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IBA... Berlin ... yesterday, today, tomorrow

By Jan Schreurs
16.03 1990

Our view of Berlin is still a little conditioned by the propaganda of the IBA-Machine. Making a virtue of necessity, can IBA be used to examin the past and the future of the current Berlin?

Our view of Berlin is still a little conditioned by the propaganda of the IBA -Machine. Making a virtue of necessity, can I.B.A. When peg used to dwell on the past and the future of the current Berlin.

What I.B.A. self-respect may even be mentioned is “the past of the future.” Options by I.B.A. Taken on two surfaces forward looking drastically.
First elected for an architectural formula which was believed to involve a standard for the future of the city. In order to test that model, yard experimenting systematically with the closed construction look. In light of current developments can ask there be added. Perhaps Berlin evolves from two major cities into one big city? Can all the inhabitants thereof are collected in blocks? Should the existing dwelling towers in the center of East Berlin die?

Secondly supports the whole structure of I.B.A. One hypothesis about the political – and hence the spatial – structure of the two German states and Berlin. In fact, a choice was made for a Berlin would remain divided. This choice has had an impact on the submitted planning proposals, and the choices made by the competition jury in between. Now that the basic hypothesis under pressure is applied to the urban options will probably be subject to a review. How the separately developed transportation networks may be interconnected. What happens to the two current socio-cultural centers and the many commercial centers? Will I.B.A. Housing at the base of the wall does not come under pressure?

To understand one another better, and to draw lessons from the past, it is also equally well to dive in history. I.B.A. roots Lying on the one hand in a problem that has its roots in the 19th century, on the other hand is an approach that has led to a tradition of architecture exhibitions. It is interesting to make clear the link between tradition and IBA 1987. Moreover, the theme of the shared and united city as old as Berlin itself. Right now repeating itself before our eyes what happened 750 years ago already. East and West are perhaps merged into one Greater Berlin. But the city that is etched in our memory as Berlin, was originally a double city consisting of Cologne and Berlin.

For anyone who for some reason raises questions about the future of Berlin, it is therefore useful and appropriate to track the evolution of the initial Berlin. How the city was already one of the merger of two units? What was the impact of this state of affairs on the spatial structure. In summary, we will, starting from the current situation and problems of Berlin, the validity of answers to questions about the past, speculation about the future. In any case, the motto for Berlin: one plus one equals one.

Jan Schreurs (1952)
⁃ ir. 1976 architect K.U.Leuven
⁃ degree Sted. And R.O. 1982 K.U.L.
⁃ Doctor Leis. Sci. 1986 K.U.L.
⁃ During the period 76-88 he was attached to the Department of Architecture of the University Leuven as assistant and later as a research assistant.
⁃ Since Oct. 87 teacher at the Higher Institute of Architecture HAIR Antwerp “Analysis of the spatial fabric.”
⁃ Since June 88 Director of Physical Planning, Administration KUL
⁃ Publishes regularly in Archis.

Georg Slickers Bonjour Tristesse, Berlijn – Alvaro Siza, 1984

Time to build a brand new Berlin
Berlin’s reunification is inevitable. What is in question is how the cities can face the lengthy re planning and restructuring process needed to make the divided city whole. Kevin Bübel reports. Christmas arrived in West Berlin six weeks early this year. The daily tide of East German shoppers and sightseers who flood west to spend their DM 100 ‘welcoming money” and then ebb back across the new crossing points in the Wall, fill department stores along the Kurfürstendamm, West Berlin’s glitzy main thoroughfare, literally to bursting. There is a genuine feeling of goodwill between people from East and West. And a sprinkling of snow the weekend after the Wall opened made made the picture complete. But beneath all this cheer, the city is visibly straining under the human pressure placed on its housing and transport system.

The breaches in the Wall signify what is referred to in West Berlin as the long awaited ‘landing of the island’. Reunification of the two Berlins is regarded as a certainty. West Berlin may no longer remain as an isolated island city, and will again be able to develop like a normal city and build housing in its own surrounding hinterland – unrestricted by the Wall. But opinion in Berlin is cautious too, as the dimensions of problem facing planners and architects have a habit of changing overnight.

