Clay brick architecture in Tozeur, Tunisia. Photo © Stylepark
Monsieur...’s vacation

It’s summer, and of course it’s travel time. So where’s that list of places left to see! I include all those places or cities on it that at some point I somehow thought were “special” or “exciting” – and where I’ve never been. The idea is a bit like Judith Schalansky’s “Atlas of Remote Islands” (Particular Books, 2010), in which she collected 50 very isolated isles “where I never was and never will be”. In his review of the book, colleague Thomas Wagner wrote that this “is the ideal instrument to wish yourself away to the one or other or many islands.” (› to the article) My list is perhaps a little similar, especially as it grows longer by the year, because I keep on adding more places than the number I cross off it. I’m simply not a systematic globetrotter who moves from one country in the globe to the next alphabetically or according to a well-devised geographical plot.

I do, however, read an awful lot about the places on my list, and it’s usually the stories that I find fascinating. For example, the story of the multilane highway that Tito wanted to build as the “highway of unity and fraternity” (autoput bratstva i jedinstva) from Austria to Greece, right across Yugoslavia. With support from the army, the first section between Belgrade and Zagreb got built and in 1958 ostensibly over 54,000 volunteers constructed the section between in Ljubljana and Zagreb in only eight months. Then enthusiasm waned, the highway never got completed, and in the wars in then Yugoslavia after 1991 in many places it got destroyed. What traces of it would we find today on the route from Ljubljana via Zagreb to Belgrade, Priština and Skopje?

Three reports by Peter Sägesser and Daniel von Bernstorff further fueled my desire to travel the route myself: In 2011 Sägesser wrote about the international fairground built in 1956 in Zagreb, that was moved to the banks of the River Save to bring life to the new district of “Novie Zagreb”, built fully in line with the principles of the Charter of Athens (› to the article). His photographs of the remaining pavilions on the slightly overgrown grounds fuel my yearning to travel, to browse through Brutalist east European Modernism and ruin porn. Things are similar when it comes to Daniel von Bernstorff’s report on the Belgrade Design Week in 2009, in which he described Belgrade as “rough and inhospitable”, as “ravaged and trashed by construction, and more or less bereft of a functioning local transport system" (› to the article).

Perhaps I am simply an urban nerd who has been stuck in Berlin for too long, but precisely such descriptions intrigue me. So there’s hardly any need for me to explain my interest in Skopje, reconstructed after the disastrous earthquake of 1963 on the basis of an urban master plan created by Japanese Metabolist Kenzo Tange. Peter Sägesser’s expert narrative of 2013 presenting the remains and fragments of this radically modern, naturally only partially realized reconstruction reminded me again of my own, only partially realized project – because by then I had at least traveled to Croatia and Slovenia, although not gone deeper into the core of ex-Yugoslavia (› to the article).

While I have long concerned myself with Yugoslavia’s “Lost Highway”, other places landed on my list solely because of a single article. Take the Tozeur oasis, whose richly ornamented 14th-century clay architecture Nancy Jehmlich described back in 2010 as an “ornament with a function” (› to the article). A good one for my list: However inaccessibly the name makes it sound, the oasis in Tunisia is not so remote. Of course I could go there by camel. Or alternatively Tunisair offers a direct flight to Tunis three times a week – it’s only an hour away.

Other entries on my “list of unfinished places” are less original and essentially also easy to reach. You only need to do one thing. Fly to New York or Tokyo for example. What links the two? The fact that they are clearly among the most fundamental urban designs and experiences of our epoch, and I haven’t seen either. Just like Detroit, that North American exemplary specimen of post-industrial contraction is pretty high up on my unsorted list. Among other things thanks to reports such as that by Nora Sobich, who in 2009 offered a two-part portrait of Detroit as a morbidly beautiful “ruin of the motor age” (› to the article) and returned in 2011 full of “hope to Heidelberg Street” (› to the article) to capture the first nascent urban renewal projects from below. That’s five years back. It would no doubt be worth traveling to Detroit to see what’s become of the projects – then we could also evaluate the hypothesis and amazing proposals for Detroit on the ground – they were on show this year at the US Pavilion at the Venice international architecture exhibition.

Other places I could have included on my list pose another problem, namely that I would have to travel not through space but through time to reach them.

This year I will however not be able to tick off any of the many entries on my list of unfinished places. Instead, Bavaria, the south of France, Barcelona and Lisbon are on my summer route this year. All of them places I have already been, in part several times, but which have so grown on me that I am already really looking forward to seeing them again. If my list gets longer this year then at least I won’t be annoyed to have missed something.

Click here for all the above-mentioned articles from News & Stories:

Not just afterthoughts of the mainland

Islands are special places. Places of the imagination and of longing. Paradise is an island, but so too is Hell maintains Judith Schalansky, who has created a wonderful “Atlas of Remote Islands”, which presents fifty islands, “I never set foot on and never will”.

› to the article

Kenzo Tange and Socialism

In the wake of the devastating earthquake of 1963, which almost completely destroyed Skopje, the now capital of Macedonia, Kenzo Tange devised a master plan for a new city that did in fact become a reality, as fragmentary as its formation may have been. But the vestiges of Yugoslavian Socialism made possible by its authoritarian constructs are now under threat from modern-day plans.

› to the article

Gateway to the East

Belgrade's qualities may not be apparent at first sight. Yet they are plentiful. The "Belgrade Design Week", which will take place from May 25 until 31, 2009 for the third time, is a good example of the Serbian capital's increasing self-confidence.

› to the article

Trade fairs as the drivers of urban development

During the Cold War, the trade fair in Zagreb was one of the few locations where NATO member countries and Warsaw Pact nations presented their wares. Today, the trade-fair complex on the banks of the Sava River is hopelessly out of date and the city is considering a new solution.

› to the article

Functional ornamentation

Centuries ago, in a small town in Tunisia on the edge of the Sahara, craftsmen experimented with the decorative potential of brick. At the same time they created functional but contemporary architecture.-

› to the article

Detroit, a ruin from the automobile era – Part 1

Now that both Chrysler and General Motors have hit the wall America's auto industry seeks to reinvent itself. In Detroit, which is still a great if increasingly pale showroom of what was once world-famous auto-architecture, no one has stopped believing in the future of the US automobile.

› to the article

Hope from Heidelberg Street

The international zeitgeist has uncovered Detroit as America's maltreated "motor city": a growing creative scene is bearing witness to the emergence of new visions and an alternative "do-it-yourself movement" for this post-industrial wasteland.

› to the article