The Known Unknown: Berlin’s Hansaviertel

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been to a place countless times but you had no idea how special a place it is? There is quite a fascination to the discovery of already known places. In this case it is the Hansaviertel in Berlin, an area that I had always thought of as being situated somewhere else and that holds famous architecture of some of the most renowned architects of the Bauhaus, Neues Bauen and Modernism, such as Walter Gropius, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto, and Max Taut.

Only last year did I begin to explore the architecture of Berlin, which is an exciting place in this regard. Berlin is not exactly a beautiful city in a conventional sense, but its history has led to the most unusual, if not unique, developments. The grandeur of the 19th and early 20th century was followed by a war that left Berlin in rubble. The Cold War that ensued and led to the separation of the town and its people by the Berlin Wall turned Berlin into a battlefield of the architecture of two opposing systems – without actually having any money for it. Reunification, the moving of the government from Bonn to Berlin and the latest boom have added to a seemingly endless frenzy of a city that never ceases to change, a city that is never finished. You leave Berlin for a week to go on a holiday and when you come back, you won’t recognise it.

The Hansaviertel in the heart of West Berlin saw its splendour of exuberant Gründerzeit style houses almost completely destroyed in 1943. Ten years later Berlin decided to build a model future city on its grounds and invited the biggest international star architects to develop a new settlement – in rivalry to the truly gigantic and monumental Stalinallee (later Karl-Marx-Allee), that was being built in East Berlin. Both East and West wanted to show to the world that it is they who provided the best living conditions to their respective citizens. While the Stalinallee provided representative flats in which you can easily get lost, the Hansaviertel was equipped with small flats in primarily functional buildings of small, medium and high-rise format, loosely scattered, each surrounded by specifically designed green space. Two Brutalist churches, an underground station, a shopping area, a cinema (now a theatre), and a library as well as some cafés and restaurants (schools were nearby) completed a mostly independent living unit.

As I leave Bellevue S-Bahn station I’m greeted by two of the five highrisers (“Punkthäuser”) from 1957, when the new settlement was presented as the site of the Interbau exhibition. Are they pretty? No. All of the houses had to be built with as little money as possible and it shows, just like their age. Right behind them is the familiar Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), where I saw Macbeth, Brave New World and The Grapes of Wrath in the English language as a teenager. It presents itself in a modernist individual, yet modest style with a naked Henry Moore bronze sunbathing. Smaller houses that remind me of the holiday camps of my childhood pop up here and there. They look as if living here is attractive. All the houses have their balconies directed towards the south and the green space makes the whole place look very comfortable. It’s mostly clean and graffiti is rare. Yes, I understand why the people who moved in in the 1950’s and 60’s have never moved out. Beauty in an aesthetic sense is not a criterion to apply here, but a highly individual character of each single building can’t be denied. It is this specific character that you get when every single building has a different designer.

The most famous of them all is the Oscar Niemeyer Haus, Niemeyer’s only building in all of Germany. It is a crazy one: it stands on filigree feet, which makes you wonder how they can possibly carry such a large building. The lift, that stops only at two floors, is kept in an extra tower outside the house. London residents may know the Balfron Tower (1967) that has a similar concept (but looks less pretty…).

The lofty, green Hansaviertel, that is situated right between the two city centres, feels like a world of its own. But then again every Berlin Kiez does, each an intriguing little universe in itself. I can’t wait to explore the next one.

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Thanks to Ian and Jason for their support.

Half Term Photo Fun – 2015 – Arch

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The kids picked Arch as the theme for #Halftermphotofun and in my mind I thought, ah it’ll just be all bridges and churches and while we certainly got some of those we had lots of other great interpretations proving yet again that my kids know better than I do.  The humble arch is, once you start looking, everywhere around us both in nature and the built environment as it it is the building block to so much of the world around us from an architectural point of view.  Writing that sentence I’ve just noticed that architecture begins with arch !  I did know that there were different styles of arch but didn’t realise that there were quite so many designs, I think I came across about 15 styles doing a little bit of research – the Ogee arch anyone ?  I’m not sure how many styles we’ve managed to have represented here but quite a few I reckon.

