Berlin’s Alexanderplatz is a large and culturally significant open space at the eastern periphery of the city’s historic center. Host to the nightlife of 1920s Weimar Germany, architectural showpiece for postwar East German socialism, and site of ongoing political demonstrations, it has been subject to intense scrutiny since Berlin’s designation as the capital of a reunified Germany. The area is currently at the center of a public debate about redevelopment within the city.
Our urban design for this area is composed of a figural public open square defined by the surrounding city blocks. These blocks act as pedestals that are in turn articulated by an array of towers that rise from the rear of each block. The plan has recently gone through a process of functional and spatial adaptation to contemporary requirements, and a number of adjacent buildings, significant to the history of East German urban development, have been placed under historic preservation.
The European skyscraper is not simply an extrusion of the site, driven by property value, but rather a vertical extension of the earth. At the heart of this studio is the contention that the European high-rise tower is imbued with public responsibility, competing with the towers of churches and city halls, together with which it dominates the city’s physiognomy both physically and symbolically. Property demands commitment.
The heroes of modern architecture—from Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe to Louis Kahn—understood architecture to be an extrusion of the earth rather than a constructed artifact to be dropped onto the ground plane. Architecture was consequently interpreted as a monolithic whole, even if assembled from parts. The highly ambiguous phenomenon of visual entities seen in relation to bodily existence, simultaneously nothing but a compilation of heterogeneous events, was called Tektonik. I prefer the singular tectonic to the plural tectonics, which obscures the precise and fundamental role that the term plays in architecture. Without tectonic there is no architecture.
Tectonic treatment is the articulation of mass by means of lineamento, profiling, which accomplishes both the separation and the unification of the elements from which architecture is composed. Articulated mass as monolithic extrusion of the earth, articulated in relation to our visual sensibility, which is in fact bodily—that is what I call architecture.
Our studio will test the feasibility of the modified urban plan for Alexanderplatz, understanding this process as a case study with the potential for broader application elsewhere. The task is to design twelve multifunctional urban blocks with towers, each limited to a height of 150 meters. We will analyze the urban context and develop individual architectural projects. We will start our design process by making clay bozzetti according to the rules of the land use plan, in a manner comparable to that in which Hugh Ferriss interpreted New York City’s setback regulations in the 1920s, turning them into breathtaking expressionist buildings and spaces.
As usual, the projects will be developed in plan, section, and elevation, with corresponding analysis of significant interior perspectives. We will work toward large-scale models to test the projects’ potential to establish an exceptional public space within the best tradition of European urbanism. Our work is designed to culminate in a compelling presentation that will also be exhibited in Berlin as a contribution to the ongoing public debate in Germany’s capital city.
Of course we will have the opportunity to visit Berlin during the travel week in February.