When its first seeds were presented in 1977, Berlin: A Green Archipelago was a quiet, prescient manifesto. Oswald Mathias Ungers and a number of colleagues at Cornell University deviated from the intellectual tenets of current reconstruction efforts, seen in the post-war development of European cities, to propose a new model for the "shrinking city". The text's idea of a polycentric urban system really took hold in the 1990s, as urban planning discourse turned towards socioeconomic considerations of ebbing and flowing growth.
Lars Müller Publishers has now released a new edition, under the revised title The City in the City – Berlin: A Green Archipelago, featuring previously unpublished material and situating the work within Berlin's planning history. Alongside interviews with co-authors Rem Koolhaas, Peter Riemann, Hans Kollhoff, and Arthur Ovaska, the new edition features a previously unpublished version of the manifesto by Rem Koolhaas who came to Cornell, in part, to collaborate with Ungers.
Karen Lohrmann, an artist, urbanist and writer based in Berlin, jumps into this new edition after nearly forty years of urban development hindsight, to marvel at how the reconsidered text expands and informs urbanism discourse into the 21st century. Lohrmann's review of the book, entitled All things considered, digs into the manifesto's origins and its place in contemporary Berlin.
— intro by Amelia Taylor-Hochberg
All things considered (2014)
It is like reading a script that isn’t up for production. It has what it takes: the flashbacks and hints to come back to, the evidence, the little personal stories that make it all intriguing—all in tandem with the forensic work of the two editors. It is not meant to be a script but, given the development that Berlin has gone through since the fall of the wall and German reunification, a critical documentary could be a dynamic approach to navigate the Green Archipelago. A documentary provides space for evidence and imagination. It integrates the audience, it lets us develop our own scenes, position ourselves, become extras in the story. Those who have known West-Berlin during the 1970s—no matter whether through film or first-hand experience—recall the instability, the fog, the settings, and day-to-day living, and now that this critical edition has been published, may be able to juxtapose those recollections with what is happening in Berlin today, as this is being written.
Since 1977, with slight but as we learn crucial variations on the title from Berlin: A Green Archipelago to The City in the City—Berlin: A Green Archipelago, and its more or less direct German translation Die Stadt in der Stadt—Berlin das grüne Stadtarchipel, to Cities within the city, this work has been known as the first ever reflection on a contemporary city with The Green Archipelago instead is a reflection about a city in decline within its fixed territorydeclining population. Originally drafted for a small circle of politicians in Berlin, then published as a humble pamphlet by Studioverlag for Architektur in Cologne and at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and shortly after in issue No. 19 of Lotus International focused on the urban block, L’isolato urbano, it was never the loud or groundbreaking publication you would find on every architect's desk along with the few select others around that time. On the contrary, it was passed around among the few, very much under the radar, as if it were the ultimate secret weapon. This makes the meticulous work of the coeditors of this new publication, Florian Hertweck and Sébastien Marot, a mesmerizing endeavor.
What was mostly known as a somewhat odd contribution to that issue of Lotus took a provocative stand within an editorial selection that initiated softly elaborating on the genealogy of the urban block, but then proceeded to indeed explosive content on urban renewal which would raise many eyebrows today. The unquestioned, mainstream content of other contributors including Leon Krier, Manuel de Solà-Morales, Josef-Paul Kleihues, James Stirling, and Rob Krier, were praising ‘urbanity’ but actually plotted its erasure: all for the sake of formal exercises of dubious merit with respect to the needs of the city at the time. An array of reactionary architectural styling for a city as an isolated prisoner on life support. From today’s perspective, the Lotus editorial’s conclusion that the featured projects suggested “models” based on an already developed “appropriate theory” which “corresponds to the punk view of post-modernism,” is indeed disconcerting.
