An update on ‘Carloft‘, the bizarre new apartment block round the corner from me (Kreuzberg SO36) which allows you to take your car to bed with you. Or at least bring it into your apartment, with the use of a big lift. From the sales site, it looks like you have to have quite a flash car if you want to live there (not really worth paying for all that extra space just to keep an old VW campervan in your living room I suppose, although that would be quite cool – you could put guests up in it and they wouldn’t have to buzz to come in and use the toilet).
The whole thing is bemusing, as Kreuzberg isn’t really the sort of place people have expensive cars. In fact it’s the sort of place where most people don’t have a car at all. Schöneberg perhaps? Maybe the developers spotted a gap in the market for people who live in Kreuzberg with nice cars and want to avoid having them torched (there’s been quite a lot of this going on in Berlin lately).
Whatever your view on such things, Carloft in nearly-finished form is a disappointment. I was expecting a glass facade which you could gaze at in awe as cars moved silently between floors, even though you hate the whole idea on principle. In fact, Carloft looks like an old 1930s garage building converted into apartments, with a singular lack of flair. In fact, it appears that the car isn’t even quite in your apartment, but in a semi-open bay next to it. Which could have been a nice balcony instead.
The concept, for those who struggle with the idea of a car, a loft, and a lift:
And some images of the outside
Aesthetically though, it could be worse. Even closer to me, on Paul-Lincke-Ufer itself, they’re demolishing a perfectly good two storey 60s building to build a piece of apology architecture:
I use the term ‘apology architecture’ as it’s designed to apologise for its presence; not for this building any recognisable style (especially modernism) which might offend. It’s timeless, but in a bad way. The worst thing is that just to the left, out of shot, is H H Müller’s rather wonderful Abspannwerk, which was clearly designed to form part of a continuous terrace, which the existing building continues. The new building will create an unnecessary gap, in order, I guess, to create far more (saleable) frontage facing obliquely onto the canal.
Is every new residential building going up in Berlin wrongheaded pastiche? No. There’s some possibly wrongheaded cutting-edge modernism as well , currently emerging out of the frozen ground up on the junction of Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße and Tortraße, by architect Roger Bundschuh and artist Cosima von Bonin, called L40. Lots of images, and floorplans, over here at Dezeen.
Actually, I quite like the look of this. It’s different from the neo-wedding-cake approach (e.g. Paul-Lincke-Ufer) and the default-setting modernism-lite (most of Prenzlauerberg) – it’s actual Architecture, with a capital ‘A’. I assume the surface is intended to be dark grey shuttered concrete, giving it the look of a converted military installation. Which can be a good thing, I think. Nonetheless, I used the word ‘wrongheaded’ earlier, as the floorplans seem to be utterly enslaved by the shape of the building’s footprint (the comments section on the Dezeen piece is worth reading).
Nice as it undoubtedly is to live in a contemporary art gallery, one is given to wonder whether the digital rendering of an interior, viewed on a flat screen, reflects how such pointy rooms will feel when you’re actually in them. What if our own curvy, wide angle, binocular vision makes something quite different of the spaces, so that we’re unable to walk up one of those acute staircases without bumping into the wall and feeling queasy?
I’m not sure anyone living there would invite me round anyway, so have decided not to worry.
It’s only fair to say that just after I posted, Roger Bundschuh sent me a surprisingly friendly email, offering to let me have a look round the building as it progresses, and pointing out that that, at the very least, my final statement is incorrect. This caused me to re-read what I’d written, and I was surprised at how randomly harsh I’d been. I won’t rewrite it, since that’s not in the spririt of ill-informed, self-opinionated blogs like mine, but I have written the paragraph that you’re reading now.
God knows, Berlin has some ugly buildings. But occasionally something gets built whose sheer awfulness makes it worthy of note.
The new Alexa shopping centre at Alexanderplatz is just such an edifice. Perhaps it’s the way the strange mottled pink ceramic facade panels clash with its gold-tinted atrium canopy. Perhaps it’s the way the canopy extends into the building and frequently reappears as a kind of giant floating turd motif. Perhaps it’s the fact that all that cladding is bespoke; somebody expended serious money to make it look this awful.
What’s it meant to be? What does this ‘unique’ use of materials signify?
To be fair, the Alexa (as in Alexanderplatz’s little sister, I presume) does seem to be working, in terms of putting something next to the Platz which someone has a reason to go to. There are now people, lots of people in fact, swarming around the strip of retail buildings running parallel to the station.
