Chipperfield is wrong about Berlin

GSW Headquarters Berlin, 1991-99 by Sauerbruch Hutton

GSW Headquarters Berlin, 1991-99
by Sauerbruch Hutton

It is tempting to see David Chipperfield’s eulogy to Berlin – in opposition to London and other cities – as sour grapes. The English architect is after all engaged in two particularly protracted protests from heritage groups regarding his plans for the Shell Centre and the extension to the Geffrye Museum. In Berlin meanwhile he can do no wrong. He is currently exhibiting in the Neue Nationalgalerie and building all over the city. Yet sour grapes doesn’t quite explain it all. His speech quoted in the Guardian and then printed at length therein shows that he fails to appreciate what a huge lost opportunity Berlin was and how it has become an even more staid architectural environment since. If we we look at the architectural history of Berlin since the Wall came down, later even than the International Bauaustellung which brought Rossi and OMA to West Berlin, then we can see that Chipperfield’s speech is more about himself than the city.

Berlin in the 1990s appeared to offer huge prospects to architects from all over the world not simply because of the reconstruction required but because of the intoxicating context in which any work might be done. Architects rocked up in the city expecting a new economic boom and an enlightened architectural culture, given the exciting times in the city’s music and art scenes. As we known the boom was short-lived and the city’s brief construction period ended quickly. A far greater catastrophe however was the sudden arrival of a highly conservative planning culture which sought to level out the huge range of architectural expression that existed in both the former East and West and turn Berlin into “another European city”. As if such a thing existed.
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Parliament in the abstract

Cedric Price, Pop Up Parliament, London, England: Conceptual sketch, 1965 CCA Collection © CCA

Cedric Price, Pop Up Parliament, London, England: Conceptual sketch, 1965 CCA Collection © CCA

I quite liked Bernard Porter’s suggestion in the London Review of Books that MPs should be removed from the Palace of Westminster during its impending refurbishment. But not for the reason he gave. To suggest that it is only by relocating parliament that “they would see the shuttered-up shops, the desolation caused by deindustrialisation, as well as the many positive and promising aspects of provincial life” is to miss – probably deliberately – a fundamental point about the nature of our politics. Take a look at some of the more progressive moments in our parliamentary history. Maybe they had to drag Disraeli around the Potteries in order to pilot the Reform Act of 1867 but I can’t be sure. My A Level History finished in 1860.

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Five of Ebenezer Howard’s ideas that may have accidentally been omitted from the new garden city proposals



Here are a few extracts from Ebenezer Howard’s work Garden Cities of Tomorrow, which give an insight into some of the work’s more pioneering ideas, particularly those that may – for some reason – be overlooked in the planning of the new garden city in Bicester, Oxfordshire. (The quotations are taken from the second edition, published by Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd in 1902.)
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My Top 5 Black Fridays – in chronological order.


Photo: Archives, 1960, The Chronicle


PS There is a theme. Can you spot it?

1.  Friday 18th November 1910.
300 suffragettes from  Women’s Social and Political Union protested at Prime Minister Henry Asquith’s decision to shelve the Conciliation Bill, which would have extended the vote to about 1,000,000 land-owning women in Britain. They were met by 6,000 police who responded violently.

2. Friday, 31 January 1919
After World War I, a shop steward meeting of members of the Clyde Workers Committee drew up a demand for a 40 hour working week. The strike began on Monday and on the Friday, workers began to assemble in George Square in the morning. Thousands of police launched a baton charge on the crowd which was repelled by the strikers.  Lloyd George ordered 10,000 armed troops with tank support into the city and by the evening Glasgow was occupied.

3. Friday October 5th 1945
10,000 workers from the Conference of Studio Unions, who represented manual labourers who worked in Hollywood had begun a strike in May 1945 when the jurisdiction of their body wasn’t recognised in pay negotiations by a group of producers. A fight broke on this day between strikers and strikebreakers who had turned up for work armed with hammers and nightsticks.

4. Friday May 13, 1960,
On the second day of meetings of the House Subcommittee on Un-American Activities at San Francisco City Hall, students from Berkeley and Stanford held a major demonstration – the first in decades – outside. Police turned a firehose on the protesting students and 64 of them were arrested. One was tried for hitting a police officer with his own club but there was no conviction. The event led directly to the foundation of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in 1964 and the final demise of the Subcommittee.

5. Friday 8 September 1978
This event effectively marks the beginning of the end of the Shah’s rule in Iran. When a large crowd attempt to gather in Jaleh Square in Tehran to demonstrate ostensibly for religious reasons, they did so in opposition to a recent declaration of martial law. By now you can guess what happened next. The soldiers ordered the crowd to disperse. The order was ignored. The military opened fire, killing and wounding several hundred people.


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Things That Are Not Mosques. No 35343. A Polish Church.

