Interview: Axel Schultes (Spring 1997)

 

with Stanley Collyer

 


Bundeskanzleramt Berlin Competition (1996); Completion (2000) Photo: courtesy Schultes Frank Architekten

 

COMPETITIONS: In our last conversation, we talked about the whole issue of Berlin’s identity and what approach one should use in reconstructing the urban fabric between East and West—where the wall used to be.

 

Axel Schultes: Maybe I learned something during a recent lecture I gave in Palermo (Italy). Afterwards, some German specialists in philosophy and German thinking—brilliant people, I must say—came up to me and said, ‘What you said about Berlin and what you are doing there with the Federal Chancellery (Bundeskanzleiamt), for us is what Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin talked about, especially when they looked at Italy and the cities in Italy. We noticed immediately in your work that (same) issue of porosity.’ Both used this term: Benjamin wrote a small article on Naples, and Bloch wrote about Italy as a whole.

 

We always had a tendency to avoid the term, ‘transparency.’ Transparency is usually the use of glass to make buildings less alienating to someone outside. But for us, glass is no material to create spaces; so transparency as we see it is depths of spaces or layering. Porosity is something much more precise—what we strive for. We wanted the same effect in Friedrichstrasse (Interior Mall): it should not be this close-up thing of the Galeries Lafayette (Jean Nouvel) or Ungers, where you only have some holes in it. Porosity for us is like a sponge—to enable a building to fill up with life, to turn a private space into a public one by penetrating it with a public space. The old buildings in Berlin are examples of this, with two, three, sometimes even four interior public spaces.

 


Berlin Baumschulenweg Crematory (1993)

 

 

COMPETITIONS: You are referring to the interior courtyards (Hinterhöfe)?

AS: Yes. Nothing of this sort exists anymore in Berlin. Most buildings (at the street) are flat, sometimes elegant, sometime ugly. The Galeries Lafayette, with all its glass, is as closed (to the outside) as one of Unger’s sandstone buildings. It’s the same issue in the construction of every building. Take, for instance, the Berlin Schloss (the palace in the center of Berlin), which was completely demolished after WWII, and which some people think should be resurrected. This has been on our mind constantly.*

 

It would be such a contrast to urbanism—needing to punch holes in it to get inside—open to all the people and all walks of life. I can give many examples of this, for me very northern, very restrained, very alien to everything which infuses a culture with life. All the people here like Kohlhof, Ungers, Kleihues, etc.; all have that tendency of closing. Even Libeskind—and maybe he doesn’t think about it or want to have it appear in such a manner—does it with the Jewish Museum where there is no penetration. There is always this hiding, this animosity to the urban fabric. They are not interested in breaking it up.

 


Bonn Art Museum – Competition (1985) Completion (1992)

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Restoring and Reinventing Albanian Identity: A New Mosque and Museum of Tirana & Religious Harmony

 

by Dan Madryga

 



Winning entry by Bjarke Ingels Group

 

Tirana, Albania might be the last place that many would associate with cutting edge architecture. The capital of a poor country still struggling to sweep away the lingering vestiges of the communist era, it is understandable that architecture and design have not always been a top priority. Yet in the face of the city’s struggles, Tirana is striving to reclaim and reshape its image and identity, and international design competitions are playing no small role in this movement. And while Tirana has yet to be associated with contemporary architecture, the implementation of these design competitions has introduced a handful of renowned architecture firms to the city with high hopes of bolstering the international image of Albania. In 2008, MVRDV won commission for a community master plan on Tirana Lake that will herald forward thinking, ecologically minded urban development. Earlier this year, Coop Himmelb(l)au won a competition for the new Albanian Parliament Building with a design intended to symbolize the transparency and openness of democracy. Most recently, Tirana can now add BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) of Denmark to these ranks as the winner of the New Mosque and Museum of Tirana & Religious Harmony Competition, an ambitious project aimed to further rekindle a tattered Albanian cultural identity.
The recent efforts to renew and improve the physical image of Tirana can be attributed in large part to the city’s three-term mayor, Edi Rama. With his background as an artist, Rama has launched a number of initiatives over his decade in office, intent on improving the aesthetic image of Tirana. The design competition for the mosque and cultural complex can be viewed as the latest component of his “Return to Identity” project, which has gone to great lengths to remove the many unsightly and illegally constructed buildings that plague the city and help provide a clean slate for more progressive architecture and urban design.

The Mosque and Museum competition focuses on reclaiming a key religious and cultural identity that was long suppressed by communism. While Albania claims three chief religions—a Muslim majority alongside significant Orthodox Christian and Catholic communities—a strict communist regime ruthlessly banned religion. For over four decades, Albanians were under the thumb of an atheist regime where religious practitioners could face humiliation, imprisonment, and even torture and execution. The anti-religious campaign reached its zenith in the 1960s, when most Mosques and churches were demolished, and a select few with architectural significance were converted into warehouses, gymnasiums, and youth centers.

The revival of religious institutions began with the 1990 collapse of the communist regime. Yet decades of suppression took their toll, with the vestiges of Albania’s religious heritage essentially reduced to rubble. While the two Christian religions have since regained centers of worship, after twenty-one years of restored religious freedom, Tirana still lacks a mosque suitable for serving the sizable Muslim population. Only one mosque still stands in the central city—the historic Et’hem Bey Mosque—certainly a potent symbol of Tirana’s Islamic heritage, but particularly inadequate in size to accommodate the large numbers who would want to worship there on special occasions.
Hence emphasis in the brief concerning the size of the building: a grand mosque that can adequately serve 1000 prayers on normal days, 5000 on Fridays, and up to 10,000 during holy feasts. Supporting this mosque, the program also specifies the design of a Center of Islamic Culture that will house teaching, learning, and research facilities including a library, multipurpose hall, and seminar classrooms.