When I first visited Berlin in 2002, Alexanderplatz was a confusion of cones, barriers and temporary traffic systems, but with no actual building work going on. Today it’s worse, but at least there’s some real building work, namely a second new shopping arcade, which currently looks like this
It’s been given the ingenious name ‘Die Mitte’. Because it’s in the middle of Alexanderplatz.
Blog update, July 09. It now looks like this:
In any case, Alexanderplatz has long been a work in progress. A competition was held in 1929 to expand Alexanderplatz into a ‘big city plaza’, based almost entirely on traffic flow – a virtual fetish of urban planners at the time. The actual buildings were of secondary importance, with a required lifespan of only 25 years.
The competition was won by the Lockhardt brothers, but for some reason Peter Behren’s runner-up design was chosen, of which the Alexander and Beroliner buildings are the only survivors. Interestingly, there was a competition entry by Mies Van Der Rohe, featuring seven huge unconnected rectilinear blocks, not entirely unlike the later GDR scheme in its thinking.
Most of the Behrens plan remained unbuilt, due, I guess, to the onset of the Great Depression. Then the war. Then the GDR, who built something else instead. So there’s still a sense of ‘unfinished business’, from a city planner’s point of view.
On the plus side, the new buildings will go some way to banish the ‘windswept wasteland’ feel given it by GDR postwar planning. It’s a shame though that the solution is so entirely based on shopping. The Alexa is huge, and entirely filled with global-brand shops, ensuring that this could be absolutely anywhere. It adds its considerable retail weight to Galeria Kaufhof, and the shops Alexander & Berolina, which will be further increased by Die Mitte.
Berlin (or at least its government) perceives that the only way forward for the city is to become a place like other western metropolises – an international flight hub, shopping ‘experiences’, vast entertainment venues. And they’re probably right; commerce hasn’t exactly been swift in coming to the capital. But something of Berlin’s rough spirit will undoubtedly be lost in the process.
The key buildings of Alexanderplatz, for the trainspotter in you…
Alexander and Berolina buildings. Virtually reconstructioned due to devastating war damage (the Soviets fought their way into Berlin via Alex), with the latest makeover (of Berolina) by nps tchoban voss, who also did the Cubix multiplex south of station.
The 123m Park Inn, originally the GDR’s Stadt Berlin, by Roland Korn, 1967-70.
The GDR’s answer to KaDeWe was the Zentrum department store, by Josef Kaiser, 1967-70. A couple of years ago the building was cocooned and reborn as Galeria Kaufhof, thanks to a rather bland makeover by Paul Josef Kleihues, his final work.
I notice that there’s a substantial monograph available on the project, bizarrely. Maybe I’m missing something? At best it seems nothing special (compare it with John McAslan’s fine reworking of the Peter Jones store in London). At worst, the exterior seems uncomfortably close to the stripped neo-classicism of the Third Reich. I know that Kleihues’ office had no house style, but this seems an unnecessary low point.
You could argue that Kleihues was West Germany’s chameleon architect, and that Hermann Henselmann was East Germany’s. So it’s ironic that across the Platz from Galeria are arguably Henselmann’s best works – the Haus Des Lehrers and the Kongresshalle. Both are largely uncompromised modernism. Compare and contrast with his very compromised work along Karl-Marx-Allee.
Haus Des Lehrers
Kongresshalle (now BCC)
The 17 storey Haus des Reisens (House of Travel) 1967-70, is also by Roland Korn. Along with the unreadable ‘atomic’ clock across the square, this seems like a particularly cruel GDR joke; a travel agency for citizens not allowed to travel, and a world clock to show what time it was in all the places you couldn’t go. By way of interest, I was going to tell of a visit to the Week12End club, which now occupies two floors and a roof terrace. But someone’s said it better here already.
The Electrical Industry Building (now re-wrapped) and in the background the Berliner Verlag building, by Heinz Mehlan 1967-69, and Karl-Ernst Swora 1970-1973, respectively.
To the south of the S-Bahn is the Cubix multiplex, 2001, by nps tchoban voss (their lower case, not my typo).
Next to this is a vast plattenbau facade, which apparently disguises a building by Phillip Schaefer dating from 1930/31, formerly Karstadt’s HQ, then a police headquarters after the war. I read all this in some guidebook, but I’m not 100% sure this is the right building. Not sure where else it would be though. (See comment below – I was mistaken)
And, of course, the TV Tower – first draft apparently by Henselmann, design by Gunther Kollmann and others, with origami-like base buildings by Walter Herzog (and others… these were collective times, no starchitects in the GDR, with the exception of Henselmann himself, perhaps). I’m not going to post a picture of the tower itself – just look upwards when in Berlin – so here’s another bit.
Also see other post for Mendelsohn’s Einsteinturm in Potsdam, just outside Berlin.
