Baugruppe

Besides all of the travelling, here is a little bit on what I’m doing in class.

It may seem like all I am doing is travelling and site-seeing and eating and drinking, which I am. But on top of all of that I also have to manage my classes (schade). No but class is really fun as I have stated in a blog post long long ago.

So here is an update.

German is over! Yes, our intensive German class has officially ended, but our time in Germany has not, and so I plan on expanding on my German, even though our class is over. I think it is necessary for one to try to learn a language so long as they are in that native country and so I plan to try to use German as much as possible when interacting with locals, and occasionally reviewing my notes from class. That being said, I am going to miss taking German. It was rather challenging I must admit, and there were a few awkward moments where we students stared blankly at our instructor, Corinna, with zero understanding of what she said “auf Deutsch.” But it was a fun class and I hope I have the will to carry on with my individual study of the language.

For history class we had to write a paper for last Tuesday and we recently just had our midterm. The paper was a group assignment for partners of two. Aaron and I worked together on this and wrote about Tacheles, a building in Mitte, Berlin, that has had a turbulent history. Our creative proposal was to tear the building down! This is of course a well-founded thesis. If you want to learn more, send me an email and I can give you a copy of our paper!

Not much has happened so far with sustainability since most of our classes have been excursions. But we are learning a lot about sustainability in terms other than energy usage; taking a look at how politics and economics are both tied into the realm of sustainability for nations and cities. However I am personally anticipating the part where we learn about sustainable architecture practices so I can implement some into my studio project.

Studio! Saving the best for last, I haven’t really spoken much about this so I guess now is a good time to do so. For studio we have a rather unique program to design. We are tasked with designing a Baugruppe (a co-housing project). In basic terms, the way a Baugruppe works is that a group of individuals come together and pool their money to fund the construction of a building uniquely tailored to their lifestyles. In this case, the client is both the investor and the user. This is a complex building type as every individual has a unique set of needs and wants which they get to voice to the architects. This is completely different to what usually happens, which is when a developer buys land and then hires an architect to create a building with cookie cut/one size fits all apartments and then sell the units. The Baugruppe is instead much more intimate with a direct relationship with the users/clients.

The site of our project is in Pankow, a suburb of sorts in northern Berlin. It is quaint and its people diverse. Located on Florastrasse our site is embedded in a cluster of mietskasernes (19th century worker’s housing). Working in groups of two we are challenged with responding to the site and the requests of our imaginary and colorful clients. For this studio I have the pleasure of collaborating with Ben. Ben and I initially had two very distinct approaches for addressing the site. I was concerned with the movement through the site while Ben was looking for opportunities to create collective spaces. Finding a middle ground we came up with a double courtyard scheme that will be framed by two individual buildings. These two buildings are then curved to facilitate dynamic movement between the courtyards and throughout the site. Next we will have to figure out a flexible/modular apartment system that will accommodate the needs of our clients while fitting in our approximate building footprint. Very exciting stuff!

Fussball!

After all of the fun and adventures in Hamburg we had yet another exciting event available to us. Earlier in the semester some of us had signed up to go watch a soccer game at the Olympic Stadium. But before the game we of course had a tour of the Olympic Stadium complex with Jan as our host. Built in 1936 by the Nazis, the entire complex is both old and new. When it was built it was constructed with modern steel construction and then adorned with stone cladding. This was in fact the first of all Olympic games to light the torch, to use the iconic rings, and the first to be televised. It was very successful in hosting the Olympic events and in bolstering Nazi propaganda, but since 1936 the complex is rather underused due to its close association with the Nazis. In attempt to distance itself from that association, some of the motifs from that era have been destroyed. So far, I think the only major sport it has hosted is soccer.

We also smelled some Corbusier around the area and Jan led us to one of Le Corbusier’s many Unite’s. Built as a small village, the building holds 500 units. Theoretically the two different types of units can be slotted into the overall structure of the building and can be identified on the façade. The residents are lifted up from the ground, supported on columns while the ground floor is left open for different programs, such as lobby/office space and parking. This building is a rough example of Corbusier’s five points on architecture. I personally am not a huge fan of this building, and neither was Corb.

