The armored state car of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl was placed in front of the German pavilion. Photo © la Biennale di Venezia
Germany’s Ex-Top Models
By Thomas Wagner
Jun 15, 2014

The armored limousine of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl pulls up. The flag is flying from the pole, and the red carpet rolled out. Things get official even outside the German pavilion. But things turn out to not be so statesmanly, even if Monika Grütters, currently Minister of State for Culture and the Media, paid a visit prior to the official opening of the pavilion redesigned in 1938 under the aegis of the Nazis by Ernst Haiger – it’s controversial almost by habit.

Alex Lehnerer and Savvas Ciriacidis both teach at the ETH Zürich and have filled the building with another edifice as if in a farce. The very title, “Bungalow Germania”, intimates what has been interlocked and superimposed. Not any old building, but a reconstruction of the public section of the Chancellor’s Bungalow, designed in 1964 by Sep Ruf for the former West German capital of Bonn (so far away now in time and place) now melds with the country pavilion. Commissioned by Ludwig Erhard, the bungalow has not been used since 1999. Since then it simply exhibits itself, as a symbol of a democratic federal republic that disappeared with reunification. The pavilion in the Giardini in Venice is the perfect counterpart: It originated in the 1930s and to this day represents the totalitarian claims to power and the awe-inspiring scale of Nazi dominion. It was redesigned in 1964, when its present interior was created.

The results are astonishing, unsettling and multifaceted. The bungalow, a specimen of the Modernist International Style boasting glass, steel, tiles and wood, modeled after Mies van der Rohe’s “Barcelona Pavilion”, inscribes itself into the incriminated German pavilion in the Giardini – and vice versa. Everything in the interlocking buildings is intact. But the walls permeate and overlap like the ostentatious forms of completely different political systems. Sliding wall-to-ceiling glass doors with aluminum profiles ensure the bungalow’s open courtyard fits surprisingly well into the pavilion’s apse and its bright, high halls suddenly seem to echo Modernism.

What is especially unnerving is that the rooms even seem to meld harmoniously where a pavilion wall actually blocks the view through the bungalow’s glass frontage or a white leather sofa gets grotesquely separated from its counterpart. You constantly get the feeling that the two houses have always belonged together, were somehow adapted to each other. What’s indoors and what is outdoors? Which building is absorbing which? What do these dovetailed buildings represent? And the collision of the two structures impacts no less troublingly on the political instrumentalization of architecture.

In the catalog, Philip Ursprung rightly asks whether what happens here is the “representation of a dysfunctional architecture of ostentation “using two buildings that were both erected in order to represent a nation, albeit in very different mindsets. The pavilion’s mass and monumentality are undermined here, just as is the bungalow’s openness and glazed transparency. Enabling us to perceive and experience quite tangibly in the space how both dictatorship and democracy in Germany instilled their respective architectural forms of representation with ideology. The project really stands out from the mass of exhibits in Venice precisely because here it is not hypotheses being outlined on paper, but rather an experiment being conducted with built architecture. Which incidentally goes to show that architecture can definitely be exhibited.

Read more about the 14th Architecture Biennale
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Architecture Know-How in Museum and Archive
Italian affairs
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Modernism and its uncle
Import – Export
The dream of an open society

The canopy of the Chancellor's Bungalow hovers a bit lost behind pillars. Photo Bas Princen, © CLA
The bungalow’s open courtyard fits surprisingly well into the pavilion’s apse.
Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
Overlooking the Chancellor's bungalow with the sculpture by Bernhard Heiliger "The Three Graces", 1989.
Photo © Bundesregierung / Photo: Lothar Schaack, Sculpure by Bernhard Heiliger: © 2014, ProLitteris
Where walls seem to blend together harmoniously, arise partly grotesque situations.
Photo © Robert Volhard, Stylepark
And the collision of the two structures impacts no less troublingly on the political instrumentalization of architecture. Photo Bas Princen, © CLA
Through the ten-meter-high entrance you walk into the pavilion into the unexpectedly low in interior of the bungalow. Photo Bas Princen, © CLA