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Review of Berlin's Travelling Studio Talk and Exhibition at LAU

Architecture

Faculty, students, and visitors gathered on May 16 for the opening of the exhibition covering LAU’s travelling studio during the summer of 2010 which took place in Berlin under the supervision of Elie Harfouche and Chantal El Hayek. The event began with an introduction by the two instructors revealing the itinerary: the trip was over 9 days, included 26 students, and observed the works of architects such as Peter Eisenman, Friedrich Schinkel, Hans Scharoun, Mies Van Der Rohe, Aldo Rossi, Renzo Piano, Walter Gropius, and Zaha Hadid only to name a few. Harfouche described the city as “an open book of architecture” considering it one of the best traveling studio destinations yet.

 
The series of talks kicked off with a lecture by Jean-Marc Abcarius of Abcarius Burns Architecture Design, Berlin on the morphology of Berlin “Assemblage and Discontinuity”. The presenter begins by comparing Berlin to other European capitals concluding that it is as large as London but is one of the least dense cities in Europe. The dramatic change Berlin has encountered over the past sixty years is associated with the idea of a vision, remembering the past and striving for a future, experimenting extensively perhaps to develop an identity, usually inspired by the politics of the time. The change extends to the cinema where the lecturer compares Metropolis (1927) with Cabaret (1972) which was adopted from Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories. A plan is then shown revealing the layers of Berlin, each of which came with a political movement or power finally resulting in what Berlin is today – “a flat city with not many monuments”. Among the most interesting layers was that of the Socialists built mostly by women in just two years which, on the urban scale, consisted of just a path and a gathering space for demonstrations.
 
 
Next, Chantal Hayek presented “Two Berlins, One Berlin: Two Decades of Globalized Traditional Architecture” in which there was a discussion on modernism, the fact that it began in the US but only took hold in Europe until World War II after which it prevailed in America. An example illustrated that fact by showing Mies Van Der Rohe’s design for a modern skyscraper in 1921 in contrast with Van Alen’s Art Deco Chrysler Building designed during roughly the same period in New York. After the modern period, during the reconstruction of Berlin, the example of Renzo Piano versus Aldo Rossi was given where the two design dramatically different buildings but “traditionalize” them with the selection of materials: Rossi’s brick is Piano’s red terra cotta for example. Moreover, Potsdamer Platz was a subject of extensive discussion, where Piano moves the public space into high rise buildings in a site where the intention was the opposite unlike Manhattan, where this action was a solution for the overpopulated city. In conclusion, Hayek studied the process of traditionalizing architectures and getting away with the designer’s character or signature as Eisenman does by using local and global grids, as I.M. Pei does by using pyramids sometimes just barely in plan, and as Zaha Hadid does by starting from her well known diagrams and moving on towards a building, all of them hiding what one may dare call their style inside a neatly packaged building abiding by the Berlin regulations.
 
 
Elie Harfouche then presented a talk titled “Political Architecture and Architectural Politics of Diplomatic Representations in Post-Reunification Berlin” discussing embassies, the history behind their prevalence in Berlin, and the significance of their architecture. A political history described what brought the status of diplomatic representation to its current state within the city. Diplomatic missions began by renting spaces, eventually reached to buying bourgeois villas until the separation took place and the capital of West Germany moved to Bonn. After the re-unification the capital was moved back to Berlin forcing one hundred and fifty embassies to move as well, which triggered an extravaganza of experimentation. The corner stone was the Foreign Office, practically the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany, in which the questioning of identity began – “which architectural style do we want? what represents us? demolish, renew, or convert the old building?”. The same questions were seemingly raised time and again with the construction of the embassies, many of which Harfouche showed pictures of and described. The architects invited to the competitions were almost always of the respective nationality, the materials were very often local, sometimes transported from the country of origin as far as India for instance. The bottom line is that there was a “frenzy of building development” and an elongated process of delicately selecting what represents the country in question, often the designer’s country of citizenship, but also an opportunity for the architect to face a new challenge, reach a new level of experimentation, an occurrence proven beyond reasonable doubt when a photo of Rem Koolhas’s Dutch embassy was placed alongside the Seattle Public Library and another example of OMA’s work. Several quotations of descriptions by the architects of their commissions revealed their satisfying the global only to explode their personal signature into the building, interestingly similar to the DZ Bank by Frank Gehry who’s interior and exterior were juxtaposed by Chantal Hayek earlier. The struggle of identity is also well expressed in the example of the embassies of the Nordic states which are grouped with a harmonious wall inside which each building expresses the architect’s interpretation of his country’s architectural identity, or perhaps his very own.
 
 
After the series of lectures visitors moved to the exhibition hall where the display, prepared by Elie Harfouche and Chantal El Hayek using the services of Archifolio.com, took the form of an installation consisting of a semi-enclosed space with punctures which gave way for projected slide shows of images or revealed profiles of architects.
 
 
 
 
At the exhibition students gave their feedback on the studio and their experience. Dr.Daccache, chairman of the department of architecture and design, described what he had seen when the 1999 traveling studio took place in Berlin, effectively an open construction site at the time, and Jean-Marc Abcarius ended by stressing the importance of the void in the city, the interstitial spaces, the happenstances resulting from unintended layers of history, all elements he believes to make Berlin what it is today – a European capital where one “can take a breath”.
 
 
 

 

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Comments

  1. maya kaskas

    im really so happy to join this website in which it brings out new point view for design and architecture thank you professor elie harfouch on this great work.

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