Linienstrasse 40, BundschuhBaumhauer Architekten

2010.04.24

The scaffold recently came down on BundschuhBaumhauer’s new apartment block on Linienstrasse, on the northwest corner of Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. Our group got a sneak preview, courtesy of its architect Roger Bundschuh, so a few snaps included below.

The building was co-designed with artist Cosima von Bonin, and actually started as a project for a public sculpture nearby; when this didn’t work out, architect and artist decided to try for something on a bigger scale…

I was a bit rude about the design for this a while back, and was taken to task by Roger, who offered to better inform me with a site visit.  Obviously, rude not to take the offer up, and I have to admit that my concerns about tapering angular staircases were unfounded (I didn’t fall down/up them, and didn’t leave with a headache).

What’s most surprising, when you first turn the corner and see the building, is how incredibly like the architect’s early renderings the real-life building appears.  Much thought was given to how to make the building look as massive and dense as possible (’massive’ in the sense of ‘full of mass’, rather than ‘very big’).  The structure is insitu cast concrete, with a colour additive to make it as dark as possible. Its texture is deliberately rough cast, which is hard to make out from my (typically poor) images.  The overall  impression from the outside of a vast immoveable object, slightly alien. The interior, with the windows closed, is eerily quiet despite the busy Torstrasse below; a result, apparently, of the building’s foundations not being directly connected to the ground, being poured onto a raft of insulation material.

Actually, I think the windows ‘as built’ are much better.  The rendering looks awkwardly proportioned when you compare the two.

Anyway, what I like most about the building is its total lack of compromise, its ‘modern’ modernism in the face of Berlin’s current architectural conservatism.  It took four years to get through planning, in the face of opposition from the local conservation society, responsible for the Platz where it’s located. Hans Poelzig masterplanned the Platz and designed many of its buildings, including the Babylon Kino – the society felt the new building to be out of keeping, preferring a recreation of the missing Poelzig block – an argument I’m finding increasingly tedious.

More images, as ever, on Flickr, and below.

Do stay tuned to the blog for future building visits – I have a plan for late May to do a ‘mini-IBA’ tour around Kochstrasse, as I now have some contacts who live in two of the blocks there, plus of course the much talked about  Hejduk Tower nearby.  We have a Facebook group, if you’re down with that sort of thing.

Still here…

2009.09.23

It’s been manic lately, so not much time to blog, sorry. So instead, a few snaps of things I’ve been up to recently, like a sort of intermission, while I’m away. Will have a bit more time next week, so prepare yourselves for more incisive, thoughtful and witty writing on architecture. Then be disappointed, and just read my blog instead, ha, ha.

The Tag des Offenen Denkmals was good fun, although I got lazy on the sunday (2nd day) and decided not to do much.  Did the Akademie der Kunst (new branch on Pariserplatz) in which the highlight was the basement (below) and the Haus des Lehrers, in which the highlight was the bit where they stopped the dumb corporate light show in the main chamber so we could actually have a good look at it:

… an amazing school on Lausitzerplatz (which I’ve mentioned before, part of the IBA) which I was able to go round with Werkfabrik, the original architects:

and from tomorrow, I’ll be manning a stand for Art in America magazine, over at the Art Forum Berlin:

Popping across the road to see Hans Poelzig’s wonderful Haus des Rundfunk (House of Radio)

and wondering why so much new architecture in Berlin is just so, well, crap. This, the Zoofenster building, which could have been so much better.

Will write lots about each of these very soon. Promise!

Good old days?

2009.03.22

I’m possibly the last person to know about this (wouldn’t be the first time) but last year the Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive) put around 100,000 images onto Wikimedia commons, for us all to wonder at.  A link here into the page giving an overview by year (this was initially a bit tricky to find, I thought).

I’ve picked out a few images (below) which all feature architecture (since this is an architecture blog), but actually the buildings are perhaps the least fascinating element. So far I’ve only skimmed through 1919 to 1939, but the overriding impression of utter chaos, civil unrest and the rising tide of Fascism is disturbing, to say the least.

Photography is of course a self selective process, or at least used to be in pre-digital times, so is perhaps as much a record here of what was considered important then. Add to this the not inconsiderable factor of being filtered through the ‘random survival’ of time – war destruction, political repression, accidental loss.  I sometimes wonder whether in a few hundred years absolutely every digital image will survive (perhaps recorded on a small chip that can be fitted in your ear, say) or whether absolutely every digital image will be lost.  Or at least unreadable. Much like Betamax videos.

