Blurbanism ∕ Event ∕ Heavy Theory ∕ NDS

Linear, Inner-City Megastructures

∕ Fri 14th Nov ’14

Five weeks ago Slab’s Oliver Miller and myself gave a talk to the students of the Chair for Urban Design and Architecture at the Technical University of Berlin. We were invited by Sandra Bartoli of Büro für Konstruktivismus to share our experiences of circumnavigating the former Death Strip of the Berlin Wall and documenting the various built structures which have appeared since the fall of the Wall 25 years ago.

Today we return to the TU as jury members – alongside Jürgen Mayer H and Johannes Kühn of Kühn Malvezzi – for the final review of the students work. During the five weeks, the students examined 16 quadrants in the north of Berlin, and responded to these spaces with prototypical models for a heterogeneous, urban or rural live along what Slab have dubbed The New Death Strip.

We will endeavour to post a video of the talk as soon as it becomes available.

Earth Junk ∕ NDS ∕ Structural Collapse

“As far as I know – effective immediately, without delay.”*

∕ Sun 9th Nov ’14

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For the last three nights, a chain of lanterns has illuminated a 15km, inner-city stretch of the old border. The lanterns supposedly are to be “released” later this evening, detaching themselves from their stalks, and rising up over the city. Yesterday I was down at my regular haunt: the roads around the Fellini Residences, and along the big open plot between Alte Jackobstraße and Heinrich-Heine Straße, where crowds passed by slowly on foot and by bike. Whilst the city pauses to contemplate the past, the march of development continues, as the developer’s sign, pictured below, attests.

Download publication as PDF

The New Death Strip, published in 2011, is Slab’s full and exhaustive response to the architecture now populating the site of the Berlin Wall.

A PDF of the publication (now sold out), can be downloaded here.

More information can be found here.

Articles on this site pertaining to the New Death Strip can be viewed here.

* The words of Günter Schabowski, official spokesman of the GDR regime, uttered on November 9, 1989, in response to a journalist’s question about when new border crossing regulations were to take effect. Schabowski had no further information on the matter, and hesitantly improvised an answer which would change the course of history.

Aesthetics of Survival ∕ Commute ∕ Damage fetishism ∕ Erosion ∕ Nature ∕ Structural Collapse ∕ Transport

Seeing Things

∕ Sun 2nd Nov ’14

The worst thing that can happen to a car is not an accident, a crash.

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These are computable as part of its portfolio of risks. Death for a car is when it is ground not to a standstill but to glacial change. Its speed is denied, and so it rots, undead, changing yet not moving.

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Other cars avert their eyes as they pass these monstrous reminders of death. Materials become raw again, form disappears and design disassembles itself. The speedy assembly line of production brought these things together in an ecstasy of efficiency, movement, robotics, joy and profit. Now the environment passes over the car in agonizingly slow waves.

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Car-crushing machines were so common in cops and robbers films and TV of the 1970s and 1980s because they instantaneously transformed the car into what it metaphorically already was – a coffin. The society that found itself newly car-bound found narratives about cars for itself: The Dukes of Hazzard, Chips, The Streets of San Francisco, Hill Street Blues, The French Connection, The A-Team, Starsky and Hutch, Vanishing Point, Smokey and the Bandit, Herbie. The dream-place of the car narrative was the scrapyard, an ecstatic transubstantiation of the car as material, an ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust moment of death and rebirth. What is a chunk of metal but a car that was, and a car to be?

But when a car is reclaimed by nature, it comes as agonising punishment. The car has sped up our lives, contorted our cities, our bodies, our commons, it has privatised whole swathes of space, and polluted the air, ground and water. A secondary list of black marks against automobility might include fracking, oil sands, Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon, the Keystone pipeline, Ken Saro Wiwe, and the Corrib gas dispute (in Ireland). And I have not even mentioned oil wars. And I have not even mentioned climate change.

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The Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser was in favour, among many other unexpected things, of encouraging mould to grow on his buildings. He would have definitely been a supporter of our campaign against time-lapse photography, which will be resumed soon. Watch this space. Take your time.

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Blurbanism ∕ Commute ∕ Personal History

Commuting the Commute – Part 2

∕ Fri 12th Sep ’14

A view reserved for the return journey home in the evening. The creeping plant on this wall is a kind of seasonal barometer, captured here between summer and autumn. The colour-blend from green to red traces the sun’s trajectory across the sky on this north-facing wall on Gormannstraße. In winter, the plant sheds its leaves, and the branches resemble an epic crack in the plaster.