Another component of the competition program, the Museum of Tirana and Religious Harmony, moves beyond the realm of the Muslim community in an explicit gesture to bring together citizens from all faiths and backgrounds. Aside from presenting the general history of Tirana, the museum will focus on the city’s religious heritage, highlighting both the turbulent moment of suppression under communism as well as the religious harmony that has since been reinstated. Educating the public about Islamic culture and promoting religious tolerance at a time when relations between religious communities are strained throughout the world is certainly a noble objective.
Underlining the importance of this project is its prominent site on Scanderbeg Square, the administrative and cultural center of Tirana where major government buildings share an expansive public space with museums and theaters. The square itself was the subject of a 2003 design competition that will eventually reclaim the urban center—at present a rather chaotic vehicular hub—as a pedestrian zone with a more human scale. Situated on triangular site adjacent to the Opera and Hotel Tirana, the Mosque and Cultural Center will be a highly visible component of Tirana’s urban landscape.

 


left: BIG site plan; right: rendering of Scanderbeg Square to appear after redesign (image by seARCH Architects)

 

The two-stage, international competition was organized by the City of Tirana and the Albanian Muslim community and advised by Nevat Sayin and Artan Hysa.
Over one hundred teams—the vast majority European­—submitted qualifications for the first stage. In early March, the short-listing committee selected five teams to receive an honorarium of 45,000 Euros each to develop designs:
Bjarke Ingels Group – Copenhagen, Denmark
seARCH – Amsterdam, Holland
Zaha Hadid Architects – London, UK
Andreas Perea Ortega with NEXO – Madrid, Spain
Architecture Studio – Paris, France
The designs were judged by a diverse European panel:
Edi Rama – Mayor of Tirana, Albania
Paul Boehm – architect, Cologne, Germany
Vedran Mimica – Croatian architect; current director of the Berlage Institute
Peter Swinnen – Partner and architect at 51N4E, Brussels
Prof. Enzo Siviero – engineer; Professor at University IUAV, Venice
Artan Shkreli – architect, Tirana, Albania
Shyqyri Rreli – Muslim community representative

On 1 May 2011, the panel announced Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) as the winner.

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Reichstag Visitors Center – Berlin/Tiergarten

 

rendering-markus-bonauer_-michael-bi%cc%82lling_rw-gesellschaft-von-architekten-mbh-mit-capattistaubach-landschaftsarchitekten
©Markus Bonauer/Michael Bölling, Berlin with capattistaubach Landschaftsarchitekten


rendering-lageplan-markus-schietsch-architekten-gmbh-mit-lorenz-engster-landschaftsarchitektur-stn%cc%83dtebau-gmbh
©Markus Schietsch Architekten GmbH mit Lorenz Engster Landschaftsarchitektur & Städtebau GmbH

 

After two rounds of judging, beginning with 187 entries from around the world, the jury reduced the number of competitors to 28 in the first round, then finally settled on two first-place finalists in the second stage, one of which will be commissioned to design the Center. (One may assume that the limited number of entries in such an important competition was limited by the fact that the competition language was held in German.) The building itself is not the only project element, as a tunnel linking the Visitors Center in the Tiergarten to the Reichstag also is an essential part of the plan. The total cost of the project to the government is to be limited to 150€M.

 

Winners (2)
Markus Bonauer/Michael Bölling, Berlin with capattistaubach Landschaftsarchitekten
Markus Schietsch, Zürich with Lorenz Eugster Landschaftsarchitektur & Städtebau GmbH

 

lageplan-markus-schietsch-architekten-gmbh-mit-lorenz-engster-landschaftsarchitektur-stn%cc%83dtebau-gmbh
Site plan ©Markus Bonauer/Michael Bölling, Berlin with capattistaubach Landschaftsarchitekten

 

 

lageplan-markus-bonauer_-michael-bi%cc%82lling_rw-gesellschaft-von-architekten-mbh-mit-capattistaubach-landschaftsarchitekten
Site Plan ©Markus Schietsch Architekten GmbH mit Lorenz Engster Landschaftsarchitektur & Städtebau GmbH

 

Honorable Mentions (5)
• BGAA + FRPO Burgos & Garrido Arquitectos Asociados + FRPO Rodriguez & Oriol Arquitectos, Madrid (Spain) with VWA + UBERLAND, Vevey (Switzerland)
• bob-architektur BDA, Köln with FSWLA GmbH, Düsseldorf
• Henn GmbH, Berlin with Ingenieurgesellschaft BBP Bauconsulting mbH, Berlin
• Allmann Sattler Wappner Architekten GmbH, Munich with Schüller Landschaftsarchitekten, Munich
• ARGE KIM NALLEWEG Architekten und César Trujillo Moya, Berlin with TDB Landschaftsarchitektur Thomanek Duquesnoy Boemans Partnerschaft, Berlin

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Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Headquarters

Rosa Luxemburg memorial
Rosa Luxemburg Memorial
by Mies van der Rohe

 

Background

 

Given the history of Rosa Luxemburg as a founder of the Spartacus Bund, a precursor to the German Communist Party, it would seem peculiar to many outside of Germany that a foundation bearing her name would be one of the largest in Germany. Rosa Luxemburg, although born in Poland, became famous during World War I in Berlin as an anti-war activist. She was murdered during the Communist uprising against the German government in 1919. In 1926, Mies van der Rohe was commissioned to design a monument commemorating her and Karl Liebknecht, co-founders of the Spartacus Bund (above). The monument was later demolished by the Nazis in 1935 and never rebuilt. One promising attempt to rebuild the memorial was abandoned when Mies withdrew his support for it—no doubt a product of the Cold War at the time—and Mies’s experiences with the McCarthy hearings at the Un- American Activities Committee.

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