Practical problems
‘We are building’, said one West Berlin observer, ‘on shifting ground’. There are masses of ideas coming from architects about what can be done now the Wall is certain to come down. But no-one knows how these ideas can be put into practice. Structures for debate between the two sides do not exist. There is no guarantee that officials in charge of development in the east today will still be at their desk tomorrow. Totally new structures for dialogue have to be constructed.

The new East West Forum of Architecture (AJ29.11.89 p13) is the first informal cross-border organization set op by Berlin architects to establish personal/working contact with hitherto anonymous colleagues. ‘We can’t say how long the city’s redevelopment will take, ‘ says Urs Kohlbrenner, Archipel West Berlin architect and planner who is also head of the SRL – West Germany’s equivalent to the RTPI.

Kohlbrenner, along with town and city planner Udo Dittfurth at Planergemeinschaft Dubach Kohlbrenner has been in quiet readiness for the unforeseen changes of 9 November and the demands this would place on West Berlin’s public transport system. Dittfurth is a leading figure in the city transport pressure group the IGEB. For years, the IGEB has been ignored by local politicians in its campaign to resurrect and refurbish the S-bahn overland railway system as a way of solving some of West Berlin’s domestic public transport problems.

The S-bahn network, completed just before the las war, runs in a loop around the whole city. Cross-town and suburban lines make up a system designed to deal with a population of 4.2 million, nearly one million more than live in the two cities today. When the city was sliced up into sectors controlled by the Allies in 1945, the whole S-bahn system was left in the hands of authorities in the east to run as a crossover service. But when the Wall went up in August 1961, the loop line was severed, and political expedience in the west allowed its half of the system to run down.

Dittfurth and Kohlbrenner’s idea to bring the S-bahn back out of mothballs and reconnect the lines has now gained valuable political currency – for the city as well as the IGEB pressure group. Acting like some kind of ‘transport paramedics’ they say the system could be patched up as an interim measure to absorb the volume of traffic West Berlin’s public transport system was never designed to carry.

‘Berlin will only be able to function as a whole if the immediate transport problem is solved firtst,’ says Kohlbrenner. ‘It is not necessary to make hasty decisions about new transport developments to reconnect Berlin when we can bring back an old system we know works now.’ Housing provision in West Berlin has always been under pressure. The shortage is now more acute as the demand from new settlers grows. ‘There are direct, concrete problems of too few flats in Berlin,’ says Edvard Jahn of AGS Architects. ‘And there are no places in the inner city left to build. The instant reaction to the demand is to build on the city’s remaining green spaces, but that is no solution.’

Planning opportunity
Jahn is mid-way through a West Berlin Senat commission to draw up the master plan for a garden festival to be used as a means of aiding, planning and development in otherwise neglected areas. The area he is planning for lies in a strip running north/south past key areas of the Wall. The Reichstag Building, Tiergarten, Brandenburg Gate an Potsdamer Platz all fall within it. At the top end of the site are empty rail yards next to Lehrter station, which is earmarked as the building site for a museum of Berlin’s modern history. At the bottom end are more derelict goods yard bordering Kreuzberg – site for the 1987 IBA International building exhibition housing project (AJ Special Berlin Issue 25.1.89).

The emphasis of the original master plan was to build one of Albert Speer’s unattempted road projects, which reinforces the dominance of an area always left undeveloped in case Berlin ever became the German capital again. This idea is now abandoned as the garden festival site occupies the key planning area in West Berlin, likely to form the transition zone to link the cities.

As a knee-jerk reaction to the Wall’s opening, Jahn has scribbled over neatly hatched zones of green spaces flanking Potsdamer Strasse in black biro to denote new housing areas. He did this in anticipation of the likely jump in demand for flats by people coming through the Wall, but also as a statement signifying the importance of the Potsdamer – which ranks second to the still closed Brandenburg Gate as a key road running East to West.

‘The reunification of Berlin is inevitable but the city will never be the capital again,’ says Jahn. ‘When the East has corrected its economic problem, perhaps we can start planning for the whole city.‘this is easier said than done. East Berlin is planned around a succession of concentric circular zones. All major roadways focus on the city’s hub at the Brandenburg Gate. West Berlin, however, has grown around several interrelated nodes. A totally new road system will have to be built if there is a serious attempt to integrate the cities.