Well certainly seeing so much architecture can build up quite the appetite and it was just our luck that Jan pointed out a biergarten just across the street for us to find sustenance before our impending soccer game. The way it worked was rather simple. There’s a grill with men cooking meat, you point, they serve, you pay, and you eat. They served up healthy portions of pork steaks and even healthier portions of beer. Everything was rather cheap for a restaurant near the stadium. But I still found myself spending 20 euros getting seconds and thirds for food and drink. Despite all I ate, I unfortunately have no photos of this glorious meal; I ate it all too quickly.

Bellies full and glasses empty we sauntered our way to the stadium and could feel the excitement of the crowd around us. There were about 35,000 people there that day to watch Hertha (in seat #15) play against Freiburg (in seat #17). But that is true fandom if anything. Watching the best of the worst battle it out on the field, the ninety minutes passed by much faster in person than any game I’ve watched on television. It was quite the experience and even though the match wasn’t very impressive, it was impossible to not get caught up in all of the action and become as invested as your German neighbors.

So if you’re ever in Germany, make sure you go to at least one soccer game. It’s a lot of fun and worth every cent!

Hamburg!

On yet another early morning, there seems to be a pattern establishing itself, we students prepared ourselves for an overnight trip to Hamburg! Why Hamburg? Well, other than it being a really cool place to visit, it also has some cool stuff, specifically pertaining to sustainability.

First things first we visited an Internationale Bauastellung (IBA = International Building Exhibition) information building that was made specifically for Wilhelmsburg, an in-land island that is part of Hamburg. Hamburg was and still is a major port for Germany and Wilhelmsburg is where all of action happened. By action I mean industry and shipping. While factories and ports were being built on Wilhelmsburg, the rest of Hamburg remained clean of the dirty work, so to speak. Now Wilhelmsburg suffers from the all the industrial waste that has accumulated over the years and a lack of association/acknowledgement from its more affluent sister just across the river. And so, IBA has made an initiative to balance the scales, by raising awareness and by using Wilhelmsburg as an experimental ground for new sustainability practices and to set precedent for the rest of Hamburg.

The first thing that we visited was the Energy Mountain. A former dumpsite from all the rubble after WWII it grew and grew as the government used it for dispensing trash. The government also allowed industries to contribute their toxic waste with everyone else’s trash. Not so long after did they realize that dioxin (a dangerous chemical that was used in operation orange by the Americans during Vietnam) was hidden somewhere under all of that detritus. In an almost panic reflex they covered it with sand, a waterproof membrane (they call the umbrella), and concrete. They are also redirecting the water flow and monitoring it/extracting any dioxin from getting into the public water source.

So where does sustainability come into play? Well they put a few wind turbines on top of the heap and are harnessing the methane gas to create new energy, which now helps to supply renewable sourced electricity for one third of the units on Wilhelmsburg. What was once a pile of trash is now a public park for people to relax and play, but also learn about sustainability and become responsible members of society.

Another relic that we visited on the same day was an air raid bunker that was built by the Nazis. Formally used to house 30,000 people, this monumental structure boasts a ceiling four meters thick of concrete. The British tried to destroy the bunker, but realized that the explosives needed to do so would also take out the surrounding community. In an act of demilitarization, they destroyed the interior floors of the bunker. Since then, it has recently been repurposed as a solar powered generator for providing electrical heating to homes and families in Wilhelmsburg.

The next day we spent was spent touring the Hafenstadt (port city). This is a type of new urbanism project that is both publicly and privately funded. The idea was to create a new lively city in a formerly industrial portion of Wilhelmsburg in order to reactivate the area. About 30% of the entire area is devoted to public space so that anyone can walk through the city. The government was able to partially fund this by selling plots of land to private developers. However, the developers would have to adhere to strict sustainable buildings codes. Even though there are a lot of corporate/office type buildings and exclusive housing one of the initiatives was to provide affordable housing for working class families along with affordable student housing.

