“… the greatest creations of architecture are not so much the product of individual labour, rather the product of social endeavour, they are things simply cobbled together by working people, rather than inspired inventions of the creative genius, they are the traces a nation leaves behind, the strata desposited by the centuries, the lees of successive evaporations of human society, in short they are a kind of geological formation.” – Victor Hugo
In the UK, the term postmodernism is still a dirty word; it refers to that clunky jokey-neoclassical architecture that was used to design speculative, planning-restriction-free office developments in the Thatcherite years of the 1980s.
But in Berlin at that time, postmodernism was the style of a different kind of development – carefully planned urban housing and infrastructure projects. In the UK, architects had withdrawn from designing mass housing after the disastrous social experimentation of the 1960s and 1970s. In Germany, they just went back to the drawing board.
In 1979, West Berlin commenced an international competition for reconstructing parts of the city, respecting (or reintroducing) the city’s original urban street plans – the foundation of Critical Reconstruction which was to become the basic principle for rebuilding post-wall Berlin.
Initially, the idea was to have a building exhibition much like the 1957 Interbau (the Hansaviertel) – a one-off presentation of the latest in design at a single site. But the programme was subsequently expanded into an ongoing 10 year research programme of new construction and refurbishment across the city, focusing on areas still completely empty since the war (for new buildings), but also on the ‘SO36′ area of Kreuzberg, which was fast decaying into an urban slum area of squats and low rent, poor quality housing.
The original idea of a ‘building show’ survived, primarily in southern Tiergarten, but for me the integrated refurbishment and rebuilding of the existing grain of Berlin’s Kreuzberg quarter is by far the more interesting part.
IBA stands for Internationale Bauaustellung, by the way. Initially known as ‘the IBA 1984′, delays led to a renaming as ‘the IBA 1987′, although to declare it as any single year belies the underlying principle that it was a long term project, which also founded a company, S.T.E.R.N. to continue its work.
The programme was divided into ‘IBA Neubau’ (new buildings), under Josef Paul Kleihues, and ‘IBA Altbau’ (mainly the repair and alteration of existing blocks), under Hardt-Waltherr Hämer. Neubau was across Tegel, Prager Platz, southern Tiergarten and southern Friedrichstadt, the Altbau in Kreuzberg only. The Altbau programme included many new buildings, such as Alvaro Siza’s Bonjour Tristesse (see below) but the tag was given to signify that such buildings were integrated into existing street blocks.
The buildings noted below are a sampler list – there should be links in the right-hand column of this site covering everything that I’ve written online on the subject. There’s also a short piece here that I wrote for Blueprint magazine on the subject.
One last thought: it’s quite easy to judge these buildings superficially, by the style of their facades, which often have not suffered well at the hands of the architectural fashion-makers. But what strikes you most as you walk around them is the thought that’s gone into the integration of the buildings, especially the communal spaces in the ‘hofs’ behind. Photos don’t really do these justice, but here’s a sample (images link to the relevant piece).