AEG Turbine Factory

As my reader you may remember an old post long ago about Peter Behrens and his AEG Turbine Factory in Wedding.

Well we went on another excursion and got special access to enter his more famous AEG building, the Turbine Hall. As opposed to the former one that I wrote about, this one is still in use by Siemens to create large turbines. We were only allowed to take pictures of the exterior but the inside was even more impressive than its sister building.

Inside we saw giant sized turbine engines being manufactured from a single blocks of metal. It was like carving a sculpture, but instead of marble these were made of steel. The margin of error for these awesome machines is less than a millimeter, like 1/100th of a millimeter. Otherwise the entire machine is ruined. The size of these things dwarfed us as we walked past them.

It’s a really amazing structure and the engineering inside is quite awesome. It was a real treat that Jan was able to pull some strings to get the class to go inside.

Hansaviertel

2013.03.19

For this excursion we went to go and see West Berlin’s response to East Berlin’s propaganda architecture on Stalinalee. The West held an IBA competition for a masterplan on the edge of the Tiergarten for some new housing. Many famous architects came to compete and put down a new modern housing building for the reconstruction of Berlin.

When one looks at a model of the Hansaviertel, it’s hard to determine what the underlying logic was for the urban planning. The buildings range in heights from one-story bungalows to eight story high-rise apartments. These are all zoned for the most part to be grouped with themselves, save for a few stragglers. However the way these groups are grouped among others and their context is still ambiguous.

Yet when I walked through this particularly urban housing complex I got a rather suburban impression similar to the one I found with Bruno Taut’s Hufewiesen. This is probably from all of the trees winding roads in the site, a condition from being placed in the Tiergarten.

Nearly all of the buildings are still being used for their original purpose. The houses are still occupied today and owned by individuals while only a few are still up for rental. The library and arts centers are still used today and are popular locations for Berliners.

Perhaps the saddest part of the complex is the former exhibition building that served as the entrance to the Hansaviertel. It has since been repurposed into a burger king, clearly not the vision of the original architect. Thankfully the rest of the complex has remained relatively unchanged and is now protected as a historical site.

Stalinallee (Now known as Karl Marx Allee)

2015.03.12

For a history field trip we went to go see a an example of communist propaganda architecture from the DDR. In order to show off to the world that the DDR was strong they created new housing along a major street and named it Stalinallee. It is a particularly interesting street since it shows the trajectory in communist building for mass housing. In the beginning they recycled the brick left over from the destruction of Berlin after WWII. After the structure was completed they finished the facades with stone in a fashion that is similar with the architecture found in Moscow (neo-classical). This was all done in order to show that East Berlin was in a better economic position than West Berlin.

However, as time went on, building housing in this fashion became too expensive and so a new system of building was used, the platenbau. Platenbau is the use of pre-fabricated concrete slabs in the construction of a building. This is a cheap and quick method of construction that doesn’t require specialized work from masons. And on this very street there is a point where the neo-classical architecture ends and a type of modern architecture begins. Yet, it wasn’t until East Berlin began constructing their platenbau that West Berlin started building their own propaganda architecture in an IBA competition called the Hansaviertel.

Efficiency House Plus

2015.03.1

On Wednesday we went on a tour of an experimental housing project funded by the government. The house serves as a study of how different technological systems can be used to create an energy “productive” house; one that has a net gain in the energy that it produces in comparison to the energy it consumes annually.

For the house to be tested a family is selected from a group of applicants who are also interested in this type of housing. Fortunately for us, the man of the household was able to give us a tour of the house before going off to work that morning.

The house is basically divided into three different sections, the front is a charging port for a hybrid-electric car and an electric motorized bicycle. The middle part of the house is the “energy core” where all of the computerized monitoring happens and where all of the mechanical systems are located. The back of the house is given up living space and the second story is where the bedrooms are. On the exterior of the house the roof and southern façade are completely given up to photovoltaic panels, which serve to power the house. Just north of the house is a detached buffer battery that stores excess power from the solar panels before giving off the excess to the grid.

While the government is able to monitor the daily activities of the inhabitants through the energy data that they give off, the users themselves are also able to monitor themselves so as to be as conservative as they want to be in their consumption of energy.

The entire project is very interesting and is an example in forward thinking sustainable architecture. Personally, though, I found it to be too heavy handed with the high-tech gadgets. The most interesting part for me was in the wall section and in the construction of the building. It is intended to be a temporary structure and so to minimize waste wood construction was implemented. For insulating the exterior wall an organic cellulose based insulation was used with an extra layer of hemp insulation. I find these types of alternative materials in the design of the building to be interesting since they are renewable and natural while achieve the same insulation ratings as their synthetic counterparts.

