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.

Architekturclips.de

2010.03.31

A brief pause in Hejduk-related posts to mention that Architekturclips.de have just launched their reworked and updated site.  I mention them here because a) thry’re rather good, but also because b) case I’ve spent the last few weeks helping out, uploading videos and such, so I feel in a small way that it’s my baby too.

Essentially, it’s what the name suggests – a collection of films about architecture.  Many of these are made by or with Architekturclips themselves (Isabel Schmidt and Fred Plassmann), but there are now two additional sections: Architekten Stellen sich vor, where architects and other commercial organisations* can submit their own videos, and Good Movies, which are, well, good movies that we’ve found elsewhere (YouTube, Vimeo etc).

The films are predominantly in German but many have english subtitles, or are just very watchable anyway.

So do get in touch with them if you’re an architect and have something you think should be seen, or if you’ve come across something good on the Interweb.  They’re looking for well made short films (or good trailers for feature-length films), and are avoiding Youtube slideshows and CGI…  more this sort of thing:

*Some unkind people would point out that many architects’ practices are not very commercial organisations.

Categories : Film
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Hejduk hits the press…

2010.03.29

A quick update to report that the Berliner Morgenpost have run the story here.  As someone has helpfully pointed out, you can read the rest of the article (the BM is one of those publications who think ring-fencing their content online is going to save them) by Googling “Stararchitekten kämpfen für den Kreuzberg-Turm” and clicking on the results.

I don’t want to prejudice any discussions currently ongoing, so can’t say much yet about what else is happening in terms of the actual status of the refurbishment works. But plenty is…

I will say though that the petition is approaching 3,000, and likely to be wound up at the end of this week, so do sign if you haven’t already.

Thanks again for the huge support which so many of you have given this campaign.

Further update, Tuesday 30th March – today’s print version of the Berliner Morgenpost carried the same text, but with a supportive and substantial quotation from Daniel Libeskind.

Stararchitekten kämpfen für den Kreuzberg-Turm

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Hejduk latest

2010.03.21

27 March:

As usual, a good summary over at SLAB, with things moving on apace. And the petition, which as Ian at SLAB notes has become a Who’s Who of architectural ‘names’, stood at 2553. Which is nice.

23 March:

BerlinHaus have posted an interesting statement on their site, here, in essence saying that they recognise the strength of public feeling and are willing to enter into dialogue about the building’s facades.  A little unclear, but sounds like promising news.

Thanks to everyone who’s supported us so far!

At the moment of writing, the petition over 1300 signatures, including a host of influential figures.

21 March:

The word is spreading across a plethora of blogs and online publications – thanks to everyone who’s carrying this – I hope to go back and read all the new sites I’ve discovered in the last few days, and will be linking and promoting in return!

Interestingly, developer Berlinhaus have removed their architect’s proposal images from their site and replaced them with an image of the buildings before the work started (which doesn’t, to be honest, give a very good impression as they look quite dilapidated).

Ian over at SLAB-mag has a thorough and detailed update on all of this, so I won’t attempt to reproduce it all here – his post also still has the original proposal images. Berlinhaus have recently commented that the balconies and sunshades shown in these images are in fact not pink, but blue.  Ian’s keen camera may have spotted one, although he’s not sure whether it’s just an undercoat:

(thanks Ian for the photo)

A small sample of the people carrying the story:

sleek magazine

Urbanophil

archinect

Fantastic Journal

Abitare

Ateliernet

The Architect’s Newspaper

Nicht Winken in der Haupstadt

…and many, many more, as they say.

Categories : IBA 87   John Hejduk   Kreuzberg

Stop the disfigurement of John Hejduk’s Berlin Tower

2010.03.18

A brief post to say that our petition against the disfigurement of John Hejduk’s Berlin Tower is now up and running at:

http://www.petitiononline.com/hejduk/petition.html

We’re not against the renovation and improvement of architecturally important buildings, but we do feel that the city’s architectural heritage should be treated with respect, and any alterations made only after careful consultation and knowledge of the importance of a design such as Hejduk’s.

So please do sign if you feel the same way.  There is more to Berlin’s architectural history than just a baroque palace.

There is also a press release here in english and here in german.

Thanks for your support.

Jim Hudson

Categories : John Hejduk
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Hejduk defacement, the story continues…

2010.03.17

Seems this story has really started to roll since I first heard from Renata Hejduk a few days ago, about the thoughtless and unsympathetic alterations currently being carried out to her father’s building on Charlottenstrasse (see previous post).

This is largely due to the huge effort being made by Ian over at SLAB and architect Robert Slinger, of Kapok architects. (Robert also once lived in the building himself, and has a passion for Hejduk’s work).

I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this, and some have admitted that the building doesn’t appeal to them as a place to live, or as great architecture.  Perhaps understandable, given the lack of maintenance it received over the last few years, the fact that any original landscaping has long been reduced to scrub, and that there remains a large unoccupied and unlandscaped patch of land which the apartments overlook.  But I’d urge you to read what Robert has to say about living there, and read a little about Hejduk’s work.  I’ve said this before, but in my view Berlin is building very little anymore of real architectural interest or originality; it therefore seems bizarre that it shows so little respect for existing buildings that do possess such qualities.

A press release is circulating to a number of german and english magazines, with an online petition due to be up and running (hopefully!) today. Will add a link as soon as this is live.

