The Berlin Wall created a permanent divide in the city that can never be healed. Although the city would prefer to gloss over history and fill the void with generic housing units, this is not possible as the meaning of the site is too strong and the events that occurred too important to forget. Architecture and landscape can be used to communicate the memory of a site, and events that occurred on it. This site should be able to describe the political and social differences that led to the erection of the wall, and the freedoms and rights the people in the East gained upon its fall.
Even today, most of the wall’s path is undeveloped; a string of spaces weaving through the city. What was formerly an edge can now become a center for the city and a series of places for the gathering of people from both sides of the city. The path of the wall can be used to create a series of nodes in these spaces. These nodes should be utilized as spaces for the gathering of people, social events, and the communication of history in ways that are culturally understood by the German people. These types of spaces include cafes, markets, Biergärten, parks, and sports fields. The main architectural focus of this thesis, though will be a library for the Berlin Wall.
The site of the library is near the middle of the city, in a primarily residential area near public transport. The current site is an unused vacant lot, a former patrol ground for the DDR where many were caught trying to flee East Berlin and jump the wall. Most of the area was bombed out during World War II and, because of this, one can see the different styles of development that followed the war in both East and West Berlin. The site is bisected by the wall’s path which made several jogs and created a patchwork of isolated tower blocks and empty fields in what was once the densest neighborhood in the city. Although the area is now traverse-able, my observations have been that more people travel along the direction of the wall, and not across it. Thus, the divide is still in people’s minds and even though demographics have changed since then, the boundaries of the neighborhoods remain distinct and intact.
Through this thesis, I analyzed the methods by which Berliners represented their own recent history and the attempts made at addressing this important locale. From what I have seen, no plans put forth have tried to communicate the memory of the wall. The only attempts were strict preservation of a piece, or complete removal and covering up. I believe the way the memory of the wall can be preserved is through communicating the ideals and rights gained by the people of East Berlin after its fall and social interaction between the the peoples who formerly occupied either side.
The massing of the building is derived from the geometries of the surrounding structures, commonly used paths across the site, and the location of the wall. The intervention on the landscape is kept to a minimum, so as to preserve the open space that marks the former divide. The building emerges out of the landscape from both Wets and East Berlin, but the mound is broken by path of the wall, which forms a jagged rift in the land-form, illustrating the scar the wall has left in the city. But while this may form a divide in the landscape, to observers traversing the site, it creates a path, a meeting area for people of both halves of the city. The program is divided between the two buildings. The building in the former East serves as the historical archive and space for the storage of, access to, learning, and debate of information. This consists of library, computer stations, conference areas, classrooms, a cafe, and digital projection space. Here, the focus is on the assurance that the Cold War era is properly documented and communicated to the people. The building on the West, however, focuses more on the culture that developed in the West Berlin enclave. As a result of isolation, the West Berliners experienced a type of freedom not seen anywhere else. This is illustrated through spaces for gallery exhibitions and digital film screenings. Here, the focus is on creative expression and individual freedom, ideas lost on the communist side, but celebrated on the other.
Several methods are implemented to engage people in social interaction both actively and passively. Reflection can create a connection between people and their environment they would not have previously considered. This is utilized in the entry sequences to the buildings. As one descends down toward the main entrance, the former wall path emerges as a retaining structure. The reflection in the curtain wall reveals the image of being imprisoned in the East, viewing the West from behind a concrete divide.
The use of voyeurism becomes present in the building and the ideas of seeing and being seen can create social relationships both intentionally and by accident. The ability to see people without verbally engaging them opens new opportunities to form relationships, and recall the voyeuristic aspects the wall created by physically dividing a neighborhood, but still allowing instances where one could view the other side. The most obvious is the relation between inside and out. Also present are relationships of above and below, and transparent interfaces. As a result, most interior partitions are glass, essentially making the building one open space for these occurrences to spontaneously happen.
Thus, the architecture encourage public interaction through means that are meant to be both physical and psychological. The building and landscape accommodate activities such as learning, meeting, debating, and conversing that are direct and effects that create indirect interaction like reflection, viewing, and tension. Through these means and the architecture created, the impact of the Berlin Wall can be felt and the memory preserved for future generations to understand.
Status: School Project
Location: Berlin, Germany