architecture Without Buildings
special | SAVE BERLIN
proposal for Schlossplatz
While Berlin lacks daring and innovative urban policy-makers, it
is replete with industrious urban visionaries: these ‘architects’
don’t build buildings, they build ideas … providing inspiring alternatives to counter the city planners’ creative slump. By Samantha Williams
erlin’s recent examples of urban development have been pretty grim.
While the city cashes in on its vibrant image, it seems unable to release
its creative capital into its new edifices. From the ill-fitted suburban
design of Alexa to the plans for the Stadtschloss, Berlin has showcased a rather
hackneyed and unimaginative approach to architecture.
“If you look at the actual urban planning situation here in Berlin, it’s pretty sad,
no?” Asks Jakob Tigges, the creative mind behind Tempelhof ’s infamous ‘Berg’
and a founding member of the Mila Büro, based in Brunnenstraße. “Once you’ve
built something, it’s there. It changes the city. You can build in Berlin; there’s so
much space. But you also have time to think about what you actually want to create. And that’s an enormously powerful thing.”
Space, that rare urban commodity, has meant that in spite of some uninspiring
city planning, Berlin remains a safe haven for urban visionaries and militant architectural optimists. Lacking in cash and commissions, they are not making buildings, but building ideas. By staging architectural hijinks and corralling movements
among the creative population, they hope to transform the urban landscape from
the bottom up.
The Berg was a provocative, tongue-in-cheek answer to a competition for the
development of the Tempelhof airfield. Tigges, a trained architect, intended it
as a joke. But his Berg took off. It now boasts more than 3,000 Facebook fans,
framed reproductions hang at cool cafés all over Berlin and Tigges has produced
postcards that show the imaginary Berg beside more familiar Berlin landmarks.
“We were asked not to give a design, but a strategy, so our strategy was this lie.
It’s pure Berliner Schnauze: Berlin is so poor, but Berliners are brash and we have
all this creativity and hope. Wealthier cities have their landmarks. We would just
pretend to have this landmark – this beautiful, inspiring thing.” Tigges’s assessment of Berlin’s urban policy is unequivocal: “It’s not so much that there’s a lack
of ambition. It’s a lack of ideas, of fantasy, and openness. It’s those things that the
“The establishment is basically clueless,” echoes Michael LaFond, Director of
Id22’s Experiment City project, which works with funding from the Senatsver-
waltung für Stadtentwicklung (Senate Department for Urban Development).
“But that creates a role for cultural activists and Berlin’s creative population in
determining the future.” LaFond, a trained architect, negotiates with city authorities to promote self-organized projects for creative reuse of old buildings. Among
the projects showcased at the Experiment Days festival in October was the
Werkpalast Lichtenberg, a community-run working and living space housed in a
former Plattenbau kindergarden. Conceived by a group of creative East Berliners,
frustrated by treatment of the East since reunification, the project was intended
to protest the demolition of the Palast der Republik. The similarly-minded KuBiZ
project aims to breathe life into run-down Weißensee. Id22 has also assisted the
architect cooperative Living in Urban Units. Based in Schönholzer Straße, the
resident-designed building uses ‘passive’ technology, requiring almost no energy
“There’s a paradigm shift that we’re going into,” LaFond explains. “There’s a renaissance of the city. People are rediscovering downtown. They want to be in the
city amid a local culture. In creating sustainable urban development, cultural activists and creative people find new ways of shaping their environments – not necessarily technological, but communicative and creative. In this way, Berlin could
be a model for changes we’ll start to see around the world.”
“Berlin is one of the urban laboratories of the future,” agrees Christopher Dell,
Berlin jazz musician and Professor of City Planning and Culture at the University
of HafenCity in Hamburg. “The future city will be shaped by the activities of
small groups, and a new type of architecture that is not so much about building,
but what I call a technology of enabling: Space is cheap, but you don’t have a job.
What do you do? You are forced to improvise.”
ARCHITECTURE WITHOUT BUILDINGS
“Architects like to draft,” says Tigges. “They plan things and implement them.
Just because it’s not a building, doesn’t mean it’s not architecture.” raumlabor’s
Christof Mayer agrees. Instead of designing buildings, the group designs ‘activat-