaßen verteufelt wie der Berliner Hinterhof, und kein städtebauliches Element hat ein solch atemberaubendes Comeback erlebt wie eben jener Hinterhof.

Begrüßung und Moderation
Prof. Dr. Cordelia Polinna, TU Berlin

Von der Hölle zur Idylle
Zur Karriere des Berliner Hinterhofes
Prof. Dr. Harald Bodenschatz, TU Berlin

Comment: An English Perspective on Berlin
Jim Hudson, www.architectureinberlin.com, Co-Übersetzer der zweiten englischen Auflage

Das Berlinbuch: Start der Reihe „Grundlagen“
Natascha Meuser, Verlag DOM publishers

Eine Veranstaltung des FG Planungs- und Architektursoziologie der TU Berlin
in Kooperation mit dem Verlag DOM publishers

Tour of the Berlin 1987 IBA, Friday 31st May

2013.05.20

So it’s about time I did another one of these – people often ask, and I never get round to it.

On Friday 31st May I’ll be running a tour of a selection of projects form the IBA (International BauAustellung) of the 1980s.

My blog has much detail on this, my favorite subject, so I won’t repeat it here – see this page for an intro http://www.architectureinberlin.com/?p=119

I’ve run the tour a few times before, and although I add and remove bits, it will be much the same as if you’ve been on it already!

Meeting details:

3pm at the corner of Kochstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse. We’ll begin with projects from the western, “Neubau” end of the IBA, followed by a short bus trip to the eastern, “Altbau” end. Will be around 3hrs, ending at a local Kreuzberg bar or cafe, near to Schoenleinstr and Kottbusser Toe U-bahn stations. A fair bit of walking involved!

Price: 15 euros.

Group size is limited, so please only say you’re coming if you’re REALLY coming by confirming direct to me at jimhudson40 (at) gmail.com. Saying ‘I’m coming’ on Facebook doesn’t count!

“SO 36 – Riots, Ruins & Regeneration” tour

2013.05.15

I’ll be running a social history-come-architecture tour of the SO 36 district on Saturday 25th May, in association with Slow Travel Berlin.

Starts at 3pm, duration 2-3 hours (usually followed by beers and chat in a local bar) meeting on Spreewaldplatz near Cafe Marx, 15 € per person.
Please book through Slow Travel, or if not possible let me know by email and pay on the day: jimhudson40 (at) gmail.com

A little about the tour:

Since its origins in the 19th century, the eastern half of Kreuzberg (still known by its long-defunct ‘SO 36′ postcode) has long been one of Berlin’s most vibrant districts. In the 1960s, the Berlin Wall left the area as a somewhat isolated part of West Berlin, but by the late 60s the district had become famous as a place where students, artists, anarchists and immigrants came in search of a life of low rents, freedom and non-conformity. Venues such as the SO 36 club, still very much alive, formed the centre of Berlin’s punk and new wave subcultures, frequented by the likes of Iggy Pop and David Bowie.

Surrounded by the Wall on three sides for half a century, some strange situations arose, with streets, communities and even a mainline station being divided between East and West.

SO 36 is still famous for its annual May day riots, although things have been calmer in recent years. But the large number of squatters, political groups and alternative communities who protested each year led to some radical experiments in living and housing, most interestingly the regeneration projects of the 1980s, which were in part an attempt by West Berlin to rescue the area from becoming a slum. The Berlin Wall fell before some of these projects were even complete, and ironically, these community-led projects paved the way for the full-scale gentrification now taking place.

The walking tour is a mix of urban history, architecture and anecdote giving an insight into the past, present and possible future of the this fascinating district.

Archi-meetup evening, Tuesday 14th May

2013.04.29

A quick post, but more details to be filled in over the next week…

First of all, there’ll be an architecture meetup at Hudson’s on Tuesday May 14th from 7.30pm. All welcome, come along for a beer and some archi/urban – based chat. Also, we’re hoping to show a short film by one of our number, Matt Tempest.

He describes it thus:

“Building Societies” – a short film about architecture, the 1970s and the North.

It’s also about Margaret Thatcher, Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, poverty, race relations, and his dad.

8 minutes 10 seconds.

Then some tours: I’ll be running a kind of social history-come-architecture tour of Saturday 25th May, working title “Riots, Ruins & Regeneration” around the Kreuzberg SO36 district. Time tbc, but will be roughly mid-afternoon start, as nice to end up at a pub…). Am doing this in association with Slow Travel Berlin, and need to sort out the price with them, more details to follow shortly.

