Hardt-Waltherr Hämer, 1922 – 2012


Sad news that Hardt-Waltherr Hämer, the father of ‘careful urban renewal’ (’behutsamen Stadterneuerung’) and director of the Altbau half of the IBA 1987, died on Thursday.


Hämer was a key plyer in the movement against the excesses of modernist planning of the 1960s and 70s, which in Berlin reached its nadir with the redevelopment of Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg.  He took the (at the time radical) view that cities could be revived by retaining the existing built fabric and working with local residents to improve their own homes and environment.   This stood firmly against the orthodoxy of the time – the scorched earth policy of urban renewal through large scale demolition and rebuilding, including major new road networks, which was of course much more profitable for investors and contractors than Hämer’s ’slow architecture’ approach.

His much publicised and successful project to put these ideas into practice at Chamissoplatz in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district led to his heading of the Altbau element of the International BauAustellung of the 1980s in West Berlin.  The legacy of his work here was later to be largely ignored during the redevelopment of Berlin following the fall of the Wall, with rabid gentrification, displacement of long-standing communities and the general blandifying of large parts of the city.

Book Club, Wednesday 24th October – Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”


[Rescheduled from 17th Oct, sorry for any inconvenience]

I propose Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities“, which is one of those books I hear endlessly referred to but have never actually read.

I’m a little nervous that it’s now 50 years old, and may seem on the one hand a little dated, on the other a bit ‘obvious’ (although many of the issues she writes about are clearly still major urban problems. Perhaps this should be the theme of our discussion: have Jacobs’ tirade against modernist planning become a new orthodoxy (or at least the lip-service that planners and architects all have to pay)?

And I think we can add some balance by picking more recent books for future meetings. I’ve been invited to join a panel debate in November, entitled “The Triumph of the City?“, and thought we might consider a book co-written by another of the panelists, Alastair Donald – “The Lure of the City: From Slums to Suburbs“.

As ever, all book suggestions welcome, especially for German or Berlin-based writing on architecture and urbanism that would have broad appeal (and isn’t just about the war…). Possible future book suggestions: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Colin Rowe’s Collage Cities, and more.

7.30 pm at Hudson’s Cafe, Schönleinstr 1.

Categories : Books   Event

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Wednesday 19th Sept, 7.30pm


So, finally getting things moving with our first archi film night, this coming Wednesday.  Free entry, imported British beers, cake and more.

As usual, at Hudson’s, Boppstrasse 1, nearest U-Bahn Schönleinstraße.

Although I’m planning some ‘pure architecture’ films, including Rem’s Houselife, and Berlin Babylon, they’ll be mixed with movies that ’swim in an architectural sea’. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is one such: a film from the days before CGI (but all the better for it) – a kind of darkly comic take on Orwell’s 1984, sharing at least one film location (Battersea power station) with the ’straight’ version of 1984 that came out the previous year. Yet Brazil is by far the better of the two films.

Gilliam has a madly architectonic eye, with virtually every scene a reference or in-joke about a particular building or failed utopian plan. It’s also a distopia where nothing mechanical or electronic ever works properly, a state of affairs with which I have much sympathy (and possibly the only film whose villains including heating and plumbing engineers?).

Anyway, it’s a great cast and an endlessly inventive film, that should be enjoyable even if you’re not a nerd like me.

Architecture Wednesdays


This coming Wednesday (12th Sept) am planning to go along and see Richard Sennett at the AdK, but the following Wednesday (19th) I propose holding our first film night at Hudson’s. Think we should also have another social night, plus another book club, dates proposed as follows:

Wednesday 19th – Film night
Wednesday 26th – A general meetup
then book club early in October, TBC.

I’ve invited suggestions for films before (thanks for those who commented) and general consensus is to avoid the really obvious ones like Metropolis and Bladerunner. But below is a list of list of some suggestions – the choice for the first film night will probably depend on which are easy to track down, but all suggestions / comments welcome.

Short of time to give info and links etc, so you can look these up!

George Lucas’s THX 1138
Dark City
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari
Jacques Tati’s Playtime (or maybe ‘Mon Oncle’?)
The Fountainhead (of course)
A Clockwork Orange
Brazil (Terry Gilliam’s best film?)
My Playground (doc about Parkour)
The Ghost Writer
AEon Flux (for the Berlin buildings, less for the story)
Manufactured Landscapes
Coast Modern
Houselife (about that house that Rem Koolhaas did)

Categories : Event