Hertweck and Marot began work on this book almost six years ago, shortly after the death of German architect Oswald Mathias Ungers, in 2007. Until then, Ungers was regarded as the lead character behind the work. Nearly twenty years into the redevelopment of Berlin since 1989, in the wake of an armada of competitions, political agendas, massive master- planning and the resulting evidence, and over 35 years after the first publication of The City in the City—Berlin: A Green Archipelago, Hertweck and Marot have opened an archive revealing many narratives, contradictions, vanities, and odd ends. Now, along with the editors, we must reconfigure our view and expectations of this proposal.
Hertweck and Marot cannot have known what was to come, instead found themselves piecing together possibilities, trying to get to the bottom of many lines of thought. They highlight the gaps and offer them for interpretation, letting us catch a whiff of what was on the This text clearly specifies the need for urban editing rather than urban planning.horizon then. Those who know Berlin today, will agree that their work makes the worlds of local politics, economics, and the usual interests much more comprehensible. Just as we begin to understand the other that the city has become, they point at the realities that made, and make, it happen. So, all things considered, this publication on the Green Archipelago must be on our desks today.
We learn that the proposal was the byproduct of what was officially one of three summer schools, organized by Ungers in collaboration with Rem Koolhaas, Peter Riemann, Hans Kollhoff and Arthur Ovaska at Cornell University. Ungers had strong ties with Berlin where he had taught at the Technische Universität, during the 1960s, developing a range of more thought- than action-provoking approaches to the city’s fabric. This 1977 summer school was entitled The Urban Villa and focused on Berlin. It followed the 1976 summer school The Urban Block directed at New York City, and preceded the final one on The Urban Garden, again focused on Berlin, in the summer of 1978. Positioned prominently in the original eleven theses published in Lotus 19, the Urban Villa as a topic at first seems alien in the context of the others. Compared to the bold message of the Green Archipelago suggesting a city of many islands instead of one condensed center, the Urban Villa is an aspect which really surfaces only after 1989, when the array of leftover urban typologies rises to transient prominence as the world begins to understand Berlin’s abrupt blueprint. Today, the local code of the Urban Villa, clearly outlined in 1977, has long been diluted into the vastness of other urban connotations of the ‘new’ Berlin, from Berlin Upper East Side to Palais Belle Kolle, signature forums, carrés and experiences, in other words quotations. The Green Archipelago instead is a reflection about a city in decline within its fixed territory, marking a new debate on cities and the cultural landscape beyond territory that developed simultaneously—clearly the context in which Berlin was operating then.
That the Urban Villa turned into a side act of the proposal puts the focus on Rem Koolhaas. Upon his arrival in Berlin in the summer of 1977, he confronted Ungers with Berlin: A Green Archipelago, a six-page typescript which opens with the words, “Any future ‘plan’ for Berlin has to be a plan for a city in retrenchment.” This text clearly specifies the need for urban editing rather than urban planning. In other words, working with what has remained of the city—a mix of wilderness, interruptions, better or worse remnants of city fabric and single monuments, with the addition of ‘retroactive architecture’ such as Leonidov’s Palace of Culture, Magnitogorsk, or Mies van der Rohe’s skyscraper for Friedrichstrasse, to be viewed as a contemporary dualism or, as Koolhaas put it, a “polarity Nature-Culture or Nature-Metropolis.” He further elaborated on a system of nature as synthetic and “an environment completely invented by man”—a line of thought that in recent years has driven the cultural debate on the era of the Anthropocene. We are offered a glimpse of the early Koolhaas deeply immersed in Delirious New York which would be published only a year later, and thus gain access to his approach on the city as manifesto instead of cities based on manifestos, on the city as an intricate and immersive system as opposed to a static somewhat decommissioned given.