What I particularly liked when you see all of the arches together here is how inquisitive it made me feel, what’s through there ? adventure ? mystery ? are they portals to another world ? and then there were the different interpretations, arch enemies/ rivals of the rugby team forming an arch in the scrum, the arch of the foot or the eye, the fun the little boy is having making an arch and I think it was this photo that made me put the family photo at the top, if you can’t find an arch you can just make your own.

As always thanks so much to all of you who took part contributing and interpreting throughout the week, it’s been great fun as always.  I hope I haven’t missed any out but if I have then do get in touch and I’ll amend the gallery.  We’ll be back for Easter, unless we throw a random weekendphotofun in so if you are reading this and want to take part then you are more than welcome, just follow me on twitter @ianstreet67 or keep an eye on the twitter hashtags #halftermphotofun, #easterphotofun, #summerphotofun etc you get the drift.  Thanks everyone.

Generative Art

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As I often do on a Saturday morning I popped into @coloursmayvary to check out the latest publications and give my eyes a visual treat with the lovely prints to buy.  As well as being a gorgeous shop they often have stuff going on, the other week they had old school printing machines in there and they’d been running letterpress workshops, today there was this huge mural that you could get busy on.  It’s been created as part of the run up to the British Art Show which is coming to Leeds in October and will apparently feature the largest collection of contemporary art in the UK.  Prior to this there will be all sorts of activities in the run up to the launch.

The illustration / mural above is part of the lead in, it’s been created by three artists with a Leeds connection – Lucas Jubb, Jay Cover and Kristyna Baczynski - each one of whom has created elements that have then been generated by code to produce this huge mural.  Apparently this is a new process called Generative Art/Design.  We the public can then get involved and colour in the mural and when it’s complete it will tour round Leeds in the run up to the British Art Show.

Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of colouring in ?  I found it quite hypnotic to sit there grab a pen and fill bits of the mural in, as you are colouring, little bits of the city appear – The Corn Exchange, Town Hall, Broadcasting House all connected in a random fashion (presumably due to the programming code) with swirls and a myriad of different shapes.  As I was trying to stay between the lines (not always successfully) it made me ponder a bit about Leeds and it’s future and perhaps this mural represents the ideal vision where technology, collaboration and interaction form the basis for the city and it’s people to thrive?

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Sketching

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The ubiquitousness of phones in pockets means that the places where we are get documented in a way that’s never happened before, quick snap, up on instagram move on.  The instantaneous nature of this raises question on what are you actually seeing and documenting, although for those of us with no artistic ability whatsoever perhaps we are aiming to capture the drawing of that moment in our minds eye.  I was down in London earlier this week and caught up with my good mate @phildean1963 and of course we headed to the pub for a few beers and a bite to eat.

Phil has started a new project this year where he is trying to sketch pubs and restaurants that he goes in so as we sipped our pints and chatted Phil got to work and without hardly making any effort, glided and swept his pen across the notebook and in 10 mins had sketched the pub we were in (The Peasant – above).  I was quite mesmerised watching him do this and seeing the sketch take shape, where he started on the page, which bit of the pub he drew first and how it all came together.  It captured things in a way that is so far removed from the phone shot and looking at it again now it brings back memories in a way that my photograph of the pub simply doesn’t.  Now I don’t suffer from jealousy but I tell you I hugely admire people with talent and I’d love to be able to do this.  My dad loved to sketch and paint watercolour and one of my kids is taking a real interest in art and will often doodle and draw when we are out and about.  Appears it missed a generation with me though which is a real shame.

I’ve seen a few of Phil’s drawings before and what he really likes is to put a bit of detail in which he didn’t really have time to do when we were out.  Yesterday though he was at it again.  Talented guy and an all round good egg to boot.

 

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The Awkward Press

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The light bulb moment, we all have it don’t we? At some point, somehow something will pop into our heads, quite how it happens is one of the great wonders but happen it does.  The Awkward Press have taken this idea and want to help us turn on the creative switches to our own light bulbs.  A couple of days ago @24Tom tagged me in a post on Instagram from The Awkward Press, a brilliant light bulb to signify a new idea for Leeds and beyond that they have kicked off this week.  The post said this :