Jahn says a settlement on the questions of who will build and control the new roads will have to be reached before anything goes ahead.
‘The biggest problem behind each of the questions is not yielding to pressures of pushing plans forward too fast. Berlin will be united, but it will take time.’

Is Berlin dead, or a living inspiration? Many of the architects who were asked the question did not let the city’s everyday reality stand in the way of a chance to show off. Paul Duwe visited the exhibition.

Fantasy castles built on sand
Berlin: is it a monument, or a hotbed of ideas? The exhibition’s title, ‘Berlin: Denkmal oder Denkmodell’, posed the question. It is one of the strangest places on Earth. Is it one city, or two? Whatever the answer, it is rich in history. Berlin’s twentieth century architecture has a fine pedigree/ Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Behrens and Mendelsohn – to name but a few – made Berlin’s buildings world-renowned in the ’20s. Who is following in their footsteps at the threshold of the new century?

The exhibition was funded by the Senate of West Berlin (it cost around DM470 000 or £148 000) and organized by Kristin Feireiss, who runs AEDES, Berlin’s leading architectural gallery. It was part of the city’s programme as European Cultural Capital 1988 and will later travel to other European countries.
Feireiss asked this question of more than 80 architects working in 10 countries: is Berlin dead, or a living inspiration? The response, she believes, provides the seeds of what could become reality. She does not object ot many of the participants having used Berlin as a sand-pit to play in. the comparison is apt: the city is actually built on sand.

The architects were invited to select any part of the city to work on. The wall was to be regarded only as a physical structure capable of being demolished, and not as any barrier to projects or ideas. Not surprisingly, the wall became the principal challenge. Some architects sought to undermine it, accepting its reality. Others chose to design for a city already rid of it.

New York architect Lebbeus Wood overcame the problem of the wall by digging tunnels under it. His new Berlin would be reunited by pulsing underground veins. The idea is not as Utopian as it may seem: an extensive network of tunnels and underground railways, many of them abandoned, already exists beneath the wall.

Optimists by nature, most architect assumed that one day Berlin would be reunited. Claus Bury of Frankfurt am Main proposed building a Museum of New German History right across the wall. The West German Governments has already decided to build a German historical museum, to a competition-winning design by Also Rossi (AJ10.8.88 p24). Bury’s idea is a direct challenge, proposing a museum based on a perspective of Germany seen by both East an West.

Bury’s museum looks like a Pharaoh’s grave, stretched like a turtle between East and West and reminiscent of the colossal buildings conceived by Hitler’s favorite architect, Albert Speer. Mark Mack of San Francisco looked back to Berlin’s past as a county town and a fishing village on the River Spree. The no man’s land adjoining the wall would be used to recreate the little gardens where residents used to have space to rest and live in harmony with nature.
Some architects could not resist designing conspicuous landmarks. Gustav Piechl of Vienna proposed a 100 m high media tower at Ernst Reuter Platz in West Berlin, dwarfing all human life.

In contrast, the West Berlin architect Hinrich Baller sought to reunite the existing buildings with nature. As an example, he chose the Neues Kreuzberger Zentrum, a ’70s block that is now a blot on the city’s fabric: in Baller’s scheme, plants and trees would soften the impact of raw concrete.

Peter Cook saw Berlin as fast, noisy and hectic; a home to American money, cultural glamor, tolerance and the ‘big kiss’. It was to become a melting-pot of cultures, with aspects of Babylonian and anarchistic lifestyles. Californian anarchy would meet German order, and the spirit of the ’20s underworld would return. Somehow a giant cactus was to play an important role. No limits were set on architects’ fantasies: the real problems of Berlin’s development were not the subject of the exhibition. The marvelous drawings and collages presented a ride through Disney World. The buildings as image came first: users of residents were barely mentioned.

The visually spectacular show bypassed current architecture like a typhoon. For one visitor at least, the architects’ dreams were a nightmare. Architects working on urban renewal projects in Berlin were extremely critical, finding no connection with real life. The exhibition showed architects as visionaries confident that technical progress will create exciting opportunities to build giant cities. Is that what the public needs or wants?

After more than 40 years of reconstruction and giant projects, Berliners themselves seem more interested in realistic initiatives on a smaller scale. The architect can keep their sand-pit to themselves.