Mendelsohn’s Mossehaus, 1923:

The Schloss, 1919, I guess at the conclusion of the revolution:

Einsteinturm, 1928

The Europahaus, 1931:

Poelzig’s Babylon Kino, under construction, 1929:

Living with your car? Surely a bad idea…

Potsdamerplatz, 1932:

(A comment left by Tamar, which I’ve moved up here:

The Potsdamer Platz picture with the ads is very interesting:
“Vote Hitler” (on the two signs under “Chlorodont, White Teeth”) and all of that above a confectionery (Conditorei). This is the poster in the middle:
“Schluß jetzt, wir wählen Hitler!” (we had enough! we vote for Hitler)

Next to Hitler, “Vote for a Person, not for a Party”, and since everything is so symbolic in this picture, you can also see a sign for “vegetarische Kueche”

The same building, I would imagine few month before that, with film posters – link).

The Reichstag, before fire, bombing, abandonment, reconstruction, reuse, reunification, reconstruction (again), and the return of the parliament:

Mendelsohn’s Columbashaus, Potsdamerplatz, with campaign image of Hindenberg.  Later to be war damaged, then demolished:

Oberbaum Brucke, 1932 (blocked by the wall during the city’s partition, rebuilt in the 1990s by Santiago Calatrava)

The morning of the Reichstag fire:

Construction of the Reich Aviation Ministry (still standing, next door to the Topography of Terror site)

Enough already.  I could keep going for hours, but will stop here. Perhaps I’ll do a proper trawl through at some point (it’s only 100,000) and make sure I have the best ones…

No business like Schau-business.

2008.10.22

About a year ago I visited the city of Wroclaw in Poland, which as everyone knows (I didn’t) used to be called Breslau, and was the capital of the German province of Silesia*.

A friend took me to see the Jahrhunderthalle, a vast concrete framed auditorium opened in 1913, and now known as the Centennial Hall.

Kaiser Wilhelm II turned up to attend part of the celebrations there that year, but at the last moment refused to go in, partly because he didn’t like the ’socialist’ theme of the earlier opening event, but it was thought also because he didn’t like the unadorned ‘modern’ design, which failed to pay deference to the monarchy. Ring any bells, in relation to a current British Prince?

I knew nothing about it all this at the time, but cut to a year later, and I’m halfway through a rather excellent book called German Architecture for a Mass Audience. The author sets out an alternative view of the history of 20th century german architecture; looking at how key buildings were built for a new audience – ‘the masses’ – as opposed to a middle or upper class elite. Seen from this angle, a theme runs from early modernism and expressionism, through, gulp, the architecture of the Third Reich, and on through postwar modernism, taking in religious, commercial and secular public buildings along the way. In short, ithe book proposes that “…the founding moment of high modern German architecture cannot be detached from the mass culture in which it was a willing partipant.”

Anyway, two buildings discussed in detail are the Jahrhunderthalle, and Hans Poelzig’s Grosses Schauspielhaus in Berlin, the loss of which I’ve previously mourned.

On the face of it, the two buildings have nothing in common. The first, a vast exposed concrete arched structure celebrating the limits of engineering, by Max Berg, in Breslau.

The second, a highly decorated expressionist reworking of an existing building, heavily reliant on lighting to achieve its interior effect, built a few years later by Hans Poelzig, in Berlin.

However, Poelzig was responsible for designing every other aspect of the celebrations surrounding Berg’s hall, including buildings and landscaping, and had himself designed an early reinforced concrete building in Breslau two years previously, which still stands:

Also, Poelzig’s client for the Grosses Schauspielhaus was Max Reinhardt, a theatre impresario who had organised the Breslau pageant. It’s also worth remembering that a world war had occurred between the building of the two; by necessity, the Schauspielhaus had to rely on the use of plaster decoration and clever use of light.

Most annoyingly, at the time I visited I knew nothing of either the Wroclaw Poelzig building, or that a rare surviving department store by Erich Mendelsohn also survives there, adding another Berlin/Wroclaw connection.

By the way, I’m indebted for the above image and for the interior shot of the Jahrhunderthaalle to wouterschenk on Flickr.

