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

2010.03.31

I recently had a copy of  “Stadt und Haus: New Berlin Architecture in the 21st Century” sent to me by Dom publishers – it’s taken me a couple of weeks I’m afraid, due in part to the (ongoing) ‘Hejduk Tower’ campaign.  These two things are related in a roundabout way, which I might mention later.

Anyway, I should firstly mention that the book itself is a thing of beauty – ‘lavishly illustrated’ as they say.  A detailed introduction gives an overview of Berlin’s development, with plenty of maps and images, and each of the twenty or so projects covered feature good photography and include sections and floor plans.

The book’s title, Stadt & Haus*, sets the theme; it aims to present the continuity of urban planning in the capital, highlighting a new style of specifically Berlin architecture which respects the past but is essentially modern.  The projects selected are hotels, offices, apartment blocks and an (apparently) new Berlin typology, the townhouse.  Public buildings, stations, museums, schools and the like are not covered here, which is fair enough – there seems to be an intent here not to create another guidebook featuring yet more photos of the Neues Museum.

The problem with such a selection though is that after a while you start to feel that you’re reading a brochure aimed at enticing people with a lot of money to move here.  The hotels are very expensive, the apartment blocks exclusive, and the townhouses colossal – presumably aimed at ambassadors of richer nations and the independently very wealthy.  The Berlin senate has made no secret of its desire to replace the city’s ‘poor but sexy’ image with that of a cool hangout for those with money;  I’d always dismissed this as hopelessly optimistic (from the senate’s point of view) but flicking through the projects here, you begin to think that perhaps it’s all running to plan.  I often wonder what could possibly be fuelling Berlin’s seemingly neverending gentrification, without the city having any apparent generator of wealth. The case remains open as far as I’m concerned, but this book provides some clues.

Perhaps Stadt & Haus is intended as an antidote to the ‘Architecture Now!’-style publications that cherry pick the best (or at least the most photogenic) new buildings from a city’s output, no matter how unrepresentative.  Maybe the buildings covered here present a more accurate picture of new architecture in Berlin?  It’s not the Berlin I recognise or am drawn to; to be fair the projects are mainly located in that ‘other’ Berlin that feels far from graffiti-tagged Kreuzberg; these designs are corporate Mitte to the core.  Even so, there is much that could have been included here, a selection of new apartments from Prenzlauer Berg perhaps, but which this book seems to be suggesting are not in the spirit of the ‘real’ Berlin, favouring projects like the ones below are:

Above: the Marriott Hotel on Inge-Beisheim Platz by Bernd Albers

Below: interior of the Concorde Hotel in Augsburger Str, by Kleihues & Kleihues

There are some interesting buildings – Chipperfield’s slightly scary apartment block at Potsdamerplatz (deconstructed Speer?), the ‘Slender-Bender‘ house by DEADLINE, cool late modernism by nps tchoban voss in Reinhardtstrasse (I refuse to link to them, as they have a Flash site) and the new terrace of townhouses on Kurstrasse:

These townhouses, by the way, are six to seven storeys, with lifts, and dining rooms that seat up to 30. To me, this is approaching a concept of ‘too much money’, in a city that’s basically broke, but what do I know.

Other areas of the city, and other building types are touched on, but as someone who lives here, I wanted to be told more. There’s a terrace of houses from the new Rummelsburger Bucht district of the city out to the east, where there are some interesting things going on.  Though in the project selected there’s still something slightly timid about its modern take on the Dutch Gable style, which could do with a bit of FATtening up, in my view. (The image below is at Rummelsburg, but not from the book, it’s just that I like it more…)

Overall though, the usual suspects dominate: Kollhoff, Kleihues & Kleihues, Hilmer & Sattler and co glorying in repetitive glazing and those big stonework Prussian facades, which, whatever your architectural taste, seem well made but just not very inspired.  Which leads to my only-slightly-forced link with the Heduk campaign and the IBA.  The introduction to Stadt & Haus suggests a strong continuity between the IBA planning of the 1980s – with its theme of reinstating the 19th Century urban grain – and the post-Wall policy of Critical Reconstruction which has apparently led to many of the projects set out here.  Yet it’s a connection I’m increasingly dubious about.  In West Berlin, the 1980s were a period of great experimentalism in housing; through the IBA, a huge range of approaches, styles and types were tried out by an equally varied range of architects from around the world.  Not all of these buildings were successful, some were not good, some were just bizarre, but the decade left behind a legacy that has still to be fully explored.  Berlin’s post-Wall period however, seems to be increasingly represented by highly competent buildings, efficient in design and professional in construction, but fundamentally dull. 