Good Morning! We’re the awkward press. The brain child of a small creative studio based in Leeds. Our purpose? Well, you might have noticed, the news is a pretty bleak place at the moment, we don’t’ really like hearing it, seeing it, or talking about it. But we do like to stay on top of what’s going on in the world, so… Our aim at the awkward press is to create a news feed that highlights, the nice things, the inspiring things and the great people that do awesome things. Whilst also encouraging creativity, because that’s what we love! But who are our journalists, researchers, illustrators, photographers? You lot! Every week we will set a series of simple creative briefs, that won’t need hard work, you could probably do them on the bus, or whilst having a cuppa, but all will be varied and linked to the news in some way. It will be a sort of creative exercise, but mainly, a bit of fun. Our favourites responses to the briefs will be posted throughout the week, and in turn this feed will become, The Awkward Press. For now, like, share and tell people about us. We’re teaming up with one of our favourite little independent businesses in Leeds for a nifty prize give away for the best response to one of this weeks briefs. But we need some followers first! Tag us if you do decide to share, so we know who were behind us from the start. It’s always good… for future reference… Thanks guys, and have a great day!

Each brief comes as an instagram post and while it’s obviously early days I love this idea, although not being a ‘creative’ type it will I think often be a challenge to come up with something, but I’m going to have a think about it and try it out.  As I’ve been running our photofun themes for a couple of years with my kids it’s interesting to be on the other end of this process.

As I can’t draw or do graphic design type things I’m going to have to think of otherways I might be able to interpret the briefs and I think that if people get involved then it will be fascinating to see the varying different ways that people might choose to interpret the briefs as well of course of their take on that brief.  The current brief is below and I’ve had a little go at coming up with something but I really hope this idea comes off, people get involved and The Awkward Press becomes a fantastic creative alternative narrative to the events of the day.

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Song for Coal

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This year sees the 30th anniversary of the miners strike, an event that is still etched in the minds and consciousness of many, and which did so much to change the political and social landscape of Britain – whatever side of the political fence you happened to be on, things would not be the same.

To mark this event Nick Crowe and Ian Robertson have produced an amazing audio visual piece that is currently showing in the chapel at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  You enter through what at first appears to be total pitch black, you can hear haunting singing and monk like chanting while projected up on the wall is what appears to be a stunning visual representation of a stain glass window.  As your eyes slowly adjust you can find a bench and sit down and let yourself be immersed in sound and visual.

The ‘window’ is an astonishing thing, firstly that it looks so right projected as it is inside a church but it takes a while to get used to as it is moving and flickering as you watch it.  The colours are incredibly vivid and your eyes try to work out what is happening.  The window is comprised of 152 panels and each panel contains a film that looks at the history of coal, from it’s origins before mankind through to it powering the industrial revolution and beyond.  As the films play in the panels it creates a hypnotic kaleidoscopic effect that is enhanced by the music and singing (sung by Opera North) that accompanies the visuals.  You see flickers of plants, cars, flame, sculptures, Davy lamps, miners faces morphing constantly across the window to a mesmerising effect.

As I sat in the darkness, eyes transfixed by the visual and sound surrounding me you could hear occasional words like ‘it made us strong’ but it brought memories to me of the coalman delivering sacks to the house, of lighting the fire that heated the house, through to the strike and it’s devastating consequences and then made me think of our need to move beyond fossil fuels so that what once powered our world remains buried below the surface.

 

 

The Singing Ringing Tree

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I’d heard of and seen a few photos of the The Singing Ringing Tree (designed by Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu) and was quite enamoured by the idea of this wind powered sculpture up on the moors above Burnley so took a trip over to have a look on the weekend.  It’s described as a Panopticon which is apparently a structure providing a comprehensive view which it certainly does over the town below and across to Pendle Hill, a twist on the panopticon prison design which has a concept of all prison cells being able to seen by one guard in the middle without the prisoners knowing who is being watched.  The tree is part of a series of similar sculptures around the area including the Halo, Atom and Coloufields.

It’s an unusual structure, individual metal tubes, some with slits in allowing the wind to play sounds.  On the day I visited it was just a faint whisper but I can imagine that it would sound pretty eerie when the wind is blowing.  I liked that as you moved around the sculpture it takes on different shapes and conjures images…. an alien spaceship or a metallic ostrich head were two that came to mind and I particularly liked the way that despite all of the individual pipes being straight the way they have been put together reveals some interesting curves.

Overall I rather liked the Singing Ringing Tree and next time I’m over that way will have to take a detour to see the other panopticons.

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