Symposium reflects on Berlin’s architecture

Architects, historians and critics convened in Rudolph Hall this weekend to discuss the political and historical significance of Berlin architecture, past and present.

The School of Architecture’s “Achtung: Berlin” symposium took place from Thursday night to Saturday afternoon and drew roughly 100 participants. Organized by professor Stanislaus von Moos, the event featured talks and panel discussions led by professional architects and German historians alike to examine the architectural development of Berlin from the post-World War II era to the present. School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern said the city is unique in that nearly every building of consequence is a subject of political debate.

“Berlin used to be a laboratory of architecture livelier than any other in Europe,” von Moos said. “If you see the divide between east and west as one of the great themes of the period from 1945 to 1989, Berlin is the place where all this came together.”

Highlighting the architecture of Berlin’s Nazi-era, several speakers addressed the controversial public perception of these structures today. Many of Berlin’s older structures were designed by Hitler and his chief architect Albert Speer, and these buildings have lost respect because of their affiliation with Nazism, explained Léon Krier, a visiting professor at the School of Architecture.

“[Hitler] was a monster, but he was also somebody who understood architecture and scale,” Krier said. “The question becomes why we cannot admire a great architect who was also a criminal.”

Krier added that Nazi architecture is criticized more than other industries affiliated with Nazism, such as Volkswagen or factories that supplied bombs for the war.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many new architectural projects were initiated, but Von Moos said this phase of development is yet to be fully completed. Lacking the economic power to become “a true capital of Germany,” Berlin continues to be a subject of debate for urban planners, he added, particularly in light of its varied building successes and failures in the last 30 years.

Other speakers expressed hope that Berlin could become a thriving metropolis. Volker Hassemer, a former member of the Berlin House of Representatives, discussed possible future conditions for Berlin’s development.

“Berlin must be aware of its importance and why it is seeking to obtain global importance,” Hassemer said.

Hassemer explained that Berlin’s importance stems in part from the city’s open-minded atmosphere. He added that the spirit of Berlin discourages an “us vs. them” attitude, making it open to new people and fresh beginnings.

“[Berlin in the 1990s] was a place for people who did not know what they wanted or where they wanted to be,” New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman ’80 said. “It was a very accepting place.”

Four students interviewed at the symposium said they enjoyed hearing about the German public’s reception of their buildings. Edward Hsu ARC ’13 said the symposium would have been too abstract without these accounts.

“I feel there was a good balance between theoretical approaches and real-life projects,” said Jessica Angel, an intern at the New York-based firm Eisenman Architects.

The Berlin Wall was demolished on Nov. 9, 1989.

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