Today we’re pretty used to the idea of putting modernist (usually high-tech) elements into buildings from previous eras; Foster at the Reichstag, I M Pei at the Deutsche Historical Museum, to name a couple of Berlin examples.
But in the early twentieth century the idea would have been almost unheard of. So how groundbreaking must Mendelsohn’s Mossehaus have been?
The original building of 1900-1903, by Cremer & Wolffenstein, was a neoclassical sandstone affair, the corner of which was badly damaged by post first world war rioting (it must have been pretty extreme rioting, but such were the conditions in Germany at the time, I guess).
Mendelsohn retained most of the building’s main facades, but completely rebuilt the corner, and added two/three additional stories, in a totally original, streamlined expressionist style.
What was also radical for its time was the focus on the corner of the building, seen by Mendelsohn as the focus of movement; at the junction of streets, as opposed to a ’static’ entrance in the middle of a facade.
Oddly, section of ‘original’ facade on the southern elevation which should date from 1903 has been replaced by a recent, bland, office curtain wall. Perhaps this part was lost in WWII and the whole elevation rebuilt, including the Mendelsohn additional stories?
Elevation on Jerusalemer Strasse
Elevation on Schützenstrasse – more recent, but why?
Following the Einsteinturm, Mendelsohn became hugely successful, running Germany’s largest architectural practice between the wars, with commissions including department stores in Stuttgart, Chemnitz and Berlin (Potsdamer Platz, demolished after the war).
It’s interesting that the Mossehaus was Mendelsohn’s first major commission following the Einsteinturm, and the expressionist ideas are evident. But by the time he was forced to flee Germany in the 1930s (he was a Jewish, successful, modernist architect, so not exactly popular with the Third Reich) he was producing buildings that we would recognise as entirely modernist. The Metal Workers Union building (Industriegewerkschaft Metall), at the southern end of Alte Jakobstrasse, is one of these.
Unlike the Mossehaus, which is currently occupied by Total, who don’t like you even peering into the entrance area, reception staff at the Union building allow access to the entrance area and main staircase (if you ask nicely).
Annoyingly, the staircase was completely scaffolded when I went; I’ll drop in again soon and replace the images with better ones.
The original commission was for a substantially larger building over two blocks, linked by a bridge; someone at Manchester Uni has done a quite cool video for the building.
The building has just been completely refurbished, and is classic ‘streamline moderne’ – long, long brass handrails, strip windows and expanses of white render. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lobby bears a striking resemblance to the interiors of his pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea – Mendelsohn’s only major building in England. The spiral staircase, with its sweeping handrails and vertical lighting system suspended throughout its height, seems near identical.
And then Berlin…
Rear elevation, which fittingly enough looks out over Libeskind’s Jewish museum directly to the north.
Alte Jakobstrasse elevation. An unsettling image on show in the atrium shows the Union symbol replaced with a swastika in the same circle design during the 1930s.
Oddly, the atrium information boards also describe Mendelsohn’s Bexhill pavilion erroneously as being in Bexley (a part of south east London, in which it definitely isn’t).
I wouldn’t want anyone to think that my recent post on the 87 IBA was a full-blown defence of postmodernism; it was more about the merits of careful urban planning. I only mention this because I was walking around Aldo Rossi’s Quartier Schützenstrasse in central Berlin the other day, and was having fairly negative views on po-mo as a style.
It was built in the mid 90s, following the ideas of critical reconstruction developed from the IBA, and is instantly recognisable by its multicoloured facades; it seems at first glance to be a series of different buildings on the same block, each a different (mostly primary) colour.
Despite the interesting layout of its internal courtyards, and the inclusion of one pre-existing building, its basically one big speculative development with the potential to remove internal partitions for continuous office space.
The splitting of the facades into apparently separate buildings is therefore entirely false, and deliberately underlined by the inclusion of a copy of the Renaissance Palazzo Farnese (to the left of the first image). This is architectural humour, apparently.
It’s admittedly a good antidote to some of the frankly horrible featureless corporate blocks which dominate the area, but the real problem, as ever in architecture, is in the detail.
It’s just all too plastic looking, especially the ‘renaissance’ stone detailing, which, although it is actual stone, looks like plastic panels with visible gaps between; the stonework doesn’t meet the floor.
Anyway, enough already with the moaning. This was the last dying gasp of PoMo as a style in Berlin, and on the whole gave way to a mixture of straight pastiche and corporate modernism that frankly isn’t much better.
Location: bounded by Schützenstrasse, Charlottenstrasse, Zimmerstrasse and Markgrafenstrasse.
