After the Wall fell and reunification followed, the re-establishment of Berlin as a cultural centre, would be a symbolic act as important to the German people as rebuilding its capital. The Altes Museum, inaugurated in 1876, was reopened after substantial renovations in December 2001. The event marked the end of the first stage in the masterplan to renovate the city’s Museumsinsel (Museum Island) – declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. The formidable, five-building museum complex, devised in 1841 was finally completed in 1930. A few years later, 70% of it lay in ruin.
The venue for Kultur:Stadt (Culture:City), The Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), lies elsewhere the city. This ambitious exhibition and associated lectures, film screenings, concerts, sound installations and conferences, will take a critical eye to the relationship between the architecture of culture and the social reality of the 21st century, and aims to show the impact of art and culture on cities from a worldwide perspective.
Some of the most spectacular and innovative building projects of our age: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, 1993-1997, by Frank Gehry; Tate Modern, London, 1994-2000 and The Tate Modern Project, 2004-2016, by Herzog & de Meuron, and the Guangzhou Opera House, 2002-2010 by Zaha Hadid Architects, will be put under scrutiny. In an effort to determine what lessons have been learned, their historic predecessors: Sydney Opera House, 1957-1973 by Jørn Utzon; Kulturhuset, Stockholm, 1965-1974 by Peter Celsing Arkitektkontor; Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1971-1977 by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, will be studied closely. In contrast, the inspection of community-generated projects, at the opposite end of the financial scale, like Detroit Soup also forms part of the agenda. Set up three years ago by Kate Daughdrill and Jessica Hernandez, Soup describes itself as a public dinner and collaborative situation. A democratic experiment in micro-funding, it functions as a hub bringing together various creative communities in Detroit. Around 40 people sat down at the first dinner – numbers now average 225 per month. The project has moved from funding artists in need of a little money to get a project underway, to a wide variety of community activities that have included cleaning up public parks. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to study initiatives such as The Centre Pompidou Mobile, launched in 2011, a touring exhibition that uses an adaptable, collapsible, tent-like structure to bring the experience of visiting a national collection of art to those remote from cultural centres.
The often criticised European Capital of Culture scheme was started in 1985 with the idea of creating opportunities for cities to generate considerable cultural, social and economic benefits, to help foster urban regeneration, and to change their image by raising their visibility and international profile. More than 40 cities from Stockholm to Genoa, Athens to Glasgow and Cracow to Porto have so far been designated. The effectiveness of the scheme will be discussed and evaluated, via examples such as Kunsthaus Graz, built in 2003 by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier.
The architecture of libraries as ‘Spaces of Information’ will also be considered, amongst them the Seattle Central Library, Washington, USA, designed by a team led by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus. Described by the influential Arch Daily website, as ‘more than a mere library, but an enhaced public space around knowledge,’ SCL represents an attempt at re-defining the traditional concept of a library by organizing itself into spatial compartments each dedicated to, and equipped for, specific duties. In an age where information is accessible anywhere, it makes curatorship of content the key component to making the library vital.
Ironically, by 2025, when renovations are due for completion, unless those responsible keep a very close eye on developments and adapt accordingly, the debates raised by events such as Kultur:Stadt (Culture:City) may have transformed our ideas about the form our cultural institutions should take to such a degree that the Museumsinsel will already be moribund.
Images from top
Seattle Central Library, USA, 2004
Office for Metropolitan Architecture in joint venture with LMN
Photo Philippe Ruault
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1977
Architects Studio Piano & Rogers
Architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers
Photo courtesy RPBW, Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Kunsthaus Graz, Austria, 2003
Architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier
Photo Universalmuseum Joanneum/Christian Plach
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain,1997
Architect Frank O Gehry
Photo David Heald
©The Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, New York
Centre Pompidou Mobile, France
Architects Patrick Bouchain and Loïc Julienne
Photo Loïc Julienne
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