8 March 2007

Megalithic Vampirism and the Hypocracy of Critique


Blurbanism ∕ Sick Buildings

Proposterous posterior

It’s a curious thing, that whilst Chipperfield Architects’ design for the new entrance building of Berlin’s Museum Island is coming under heavy fire from an increasingly vocal opposition, just 1km away the construction of an almost criminally brutal design for a shopping and leisure complex has been allowed to loom into existance without a single critical remark.

Brutalist kitch

The only positive thing you can say about Alexa is it’s function in redefining the line of Dirksenstraße, pictured above in the lower left-hand photo. But the intertwined arches reveal the extent of the building’s soullessness. Like a vampire it sucks the life-blood out of the surrounding area in a game of sinister mimickery. The railway arches just opposite are the no-brained-inspiration for these monolithic curves, which have no supporting function whatsoever.

Vampire life-blood

On Monday an initiative called Save the Museum Island was started by Annette Ahme, chairwomen of the Society for a Historical Berlin. The society, which currently has around 1.600 members, is fighting for what they call the “reconstruction of the historical center” of the city. The problem here is the use of the word “historical”.

The first question in a history exam I took aged 10 was, “When does history begin?”. The correct answer was “now”: a good way of teaching small children that history is not some closed entity locked in the deep past, but a continuum constantly drawing content and context out of the present.

Ahme’s biggest problem is that her society seems yet to have grasped this junior-school concept. The word “historical” in this context is a Trojan horse; its extremely selective use speaks of a conservative political agenda masquerading as critical historical sensitivity. The use of the word “center” is just as selective. What constitutes center, and when? SLAB’s own research has led us to believe that Ahme is talking about 1650, when Berlin still had its earliest city wall. Ahme’s agenda is laid bare: when she talks of “history”, she means “some time around 1650”.

The Ahme agenda? 1650 as historically acceptable epoch

The map above shows the approximate locations of the Alexa behemoth (1), and Chipperfield’s proposed entrance building for the Museum island (2). Has Alexa not come under fire from scandalised voices because it lies beyond the city wall in the provinces?

Chipperfield proposal: bad renderings fueling debate?

The initiatve against the Chipperfield proposal raises further questions. The title Save the Museum Island suggests that the historical ensemble as a whole wouldn’t survive any kind of architectural addition: to add to it would mean to ruin it. It speaks, therefore, not of the society’s respect for the Island’s “historical” dignity, but rather of it’s inherant lack of confidence in the Island’s ability to integrate the new into the old. The “historical” vision is a denial of historical dialogue.

TAZ Article about Ahme (in German)
Ahme’s Save the Museum Island website
Berliner Morgenpost article (in German)