Then a second tour, by popular demand, of some of the buildings from the International BauAustellung (IBA) of the 1980s (see this very blog for an excess of information about this subject). Friday 31st May, 2pm, meet at corner of Rudi-Dutschke-Straße and Wilhelmstraße, 15€ per person. We’ll begin in the ‘Neubau’ western end of the IBA area, working our way east (probably including a short bus hop) ending in the eastern end of Kreuzberg (nearest U-Bahn will be Schönleinstraße). Please email if you’re interested in joining me: jimhudson40 (at) gmail.com

Sven Eggers is running a tour/trip to Oranienburg to see Rimpl’s Einflughalle and other buildings, next Sunday, 5th May: http://www.buero-schwimmer.de/rimpl.html

I’ll add more detail here, and of course at Facebook: Berlin Architecture Circle shortly.

Categories : Event

Freya Copland – Photography (Finissage on May 11th)

2013.03.25

If you’re in the neighbourhood, Freya Copland has a photography exhibition at our cafe, do drop by for a coffee and have a look.

Update: runs until 11th May, when there’ll be a finissage from 7pm.

Hudson’s, Boppstraße 1, 10967 Berlin. hudsonscakes.com

Categories : Event

Film Night, Wednesday 20th March – Dark City – CANCELLED

2013.03.12

Sorry, cancelled (due to sickness)

Alex Proyas’ Dark City is clearly indebted to the usual suspects of Metropolis, Bladerunner, various interpretations of Gotham City and maybe even Brazil, as well as overlapping to some degree with the Matrix and Inception. It’s less well known than these, but it’s been recommended to me more than once, so I thought we’d give it a go.

To explain it may give away much of the plot, so I won’t.  Suffice it to say that it’s a kind of ‘cyber-noir’, set (seemingly) in a city of permanent night.  A good cast includes Rufus Sewell.

Rarely do fictional cities include their own subway maps:

And yes, someonw really has included it in their Phd thesis:

Come along at 7.30, as we’ll start at 8pm. Hudson’s cafe, Boppstr 1, 10967

Categories : Event   Film

Destruction at Lützowplatz – Final

2013.03.04

A few years back (scarily, it was 2008, how time flies) I blogged about the partial demolition of an IBA block by O M Ungers.

Sadly, as noted by Isar Steve, the remainder has now come down.

While nothing is sacred, it’s depressing when something thoughtless like this happens, especially as it’s essentially replacing much needed social housing with private luxury development (if anything actually gets built at all).

Categories : 1980s   O M Ungers

Berlin Urban Design – A Short History of a European City (New Edition)

2013.02.25

A spot of self-publicity in a way, 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**.

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 Sasha Disko.

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

Categories : Books

Archi Book Club, Wed 27th Feb: Calvino’s Invisible Cities

2013.01.30

Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities is a series of descriptions, really conversations, told by a fictitious Marco Polo to an invented Kublai Khan. As Marco travels round the world on the Emperor’s business, his job is not to bring back treasure or trade, but to barter in stories – the accumulated wealth of his imagination.

Here are all the cities ever dreamed of; thin cities, cities and desire, cities and the dead, cities and memory, continuous cites, cities and signs. All are named after women – Raissa, Irene, Phyillis, Chloe… ‘In Chloe, a great city, the people who move through the street are all strangers. At each encounter they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings which could take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no-one greets anyone; eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping.’

Calvino was writing about Venice – all the Venice’s collapsed, folded or vanished behind the tourist façade. Anyone who loves Venice, knows that its true life is half-glimpsed or dreamed, that the city reconfigures itself, yielding suddenly as you turn into a deserted square, snapping shut, as you walk past San Marco.

Reading Calvino reading Venice is a reminder of how often the controlled, measured world of knowledge fails us. So much of life resists the facts. Imagining Venice is imagining yourself, as Khan discovers – an unsettling exercise, but necessary, perhaps.

(from a review by Jeanette Winterson)

All welcome, so do read the book and join us for drinks, nibbles and discussion at 7.30pm at

Hudson’s Cafe,

Boppstr. 1, 10967

(corner of Schönleinstr., nearest U-Bahn Schönleinstr).

Categories : Books   Event