By way of technical accuracy, the design is jointly by Rossi, with M. Kocher, M. Scheurer, Götz Bellmann and Walter Böhm. I’ve the latter two listed as ‘planning partners’ in various guidebooks. I assume this means that they were involved in the overall planning of the scheme but not the detailed design. This would make sense, as Bellmann and Böhm were the designers of ‘New Hackescher Markt’ – a series of buildings and courtyards to the northeast of Museum Insel.
Is the building of memorials the best way to remember either the victims or the perpetrators of the Third Reich?
I’m asking this, not because I want to turn this into a blog about war guilt (I’d be out of my depth) but because it still remains a critical issue relating to what has been built, what hasn’t been built, and what might be built at two sites in central Berlin.
The first, a stone’s throw from the Brandenburg Gate, is the Holocaust Memorial, which occupies a large open site on the edge of the area formerly occupied by the Reich Chancellery. Currently, in an adjoining building, is an exhibition called ‘Mythos Germania’, focusing on Hitler and Albert Speer’s megalomaniac plans for rebuilding Berlin. More on all of this later.
If you walk a few blocks south of the Holocaust Memorial, to the junction of Wilhelmstrasse and Niederkirchnerstrasse, and look west, you’ll see this:
The most obvious thing is a remaining section of the Berlin Wall. This remnant formed part of the western side of the boundary, and it’s this western boundary which is now marked as a continuous line of cobbles across streets and pavements where it ran through the city.
On the right is a corner of the vast Reich Aviation Ministry (now the Finance Ministry), built in 1935-36 by Ernst Sagebiel.
After the fall of the Wall, it housed the Treuhand-Anstalt, the government agency whose job was to privatise East Germany’s state-owned economy. Its director, Detlev Rohwedder, was assasinated here.
The Topography of Terror
Immediately to the left of the wall is an excavated trench, housing a small, semi-enclosed exhibition known as the Topography of Terror. It’s appropriately named. In 1986, excavations on this apparently empty site exposed parts of the cellars of the Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse 8 – the Gestapo headquarters. The ruins uncovered included several cells of the Gestapo jail.
This led to the Topography of Terror exhibition being founded on the site, initially intended to be temporary, but still currently in place, and receiving huge visitor numbers every year. (It was busy when I went, on a rainy April tuesday.)
Prior to the discoveries, a huge memorial had already been planned on the site, designed by Jürgen Wenzel and Nikolaus Lang, intended to cover the entire site with iron plates, punctuated only by rows of chestnut trees. But the plan failed to meet the initial brief (it should have included a recreational park) and had been abandoned by 1984. For those who like to visit this blog for all things IBA related, it was this scheme that fell within the programme).
Following the fall of the Wall, it was decided that there should be a competition for a more permanent memorial and visitor building on the site; architect Peter Zumthor submitted the winning proposal. But from its proposed start in 1996, the project started to exceed its budget, and was beset by the technical difficulties of achieving the ambitious design. Staggeringly, the building was partly built, including the foundations and staircores, before being abandoned in 2000, later to be demolished. I’ve read lots about who was to blame, but knowing how these things work (I’ve headed some much smaller-scale construction disasters in my time), I wouldn’t want to speculate.
Since then, there’s been a new competition, with a new winner – Ursula Wilms – and a much lower-key proposal for a pavilion and landscaping of the site. The Zumthor design would have been much larger, and the visitor building far more dominant.
The Tagesspiel editorial in January 2006 gave its approval to the new Ursula Wilms design. However, it also commented that “Compared to the special architecture of the Holocaust Memorial and the Jewish Museum, there will be no special site where the perpetrators are remembered.” In other words, not everyone was a victim; someone carried out these crimes, and this should be remembered in the form of structures given equal prominence to the existing memorials. Perhaps. The only problem with big iconic structures built to remember the victims or the crimes, is that they reduce complex issues to simple aesthetic gestures. People like me would turn up just to look at the building.
The existing Topography of Terror exhibition has no iconic buildings or Starchitect involvement. There is no cafe. But hundreds of thousands of visitors come and read the information boards, set out under a simple, open wooden structure.
The Holocaust Memorial
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, colloquially known as the Holocaust Memorial, is perhaps what the Topography of Terror seeks to avoid. It’s an extraordinary undulating field of giant concrete rectangular blocks, occupying a truly enormous site in the heart of Berlin, and was designed by American architect Peter Eisenmann. I won’t attempt to describe the memorial further, as it’s been better described and photographed elsewhere.
