November 25, 2013
By COD 2013 Berlin Conference Scholar Sarah Corbitt, Assoc. AIA
One thing you may not know about Berlin is that from the middle of World War II until 1989, 80% of the city was destroyed or demolished. That decimation is shown in the graphic below as the areas in blue. White areas are open areas: streets, the river Spree, and parks such as the Tiergarten. Black areas are buildings that predate 1942.
According to Manfred Kuhne, Department Head, Urban Design and Projects, Berlin Senate for Urban Development, Berlin was originally a farm city. Over two generations, the city became a powerhouse of wealth and culture. And then, skipping over some very important other dates in German history, a wall was erected in 1961 which divided the city into two zones – West and East. When that wall was destroyed in 1989, the former Eastern half found itself in the center of a confusing, and contrast-heavy, opportunity with the former West. City leaders, according to Kuhne, took several years to work on plans for redevelopment and reunification of the whole city, even as they debated where to locate the capital of the now-unified nation. Berlin was ultimately chosen as the capital. It was decided that a large business district was not needed; smaller businesses are more successful.
Two decades later, this situation is still an active part of the city landscape. Berlin remains attractive, Kuhne said, because land and rent is less expensive than in the larger cities of Frankfurt and Bonn, where financial powerhouses buoy the economy. Germany is the fifth largest economy in the world, according to the current US CIA World Factbook, with a national unemployment rate of 5.5%. Its working population numbers 43.9 million people. Berlin is home to 3.2 million people, with unemployment at 11.6%. With relatively high unemployment, the bright side of Berlin life is a low cost of living, and low land costs.
Construction is evident with cranes that bookend the skyline, and in piping of water that otherwise would undermine foundations of new buildings. The piping maintains the pre-construction below-ground soil and water pressure.
Kuhne said, “People come here because the city is not perfect. And it is affordable.” I love this quote about Berlin, because it encapsulates cities themselves – all sorts of lives, all sorts of reasons for being there, and entanglements and opportunities all around. The Telegraph reports that 80% of Berliners rent apartments rather than own their own houses, but that rate is changing. Rental prices in the city rose 8.1% last year, and interest rates on loans are lowering, providing more impetus to purchase a property (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/constructionandproperty/9967397/Germans-develop-a-thirst-to-own-their-homes.html ).
Modern Berliners have created new ways of developing housing and small business offices. Through the hosts of the Committee on Design conference, we met a local architect, Walter Nageli, whose firm has worked on housing that ‘operates a bit like a cooperative’. The architect hung flyers around the neighborhood to see if people would be interested in owning a building together. After a certain percentage of clients was secured, the architect approached the bank for a loan. The clients own the building after its construction; the architects essentially act as the developer. Because the cooperative formed without a developer, costs for the architect and owners are lower.
Three other firms we met at the Origins of Modernism conference had similar projects where the acting financial force was an individual, a firm, or a group of future owners: Kristien Ring with Bar Architects, Britta Jurgens with deadline Architekten, and Florian Koehl with Fat Koehl Architekten. Each showed slides of their ideas behind those projects. Primarily, the projects sought to mix live/work functions in apartment buildings, to keep ‘eyes on the street’ (hello, Jane Jacobs), and provide rich live/work neighborhoods.
Fat Koehl’s office and apartment building is one such building, with the architects’ office on the ground floor, as well as separate access for residents.
We were treated to a tour of the clean and well-thought out interior, featuring some really wonderful expanding balconies (more on that in a future post). The balconies were a response to building codes which prohibited permanent overhangs on the street – temporary balconies open off of living spaces and be tucked back inside when not needed.
November 18, 2013
The AIA Committee on Design Week in Berin turned out to be about a lot more than the architecture. Our tireless and very knowledgeable guide, Sonke, gave us a flash of its history; the Wall, the People, the Art, the Innovation, the Landscape, the Old, the New….Everything is all mashed together in Berlin and its all really fascinating and full of energy.
Although, it has been years since the Berlin Wall came down, its memory, its whisper, is everywhere. It affects every discussion about the city and its development; What is its relationship with itself, with the outside world and between inhabitants?—there are tensions and sympathies on both sides. The growth of the city for the future seems to be couched in terms of ‘before’ the wall, ‘east’ of the wall, ‘west’ of the wall, ‘after’ the wall, ‘in spite of’ the wall, ‘because of’ the wall, in memory of the wall…..and so it goes.
Marcie Meditch, AIA
COD Berlin Conference
November 12, 2013
by John Murphy, AIA of Meditch Murphy Architects, Chevy Chase, MD
“Why?” you ask.
Because, meine Dammen und Herren, I just returned from the COD’s recent conference in Berlin, entitled Berlin: The Origins of Modernism: Berlin Dessau Potsdam.
It was my first ever COD conference and, let me tell you, I was on cloud neun…I mean nein…no, I mean….nine….that’s cloud nine! I – was – on – cloud – nine.
Take iconic architecture, add cutting edge bravado, shake well, garnish with thought provoking presentations and serve immediately to a jovial and thirsty crowd.