One of the things that make Hafenstadt rather unique is its awareness to climate change and raising sea levels. Building on a flood zone can be problematic and so a scheme of tiered circulation is created in order to allow the water to flow in. The lowest level of circulation is the floating dock where people can walk around and people can sail into the city. The next level is a promenade that can absorb the influx of water. The next level is the most heavily used, as it is the ground plane for cars and most other means of transport. Lastly the building themselves are again elevated as an insurance against a catastrophic flood. The creation of different strata for different types of transportation, as a way to contain, rather than deflect the water with a wall, creates a much more connected relationship between the inhabitants and their environment. One of my critiques would be that they didn’t use any natural systems to absorb the water. Rather most of the landscape is artificially made with exposed concrete, and so this is only a temporary solution while sea levels will continue to rise. It will be interesting to observe how Hafenstadt will be used since it is still under development. Whether or not it bridges the gap between Wilhelmsburg and the rest of Hamburg, it provides an interesting precedent in urban planning based on sustainable practices.

Gewerkschaftbund

First things first, I apologize for the hiatus of my blog posts. Work and travel had temporarily taken firm grasp on the majority of my time, concerned with essays and exams everything of the same ilk. I know you are all just waiting on the edge of your seats for what I have to share next.

Speaking of travel, we’ve been doing a lot of just that. I’ll break up each excursion as I try to bring you all up to date on all the things we’ve seen in the past week and a half.

On one early morning, February 9th, to be precise, we students woke up extra early to visit a particular site, following our trip to see the Bauhaus in Dessau. The building we set out to see is one that was designed by Hannes Meyer, the second director for said Bauhaus in Dessau. Walter Gropius had chosen Meyer as his replacement. Meyer had rather socialistic political views and he tried to translate this into his architecture, using only the most utilitarian and affordable materials for the construction and design of his buildings. Yet he had such mastery with those materials that his application with them seems almost luxurious, which is not what Meyer is trying to achieve. In his own view, architecture is not composition, but rather, organization.

The design is one that specifically responds to the natural sloping topography and the rural landscape. The main architectural gesture is the long line of dormitories and classrooms that connect the gym and the administration building. A circulation corridor connects all three of these components. If it weren’t for this, each building would sit just a few meters away from its neighbor.

The Gewerkshaftbund was a place for workers to be trained for their jobs. However this only lasted for three years once the Nazis occupied the building and used it for their own military training. After the Nazis were defeated the GDR didn’t do much to maintain the building and so let it to rot. It wasn’t until recently that the Gewerkschaftbund had been renovated and re-purposed as a high school.

Bauhaus

Last Friday we took a trip out to Dessau to go see the Bauhaus, a building/institution created by Walter Gropius for training/teaching students in the arts. The plan of the building looks like a pin wheel with one side devoted to the practice of the arts with an auditorium, art studios, woodshops and metal shops, the other side with formal classrooms. A bridge, containing the administrative offices for the Bauhaus, connects these two parts of the school, the practical and the theoretical.

It was a lot of fun to visit the Bauhaus since it is a building that every architecture student learns about. It was one of the first schools to promote modern design and later on architecture. On the tour we learned about Gropius’ philosophy for the building and how it was experienced. “Transparency” and “connections” were big themes in the design for the building. This is apparent from the ample amount of fenestration in the façade and the way certain lines/patterns continue/penetrate through the building into different rooms.

There was actually a tour before the Bauhaus, visiting Germany’s version of their Environmental Protection Agency. The building for that department is really cool. The façade is multi-colored and multi-“materialed” (glass, wood, steel, probably some concrete too). The entire building encloses an internal courtyard that is under an impressive glass ceiling. This courtyard has a landscape that derives its design from the local flora in Germany. Or so I would suspect. I didn’t get to join this tour since I had missed the train that everyone took together. I didn’t realize the train was leaving so soon and I had gone downstairs, below the platform, where there was a bakery right at the base. Just before I was about to make my order a friend called to tell me that everyone was sitting on the train. I immediately ran up the stairs, only to see the train snake its way out from the station. At the time it wasn’t so funny, but looking back on it, it was pretty funny. – If only I had a picture of that and the look on my face.