I have recently written a paper on sustainable architecture and I actually refer to this housing case study. If any of you would like to read it feel free to send me an email and I can share it with you.

Overall, this is a great project as it helps to inform the public about the need to promote sustainable architecture practices so as to reduce the amount of energy our buildings consume.

It’s Spring!

When I got back from Taiwan, Berlin greeted me with fantastic sunny weather! Everyone was out and about in the city.

In the winter most stay indoors, as is the case in any northern city, like Boston. In fact, Berlin has an annual film festival called the Berlinale, which happens in February, a perfect time to stay indoors and watch movies. But now that Spring is finally here people are starting to leave their homes and enjoy the weather. It’s really nice to see people chatting over coffee outside of cafes, seeing others stroll along the streets window-shopping or exploring the flea market. With even more people outside on their bikes and feet it really encourages us to go outside too.

Even though we had a mild winter compared to Boston, everyone is really excited for the nice weather. I myself am super excited because that means I can finally wear my shorts!

Also, I have officially become a regular at a particular café and I no longer need to make an order. Seems as though I’m finally being absorbed into the Berlin community. No complaints here!

Taiwan pt. 4

On Thursday my sister and I joined our aunt to the nearby temple/cemetery to visit our late grandfather. It was nice to climb up the mountain a bit and get away from the urban environment for a while. The atmosphere of the temple is very relaxing.

Once we came back down from the temple and visiting some more family we caught up with our dad and went out for lunch. My sister wanted to treat everyone out for a nice meal so we went to this place called Kao Chi. It was nothing short of amazing. We got braised pork belly, tofu soup, steamed cod, pan fried pork dumplings, whole fried shrimp, tofu noodles, and red bean filled buns for dessert. At the very least I can share some photos with you.

After successfully eating yet another satisfying meal my dad wanted to show us an old historic street in Taiwan where I could look at some old urban architecture. It was actually really interesting since it is something we don’t particularly study in our history course. We do study Asian architecture, but it is mostly focused on the Japanese modular pavilion typology and the Chinese use of symmetry in urban planning. The architecture my dad was showing me however is only a hundred years old, during a time when Japan was occupying Taiwan. It was a lot of fun since my dad was really excited to show me all of this and because he would tell me as much as he could about how the architecture functioned socially and urbanistically, since he used to live in a similar building when he was a boy. Every building would have a portico that connected to the portico of its adjacent buildings. That way the main street would be used for the transit of horse or oxen lead carts while pedestrian traffic would be sheltered under the public space of the apartment buildings. The first floor consists of an open space in the front and a kitchen in the back. This allows the owner to have a space for their own business, whether it be a shop or a restaurant. The upper floors have a similar open plan layout but are used for bedrooms. To the back of the house is a courtyard that allows light to enter from both sides of the building. Each building adheres to a strict height limitation, giving a nice regularity to the street. At the same time the unique ornamentation of each building also gives variety and “spice” to the urban environment. It was especially interesting because there were a lot of Japanese and even European influences in some of the architectural qualities of the buildings.

Once I got my fill of history and architecture my sister and I returned to Neihu so that we could catch some of the fireworks being lit for the lantern festival. From far away it sounds like a downpour of rain hitting a singular spot on a street far away. When we got closer we saw a crowd of people in the street and some flashing light from around the corner. Eager to get a closer look and a good picture my sister and I push ourselves to the front of the crowd. Behind the smoke and above everybody’s heads I saw men dumping box after box of Chinese firecrackers on an oversized iron lantern. While I was ignorantly taking pictures, a tide of people began to recede from the iron lantern. Not knowing why, until it was too late, they lit the fuse. Put poetically, the explosion of fireworks was like a roaring dragon belching out flame. Put realistically, it was really scary! I tried to brave the detonation by holding one hand to my ear and the other holding up my camera to take pictures. But I was quickly broken by the shear volume of the sound blasting in front of me. This was only made worse by the blinding light from the explosion and the towering mushroom cloud above. My ears reverberated with the violently shaking medium that had the burden of carrying this immense sound. Cowering, my sister and I backed away in a weak attempt to escape the sound. By far it is the loudest thing I have ever heard in my life. I luckily had my noise canceling headphones in my backpack so I plugged those in and was ready to take some proper pictures.

Spotting two excited, but mostly startled and disturbed, Americans, a news team approached me and my sister to get a few words from us about our first experience seeing the iron lantern be lit. Looking back on it, I was probably too disoriented to be at all coherent. On top of that I spoke in English, so anybody who was watching television at that moment was probably getting a good laugh out of me. It was both a terrifying and terrific experience. Next time I’ll bring some ear protection, but anyone who goes for his or her first time must definitely try the deafening experience without ear protection to really get the overwhelming sensation of this event.

