Jewish Museum

On Thursday we visited Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum opened in 2001. It’s contains a permanent exhibition of the comprehensive German/Jewish history, as well as facilitating temporary exhibitions and library archives. The museum is essentially reinforced concrete construction with a zinc façade. The circulation into the building is through the basement leading to 3 major axes. The first is the “Axis of Continuity” which leads to both the “Garden of Exile” and the “Holocaust Tower”. You enter the 3rd floor main exhibition space via a processional stair from the “Axis of Continuity”. This permanent exhibit flows through the angular geometry of the building. The irregular window typology is designed to point in the directional of notable Jewish residences around the city, while the skylights service the office spaces on the top floor.

I felt the “Memory Void”, “Holocaust Tower” and the “Garden of Exile” were very successful spaces of contemplation. The movement through the building depicted the progress of time through history very well. All in all a very powerful architectural experience.

Dutch Embassy

We spent Tuesday evening at Rem Koolhaas’s Dutch Embassy, which opened in 2006. It was built to facilitate the combination of the east and west embassies after Berlin’s reunification. Koolhass was required to follow strict zoning laws such that the design had to complete the city block and engage the site boundary. His concept was to build a separated object building offset from a L-shaped perimeter building. The embassy functions as a secure building while still celebrating a Dutch openness and it is one of few embassies that gives tours to the public. The circulation takes a very unusual winding path through its eight stories and finishes on the roof garden. There are views to the river Spree and to the prominent Fernsehturm. This is very interestingly done with a sightline constructed through the entire embassy and through the adjacent L-shaped perimeter building. The interior materials contrast between low-grade raw concrete and lavish polish wooden finishes. Koolhaas also creates visual connections between offices and conference rooms throughout the building. The working spaces are hidden from the circulation path and are accessed by curious secrete passage ways.

The embassy was celebrating its 10th anniversary, so we got to see a temporary exhibit of original OMA models! Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photos inside the embassy but overall it was very inspiring to experience my first Koolhaas building.

Artis Engineering

On Monday we visited the factory for Artis Engineering completed in 2012. Artis Engineering are a company that are primarily a high-end cabinetry design build workshop. This award winning building was designed by Roswag Architects, of which the project leader was Jan Schreiber. Jan is also our seminar assistant and so he led us on a personalized tour of the building. It is made of timber construction and is a very low energy building. This building incorporates an onsite furnace heating system which uses their own waste timber for fuel, a high standard of insulation, the use of photovoltaics and floor heating systems. It was great to see such an effective application of timber construction and I thought it was also aesthetically pleasing with timber being expressed throughout all of the office spaces.

Music

On Friday night some of us went to see the Berlin Philharmonic play in Hans Scharoun Philharmonic concert hall. This building was completed in 1963 and revolutionized the performance experience by centralizing the stage, surrounded by the audience. Circulation takes place around and under the auditorium. It is a very impressive building tectonically and spatially but the best part was witnessing the amazing acoustics. The performance was excellent and a real highlight.

On Saturday I walked around Schöneberg with my host Marco. We explored the neighborhood and had some excellent coffee at DoubleEye, a great café on Akazienstraße, only a short walk from Studio. I recommend it to all prospective students coming to Berlin. We also saw the 1914 Rathaus Schöneberg, which became famous for hosting JFK in 1963. This was in which he helped galvanize the support for West Berlin with his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.

Later that night we went to a jazz club called the A-Trane in Charlottenburg. This is a well-known small but elegant club that sees international acts play throughout the year. It was great to listen to some talented musicians play swing standards as well as some original compositions. This again was another highlight and completed a very cultured weekend.

Reichstag & Neue Nationlgalerie

On Tuesday we visited the Reichstag renovated by Norman Foster in 1999 and the Neue Nationalgalerie by Mies in 1968.

The Reichstag has had a volatile history dating back to 1894. In 1933 it was devastated by fire and then later bombed in 1945. The Soviets captured the building at the end of the war and it became a symbol of their victory. The façade is surprisingly original but a lot of the interior had to be rebuilt. Foster decided to preserve the Russian graffiti that remained on the walls within. This powerful sign of remembrance symbolizes the German psyche to always remember and prevent any reoccurrence of their horrific past. It was impressive to find out that the Reichstag is now a net zero building. We were also allowed to visit the parliamentary chamber and climb the impressive dome. The mirrors on the dome reflect light into the chamber and allow the public to view the parliament in session, at any time. The Reichstag is a great example of historic and contemporary architecture and I was really inspired to finally see this building.