Bruno Taut: An Unsung Hero

We always hear about the big name architects, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, for their success in building new types of buildings and for advancing architectural theory/practice. Yet most of their work consisted of skyscrapers, institutional buildings, or private homes. Many of their projects were commissioned by wealthy developers/individuals who could afford the prestige of their work. For their own era, they were building and designing for the royalty of capitalism, just as their ancestors would for the royalty of monarchs’ just generations ago.

Buried under their success we find another architect, Bruno Taut, an equal to these champions, who steered away from glamor and instead concerned himself with the issue of affordable urban housing in Berlin. On Thursday, February 5th, Jan led a tour around one of Bruno Taut’s most successful social housing projects, the Gross-siedlung Britz, also affectionately known as the “Hufeisen” (horseshoe). – Side note, it is one of his three out of five projects that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

One of the challenges of the site was a small swamp. Instead of infilling the swamp and flattening the land Taut had a specific philosophy for not destroying the inherent landscape and so chose to interact with the swamp. By having cleaned up the swamp, transforming it into a pond, and placed an oblong ring of three-story buildings the swamp became a centerpiece and an open green space for people to occupy. This is where the complex gets its name, the horseshoe.

Another challenge Taut had to conquer was the inherent monotony in social housing. In order to keep the budget low he had to restrict the variety in floor plans and standardize the dimensions for living space. Knowing that humans are not machines and cannot thrive in a homogenous, plain, cookie-cut, housing environment, Taut employed certain techniques to create variety. Just looking at the “Hufeisen,” one notices a very specific color palette and a rigorous application of it. Starting with the structure, Taut shows us that the building is constructed with brick (a cheap but durable building material) by revealing the party walls and highlighting the entries/exits of the “Hufeisen.” Next he applies a soft-colored, white plaster to the brick in order to achieve a “modern” aesthetic for the façade. The other color one can see is his signature blue, which he uses to define balcony/loggia spaces. Another thing that stands out is the variety in the types of windows. Each one is used for a specific type of space, or program, within the building. This helps to break up the potential monotony in the façade. Lastly, if one looks closely, one can see the buildings stepping down in height, conforming to the natural slope of the landscape. Unfortunately my camera died during the tour and I don’t have any pictures of the housing outside of the “Hufeisen” except for one. But this play on color, revealing structure, staggering the house adjacencies to break linearity, specializing window types, diversifying the overall geometry/form of the buildings and limiting the building scale to a maximum of three stories, all of these were conscious decisions by Taut that enabled him to create a village of affordable housing with just 1-4 different floor plans for 2,000 units.

When we visited the site we saw just how popular this mid-1920’s housing still is today. I ask myself, why is it that we learn/hear so much more about big name architects instead of ones that do work like this. Jan said that, in Bruno Taut’s case, the fact that he died of an asthma attack in 1938 he couldn’t build upon his legacy. His colleagues on the other hand, Mies, Gropius, Corbusier, were able to build up their reputation and collect attention. Also, since the Nazi’s kicked Taut out of Germany in the early 1930’s he went abroad to Soviet Russia, Japan, and later on, Turkey. He was never in a stable environment for building his career toward the end of his life. It wasn’t until the 1990’s, 50+ years after his death, that his work was finally appreciated and studied as it is today.

Some may say that Taut didn’t contribute as much to architectural theory, given that his floor plans were nothing out of the ordinary and his color palette just added a nice aesthetic. But he was addressing a different issue, the responsibility that architecture has to the public. That people can live in affordable housing that isn’t utilitarian and oppressive but rather comfortable and where one can call their home. Architects can provide this, and perhaps it is our chief responsibility to do so, just as it was Taut’s.

Munich: A True Bavarian Experience

So much happened on this weekend, January 30th – February 1st

So after classes on Thursday we took a night bus from Berlin to Munich, 8 hours. We were a bit disappointed with the sleep since there were a few rest stops and announcements whilst on our way south through Brandenburg. But being that it is a bus ride we couldn’t expect anything better for this bargain.