Blurbanism ∕ Commute ∕ Personal History

Commuting the Commute – Part 1

∕ Wed 27th Aug ’14

Before it became synonymous with traveling to work, the word ‘commute’ originally meant to reduce, replace or to truncate. It derives from the commuted ticket prices workers were offered by rail companies in the 1840s to get to their offices in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia from the burgeoning suburbs.

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Compared to the 3.5 million “extreme commuters” cited in this New Yorker article from 2007 – people who, according to the US Census Bureau, travel more than 90 minutes each way – my commute is positively idyllic. For the last 11 years it’s been a pleasant 35 minute cycle ride through Berlin along good roads, a fair stretch of which have marked cycle lanes. Apart from a couple of large intersections which can get hairy sometimes, it’s a pretty good deal, seen globally. In this networked day and age, anyone with broadband has little excuse for not putting themselves into a global context. I do not, for instance, have to traverse a rope bridge, like some farmers in parts of Pakitstan. Nor do I have to take a bus along the Yungas Road in Bolivia.

In a couple of months, my company is set to move to a different part of town. The change will reduce my 4.5km ride to around 3km, and will also force me to cycle through a park. My commute is about to commute.


Defensive barrier in front of the Jewish Museum on Lindenstraße

This is an occasion which affects Slab to quite some degree. Looking back over the last few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of how many of my articles have been informed by stuff I’ve seen on the way to the office. Indeed, there have been times when I’ve brooded over the notion that it would be possible to write several hundred-thousand episodic words solely about my route to work. I won’t take you down that rabbit hole, but this series of articles will serve as a kind of resumé, or jaunty blurbanistic synopsis of the 16,200km I’ve cycled through central Berlin on my way to work over the last 8 years existence of this journal.

I’ll wrap up this episode with one more impression which cannot be a more fundamental statement about architecture and Berlin:


The inverted grilled-meat doric, also on Lindenstraße

Condos ∕ Fiction

Snazz on Spielplazz

∕ Tue 5th Aug ’14

What’s that Eastern European, in-lawy-looking woman in white plastic slippers doing, leafing through a stack of mail she’s retrieved from one of the motley mailboxes, wire-tied to the galvanized construction fence, loosely arranged as a sort of abatis? Does she live here?

anybody home

It seems like only yesterday: this used to be a corner plot of leafy wilderness spawned by a protracted property dispute, with pairs of old shoes dangling from chain link fences. I hoped to myself that the dispute would never end, and that wilderness would prevail. A Red Cross old clothes bin always made me think of the sad incident where a man suffocated in one of these when he got trapped in the hatch trying to retrieve something. Then one day, the wilderness was a groundwater filled pit. Then came the prefab concrete walls, the aerated concrete blocks with mortar oozing from oversized grouts, the argon filled triple glazing cassettes, the acrylic render tanks, the stacks of Dow Styrene, the glossy lifestyle render on the construction board advertising. Just another building’s apparition, torn together by reversed explosion. Behind the fence, a slab of slate-colored stone-like material slapped onto a scrubs green chunk of styrene insulation slapped onto some wobbly trestles splattered with white goo. Windows splattered with the same white goo. Is that some sort of black granite they are putting up as a rainscreen? Real stone, a holocrystalline mass forged over hundreds of millions of years deep in the earth’s crust from molten magma or slowly accumulated sediments, concealing the expanded polystyrene at eye level? Around the doors, the PS gives way to real rock wool. Better for fires. The five floors above are covered in acrylic render.

flotsom abatis

What is this building, anyway; seemingly condensed from argon, aerated concrete, and styrene foam? High-end or trashy? Can I afford to live there, and would I want to? Is it cheap-looking or well made? Is this a cheap ass building or state-of-the-art? I have a hard time telling. The building looks kind of OK, I guess. At least it’s not a Noefer or a Kocher: can’t ask too much these days. It’s pretty well executed. The acrylic render is some of the finest around. Neat, straight edges, no dents. No swallow’s nests yet either, as in the EIFS across the street. Shame they made the whole thing visually top-heavy, with a change in color and a step in the render and more beefy loggias, literally setting the penthouses apart from the apartments below. So that the penthouses look more like houses. Too bad about that slight fender bender on the flashing on one of the penthouse’s loggias. Guess it got banged-up by one of the lifts hauling cheap ass facade up an down.