As with the issues at the Topography mentioned earlier, there have long been questions asked about whether a site so close to the ‘ground zero’ of the Nazi crimes (Hitler’s Chancellery, and the bunker where he met his end) should be a structure drawing attention to the perpetrators, rather than the victims. I can’t answer this, but instead would note that either way, a positive statement has been made by the federal government in giving over such a substantial piece of Berlin real estate to such a memorial.
For me personally the design is effective, in part de to its sheer size and visual repetition. One oddity though: the information centre beneath the site is accessed via stairs and a lift whose detailing seems incongruous against the perfection and simplicity of the concrete blocks. It’s of course necessary to have a disability-accessible lift, railings, security cameras, post boxes and other paraphernalia, but couldn’t this all have been next to, rather than in amongst, the blocks themselves?
Post blog note: it seems that although Eisenmann was involved in the design of the underground exhibition centre, his proposal was for a separate building containing this function, standing away from the main memorial – the Berlin government however insisted that it take its current form.
There is no cafe, at least not forming part of the memorial, although there was debate recently about the a longer renewal of temporary planning permission for the buildings facing onto the memorial from the east. These do include some quite tacky cafes and gift shops.
Perhaps worse, there’s a quite horrible ‘Russian oligarchs and their girlfriends’-type nightclub which exits directly out across the road, beneath the back of the Akademie der Kunst (the yellow stripey building top right of photo above) creating a particulalry inapproprite mood if you walk past late evening.
… is the title of a current exhibition in the nearby Exhibition Pavilion, running until December. It centres around a scale model of Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer’s plans to rebuild Berlin as ‘Germania’, a new capital for the Reich, intended for completion around 1950.
No cameras allowed, unfortunately, so no photos.
I had been slightly worried that it would be filled with the ‘wrong sort’ of visitor – people with an unhealthy obsession with Nazis. But actually it wasn’t, and also isn’t ‘that sort’ of exhibition.
The model is fascinating (and ludicrous in the scale of its ambition – plans for the Volkshalle included a dome the height of today’s TV Tower) but it’s the surrounding information on the workings of Speer’s Germany that ultimately draws your attention.
Two things struck me:
1.The extent to which the plan was carried out, with large parts of central Berlin cleared (helped in part by the RAF, presumably).
2.The absolute complicity of Speer, and his vast building and military supply organisations, in the Holocaust. Labour for Speer’s plans was increasingly provided from concentration camps as labour ran short for the war effort.
Anyway, enough with the war and Nazis. A return to properly modern architecture for the next post, I promise.
Cycling into the city centre the other day I thought I’d take a new route, down Kurstrasse. It’s still something of a backstreet, despite being a block away from the site of the still-being-demolished DDR Palast Der Republik, but it seems major things are afoot.
One side of the street is entirely filled with the imposing neoclassical bulk of the Foreign Office. It was built as the Reichsbank, one of the first major buildings to be constructed by the Third Reich, to designs by Heinrich Wolff. In between 1945 and now, it’s been the DDR’s Finance Ministry, then the HQ of the ruling SED communist party (and at the same time the seat of the Politburo). The building was extended in the 1990s (Berlin’s main info website understandably downplays the presence of the older, National Socialist, part of the building).
Anyway, everything on the other side of the street is brand new, or still under construction. The new work appears at first glance to be a terrace of tall narrow townhouses, in a range of styles and materials, with generally modernist or half-hearted postmodern frontages.
I’m guessing that the city planners decided that the unforgiving facade of the Foreign Office couldn’t be met by an equivalent monolithic modernist facade across the street – i.e. the type of design which dominates so much of Berlin’s new government district. It might lead to uncomfortable comparisons. I’m also guessing that they then had two choices:
a) A single huge design for the street, but employing a less ’severe’ architectural approach, which broke it down into more humanely scaled elements. Takes a very good architect to pull it off.
b) Breaking the facade up into what appears to be a whole series of separate buildings, each one different, where the quality of architecture in itself is not so prominent – i.e. the option that’s being built.
Post-blog note: an amendment. As I recently learned at a conference in Porto, these buildings are indeed all separate plots, and in separate ownership, and largely residential townhouses. The financial model used was quite deliberate, as an attempt to bring new ownership and new residents into this otherwise pretty dead part of town. In terms of getting things built, this seems to have worked well. The aspect I’m less sure of is whether the differing height and style of each building seems a little posed. Despite their longing to appear individual, they’re clearly of the same age, and very similar in all but the most superficial styling.
A more successful attempt at the same idea (at least in terms of architecture) is perhaps in the eastern docks area of Amsterdam. But that’s the Dutch for you.
Anyway, enough chat, here’s the photos of the street. For safety reasons, I got off the bike before taking them.