Finally arriving in Munich we were greeted with blizzard like conditions and a lack of direction. To be honest, Aaron and I, the ones who instigated this trip and organized a majority of it, did not plan quite everything ahead. With everyone, dehydrated, tired, and hungry looking to us for where to go after getting off the bus, we set out to find the nearest and most comfy café to recharge our batteries. Trudging on through slush and snow we found our haven of croissants and coffee and the avenue on which our hostel was located.

Getting our second wind we set back out once the snow died down and walked the full hour to our hostel. The only setback was that we couldn’t check in until 3pm and it was only 10:30am. Luckily we were able to put our luggage in a storage locker and a famous site, the Nymphenburger Schloss, was just north of the hostel!

And back out into the bitter cold we went, determined to get some artsy pictures and perhaps throw a few snowballs against one another. This proved fruitful and a lot of fun. It also worked up an angry appetite in all ten of us and so we resolved to make a beeline for the center of Munich and find the Hoffbrauhaus (a brewery house/beer hall) that we read about in a travel book. We got off at Marienplatz and the first thing we saw as we exited the train station was this over-the-top extravagant building, the Neues Rathaus (New City Hall). We were immediately divided into two parties, either to take pictures first then find food or to eat and then take pictures. But once we found out that the restaurant was past the platz we went pictures then food. Surrounded by different types of buildings, the inner fan-boy/girl architects in us came out and so did our cameras. “Click click click” went our cameras until we came back to our senses, and that sense was hunger. Once we arrived at our culinary salvation we filled ourselves up with the local/traditional cuisine and drink. I think it’s enough to say that we were quite full and very happy with ourselves. Taking the public transportation back to the hostel this time, we took some time to be horizontal before setting out to experience the nightlife of Munich. – More story after the photos -

The next morning we set out relatively early in relation to the past night. In fact Aaron and I had to marshal everyone around to make sure that we would catch the regional train in time. Which, by the way, if you are also doing a weekend trip and want to go outside of a city, get a group day ticket. It’s usually a base price of 23 euros with 5 added on for every extra person, max group of 5. It lets you use all regional transport unlimited for the day. We bought our tickets the night before the day we needed them. – Okay back to the story – It was a rather hectic breakfast, checking our watches every 2 minutes, we had to print our tickets, pack lunches, rally everyone together, and get to the train by 9:53am and it was already 9:30am. Running like a pack of kids to the train we made it on with just minutes to spare.

As we sat in the train we could see some dark masses sitting on the horizon in the distance. As time went on these emerging mountains grew and so did our excitement. Already we were taking photos of the Alps from inside the train, despite knowing we would be taking much better ones in an hour. We were quite lucky with the weather. When Aaron and I had been checking throughout the week earlier we saw that it would be “mostly cloudy” for Saturday, but it was clear and sunny and absolutely perfect. After the 2-hour train ride we took a 10-minute bus from Fussen to Hohenshwangau and planned our hike from the base.

Apparently it’s a 40-minute walk up to the Neuschwanstein Castle, but we were so energized that we just booked it up to the castle and made it within 20 minutes, while still managing to take pictures. You should have seen the smiles on everyone’s faces, and not just on our own. It was an absolutely beautiful day and everyone was in a great spirit appreciating the architecture and the landscape. Once we took enough photos we had to go the Marienbrucke (a scenic/scary bridge). This section actually isn’t in season and is cut off from the public, but people still go, taking danger into their own hands. Being the intrepid photographers we are, we set out, determined to get the perfect photo. Personally, once I saw the bridge, and how much snow had been packed down from all the traffic I immediately thought of the structural integrity of the bridge with the weight from people loitering and all the snow. That didn’t mix very well with my mild case of fearing heights either. Going against caution and with group mentality I stepped onto the bridge and took some pretty good pictures. Beyond the bridge was our hike and where the railing ended our unruly trail of tramped down snow started.

We all observed that this was most definitely dangerous and a bad idea in terms of safety. But we went against reason and forward with excitement and determination.

It was spectacular.

I try to think back to anything else that I have done that could compare to this but there really isn’t anything. Despite all the hiking I’ve done in Hawaii and in New England along with the sites I’ve seen on my road trip last summer this was completely unique. Yet, as I sit on the bus back to Berlin, listing to “Homeward Bound” by Simon and Garfunkel, with the rolling hills of Bavaria passing by, I find myself wanting only to experience more.