At one particular moment—and this would be the fiction part of the documentary—there must have been the decision to turn this document into the framework of the entire summer school, which as we learn is only the facade, or trailer, for a much greater endeavor: that of winning the directorship of the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) on the Berlin horizon for 1979. We learn that from the beginning, this was a highly political proposal for the future of (West) Berlin, something impossible to conclude from the version published in Lotus 19. In those years, the Wall had sunk into the psyche of Berlin and the world, and no one would openly consider its implications for the future. The political comes into the equation only now that we are offered the much more comprehensive and contextual take on the same proposal through Hertweck and Marot’s work. Their interviews with protagonists Koolhaas, Riemann, Kollhoff, and Ovaska manage to clarify that Koolhaas’ original typescript was never circulated during the summer school. Instead, in a back chamber, it was merged and the city as an intricate and immersive system as opposed to a static somewhat decommissioned given.blurred to the extent of defusing it, to make it work for local politics and universal acceptance. Koolhaas’ original Green Archipelago never resurfaced after he presented it to Ungers that summer. Koolhaas himself did not keep a copy. Instead, Hertweck and Marot have found it between files in Ungers’ archive, along with the full array of rewrites and the final published version. This indeed exquisite corpse rests well along with the many other stories on a desperate Berlin constantly attempting to reinvent itself.
The interviews further reveal that none of the protagonists believe, nor did they believe at the time, in the potential of the overall proposal as a response to what the city was becoming since the 1960s, no matter if Cities within the city (the Lotus 19 version) or Berlin: A Green Archipelago (Koolhaas’ original manuscript). In Europe the Architettura Radicale movement had already staged their critique on laissez-faire and total control in multiple ways, and East and West Berlin were among the playgrounds for variations on both. American cities had been reality-checked, rendered as ‘ecologies,’ and declared territories for ‘learning,’ at once admired and despised. Still, or maybe because, it is 35 years later, all four protagonists, in their own way, consider The City in the City—Berlin: A Green Archipelago only as a conceptual exercise, a political campaign, a film script, utopia.
INSTABILITY (OR: GREATNESS)
This confirms the initial suspicion that after all, none of this ever really concerned Berlin as a specific case, but much more the shaping of individual curricula. That neither Ungers nor his collaborators seriously reviewed it, especially in the years of loud debates following the fall of the wall, only underlines the confusion and desperation in architectural thinking at the time. One reason may be that the Green Archipelago stands for an attitude according to which much is possible, with or without much effect, a virtue not to be underestimated given our event and entertainment doped perception of culture today.
This indeed exquisite corpse rests well along with the many other stories on a desperate Berlin constantly attempting to reinvent itself.That the discussion has shifted, even given the diverse domains in which we operate, beautifully surfaced with Berlin-based periodical 032c’s fourth edition headlined Embrace Instability, published in the winter of 2002. The editors suggest to celebrate “the unstable states where everything can happen,” and feature a selection of black and white photographs by Michael Schmidt titled West Berlin 1980s. Schmidt’s visual material, in its most fragmented way, eerily evokes the atmosphere of the summer of the Green Archipelago, 1977. West Berlin was an icon, no more no less, and as such it cruised worlds and minds, becoming a set for all kinds of strange encounters. This series, despite its ten year production period between 1976 and 1986, is the ultimate set to immerse us in Berlin then and now. A sea of possibilities—if you can handle it.
Striving for a return to ‘greatness’ is an uncanny substitute for everything that this city doesn't need. What it Does to Your City was the title of Cyprien Gaillard’s performance at Berlin’s Schinkel Pavillon in September 2012. A group of caterpillars digging away with expressive gesticulations lit up by fireworks, blurred by smoke and fog, all driven by the beat of massive xylophones. Revisiting the scene the next day, one sensed an almost appeasing dystopia. We know, all has turned out to be very different from what was anticipated back then. A provisional perfect ending for a documentary.
— Karen Lohrmann, artist, urbanist and writer, based in Berlin. She monitors, depicts and interprets landscape, from terrain to territory, from premise to significance. The notion of abandonment is at the center of her investigations touching issues of nature, entropy, laissez-faire and total control.
Karen Lohrmann is an artist, urbanist and writer currently based in Berlin. Through her work she monitors, depicts and interprets landscape, from terrain to territory, from premise to significance. She studied art history, scenic design and architecture in Aachen, Zurich and Berlin, worked for ...