Taiwan pt.3

2015.03.04

On Wednesday we had a much more relaxed day. Instead of running around finding great places to eat we instead ate some fantastic homemade food with my dad and aunt’s cousins and their family.

Allow me to say a few things about Asian culture. It is customary for relatives in the older generation to give money in red packages to those in the younger generation, usually just to children, when seeing them during a holiday. Since my sister and I are rarely in Taiwan our older family members still think of us as young kids and so insist on giving us “red packets.” Since we’re both in our twenties this can be a rather awkward situation and no matter how much we say no, the red packet always ends up in our hands. I should also mention that it is customary to put up some resistance when being given the “red packet.” But we really didn’t want the red packet, and our aunt didn’t particularly like that they were handing it to us either. Before we knew it, our aunts came at one another, fist to fist, in front of me and my sister, fighting over the transaction of said “red packet.” In fact, I bet an entire Asian kung-fu action drama could be made based on this little Asian tradition, but I digress, and I exaggerate only a bit.

Anyways it is both an endearing and strange tradition, one I don’t fully understand the mechanics of yet, but as a half-Taiwanese person, I try my best to just play along.

Once we were done catching up with relatives we went back to our Aunts house to rest a bit before accompanying my sister for a presentation she prepared for a group of athletes and triathletes in Taiwan. The title of the even was: “Taiwanese Beauty Comes to Talk About Ironman Championship Experience” – a bit grandiose for my sister since she tries to be humble about that kind of stuff. Anyways upon arrival, my sister was immediately recognized, unsurprisingly, and we were most graciously welcomed with hot tea and cakes, for free might I add! I told my sister that she was basically a god to them so she better not mess up the presentation. I can be quite comforting at times. But all jokes aside, my sister had an excellent presentation and the Q&A afterwards was really engaging once the audience got comfortable speaking in both English and in Chinese.

Now that the blog has officially become about my sister (just this entry) I’ll just conclude by saying that I’m really proud of how far my sister’s dedication to triathlons has taken her and I wish her the best in all future races.

Taiwan pt.2

The next day my sister and I got to spend some quality time with our father. My sister, Winona, being a triathlete, had to get her morning workout in so I accompanied my aunt to the local outdoor market. Close by to the market is a nice lake/park and so we went and walked around there for a bit. A pavilion made solely out of bamboo was the one thing that struck my fancy most so we went and checked it out.

Shortly after we returned to our aunt’s house we went to go get sushi with our father. But before we went to get sushi, since my dad now knows about my interest in architecture, he made sure I got to go see the Taipei 101 tower. In Western culture, usually you order your own dish for yourself when you go out to eat. But in Asian culture you order a lot, you share a lot, and you eat a lot. Usually you don’t take a lot of pictures, but I did, yet my computer somehow lost them during the transfer from my camera so I apologize of robbing you all from looking at the stack of 40 plates of sushi we ate. Literally, the three of us ate 40 individual plates of different samples of delicious sushi.

After overdosing on sushi from lunch we waddled down the streets of Taipei in search of wifi and coffee, a perfect marriage if you ask me. I must say it’s quite different being twenty now, walking around Taiwan with my Dad compared to when I was five, six, seven, years old. Then I was a child going to Chinese summer school and had to be taken care of. Now I’m a young man and my Dad doesn’t really need to look after me. Now it’s more of just having fun with his son and daughter and less worrying.

Okay, moving on from all of the sentimental stuff. Whilst surfing the internet and sipping on coffee my sister got in touch with one of her friends from when she studied in Taiwan and so made plans for everyone to go eat a little dim sum together. Afterwards my Dad would go teach class while Winona, her friend, and I would go to the night market on Rahoe Street in the Songshan district of Taipei. Wanting to let the food we ate just thirty minutes ago settle a bit more, we did a lap around the market first. But as we passed by the stalls our appetite began to return and we were seduced by all of the delicious aromas surrounding us. Once we finished our lap we raced to all of the places we had walked by earlier, grilled squid, boar sausage, chicken sausage, Malaysian waffles, cream filled waffle thingies (I don’t know the name but it’s super good), and more. Stuffed once again for the third time that day we made our way back to the MRT (Taiwan Subway System) and went home.

So if you take anything away from this entry, if you go to Taiwan, you go to eat!

Taiwan pt. 1

As some of you may or may not know, I am half Taiwanese. So for my Spring break, instead of joining my friends in Greece, I went to Taiwan to visit my family with my sister. The last time I had been in Taiwan was five years ago in 2015.

