A trend towards standardisation
Heinrich Klotz’s scathing criticism culminated in the accusation that Kollhoff was “cosying up to Prussian classicism” and “revealing echoes of Fascist architecture”.
Generally speaking, Klotz — the founding director of the German architecture museum in Frankfurt — believed that the new architectural trend spreading in Berlin demonstrated a “new penchant for rigour”.
Nor can this pro-rigour accusation be dismissed outright for Kollhoff’s competition design for the redevelopment of Alexanderplatz, which proposed a regular grid pattern, the only diversity provided by different tower blocks.
Although these visions of a “normal city” (as the text accompanying the invitation for entries to the Luisenstadt/Heinrich-Heine-Strasse planning competition put it) were not implemented, they certainly influenced a new generation of architects. Kollhoff’s LeibnizKolonnaden (2000) on Walter Benjamin Platz conjures up images of a bygone Berlin; and the Europäisches Haus (1999) on Pariser Platz pays homage to a uniform façade structure with repetitive windows. As too Delbrück-Haus (2003) on Potsdamer Platz, despite its recessed sections and striking structuring, makes no attempt to conceal the influence of Aldo Rossi’s Cittàanaloga, a comprehensive set of urbanplanning principles.
The question is whether German architecture is currently shaped more by complexity and variety, by experimental and new developments, or by monotonous forms, the airs and graces of prestige and show, and assertions of power. Anyone who — admittedly from an arbitrary perspective — looks at what has, in recent years, been established as the better average German architecture will quickly experience concerns regarding the prevailing quality standard.
Hi-tech architecture in all its possible permutations now produces banal en masse images of a futuristic city, see HPP’s Vodafone Campus in Düsseldorf (2012), and totally uninspired but bloated structures with tedious serial façade divisions such as BHBVT’s Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam (2010). After all, with the name Busmann + Haberer, the same office designed Cologne’s Museum Ludwig back in 1976.
Werner Sewing once mused that the Rationalist Oswald Mathias Ungers — who left Berlin in 1967 following unrest in the city provoked by student protests and moved to Cornell University in New York — abandoned the town-planning sphere to his colleagues Hans Kollhoff, Jürgen Sawade, Christoph Mäckler and Max Dudler.
Ungers’s architectural teachings and his clear and detailed design ideas from floor plan to seemingly inconspicuous detail — implemented in near-textbook fashion in his private Haus II (1988) in the Eifel region and Haus III (1996) in Cologne Müngersdorf — influenced many younger architects in the 1990s.
We see evidence of this in Erfurt’s Federal Labour Court (1999), built by Kollhoff’s former colleague Gesine Weinmiller, although she was careful to balance out the severity of the orthogonal building and unchanging grid pattern by slightly shifting the windows.
Max Dudler has never embraced Ungers’s Rationalist legacy tout court either and the Swiss architect is not focused on total formal consonance. Instead, he plays with variances in such a way as to place the structure of the façade and the window/building arrangement in atmospheric tension. Dudler created this tension in the three-storey Lindenhof neighbourhood (2018), in Berlin-Lichtenberg, primarily by positioning the windows and balconies differently. Even the diocesan library in Münster (2005), strongly characterised by orthogonal forms, ultimately comes to life
thanks to its atmospheric relationship with the neighbouring medieval Liebfrauenkirche.
In this way, Dudler breaks up the invariance of Ungers’s order formula without risking prominent breaks, unlike Jan Kleihues’s headquarters of the Federal Intelligence Service in which the monumental edifice is sealed off from the urban surroundings by the dominance of the block structure.
This rejection of interaction is the message sent by the new Federal Intelligence Service headquarters to the outside world. The headquarters are now seen as a city within the city because Jan Kleihues has concentrated all the formerly decentralised departments in a megalomaniac building and revived the hub of secret-service power in central Berlin of all places, close to the former Nazi government’s centre of power on Wilhelmstrasse. This is, of course, anything but a neutral political message.
Klaus Englert (1955), architecture critic, writes for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and German, Swiss and Austrian radio broadcasters. His latest book, Wie wir wohnen werden. Die Entwicklung der Wohnung und die Architektur von morgen, Reclam, Philipp, jun. GmbH, Verlag, Ditzingen, will be published in this month.