A few delicious moments spring immediately to mind…
..…singing Tex Ritter’s great “Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin’ ” from High Noon with Billie, one of our terrific German hosts, and a huge Gary Cooper fan.
…..recalling, with Sönke Magnus Muller, another of our German hosts – and a big time Billy Wilder fan – two hilarious post-war comedies, One, Two, Three and A Foreign Affair.
..…scribbling frantically as host Barbara Hoidn reveals the ins and outs of participating in architectural competitions in Berlin.
…..defying gravity on Florian Koehl’s incredible disappearing balcony.
…..soaking in the mellow vibes of the lone cellist practicing in the Philharmonie – see the fantastic video by Tom Rossiter, FAIA.
…..playing a game called what would Mies do? with architects from David Chipperfield’s Berlin office over wine and enchiladas at their very own office bistro – yup, they have their very own bistro.
…..and slapping my forehead in astonishment realizing that all those buildings Nickolaus Pevsner was showing us in his text books….hey, they’re really there!
Well, after exchanging countless are-we-lucky-or-what? looks with my 99 American colleagues – yes, that’s right, we were 100 American architects! – it became clear to me that this COD outfit has clout – some serious major league clout. Doors open. Heels click. And we get the top of the line up.
So, meine Dammen und Herren, for next year’s double header – New York in the spring and London in the fall – i’m in!
1 November 2013
Defining Architectural Design Excellence: an AIA Committee on Design Conference, Columbus, Indiana, April, 2012 By John Morris Dixon, FAIA
March 2, 2013
The Committee on Design visited Columbus, Indiana in April, 2012. Click here to read the conference report written by John Morris Dixon, FAIA. Photos courtesy of Jim Childress, FAIA, Ann Thompson and Aaron Trahan.
February 3, 2013
In April, 2012, about 120 members of the Committee on Design went to Columbus, Indiana for our spring conference. Together we explored the architecture of the community, talked with many of the architects who designed the projects, and met with citizens who have been active in championing modern architecture. We also discussed and considered how to measure design excellence. The following film was created by Boaz Ashkenazy and his crew at Studio216 as an overview of what we saw and experienced.
For a guide of the projects we saw, and the people we met, please see the Committee on Design to Columbus, Indiana here.
September 11, 2012
By Aaron Trahan, Committee On Design Spring 2012 Conference Knowledge Scholar
“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”
As the Fall Conference approaches, it is important to remember where we left off this Spring in Columbus. One of the consensus’ that we was that context matters in design excellence. I found this quote from Eliel Saarinen particularly relevant to this topic because it seems so obvious, and yet there are buildings in all of our cities, towns and neighborhoods that somehow miss this fundamental principal.
The modernist additions to downtown Columbus truly embodied a consistent sense of scale, and a natural progression from the residential neighborhoods, to the community buildings, and to the retail center. Living in Boston, with such beautiful historic buildings, I always imagined what our neighborhoods would look like if the only structures breaking above the canopy lines of the trees were public buildings, such as churches, town halls, and courthouses. I imagine there would be a higher quality of civic discourse prevalent when you could find your way to a public meetingplace by just looking up, and knowing where to go by distinguishing the design of each tower.
Architecture, in this sense, has the ability to prioritize and foster community. Columbus has a unique character in its urban planning, which is applicable today in neighborhoods of a similar scale. Hopefully, as young architects focus on community design, buildings that serve a public function will be given greater architectural presence.
November 16, 2011
We began the first day of the COD Japan conference with two lectures, held on the 45th floor of the Mori Building at Roppongi Hills, designed by KPF. It was a great vantage point to look down on buildings visited in the last few days. The first lecture was by Masami Kobayashi of Meiji University. The title of his talk was Japan & the Tohoku Rebuilding Efforts.
Professor Kobayashi described how Tokyo had grown through centuries of what can only be called calamities– wars, fires, and earthquakes. Parts of the city were damaged or destroyed and then rebuilt. The city, therefore, has the texture of many eras of development layered on top of one another, creating a weaving of old and new, dense development and open space. He described it as a ‘salami pizza city’.
He went on to describe the enormous damage caused in eastern Japan by the recent (March, 2011) earthquake and tsunami. In helping with the reconstruction of the coastal towns destroyed by the tsunami he was finding a unique role for architects. The key, long-term issues are where and how to restore the communities that were destroyed. One key issue he and others are struggling with is that if you build a sea wall high enough to protect a community, you separate them from their key asset, the sea. The other key issue is a tsunami often destroys part of a community (the part lowest and closest to the ocean), leaving developments further back or on hillsides unharmed. The challenge arises in how to integrate sections of rebuilt areas with the older surviving ones.
Through charettes, his team of students and faculty are working to find alternate solutions. One idea is to raise the land; sounds simpler than it probably is. Another idea is to redevelop the low land but provide clear and easy paths out for people, i.e., lose buildings in future tsunamis but not lives. Yet another solution explored how to break a sea wall into sections that would break up waves yet provide views. I was impresses that his group was working toward real solutions to complex, community-oriented issues. The quality of life obtained in the end for the inhabitants, the fabric of the community, was equally as important as the civil engineering solution to the problem.
The second lecture follows….
Jim Childress FAIA