BIB219124_p.9_fig.w.2In the UK the Twitter the hashtag #thingsthatarenotmosques is trending because a member of the UK independence party press team suggested a poll about their credentials as a party of government was biased because it was taking place outside a mosque. The mosque turned out to be Westminster Cathedral. Given that our friends in the UKIP party seem particulary upset about Eastern European such as the Poles arriving in the UK, it might be apposite to post a story that my friend Lukasz Stanek told me about The Church of St. May Queen of Peace in Wroclaw. The Polish architect Wojciech Jarząbek and his team  won a competition to design this new church in 1980. However, during the design and construction process (1980–94), Jarząbek travelled many times to Kuwait where he was also working on a large mall called the Al Othman Center. (See below)
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History Plays a Double Hand

DSC_5480I have recently enjoyed dipping into Love Goes to Buildings on Fire by Will Hermes – a book about the overlap between the different music scenes in New York in the mid seventies. But I only sampled the book, thanks largely to a review by Charlie McCann in Prospect Magazine which places the book amidst a general nostalgia boom for the seventies, particularly in New York  and is many ways more perceptive than the book itself – as entertaining as it is. McCann states convincingly that “the decade now appeals to the people who weren’t even around to experience it in the first place.”  Continue reading

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Closing Le Corbusier’s Atlas


Sketch made during a lecture in Chicago on November 25, 1935. Featuring the plan Macià for Barcelona, a theoretical section of the Unité d’habitation, and the plan Obus A for Algiers Pastel on paper. 39 3/4 x 109 1/2″ (101 x 278.1 cm). Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Robert A. Jacobs 1602.2000. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / FLC

If you are in Madrid or going there, you have the last chance to see one of my favourite exhibitions in a good number of years. Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes which I saw in New York just over a year ago and which I was reminded of by going to see Alvar Aalto: Second Nature at the Vitra Design Museum just recently (which I am reviewing elsewhere). I was reminded of it not simply because of the status of the two architects and their contribution to the great canon of modernist architecture but also through a confusion in the discussion around the exhibition over words and concepts like “nature” and “landscape”.  Continue reading

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The Journey of an Accidental Unionist

A few weeks ago, I went to see a play about Scottish independence in the Stratford that doesn’t sit upon the Avon but the Stratford that sits not far from Westminster. I cycled there from my place in Hackney and got lost amongst the new set of paths and roads created since the London Olympics. I picked my way through the Athlete’s Village a place that i remembered last being draped with Union Jacks, which would have been the perfect preface to a play about the union if I hadn’t got so lost in the new road network and arrived late and out of breath. Continue reading

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Image of the Week: Gillespie Kidd and Coia finally getting props

GKC_CCK_2_1_1 HR

From the GKC archives at the Glasgow School of Art.

This week sees the start of the Mountain Biking at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, a fact that may not obviously have an obvious connection with the Commonwealth Games. However, the event marks in many ways the final affirmation at an official level of Scotland’s great contribution to the wider narrative of Modernism, and in particular the contribution of the practice of Gillespie Kidd and Coia. As it is well known, this established practice built a series of stunning religious buildings, particularly churches, for the Catholic church in the west coast of Scotland, designed by Andy McMillan and Isi Metstein. The Mountain Biking will head out from the former Church & Presbytery of St Martin’s, Castlemilk, one of the lesser known projects by the pair. A far better way for Glasgow to acknowledge the importance of its modernist heritage than blowing bits of it up for kicks.

St. Martin’s, which ceased to operate as a place of worship in 2010, boasts some of the key features of McMillan and Metzstein’s work. It exhibits an ingenious use of gradient, standing as it does on an outcrop of rock with the slopes and trees of Cathkin Brae which forming a picturesque background to it. Existing rock face and trees on the site being preserved to advantage and exploited with a series of terraces and staircases creating a dramatic approach. It also expresses the complex and engaged role of the Church in local life at the time of design, as it also incorporates a Sanctuary, two side altars, a shrine to St Martin, a baptistry, choir gallery, and sacristies.

The preservation of an example of Scottish modernism was ostensibly enabled by Historic Scotland giving a grant to a local preservation trust. However behind this has been an extensive campaign by key activists in Scottish architecture to convince a reluctant Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow that their architectural patrimony was of greater significance than the value of the land on which it stood. This year Creative Scotland, the Scottish government’s arts body, announced capital funding (i.e. money for buildings) for the slowly emerging proposals for St. Peter’s Seminary in Cardross, Metzstein and McMillan’s masterpiece….

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Mr Goldberg’s Bridges in the Sky



One of the great forestalled ideas in the repetoire of 20th century utopian urbanism is the skybridge. The idea of street hierarchy was first pioneered by Ludwig Hilberseimer in his book City Plan which he published whilst teaching at the Bauhaus who went on to be director of planning in Chicago. Today is the birthday of one of the other emigres from Bauhaus to Chicago, Bertrand Goldberg who is the architect of Marina City and the sadly departed Prentice Women’s Hospital.

He also designed River City originally envisioned a high-density site of mixed-use skyscrapers 72-stories tall containing everything from schools to shopping centres, with the towers connected in “triads” by skybridges. It was knocked back, partly one imagines as a result of the growing fetishisation of the street, as outlined in the work of Jane Jacobs. Goldberg effectively unfolded his towers and laid them on their end, producing the sinuous low-rise structure which was eventually built.

In London there are still traces of this idea. Around the Barbican there are still remnants of the pedway which, despite what you may read, still operates as a link across the Barbican Centre from Barbican metro to Moorgate metro. The pedway came about as a means of allowing faster car routes to be built across London and keeping pedestrians separate from this. Far from being an ahistorical process, the means of justifying the separation included reference to Venice were streets and plazas. Indeed the logic of it was partly aesthetic, as the vistas from the Barbican deck attest to.

As London’s South Bank finally gets the skyscrapers that the Festival of Britain generation imagined it would it’s a shame we won’t have the easy connection between the upper floors that their lower deck first intimated. Yet this idea is one which will not completely let us alone. The Petronas towers are linked by a bridge. Steve Holl’s Linked Hybrid is another example indeed, if you look at much of Holl’s work his buildings are effectively skybridges, particularly his proposal for the Culture and Art Center of Qingdao City.

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