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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most of the day was spent traveling to Prague by train. After arriving we traveled to the Prague Castle. The Castle dates back to 870 and overlooks the city. Now it houses the Czech President. The complex includes, the surrounding grounds, the Romanesque St George monastery and the gothic, St. Vitus Cathedral. We first walked around the grounds, a green sanctuary and a great contrast to the complex. We explored the Cathedral and were able to take in the views of the city from its spire. It was nice to see the contemporary city of Prague situated outside of the old city and not intruding on the significant historic region. The old city is beautifully nestled within the surrounding hills. As the sun was setting we walked across the Charles Bridge completed in 1402 and witnessed the busseling tourist activity. We finished the day with an excellent authentic pub dinner.
We spent the next day on a walking tour of the city. We saw the very unique “Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord” by Jože Plečnik, which incorporates an unorthodox clock spire. We also saw Gehry’s Dancing House located on the Vltava River. We saw the Museum of Czech Cubism and the art nouveau stylings of the Municipal House, originally built for the King of Bohemia in 1383. It now has a restaurant and café complimenting the main ballroom. The interiors here are lavishly adorned. We finished our tour in the beautiful Old Town Square. Prague is truly an amazing place. I felt like every little nook held deep secrets of the city and everywhere corner provided scenes fit for a postcard.
Today was a revealing day for some of us, because we visited Adolf Loos’s Villa Müller completed in 1930. This house was a precedent for our Raum plan assignment. We took a tour through the building and were enlightened as to the complexities of the Raum plan composition. My favorite room was the living room because of its impressive ceiling height and the natural light it allowed. There is an incredible abundance of materials used throughout. The afternoon was spent exploring the rest of the city including the Jewish quarter which is said to have had a community presence in Prague since the 10th Century.
Overall Prague was beautiful and a truly enriching experience – one which I’ll never forget. That night we left for the second half of our tour, Dresden.
In Dresden we first visited the Military History Museum. It was first built as an armory in 1876 and later in 1897 it became a museum. After enduring a turbulent past corresponding to Germany’s history, it closed in 1989 after reunification. It was two decades later that Libeskind won the competition to build the expansion, which was completed 2011. The concept behind the angular gesture is in its symbolism of the English bombers and the direction from which they flew towards Dresden. Libeskind’s addition continues through the original building and forms complex interior spaces. I found it quite thought-provoking and successful in its uninterrupted form.
We continued to walk across Dresden and experienced the urban layout of the city across the Elbe River. We saw very impressive examples of the baroque city in the Zwinger and the Semperbau. Due to the incredible destruction in WWII, all the buildings including the classic baroque had to be reconstructed and renovated. The 18th century Dresden Frauenkirche was painstakingly rebuilt in 2004. The contrast of the new and old bricks in the façade describe the enormity of the reconstruction. It made a big impression on me and it is quite unbelievable that Dresden exists at all. The baroque part of the rebuilt city is very impressive, but it stands in obvious contrast to the communist built “Plattenbau” buildings.
On the last day we were left to our own devices to explore the rest of the city. Some of us took the opportunity to visit the New Synagogue which also has an incredible history dating back to 1840. The original building was destroyed in 1938 but was rebuilt in 2001 by Rena Wandel-Hoefer and Wolfgang Lorch. The synagogue today is an impressive combination of the existing site condition and intended axial symbolism. The layered stone assembly pivots on a central axis to shift the building form. It begins with the base conforming to the site address and finishes with the roof facing the true points of the compass. The interior space holds the place of worship and is enclosed by a transparent brass chain tent covering. We finished our trip admiring the sunset from the top of the Frauenkiche. What a beautiful way to say goodbye to Dresden.
It was a bittersweet ride back to Berlin as this was the last trip for the semester. But on the other hand, I am looking forward to dedicating more time to explore Berlin specifically.