The Foreign Office/Finance Ministry, built 1933-40. It’s no shrinking violet, is it?
The new extension, by Thomas Müller and Ivan Reimann (the entrance is on Werderscher Markt, round the corner).
And then the other side of the road:
Note the strange stonework, enlarged below:
A rather photo-heavy post, but excused by the fact that Axel Schultes’ crematorium is such a very photogenic building, particularly the interior.
Schultes is best known for his masterplan of Berlin’s government district around the Reichstag, and his practice’s designs for the Chancellory (Angela Merkel’s formal residence). Pictures of the Chancelllory are at the end – nothing wrong with the design, which uses some of the same themes and detailing, but somehow the whole building seems vastly overscaled; the Treptow crematorium is by far the more impressive piece of work.
Anyway, more images of the crematorium…
The columns are arranged apparently randomly around a large central space, off which are four chapels. In fact, the columns are carefully placed around a small circular fountain/pool in the centre, and subtly aligned with the features of the walls. The light from the head of each column is daylight – a clever structural arrangement allows for the column to be attached into the side of a circular hole. I could have spent the whole day just wandering around the place.
The pool has an egg almost invisibly suspended just above it. Permanent, or an Easter connection? Not sure. Am guessing the former, as it must be quite an operation to set up such an apparently simple thing.
One of the four chapels.
Curiously, gaps in the floor along the outer walls are filled with fine white sand, lit from beneath the floor level. Any overt meaning is lost on me.
The obligatory ‘angled arty image’.
Another oddity. Scattered around the perimeter of the building are hundreds of funerary urns and stones, presumably predating the new crematorium building. It’s as if the whole structure had just landed on its site, scattering everything that was there. But quite a deliberate detail, I’m guessing.
Finally, as noted at the top, some images of Schultes’ Bundeskanzleramt, taken on an open day last August (many of the government district’s buildings are open to the public once a year). In retrospect, I have to say that it all looks more effective in the photos than I remember it on the day. Maybe it’s the ivy? Anyway, interesting to note (interesting to me at least) that the same blue anodized metal is used for detailing (railings, vent panels etc) throughout, as in the crematorium. External columns also follow the same design as the crematorium’s internal space. Although you can’t really make out the heads of these in the image – it’s that ivy.
Schultes’ master plan creates a ‘long thin’ government district which crosses the Spree twice; the Chancellery gardens are reached across the pedestrian bridge on the left.
They need to keep that trimmed back… (you can make out Hugh Stubbins’ Haus der Kulturen der Welt in the background).
Note the blue metal detailing – not 100% sure that I like the effect. But the ivy looks good.
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 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.
See also this link to a conference on critical reconstruction and the IBA, in Porto, Portugal, 4th – 8th November: http://berlim-reconstrucaocritica.blogspot.com/. My original post below:
‘Critical Reconstruction’. A term used to describe the policy for rebuilding post-wall Berlin. The vast areas of waste ground left by the wall zones were to be infilled, by reverting to older street patterns, and by following a set of conservative building codes which limited the height, and (in places) the style of new buildings.
In Pariser Platz, next to the Brandenburg Gate, the building rules seem to have been at their most restrictive, with every new building complying with the required style of horizontal stone banding. Frank Gehry’s Deutsche Bank HQ has had to hide his signature shiny-curvy building behind a singularly uninteresting façade. The rebuilt Hotel Adlon is just an overscaled version of the original, and the recently-completed American Embassy, which has the prime spot overlooking the Tiergarten and the Holocaust Memorial, sets new standards for blandness. The only building that subverts the rules slightly is Michael Wilford’s British Embassy (not saying this just cos I’m a Brit) – angular structures in purple and blue appear to explode from a ‘missing’ section of the plain stone façade.
The vast new buildings of Potsdamer Platz, designed by a string of ‘big name’ architects, are curiously underwhelming; the whole layout of the site was something of a compromise with the major site owners (I’ll save a rant about that for another day).
But the greatest loss of nerve is the Reichstag. “Surely” you’re thinking, “this is a triumphant rebirth of Germany’s parliament building in an assured high tech intervention by Norman Foster?” Or words to that effect.
Well yes it’s not bad. It’s still one of his best works, with his signature ‘techno bits inserted in an old building’ look, done well. But it could have been something altogether more radical.
I’ve not been able to find a good link or non-copyright-breaching image, so instead, here’s an artist’s impression (the ‘artist’ being me):
The competition to transform the Reichstag into a new parliament building had three joint winners: Norman Foster, Santiago Calatrava and Pi de Bruijn. But all three were subsequently asked to start over based on a much reduced brief, essentially requiring less floor space, contained entirely within the existing structure.
