Objets d'Art-chitecture / 1

Although I came to Berlin to study the city’s museums, actually the city itself turns out to be the most interesting and engaging museum of all. Of course it's not full of glass cases and video screens and multi-media labelling. The stories are told through entire buildings, sculptures and squares and lots of human traces from graffiti to urine to soldiers in historic uniform on the street.

I can't begin to capture the complexities of the urban forms that make up this crazy city so for now I'm just going to share some of the "objets d'art-chitecture" that populate the urban theatre that is contemporary Berlin.

Peter Eisenman's Holocaust Memorial is a chilling architectural intervention within a tourist-filled area of the city. An interesting case of content being separate from the architecture as the documentation centre is in a subterranean hall, allowing the sculptural forms to express the horror of the Holocaust and encourage individual contemplation. Image by John Dawson

The much-lauded Reichstag Dome more than lived-up to expectations. A breath-taking exercise in architectural story-telling. I visited late in the evening and was surprised by the relaxed atmosphere and the fact we were able to wander freely well after 11pm.

A contemporary reworking of the traditional Berlin courtyard housing at David Chipperfield Architects' Joachim Strasse offices


19th century apartment building flanked by more recent infill on Kastanienallee, Prenzlauer Berg. Throughout East Berlin these elevations speak of Vienna and Lodz and Budapest all rolled into one.

The Philarmonie and Kammermusiksaal by Hans Scharoun and Edgar Wisniewski respectively. Two of the more successful buildings forming part of the experimental and rather desolate Kulturforum.

Berlin is a very “noisy” place, by which I mean there are a great many different visual voices from the past and the present that positively screech at you in an architectural mash-up whose frequency goes up and down depending on the neighbourhood. But of course, unlike a museum, the city does not have a curator, an overseeing intelligence to edit and arrange and draw the eye. For the most part, the encounter with curiosities and urban forms is incidental and organic. However, I did come across one fabulously deliberate intervention near the Sony Center : a large glass structure encasing a piece of historic architecture.

Fragment of the Grand Hotel Esplanade, formerly a popular meeting place for the glitterati of Berlin until most of the hotel was destroyed during WWII. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the remaining fragment of the hotel was protected and restored. With the 1990s construction of the Sony Center (whose sail canopy is visible above) the fragments had to be moved once more. Today the vitrine invites close inspection of the plasterwork and presents an incongruous objet d'art-chitecture amid the modern glitz of Potsdamer Platz.

 The incongruity is almost farcical and had it been proposed as a work of art would no doubt be considered trite and overplayed. But as a museological intervention within a city whose every element speaks of a hundred untold stories I took real delight in its lack of subtlety. The chap in the photo seems to be scratching his head, unable to know what to make of it. I loved its theatricality and told myself it could only be Berlin..... 

Pre-gentrification in the historic Mitte district. 

I do love this sail canopy at the Sony Center, designed by Helmut Jahn with Arup