July 13, 2007

Berlin 2 (Germany)

The Treptow Crematorium is one of Berlin's best kept secrets. The approach was through a tree-lined symmetrical courtyard to a concrete block building faced with horizontal metal louvers. Passage through a heavy rolling metal door led to an amazing enclosed space. The rectangular 'Hall of the Dead' was marked with a series of circular concrete pillar supports that were irregularly placed around a round pool of water in the center of the room. The grove of pillars rise and disappear into circular shafts of daylight that break through the ceiling. We sat in silence and enjoyed this powerful effect for some time, as passing clouds altered the intensity of the light. The building was designed by Axel Schultes with Charlotte Frank.

One negative criticism on the selection of color... all metal louvers, movable furniture, fixtures, etc. were painted a ugly blue tone (see photos). It felt out of place and looked like it was taken from a corporate office from the 1980s.

The Bauhaus archiv museum of design by Walter Gropius, planned in 1964 and built in the 70s. It was great to re-visit the ideals of the Bauhaus, its aim of uniting arts, crafts, and architecture within a single institution of learning has had an international impact. The building by Gropius had a characteristic silhouette with the quarter-circle shaped light wells that lined the roof. Unfortunately the building has not been maintained well and was run-down. A design competition with plans for expansion has been awarded to SANAA.

A few blocks away was the Embassy Complex of the Nordic Countries in Berlin, an impressive complex of five national embassy buildings with an open common building, all enclosed by green copper louvers. The overall complex was designed by the Austrian/Finnish architectural firm Alfred Berger and Tina Parkkinen, with each individual embassy buildings designed by a different firm (most notably Snohetta A/S, Oslo designed the Royal Norwegian Embassy).

On Bernauer Strasse was another Berlin wall memorial, this one designed by Stuttgart architects Kohlhoff & Kohlhoff. The memorial preserves sixty meters of the former border strip in their original depth as a physical reminder of the Wall, captured at either end by tall steel 'bookend' walls, stainless steel on the interior faces, and rusty cor ten on the exterior faces. On one side you can peek through sections of the wall to get an idea of the feel for and impression of the width of the border fortifications.

Across the street was the Chapel of Reconciliation designed by Berlin architects Reitermann and Sassenroth, a memorial over the old reconciliation church that was blown up by the GDR border troops in 1985. The open-air chapel is made of rammed-earth walls encirlced with a skin of vertical wood louvers.

Next was the Royal Dutch Embassy by Rem Koolhaas, best viewed at nighttime. The eight-story glass cube was wrapped with a terrace and set at the waterfront. The space appeared welcoming with its "Dutch Openness,"(perforated metal screens, cantilevered glass boxes, transparency, etc) but was inaccessible and closely guarded, an interesting dichotomy.

A week in Berlin was not enough.. we will be back!

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