Foster won this ‘second’ competition with the design which was carried through – including the familiar spiral ramps inside a glass dome.
But his original design proposed a colossal independent roof structure, enclosing not only the Reichstag but a large space around it, even spanning across part of the river Spree. A raised podium would have covered the same area, cutting off the lower parts of the original building’s façades. The Reichstag would thus have been only a part, albeit the key element, of a larger whole; a literal representation that the new parliament would stand as something which accepted and incorporated the nation’s past, but at the same time would be something new and open.
It was a strong idea, particularly as the original 19th century building is considered by many to be a bit of a dog’s dinner. It was a not entirely successful attempt to merge a number of disparate styles, and couldn’t better represent the dead end that neoclassicism had reached in the years preceding the birth of modernism. Even its architect, Paul Wallot, admitted that he struggled with an ‘impossible’ task.
There was also the fact that the building was not in its original ‘intact’ state: it had been burned out in the 1930s, shelled by the Russians, and already refurbished in the 1960s.
So as architecture, it didn’t really bear comparison with the government seats of some other nations – Barry and Pugin’s Palace of Westminster, for instance. But in the end, conservatism prevailed, the competition requirements were rewritten to ensure that the building wasn’t radically changed. So that’s what’s now on the postcards.
In the east, Karl-Marx-Allee. A 2km long triumphal route of overbearing, neo-classical blocks that’s more Moscow than Mitte. On first sight, it has all the architectural subtlety of a wedding cake, with neoclassical features thrown uncomprehendingly onto the giant facades of soviet prefab-system blocks. Many of the buildings of Karl-Marx-Allee (previously Stalinalle, and originally Frankfurter Allee) seem hard to love. At Frankfurter Tor, the apogee of the street’s design, two huge towers top the nine storey blocks, forming a formidable eastern gateway to the city. Apparently inspired by Schinkel, they look awkward and oddly proportioned, like something stuck on top of a UK supermarket to obtain planning permission.
And meanwhile, over in the west, the Hansaviertel. A mix of blocks of flats and individual houses, designed by a virtual who’s-who of modernist architecture for the 1957 Interbau – an international housing exhibition. It includes designs by Arne Jacobsen, Walter Gropius, Max Taut, Alvar Aalto, Oscar Niemeyer. It would have even had a version of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation block (the first of which is in Marseilles), but this was located in nearby Charlottenburg as it was too large to fit on the Hansa site.
In the Hansaviertel (Hansa quarter, in translation), understatement rules, with clusters of assymetrical modernist buildings interspersed with green spaces. It’s a lovely location – the estate rises up out of the trees of the Tiergarten’s northern edge, with individual modernist houses giving way to taller blocks of flats, each set amongst trees and landscaping. There are no grand ceremonial routes here.
The Hansa ticks all the right design boxes; an impeccably dressed party guest, disdainfully eyeing the Allee’s vulgar Ossi gatecrasher.
So why is it Karl-Marx-Allee that I’m drawn to? Why that sense of fading grandeur as I cycle toward Alexanderplatz on a cold January night, the chandeliers of the Kino International twinkling through the freezing air?
It’s some of the later, individual buildings that really appeal to me; Cafe Moskau, the Kino International, and the Kosmos. A real sense of GDR glamour survives in them – they retain most of their original features, and the quality of the architecture prevents them becoming just kitsch.
Surprisingly (to me at least) these buildings form part of the later (1960s) stage of the Allee’s construction. My initial impression was that it was a microcosm of Soviet architectural history, with early modernist intentions giving way later to overscaled neoclassical monstrosity. Actually, the Allee’s history is complex, and its architecture often wrongly attributed. The International and the Kosmos were both designed by Josef Kaiser and Herbert Aust, and I assume that they also did Cafe Moskau on the other side of the street.
A good place to start exploring is Henselmann’s prototype for the rest of the Allee, Hochhaus an der Weberwiese. Round the corner, back on the Allee, is Café Sibylle, a fabulous GDR cafe which also has a permanent exhibition about the Allee’s history.
There’s a good article in the International Herald Tribune, celebrating last year’s 50th anniversary of the Hansaviertel, describing how the area is once again becoming a hip place to be. Apartments there are sought after by a new generation of architects, designers and media folk, the angle being that this is no museum piece. Fair enough. But for me there’s something slightly self-satidfied about the Hansaviertel, confident in its coolly understated design (there’s nothing understated about the twin towers at Frankfurter Tor).
Hansaplatz, containing a theatre, small shopping centre and U-bahn station, has become quite run-down, and I’m guessing is yet to catch up with the ‘rebirth’ of the area. It does however include a small visitor centre with a lot of information on the Interbau and related topics.
