Despite the fact that it is not now, nor ever has been, the physical or cultural heart of the city, the place involved in the competition represents (but, above all, has represented) one of the most typical, characteristic and specific moments of a form of urban growth and development, of which the city as a whole provides (or, rather, provided) one of the most eloquent examples. Great Berlin, the Berlin of stone and of the Mietskaserne (including those developed by Hegemann, Döblin and Benjamin, to be clear) no longer exists, annihilated by the events of a tragic and still too recent past.
The Berlin of today, the fat, “American” Berlin, is of no interest to us. It exists, but it remains separate from history, from the continuity of the city’s metropolitan history. The progressive loss of an express cultural identity, primarily through the deterioration of the physical aspect of the constructed city, has been a constant factor over the last thirty years, both in Berlin and elsewhere. However, it is here, more than elsewhere, that contradictions have exploded in the failure to identify an alternative line of development. That is to say, in the inability (but also in the express lack of desire) to identify a continuity with a dark past that still arouses distant fears, not without a sense of guilt. These contradictions are expressed in the inability to apply models of intervention and development other than an abstract and occasional implementation of hastily composed architecture, in keeping with the canons of an excessively easy and rootless internationalism.
Berlin is not Dallas.
It is for this series of reasons that we felt the competition provided a useful opportunity for more general reflection on the real possibilities for intervention on the constructed city today. The desolate plot facing onto Lützowplatz (evidently one of the most typical with respect to the aforementioned contradictions) was offered as a laboratory for testing and re-proposing an urban hypothesis able to rediscover the reasons for its continuity, historical roots and cultural motivations primarily in its relationship with the history of the city.
In our case, by extending into the ground only recently purged of the history of the city and its architecture, these roots seek out the elements of a complex development where the specific intervention techniques are accompanied by progressive modifications in terms of building types, shapes and the figurative nature of the building. Evidently, the seasons of history that we have focused on by alluding to their styles and sometimes even mimicking their general and detailed figurative arrangements, correspond to a specific taking of sides.
They correspond to a decision based not so much on the revival of an easily identifiable linguistic unit, but above all on the desire to reconnect the architecture of the present with the seasons of its past that best express the congruity between the form of the architectural object and its meanings on a city scale, that best grasp the links between a project concept and a more general city concept that does not elude the specific nature of the role played by the architectural project and its construction outcomes.
It is in this sense that we should also interpret a certain rejection of the more commodified forms of contemporary building production on the one hand, and, on the other, of a purely literary hypothesis reduced to mere ideology, together with the option of a hypothesis of salvaging a degree of consistency and dignity for building, which has proved so difficult to achieve, and even more so to pursue, particularly over recent years.
This consistency and dignity form a whole with the various levels of urban decoration that have mostly disappeared, but without which the very concept of the city (interpreted in its historic continuity) is dissolved with no possibility for it to be recovered.
The subtle mechanism of this complex expressive game, this laborious archaeological exercise based on facts and reports on an event that is still contemporary in many ways, has enabled us to develop our model of intervention. Precisely because of its deliberate intention to retie the threads of a dialogue interrupted prematurely, we feel this model of intervention could make a useful contribution to the reappropriation of a dynamic relationship between the architecture of the city, its civil history and its building culture.
Our proposal therefore essentially takes into account this precise desire and intends to give the portion of the city identified by the plot involved in the competition a meaning and a role in proportion to its newly discovered central function.
It is consequently a question of giving shape and urban dignity to a plot where the deterioration of the historic building has not yet made way for the identification of a residential arrangement able to redeem its values and functions.
As a result, we have organized the building quantities available, firstly taking into account the primary need for making them correspond to the predominant urban functions (square, street, public spaces, etc.), in ways able to unequivocally define their meaning and their function within the city. By respecting and encompassing existing constructions in the new buildings, we have thus organized our intervention around three main cores that rediscover their continuity and congruity around the outer perimeter of the block (Einemstrasse, Lutzowplatz, Lutzowstrasse).
In their turn, these three blocks are essentially organized around a “linear” perimeter, which constitutes the external edge of the block, and a series of elements transversal to it that protrude deeply towards the centre of the block itself in keeping with different models.
The differences of scale and the typological deviations between these two complementary moments of the intervention have been used to characterize the two main levels on which our proposal works:
a) the scale of the city, that is to say of its large roads and squares;
b) the smaller scale of the building within the block, with its small streets, internal courtyards and places of passage between public metropolitan areas and the more intimate aspects of city life: homes, leisure, play, strolling.
The moments of intersection between these two levels of spatial and typological organization in the project, which mediate the more typical moments of the entire volumetric organization, are primarily characterized by marking the moments of external enclosure of the three blocks, with the barely noticeable definition of tower elements protruding out from the body in a continuous line with a view to volumetrically concluding the crowning elements of the three sub-blocks.