Stadt & Haus is arguably a more representative sample of Berlin’s current architecture than the highly selective choices of ‘archiporn’ that too often dominate the architectural press.  I guess that I’m just not a fan of this reality.

Stadt & Haus: New Berlin Architecture in the 21st Century, by Philip Meuser, DOM publishers, 2010.

*Stadt & Haus has been translated on the Dom site as “City & House” although it’s worth noting that the German ‘Haus’ has a broader meaning, referring to a block of apartments or other substantial single building.

A Career in Ruins

2009.03.19

Given that this is a Berlin architecture blog, it seems a shame to say nothing about the Neues Museum, whose doors were opened to the public a couple of weeks ago for a quick glimpse of the completed reconstruction, prior to being filled with all the things that museums are full of.  I do of course take an increasingly perverse joy in steering away from the well known towards the arcane, and I’m sure you’ve read loads about it everywhere else.

I did go along though, along with the other zillion people who visited in those three crowded days, and have dutifully put my photos on Flickr.

I would just say that if you do somehow get a chance to see inside before the official October opening, take it.  The (apparently controversial) reconstruction of Stüler’s building by David Chipperfield Architects and Julian Harrap is an entirely more complex affair than the ‘this bit is old, this bit is lovely new high tech’ approach typified by Foster* and such.  It’s all the more fascinating for the fact that the building was a real ruin for over sixty years, despite being in the middle of a major city.

*Not that I have anything against Stormin’ Norman’s approach, but I found myself at his rebuilt Hauptbahnhof in Dresden a while ago, and couldn’t help thinking I’d seen it something similar by him somewhere before…

Am Kupfergraben 10, David Chipperfield

2008.03.02

I’m getting loads of hits at the moment from searches for ‘David Chipperfield Berlin’ which I guess are all looking for stuff about the Neues Museum.  Sorry!  The building will open as a museum ‘proper’ in October.   My own brief post and images here.

My original post, on Chipperfield’s slightly older building which is directly opposite the Neues Museum:

Just a quickie, to post a photo of David Chipperfield’s gorgeous new ’townhouse for the arts’ in central Berlin.  It’s actually much bigger in person than it may appear here, as the storey heights are very tall.  (Obviously, it’s hard to do a full scale photo of a building in a blog, unless you’re reading this on a screen the size of a building.  You’re probably not.)

The surrounding area is a building site at the moment (an unavoidable side effect of making buildings, I guess) so the pictures lack that archi-pornographic quality: the absence of people, cars and the general mess of urbanity.

Chipperfield Gallery 2

Chipperfield Gallery 1

Am Kupfergraben 10, David Chipperfield

Am Kupfergraben 10, David Chipperfield

Am Kupfergraben 10, David Chipperfield

Am Kupfergraben 10, David Chipperfield

Chipperfield is rather big with the Germans – he just won Britain’s Stirling Prize for his Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach am Neckar, and his massive project for the re-ordering of Berlin’s Museum Island is currently under construction (across the road from the gallery shown here).

Needless to say that although he’s a British architect, he’s built very little in Britain.  In part this is because

a) he’s not Norman Foster

b) the British have no time for architects who talk about anything but lettable floor area.

The BBC dumped him from the detailed design of their new Glasgow centre, which he claims he won’t step foot in until he gets an apology from the DG.  His most notable UK building prior to this was Henley’s very low-key River & Rowing Museum.

Not that Berlin’s recent architecture is beyond criticism. The designs by various starchitects* which have filled in great swathes of post-Wall wilderness since the early 1990s (Potsdamerplatz in particular) are, shall we say, not their best work.  And since then Berlin seems to be sliding dangerously into a ‘non-critical reconstruction’ of its past, the most notable example being the planned reconstruction of the Royal Palace on the site of the old GDR Palas Der Republik.  Presumably the fact that the Germans have no royal family, and cannot agree on what to put in the building, are issues that can be addressed, well, some other time.

So it’s good to occasionally see a new building which isn’t in thrall to corporate glazing or historicist pastiche.

Chipperfield has an office here in Berlin, by the way.  The most notable other completed project is some apartments he did overlooking a small park area round the back of Potsdamerplatz (behind the Sony Centre).  I’ve borrowed a couple of images here from Exe on Flickr, hope he doesn’t mind.  He’s got a much better one of Am Kupfergraben as well, without clutter.

*I hate this term but it seems increasingly apt these days.