After subjecting myself to a twenty one hour flight (the longest leg being from Amsterdam to GuangZhou: 11 hours, followed by a 6 hour layover in said GuangZhou), I arrived in Taiwan in the afternoon. My Aunt picked me up, treated me to some local food, and then I promptly went to bed at 6pm.

I initially thought that the language barrier would have been a really big issue. In fact that was one of the things I was most nervous about for my visit. But it hasn’t been too bad. My theory is that when I was relearning German, my language acquisition came back and so I’m picking back up my Chinese simply by being inundating myself in an Asian environment.

The next day my aunt and I met up with my dad for lunch. It was really great to see my dad again. It was also really great to see how happy he was to see me. Asking me questions like how tall I was now, if I have a girlfriend, how much I weigh, what I’m studying in college, basically everything that he has missed out on for the past five years. It’s different now coming back to Taiwan as a young man. My sister and I now have a little more independence. I mean, there are some things you can’t get around culturally, which I’ll get into in a different blog post, but this trip is both the similar and different to the times my sister and I would come back for summer school when we were little.

Anyways, after lunch my aunt, knowing that I’m studying architecture, brought us all to a really cool public Taipei library in Beitou. This is an example of Taiwan architecture after Japanese occupation. The library’s design is heavily influenced by “green” building practices and sustainability ideals. Some of its features include its rainwater catchment system to supply its grey water system, the solar panels on the roof to power the electricity, the use of wood as the primary building material, and a green roof system.

Beitou is known for its hot springs and right next to the library is a hot spring building from when Taiwan was under Japanese occupation. I couldn’t go inside since it was closed, but looking at the outside it was interesting to see the use of both brick and wood construction together. Using the brick as the stereotomic base while using the wood for the second and third stories. I wouldn’t consider brick a local building material in Taiwan so I was quite surprised to see it in an older building.

After looking at these buildings we went to go see an outdoor public light/lantern exhibition done by one of Taiwan’s community colleges. It was nice to walk around and look at all of the different lantern caricatures narrating different parts of ancient Chinese history. Once we were done seeing the lanterns we waited at home before picking up my sister from the airport. Last time I saw her was in Hawaii when she competed in the Iron Man Championship Race in Kona last October.

Cologne

For our final destination on our Pre-Spring Break, weeklong excursion we went to Cologne. Getting our Fruhstück on at the hostel then setting out on a 30 minute train ride we found ourselves at the base of the Cologne Cathedral. When I first saw it my initial observation was all of the vertical lines reaching up to the sky. Second was all of the black weathering on the church. As it turns out, this black tarnish is a result from all of the pollution created from the coal mining going on in the Rhine-Ruhr region. Go figure. Fun fact about this building, it took 800 years to be finished. Our professor, Bruno, told us to not let this be a precedent for any of our projects, for budgetary reasons.

We were given thirty minutes to take a few pictures of the cathedral before we were to go to another building. This other building is a museum, built over the archeological remains of a former church. Designed by Peter Zumthor, this building is deceptively big. The exterior does not give away the impressive interior spaces contained within. Rather, the building sits comfortably in its urban context without standing out. Peter Zumthors handling of brick and color gave the building a very humble urban character. Yet when one steps inside, the purity of the spaces speak out and draws one inside to explore the art. My favorite room was the un-insulated archeological dig site. To enter one must open two monumental steel doors and step behind a leather curtain into a dimly lit room where one can observe the medieval foundations of the church that lay under the new museum. Second to this I actually found the stairwells to be the next impressive space. The circulation was purposefully made very narrow in comparison to its vertical height in order to enhance the vertical directionality of the movement. My last favorite space is again unconventional. It was the space created by the window. In most cases windows are situated in the middle of a frame. But Zumthor purposefully pushed the window out as far as possible to make it flush with the exterior face of the building. This creates a pocket like space where one can actually occupy the frame of what would originally house the glass. Occupying this space is kind of like occupying a limbo state where you are no longer in the space of the interior room and just thinly separated from the outside by the glass. I know that these spaces aren’t really focusing on the art, but nonetheless, I found these to be the most interesting moments in the building.

After going through the museum we returned to the Cologne Cathedral to take care of some unfinished business. We had heard that one could climb up to one of the top towers/turrets of the cathedral and get a great view of the city. We knew that we would be climbing up exactly 533 stairs, and that there was no elevator, but what we did not expect was that the staircase was a spiral one and that it was contained within a turret that was less than two meters wide. Going up it seemed like an infinite spiral of stairs that would have no end. Nearly exhausting our legs we got to the top and signed our initials on the cathedral. Once we caught our breath and took in the view we made our decent and rewarded ourselves with some treats from a nearby café and relaxed there until taking the night train back to Berin.