indecent exposure

Couldn’t they have averaged out the cost of the natural stone and the EIFS above to pay for a decent looking rainscreen across the whole facade? Then there wouldn’t be this large expanse of untreated acrylic render that I’m unsure about, aesthetically. That poplar needs to go a little more to the right to cover up that blank wall up. Oh wait, can’t photoshop in reality. And why do these buildings always have floor to ceiling windows? Is it cheaper to just make it all glass than to actually come up with a facade design, to pay for a rain screen, something nice to look at? Took my daughter to look at one of the apartment. 118m2. I think I managed to convince the Engels&Völkers agent that I could be for real, possibly. The flat looked great. We could put the shelves there, and a nice sofa … Does it have underground parking? Well yes, of course. Ok, good. But what does it cost? She wouldn’t say; gave me an exposé. The development’s named “Schatz am Kollwitzplatz”. It’s  not really on Kollwitzplatz, but on a Spielplatz a block away. I quickly leafed to the prices. 670K, plus agent’s fees. Well, that’s definitely high-end then, must be. This is some fine-ass piece of construction. Shiat, all that natural stone.

bench press goes there

60pages ∕ REM ∕ Writing

Day and Night Pool

∕ Fri 1st Aug ’14

Cropped fragment of the original image by Studio Yukiko.

My latest architectural dream has been published on 60pages today. It takes place on the 30th floor of a cantilevered apartment building, and features a swimming pool has neither a deep-end or a shallow-end, but a day-end and a night-end.

Jump to Day and Night Pool.

Aesthetics of Survival ∕ Cities ∕ Signage ∕ Spiritual

The Lincoln Dossier

∕ Wed 9th Jul ’14

Slab’s coffers are empty after the extravagance of sending your roving correspondent to distant Lincoln, England.

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The Roman walls survive in some places, here indelicately overstepped by the undercarriage of the brutiful 1970s City of Lincoln Council building. For the new building, the relic is an irrelevance that it is obliged not to obliterate. Preservation by condescension, insultingly undoing the difference between the outside and inside of the old walls. It does not matter which side we are on. Die Mauer ist weg.

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It matters here, though. As you progress up the steep hill that is the heart of the old city, you move through a rather exclusive neighbourhood of niche houses, concealed from the winding streets, each with picturesque planting spilling over their walls, as if to make up for their high exclusivity. I have walked similar wealthy laneways above the coast around Nice.

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The cathedral at the top of the hill is for everyone. For centuries, it welcomed pilgrims from far and wide who came to see the relic of the tomb (pictured) of Little Hugh, a child supposedly ritually murdered by Jews in 1255. Now there is a history of the event composed in 2009, in a spirit of ecumenical inclusivity, which acknowledges Lincoln’s leading role in the history of anti-semitism in England. Inclusivity cuts both ways of course – disowning the heritage of racism does not extend so far as to remove the remnants of the offending tomb. The wealth and stature of the cathedral itself derive to a significant degree from its anti-semitic attraction. The tomb cannot be disentangled from the cathedral.

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The modern gargoyles on the renovated parts of the exterior tell us more about the modern cathedral’s values. Death and money. Yes, we get it. This is the Church of England à la Rowan Williams – unhappy with capitalism, but not quite uncomfortable. The vision of a demon transfixed by money goes back some way, indeed this is an undead Jew for all intents and purposes. The error is to outsource excessive interest in material wealth to a demonic entity, to some kind of repressed other, or to a hated minority. The real problem is far more disturbing and can find expression only in this weird gargoyle’s secret message, which is that God has not died, he has been transformed into money.

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Connected to the cathedral is the prep school of Lincoln Minster School. A small, fairly posh place. It is interested in bringing out the best in everyone.

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The best in everyone, you understand, but not for just anyone. You have to belong. These photographs were taken from the wrong side of the wall.

Down in the town, there sits ignored a far smaller, older church.

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St Mary Le Wigford is unfortunate enough to be crammed between the railway track, the train station, the high street and the hideous dual carriageway that cuts through the heart of the waterside (built 1972, when else?). In its desperation, it plays both God cards at once: God is eternally there, and He has agents who work for Him in the here and now. You belong to Me. You don’t belong here.