AEG Turbine Hall

On Thursday, January 29th Jan led a tour to one Peter Behrens many AEG Turbine factories. For those of you who do not know, Peter Behrens is the representative architect for the transition into Modern Architecture in German history. He was faced with the challenge of designing new industrial spaces for manufacturing while wrestling with which architectural aesthetic is most appropriate, whether referencing history was appropriate for this new age of technology.

While walking the grounds of this particular industry complex Jan was able to point out to us areas where this tension manifested itself in the finished architecture. One simple example is in the vertical components of the building’s “external structure.” There you can see the slightest resemblance of a column capital. With Greek and roman architecture, a capital is a standard method for adornment, but this is an entirely new building type, the industrial shed, and perhaps a capital for a column isn’t so appropriate. Behrens is fully aware of this, yet he cannot repress his urge to celebrate this new building type with some form of minimal adornment. And so he finishes the top of the column by turning the bricks to give the “capital” a different brick pattern to signify the termination of the column. And yet, this is almost for naught since these brick “columns” are completely non-structural. The entire turbine hall is supported by an exposed iron trussing system on the inside. The brick façade we see is just one to two bricks thick and is really just used as a skin for the building. That being said, the brick is still integral to the performance of the building, it just doesn’t serve any significant structural purpose, and so one would ask why would Behrens want to give the brick such an expression with the “mock column’s” on the exterior? His colleague, Karl Bernhard, an engineer, would debate and argue with Behrens over what would be most appropriate structurally and would most certainly disagree with this false structural expression with the brick. In fact, any person with common sense would probably do away with this aesthetic and try to keep the budget as low as possible.

However, in my own analysis of this building, I think this wasn’t for naught. Most architects, as we can surmise, have a philosophy when it comes to architecture and though Behrens was struggling with what would be the most appropriate style, a century from today, I have no doubt that he cherished the advances in engineering. The iron trussing system sits right behind the “false brick columns.” Yet these brick columns, in a way, tell us on the outside that there is a structural system going on in that area, be it brick or not, something is supporting the building in that location. And Behrens, as an admirer of iron and its abilities, would want to let us know of its structural presence, and what better way than by using an universal sign for structure, the column. If Behrens could, he may have left the iron exposed in its glory. But with the not-so-ideal weather in Berlin, the durability of brick stands as a protective skin for the structure. The simple change in brick pattern for the column capital is what makes this building unique to Peter Behrens, and the fact that this building still houses university projects for the advancement of engineering practices makes this equally unique to Behren’s partner, Karl Bernhard.

Charlottenburg Schloss and Postdam

CHARLOTTENBURG SCHLOSS:

On Friday, we students were led on a tour of the Charlottenberg Schloss, located in Charlottenberg (southwest of downtown Berlin/south of the Tiergarten). Our tour guide, Helmut, or as I’ve unofficially nicknamed him, Herr Feeney (he looks and acts a lot like Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World), lived in former East Berlin and can even speak Mandarin Chinese. For this excursion our guide used this one building to show the gradual change in how architecture manifests the spirit of the time in regards to power and reign.

The Charlottenberg Schloss is a very old building, dating back to 1695, and many kings have resided in its halls. Though under each ruler, the building has undergone specific changes in a way to represent the relationship between the ruler and the people. The first, Frederick the Great, had very large ambitions. Being the one who put Prussia on the map, he had to prove the might of his reign and capital to the others, London and France. During this era of Absolutism, Baroque methods of design were employed to evoke the idea that the Charlottenberg Schloss is the center of the world, and the seat of all power. The building acts as a focal point, with wide avenues radiating out from it. The plan is symmetrical and the entry is aligned with the North-South Axis while the wings run along the East-West axis. In front of the building, in the frontcourt, is a bronze sculpture with Frederick the Great mounted on his horse looking both regal and terrifying. There, behind, in the dome was his bedchamber. And as Helmut put it “Frederick I did not just ‘get up from bed’ he would ‘rise from bed’ and the people would celebrate his awakening as he was the sun to Prussia.”

