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Social Condensers

In these projects we have attempted to formulate anew the manifesto launched by Oswald Mathias Ungers and his colleagues at Cornell University in 1977: “The City in the City – Berlin: A Green Archipelago.” In contrast to the approach to reconstruction of the European city that was popular at the time, they developed the figure of a polycentric cityscape, and pushed this to the centre of the urban planning discourse as a model for crises, recessions and demographic contraction. In order to adapt the city to the diminishing population, they suggested abandoning superfluous city districts and extending those that remained. A city of enclaves and abandoned spaces, a city of islands that differ from each other in their history, social structure and urban qualities, and of empty spaces that can either be turned back into nature and green spaces or filled with transport networks connecting the city-islands together, with drive-in cinemas and banks and supermarkets. In these projects, this model is at once taken up and inverted. It is not the empty spaces but the islands, the bodies in space, that are filled with artificial landscapes, green spaces, infrastructure and mobility facilities which match the transitoriness of metropolitan needs. They turn into models of heterogeneity, against which the spaces between them are perceived as homogeneous and enduring urban areas.

We identified areas in Berlin which already have a strong sense of place worth preserving and strengthening: the Tempelhof airfield, the Avus Nordkurve and the Teufelsberg. These enclaves were selected not on the basis of a particular preference or even of aesthetic qualities, but only because they incorporate in recognisable form political, social and technical ideas and concepts in such a way that architectural history might once again align with the history of ideas.

We consider these places as experimental social “condensers” which are marked, on the one hand, by a sedimented sense of the time and a collective visual memory, and on the other by political changes and a related change of usage. These places and their bodies undergo a two-fold transformation: firstly, they are rebuilt and extended and occupied with heterogeneous programmes and concepts; and secondly, they are woven into a network of actors and functions and thereby reintegrated into the urban context.

The design THF _Hangar Rooftop for the Tempelhof airfield could also be described as an “accessible hangar”. As we know, each of the buildings is now publicly accessible – however in this design it is not a matter of people entering the airport buildings, but of being able to wander and climb about on its elongated, arching roof. The roof is no longer a dividing line between inside and outside, private and public: the population takes possession of it, occupies and uses the architecture, storms the structure; the private building becomes an open landscape for everyone.

Both projects Avus North Curve 01 and 02 place Berlin’s only racetrack and its North Curve contained by the Autobahndreieck Funkturm (the radio tower at the motorway triangle) at the centre of investigation, imagining infrastructural landscapes of differing appearance and purpose. Architecture is here seen not merely as an accessible or inhabitable sculpture, but as a frame, stage and encouragement for a different form of social relationship. Community structures intended to allow constant reconstruction can be found here alongside spacial fusions of surfaces for stopping and moving that are produced by social activities.

The design HBT _Hacking Berlin Teufelsberg, which was joined by Frank Rieger, the spokesman of the Chaos Computer Club, inverts the functional principle of the former US Armed Forces’ flight surveillance and listening station. Instead, a place for hacker conventions and camps is established in which information is collected, evaluated and published. This publication is programmatically opposed to the encryption of information that was previously carried out by the intelligence and security services on the Teufelsberg.

The project Berlin East – June 17th 1953 differs from the other designs in so far as it raises significant processes, instead of monuments, as objects of urban research and analysis. The mapping project identifies protest actions, such as the popular uprising in the GDR on June 17th 1953, as “condensers”, which form communities and mark the urban space. As public events they are distinct from daily routines and transform the city into a shared space of action.

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