The block by Niemeyer is his only German building (besieged, the day I saw it, by a group of Brazilian architecture students who took turns photographing each other sitting in the crux of its huge V-shaped support columns).
For me the most successful of the towers is the one by Hans Schwippert, although oddly there’s no entrance space or atrium at all – the separate entrance doors lead directly to the stairs and to the ground floor flats. For an Expo building, I had expected something grander: glass, steel and a couple of Mies Barcelona chairs \perhaps.
The nearby Akademie der Künste, designed by Werner Düttmann, was built later than the Interbau, and the site was originally intended for other housing (but not, I think, for the Le Corb block). Being the kind of person I am, I loved the detailing – to the right of the entrance, rainwater is directed off the building at roof level then falls freely to onto an enclosed square of uneven stones concealing the drain.
Some more images here at Flickr.
Maybe my views are tainted because the architectural style (if not the quality of ideas) of the Hansaviertel became the default style of the western world for the next fifty years. Location is a factor too; Karl-Marx-Allee runs right through Friedrichshain, one of the livelier parts of the city, especially at night. As soon as you turn off into the side streets, away from the imposing Stalinist blocks, the true east Berlin urban fabric of late 19th century streets reasserts itself, with hundreds of cafes, bars etc.
Perhaps this is all being a little unfair; no-one who chooses to live in the Hansaviertel is looking for the edginess and nightlife that you find in the city’s east. But it’s also ironic that Karl-Marx-Allee was the grand statement of formal, centralised planning, but now lies at the centre of Berlin’s more ‘chaotic’ side; its nightlife and culture. The Hansaviertel, a demonstration of the west’s less dictatorial planning and its liberal values, feels much more the museum piece.
Trainspotting: The Hansaviertel
Here’s the complete list of architects who designed buildings in the Hansaviertel, although if you’re wandering about, the information is clearly set out on some location signs, and you can get a guide leaflet at the office for a couple of euros.
Hans Ch. E. Müller, Berlin
Günther Gottwald, Berlin
Wassili Luckhardt+Hubert Hofmann, Berlin
Paul Schneider-Esleben, Düsseldorf
Bezirksamt Tiergarten Amt für Hochbau Berlin
Willy Kreuer, Berlin
Ernst Zinsser + Hansrudolf Plarre, Hannover, Berlin
Luciano Baldessari, Mailand
J.H. van den Broek + J.B. Bakema, Rotterdam
Gustav Hassenpflug, Munich
Raymond Lopez + Eugène
Hans Schwippert, Düsseldorf
Werner Düttmann, Berlin
Otto H. Senn, Basel
Kay Fisker, Kopenhagen
Max Taut, BerlinFranz Schuster, Wien
Egon Eiermann, Karlsruhe
Oscar Niemeyer, Rio de Janeiro
Fritz Jaenecke, Sten Samuelson, Malmö
Alvar Aalto, Helsinki
Pierre Vago, Paris
Walter Gropius + The Architects’ Collaborative, Cambridge Mass. + Ebert, Berlin
Klaus Müller-Rehm + Gerhard Siegmann, Berlin
Ludwig Lemmer, Berlin
Paul G.R. Baumgarten, Berlin
Eduard Ludwig, Berlin
Arne Jacobsen, Kopenhagen
Gerhard Weber, Frankfurt/M.
Alois Giefer + Hermann Mäckler, Frankfurt/M.
Johannes Krahn, Frankfurt/M.
Wolf von Möllendorff + Sergius Ruegenberg, Berlin
Sep Ruf, Munich
Bodamer + Berndt, Klaus Kirsten, Berlin
Johann Heinrich StrackThe Interbau also included the Hugh Stubbins’, Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt to the east of the Hansaviertel, and the Corbusierhaus in Charlottenburg.
…and Karl-Marx-Allee: more trainspotting.
The earliest buildings, built 1949-50, are by Ludmilla Herzenstein, an associate of Scharoun.
The largest blocks, which include both pairs of towers, built 1951-52, are by architectural chameleon. And I use the term ‘chameleon’ advisedly; I was amazed to discover that the Karl-Marx-Allee blocks were by the same architect as the Haus des Lehrers and Berlin Congress Centre, just along the road at Alexanderplatz (links are to posts where I’ve blogged about both).
The remaining blocks are by various architectural ‘collectives’, individually headed by Egon Hartmann, Hanns Hopp, Kurt W. Leucht, Richard Paulick and Karl Souradny.
As previously noted, the Kino International, and the Kosmos (now a multi-screen) are by Josef Kaiser and Herbert Aust.