Walking along the west wing of the building we came upon a rather humble looking section. It was here that we learned that the wings were expanded with additions over the years and that this particular addition we were looking at was commissioned by Frederick II. He was not like his grandfather Frederick I. Rather he was friends with Voltaire and a man with new ideologies for his reign. Where Frederick I said that “I am the state,” Frederick the III said, “I am the first servant to the state.” He is famous for abolishing torture and for religious freedom in his country. And therefore, instead of taking his grandfather’s bedchambers he made this new, more humble addition, where he would sleep and just ‘get up’ from bed.

POTSDAM:

This was a daylong tour that was chock full with information and architecture. But unfortunately the weather wasn’t ideal. The entire complex was meant to showcase a harmony between water, sculpture, garden, and architecture. But being that we are in winter, we couldn’t get the full grandeur of the grounds. But despite that setback we were still able to appreciate the buildings and our guide, Helmut, committed himself to showing us the most impressive and historically interesting buildings.

Potsdam, apparently, has the largest concentration of palaces in a single city, boasting a number of 34. This large amount of palaces weren’t just to show off wealth. Well in a way they were. By putting money into architecture and the arts you show your competitors (i.e. other countries) that you have a lot of money to put into those things, but also have the capability to fund an army, so watch out!

Potsdam also housed the Prussian Army. But since there were no barracks it became a law that each family would have to provide housing for two or three soldiers. This made it into a very militaristic town. The plus side for this was that housing was free and education became standardized.

There was a lot of history given to us, but I will share the most interesting one. We visited a summer palace called the Sanssouci Palace. It has a leveled garden space in front of the palace. The middle section of the palace is designed to look like pantheon, having statues for all aspects for the arts. But here’s the interesting part. Frederick the Great had a bone to pick with a farmer that had a windmill next to his palace. This windmill made too much noise and bothered him from his work, making him lose concentration for political matters. Civilly, he went to this farmer and offered to buy his land and tear down the mill and be done of the nuisance. But the farmer objected, saying that his grandfather had this windmill, his father had this windmill, and by god that his son too will have this windmill. So what did Frederick the Great do? Did he say ‘chop his head off and then tear down the windmill?” No, instead he went to court and the church served as the arbitrator. And so they both went to present their arguments, and the church came out to favor the farmer, saying that since the mill was not for sale the king had no right to tear it down. The mill still stands there to this day.

First Week of Classes

Most find the first week to be rough since you’re getting back into the swing of things, taking classes and all. Though I think that this program is well structured in that it eases the students back into studio. As for now we are just focusing on techniques for documenting site information and building a 1:500 scale site model. History is actually really interesting since Berlin is our 200-year case study. I actually prefer this kind of intense focus since we can study the evolution of the city in the class and then see/interact with history by stepping outside. Having lectures combined with tours is really helpful since the material we’re learning isn’t confined to the projector and paper, rather it is liberated from the classroom and comes alive and much more personal when visiting the sites.

Now as for the other classes, sustainability and German language, those are equally interesting. Our first lecture for sustainability was “Inconvenient truth-esque” as Jan put it. It wasn’t presented in a way to scare us, though the facts are daunting. Rather Jan was just showing us that there are some issues in the way that energy is being consumed and that we, as future architects, have a role and large responsibility in the energy industry. I really look forward to the future lectures since sustainability is a big interest of mine. For the German language class I was placed in the advanced level class, which consists of five students, including myself. The first day was kind of like jumping into the deep end of the pool since it has been a long time since my last German class (Junior year of high school) and I have never been in a situation where I depended on my German speaking skills. But this class is exactly that, the teacher limits her use of English in order to force the students to think and respond in German. This is actually the fastest way to learn German since it gives you constant, unrelenting exposure to the language, and eventually you get used to it. After getting all of the awkwardness and timidity out of the students in the first session, each subsequent class has been a lot of fun. And already I’m picking up on German outside of the classroom.

We have a couple of cool field trips ahead of us, one is a visit to Charlottenburg Schloss (palace) and a visit to Potsdam. I’ll write up some text and upload some photos for those soon!