James Simon Galerie, David Chipperfield Architects

Berlin – not always appreciated

Our author Falk Jaeger presents two current publications that offer a fresh and exciting take on the architecture in Germany’s capital.
by Falk Jaeger | 1/24/2023

A certain disdain for Berlin’s contemporary architecture has spread through architectural circles. After the entertaining IBA 84/87 spectacle came reunification followed by “capital-city architecture” which is often criticized for its megalomania and clichéd straightforwardness. Contemporary architecture on the banks of the River Spree is considered boring and not worth visiting. There is a distinct lack of sensational buildings, though one would of course equally rail against signature architecture by the international stars. The only example of this species, the Springer publishing building by OMA/Rem Koolhaas, hasn’t exactly generated hype in the city.

Under the heading “Dunkel leuchtende Felsenkluft” (“dark shining rocky chasms”) it is included in a new book by architecture journalists Florian Heilmeyer und Sandra Hofmeister that incidentally paints a different picture of the capital’s more recent architecture and presents 30 incredibly fascinating projects. Such surveys of the building scene are not uncommon but this one dishes up intelligent, sensitive essays and project texts and explains what the sometimes quite unspectacular buildings are about, what makes them good and exemplary, and why they are responsible for furthering our built culture, moving architecture forward, and promoting urban renewal. The projects range from the TAZ publishing house via the Futurium science museum, office complexes, residential developments, single-family dwellings, and additions through to densification projects and large-scale redevelopments such as the Staatsbibliothek Unter den Linden. It shows that in addition to the senseless construction of off-the-peg investor properties there is also a wealth of smart, individual ideas to be discovered. And in this way it raises hopes for the near future when loans obtained at low interest rates will have ceased to feed the frantic construction boom and it is once again worthwhile thinking about intelligent architecture.

taz new building, E2A Architects Zurich

Looking at the list of those involved it’s striking that of the 30 projects only three were realized by women architects. In seven other of the architectural practices women are co-owners either with their spouses or in office partnerships. Just why female architects are so underrepresented even though they have long been in the majority at universities and in many offices is a question that the committee Woman in Architecture (WIA) has been addressing for many years. Almost all the important players in building culture are represented in Berlin and as a result the network of women architects n-ails launched the initiative WIA Berlin in June 2021 and organized a 30-day festival designed to start a dialog on the “Facets of Female Building Culture”. Now the symposium publication and it comprehensively sheds light on the phenomenon of women in architecture from all sides has come out. The interviews and statements reveal the female perspective on the tasks of building professionals as well as the philosophies, attitudes, and views of the world female architects embrace.

Subsequently, the book presents the protagonists of a wide variety of building projects, campaigns, plans, seminars, exhibitions and initiatives in the fields of architecture, urban planning, and urban sociology – and they all have their say. Moreover, architectural criticism, building history, photography and film are examined for their female components. Although it is not evident whether women in materials research make specific contributions (chapter “FEMININ * Werkstoffe von Frauen” / FEMININE Materials by Women), what does tend to emerge is that they attempt to “harmonize spaces and their materiality with the identity of their users”. “Our built culture is becoming more female,” states co-initiator Elke Duda. She is not far off the mark, there. The Federal Minister of Building, Senate Building Director, BBR-President, BAK-President, President AK Berlin, BDA-President, Editor-in-Chief of the DAB (the BDA journal “Der Architekt” was even re-gendered to the female “Die Architekt”), Berlin’s leading players in the field of building policy are almost all female. “We hope through the presentation of women in architecture for (…) nothing less than the re-writing of building history, not only in Berlin!” – this hope will probably remain wishful thinking for a long time. The debate about “is there a female architecture?” fizzled out two decades ago. But the issue is still very much topical as to the status of women in architecture (not only in Berlin), and this publication is the vademecum on the topic.

Berlin – Urban Architecture and Everyday Life since 2009
Florian Heilmeyer, Sandra Hofmeister (eds.)
Munich 2022
Edition DETAIL
336 pages
Language: German
ISBN: 978-3-95553-589-6
59,90 euros

Women in Architecture Berlin
n-ails e.V. (ed.), Berlin 2022
jovis publishing house
176 pages
Language: German
ISBN 978-3-86859-763-9
35 euros

Floating University, raumlaborberlin