I’m posting the bulk of the press release here, as I think it gives a useful summary:

The ‘Tower’ – actually a suite comprising a thin, 14-storey tower set between two 5-storey wings – is one of only a handful of built works by this influential architect. Berlin has three examples, all social housing schemes built as part of the IBA 1987 international building exhibition.

The Kreuzberg Tower ensemble is typical of Hejduk’s late work, exhibiting an intense fascination with simple geometric forms, narrative mythologies and anthropomorphic symbolism. Hejduk’s three Berlin schemes bucked the colourful post-modern trends of the time with a subdued colour palette of grey and green, described by the architect as homage to the unique sky and the built fabric of the city

The present owners acquired the buildings recently as a result of a foreclosure, which followed many years of neglect. As part of ongoing refurbishment works, they have published images of the planned changes showing the removal of the distinctive sun shades over windows, enlarged balconies, and a new colour scheme in a white and bright pink, described by managers BerlinHaus Verwaltung GmbH as “tasteful living” and “apartments in Bauhaus style”. In parallel with the renovation, current tenants are being forced to move out as a result of drastic rent increases.

Doctor Renata Hejduk, the daughter of the John Hejduk and an architectural historian,, contacted the owner earlier this year to discuss the building alterations, but received only a dismissive response. She commented: “I tried everything I could to get them to stop and at least consult with the Estate and other architects who were interested in helping to preserve them. They were completely uninterested and felt their facade changes would be much better than the original.”

John Hejduk, best known as one of the ‘New York Five’ group that included Peter Eisenmann and Richard Meier, and as Dean of the Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture in New York from 1972 until 2000.

Categories : IBA 87   John Hejduk   Kreuzberg

Destruction on Charlottenstrasse

2010.03.11

I’ve had an email from Renata Hejduk, an architectural historian and daughter of the late John Hejduk, regarding the ‘refurbishment’ of John Hejduk’s IBA building on Charlottenstrasse, a building which I wrote about a while back.  This insensitive alteration work, currently on site, is particularly upsetting since the building’s new owners apparently feel that their external alterations are an improvement on Hejduk’s original design, sending a surprisingly obnoxious response to Professor Hejduk when she protested to them about the changes.

As is so often the case now in Berlin, it’s all about the money (see this article). Doubtless a  number of IBA housing projects are in the firing line of rent rises and ‘upwardly mobile improvements’, forming as they did a huge programme of social housing in the 1980s across now-fashionable Kreuzberg.  Ironically, this set the scene for the gentrification process now ongoing.

If you too feel that architecture is of more value than just real estate, do get in touch with the owners, whose oddly empty site is here.

A couple of recent shots (not mine – thanks to Aida).

And how it looked a couple of summers ago when I photographed it (badly, I admit)…

I notice, as I re-read my old post, that I was underwhelmed at the time. It probably didn’t help that the development wasn’t particularly well cared for, with any trace of landscaping around it long gone, with a large vacant lot immediately to the south where further IBA projects had been planned but never built.  But since then I’ve come to think of this as a familiar landmark, and an important architectural element of the IBA, not to mention an important piece of architecture from a period not yet recognized as of real value.  Recognition will come, I am certain, but too late for many of these buildings.  See also a previous post about the fate of another IBA building, by O M Ungers.

Have also just recalled that I visited and photographed one of three other Hejduk buildings in Berlin, at Tegel harbour, known by their architect as The House for Two Brothers, in what I’m beginning to understand as John Hejduk’s strangely mythic/mystical way of translating architectural forms.

More on this issue, I hope, soon.  Will go by and photograph the state of the alterations as soon as possible, but if you’re in the area of Charlottenstraße 97a over the next few days and weeks, do please record this.

SLAB Mag are similarly concerned.

Update 1, 15 March: some photos at Flickr by Nichtwinken.

Update 2, 15 March: thanks to Ian at SLAB for these links to two of the apartments for rent, via the development company.  The first, inexplicably, describing the design as ‘Bauhaus Style’.  Hmmm.

These links are now dead (the developer has taken them off their own site – one still up here.

There’s a debate in SLAB’s comments section about the relative merits of trying to preserve such a building in its original form, when that original design was flawed in many ways. Many of the apartments were tiny, especially in the tower itself, and the south facing windows too small to let much ligh tin. Similarly the south facing balconies were too small to sit out on properly.  My view (to quote from my own comment there) is that…

The alterations are pretty minor in structural terms, so are not going to make the building something which it isn’t, i.e. fully functioning modern apartments.

Berlin is a city that’s excelled only in blandless since the fall of the wall – so yes, perhaps it is a tragedy that the varied and experimental buildings of that immediately preceded the ‘New Prussian Stone Age’ are treated with such contempt (have just read the response from BerlinHaus to Renata Hejduk, not sure if we’re able to publish this, but it’s pretty dismissive at best). There’s almost always an inventive solution if someone cares to find this – I say this not as an archi-fan but as someone who worked adapting listed buildings in London for 15 years.

Lucas’s comment that there was little commercial interest in the building as it was is true, but I’m not sure that in itself is a justification for alteration without knowledge of or respect for the original architecture. Buildings are given Denkmal/Listed status for precisely the reason that they are no longer ‘fit for purpose’ but are worth retaining (an argument not accepted by thye current UK environment minister).

Ian at SLAB has also set up a Facebook group, if that’s your thing.  It has it’s own logo, which is nice (although may not have a working link here if you’re not logged in to Facebook)