Schinkelplatz Housing Project

(Berlin. Germany) 1983-87

In 1957. Interbau, the International Exposition of Architecture, took place in the Hansa Viertel neighbourhood of West Berlin. Its purpose was to present itself as a major example of urba-nism demonstrating the sacred principles established by the Athens Charter in the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) in 1933. Its post-war modernist buildings placed individually in a park were meant to stand as symbols of newness, health, liberty-at once a critique of and an alternative to the Stalin Allee of East Berlin, to its blind historicist obedience to models of the past in city planning and architecture.

By the early 1980s, however, a complete reversal was well under way. West Berlin, in the spirit typical of Western industrial democracies, had begun to re-evaluate in a positive manner Stalinist architecture (a revisionism which included the reinstatement of Albert Speer as a great architect), City Beautiful Planning and Academic Monumentalism. The decision was taken to organize a new international exhibition in Berlin, the IBA Stadt-Neubau, which opened in 1987. The purpose of the exhibition was to try to save Berlin from a danger, in the words of Jean-Louis Cohen, that had been 'more destructive than the bombardments' - that of modernist, Athens Charter type urbanism. As in the case of Interbau. architects were called in to participate from all over the world.

It is within this framework that Rob Krier's projects in Berlin try to rediscover and reconstruct the art of traditional city building and to reintroduce the idea of monumentalism in housing. Krier is concerned with maintaining the architectural memory of the city as a

(Above) Axonometric showing analysis of courtyard and public places

(Above left) Architect displaying plans

(Opposite, above) Drawing of the internal court concept

(Opposite, below) View of internal court

Shinkelplatz Model

precious discovery whose value is still untarnished. The Schinkelplatz project possesses the unquestionable merits of livability inherent in the traditional building type that it reuses. Nevertheless, its cognitive power to make us understand time through space by affecting our perceptions - which is, after all, what a history-based architecture is all about - is limited to scenographic effects. To paraphrase Proust's observation in Contre Sainte Beuve, 'time never assumed a dimension of space' here. Moreover, one questions the relevance of these effects to the inhabitants of the project; as Krier himself points out. they are mainly of Turkish extraction. Despite the project's rhetorical urbanity, it is difficult to ignore the narcissistic qualities of what appears to be little more than a retreat to the past - coloured by what Heinrich Klotz has called a Luddite reaction against the idea of progress. Despite its scale, the project fails to address any of the key issues of contemporary urbanism, such as transportation or the relationship between employment, residence and services. It cannot therefore be used as a model for similar developments.

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