*Footnote

I’m well aware of the sensitivity of throwing around phrases like ‘used to be in Germany’ in this complex historical context. To be more accurate, it was a part of the Germanic state of Prussia, a fuller explanation available here, or better still, consult a professional historian.

Hans Poelzig

2008.01.12

I didn’t know that much about Hans Poelzig – he’s less well known to the public at large than the ‘big names’ of modernism – Mies, Gropius and others. So I got a lot out of the recent exhibition at the Akademie der Kunst (ADK), a really extensive show covering the full breadth of his work as architect, film & theatre set designer, teacher and painter.

Poelzig’s output was prodigious, and his career spanned that fascinating period from turn-of-the-century Expressionism through to the white walls and strip windows of so-called International Modernism. He’s categorised as an expressionist, but his work was entirely original. His designs have no ‘house style’, but Poelzig was at the forefront of the search for a ‘new’ architecture, one capable of expressing the new buildings of the early 20th century; factories, cinemas and office buildings.

Poelzig died in 1936, just as the National Socialists were turning firmly against modernism in favour of a dull stripped neo-classism (I note this is described in several Berlin guides as ‘anti-modernism’). Like many of his contemporaries, Poelzig had no desire to reach an accomodation with the Nazi regime, and had made plans to relocate to the more enlightened atmosphere of Istanbul.

As with so much in Berlin, WWII bombing was responsible for the loss of many buildings, but some very significant Poelzig projects have survived. To my knowledge, these are the key ones.

The Haus des Rundfunk (House of Radio) – frequently and incorrectly decribed as art deco – is Poelzig’s largest extant building in the capital. A 1987 renovation restored the building to its former glory and revealed some very impressive interiors (in stark comparison with Poelzig’s Großes Schauspielhaus on the eastern side of the wall – see below). The building is vast, with a long low frontage built in a gorgeous dark brick, which I’m very drawn to (a similar brick is used to impressive effect in a building virtually next door to me in Kreuzberg – more on this another day). Like the BBC’s Broadcasting House in London, it’s still in use by a broadcaster, RBB (Radio Brandenburg Berlin), although the Rundfunk predated Broadcasting House by a couple of years as the first purpose built radio broadcasting facility.

Most accessible in central Berlin is the Babylon Kino (cinema) on Rosa-Luxemburg Platz. Some more images here.

The cinema forms one of two surviving blocks from Poelzig’s original masterplan for the whole area, which included the Volksbühne (People’s Theatre). The impressively severe version of the Volksbühne now standing was rebuilt by Hans Richter between 1950-54, replacing the heavily bombed original 1914 design by Oscar Kaufman. The Poelzig blocks themselves also suffered from bomb damage and have been altered, but retain a real sense of the originals – the cinema is still in operation as an important art house venue; there’s also a very cool music store at ground floor. On a trivia note, this is the theatre that features in both pre and post Stasi-era Berlin in Das Leben der Anderen (’The Lives of Others’), as well as several other notable Berlin locations.

According to the AKD exhibition, Poelzig’s own house in Grunewald (a pleasant Berlin suburb) was in fact almost entirely designed by his wife Marlene. Apparently Hans had a lesser interest in housing than some of his contemporaries. I’ve not had a chance to see this yet, and don’t know about access/ownership. Maybe a follow-on spot for this one, on the theme of modernist family homes in Grunewald and neighbouring Dahlem…

Maddeningly, one Poelzig work in Berlin which you won’t be able to see is his spectacular Großes Schauspielhaus (Grand Theatre).

The Nazis remodelled the main space, then the GDR allowed it to fall derelict, then tore it down in the late 1980s. The exhibition includes some heartbreaking shots of the demolition, including the destruction of the beautiful plant-frond-like structures of the foyer.

Poelzig adapted the existing building to form a huge theatre space with the overall effect of a guilded cavern, with stalactite-like structures descending from a central dome.

On a really arcanely trivial note, the expressionist design appears to have heavily influenced the sets in David Lynch’s otherwise terrible sci-fi film Dune, although this fits in a sort of logical loop, given that Poelzig designed film sets, most notably an entire village for the film The Golem.

Post-blog note: It’s not just me; someone else had the same thought, and has tracked down some images to prove the point, including this one by way of comparison:

(bizarrely this is sourced from a blog about bulldogs)

Its influence is clear…