Later we visited the Neue Nationalgalerie. This was Mies’s final major work which represented everything he stood for in modernism and ‘less is more’. Up close and personal this building has a considerable presence and is very impressive structurally. Only four relatively thin columns support the huge expansive space frame. There is a distinct relationship between the interior to the exterior spaces.  The current exhibit by David Chipperfield, is of tree trunks arrayed throughout the interior space. This gave a very different feel of the interior but as a whole, the building was inspiring to see.

Lichtgrenze

Last weekend was the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany. Berlin celebrated the event by installing 8000 lit, helium filled balloons along the inner city section of the former wall. The installation continued from Friday night until Sunday night when they were ceremoniously released at the exact time when the wall was breached 25 years ago. I managed to visit 3 times, once during the day, then on Saturday night as I rode my bike along its path and finally during the ceremony on Sunday. Berlin came together in a huge celebration over the whole weekend. It was a very special experience riding my bike along the former wall and soaking up the lively atmosphere. It will be a memory that will stay with me for a long time.

Studio Mid Crit

On Friday we had our studio mid crit which included a panel of design critics and a special guest appearance by George Thrush. It was an 11 hour session that showcased a great deal of the work accomplished and the work still required for completion. We are finalizing our group massing plans and establishing our individual building typologies. Our sustainability studies in seminar are now going to influence our design concepts in studio.

We are only here for another month and the realization that our time here in Berlin is fast drawing to a close is a harsh reality. There is still much more to do and see in the time remaining. Fall is finally here and the atmosphere in Berlin is fast turning towards to Christmas which will be a very special experience.

Hansaviertel

We visited the Hasaviertel on the northwest edge of the Tiergarten, in West Berlin. This was a large scale urban redevelopment competition called Interbau, that established a response to the East Berlin’s housing developments on Karl-Marx Alle. This housing competition was held in 1953 and attracted a multitude of submissions which led to the realization of 36 different projects. The likes of Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto, Oscar Niemeyer, Arne Jacobsen and many others participated in this monumental event. This modern urban redevelopment proposed a new building ideology for a more spacious and green living environment within the city of Berlin. It included a variety of building types from small bungalows to 16 storey housing complexes. The Hanaviertel is now under landmark protection.

The variety of housing types offered here on such a prominent site within the city is remarkable. The fact that you can live within a reduced urban density and along the Tiergarten offers a refreshing connection to the park.

Karl-Marx-Allee

On Thursday we visited Karl-Marx-Allee, formally called ‘Stalin-Allee”. This grand boulevard was constructed in communist East Berlin. The first residential building to be built after WWII was the “Hochhausen an der Weberwiese”, by Herman Henselmann in 1951. This building was constructed from salvaged brick from the WWII rubble found all over the city. It set a president for the communist east by providing much needed housing and influenced the first phase of construction along Karl-Marx-Allee. The second phase was built as “Plattenbau” or prefab construction because it was more economically viable. Today, both these housing systems still offer smaller apartment living and are in high demand due to their central location. We also visited a local cafe that had information from this period, including propaganda posters used to help rebuild the city. Karl-Marx-Allee gives a grandiose impression of Berlin’s communist past and was very interesting to see.

Roswag Architects

On Tuesday we were lucky enough to visit a construction site overseen by our seminar assistant Jan Schreiber who works for Roswag Architects. This three storey housing complex holds 6 apartments with flexible interior partitioning. Its 70% heavy timber frame construction with reduced steel structural columns. It has a +45cm wall thickness with cellular insulation and is to include triple paned windows. The floors include heating systems to avoid the use of active ducted systems and allows the building to be passively ventilated. Other sustainable features include a green roof with solar thermal panels, the use of acoustical and locally resourced materials and the preservation of existing vegetation. This low energy building was very interesting and it was great to be able to walk through the building and see German construction at work.