Berlin is something of an artistic Mecca in Europe attracting millions and generations of artists from around the world making it one of the most vibrant cities and a culture capital. All is not quiet on the architectural front however. There are thousands of dissenting voices with regards to the direction that the city’s urban planning has taken in the past decade. The German newspaper der Spiegel has described it as an “architectural wasteland”. So what ails Berlin’s urban planning department?
Money for one is a problem. The onrush on real estate investments and developments seems to have created what der Spiegel describes as “aesthetic opportunism” which drives thousands of real estate investors to put numerous cheap construction projects in the city. Berlin adopted an open arms policy towards investors at the turn of the millennium without proper vision for the architectural future of the city and the result was the rudderless building boom that has been witnessed in the last decade. Buildings are coming up which are “as charming as the cash register”. Several government buildings and building areas were auctioned to investors to put up architectural facades without regard to what Berliners actually want for their city. This pure commercial motive is what has created Berlin’s “architectural wasteland”.
Did Berlin Miss Opportunities to Shape its Urban Architecture
The fall of the Berlin Wall two decades ago at first created new opportunities but the city’s new urban planners embraced an anti-modern “critical reconstruction” which was a throwback to the city’s past architectural heritage. So Berlin missed the first opportunity to truly define its architectural future after the reunification. While Berlin’s general architectural landscape has been stuck in a stillbirth since the early 90s, the city has experienced some architectural wonders over the past two decades, such as the Berlin Jewish Museum, the German Historical Museum, and the DZ Bank Building. Other notable architectural exceptions to Berlin’s dearth of innovation in the architectural sphere include Norman Forster’s Reichstag face-lift.
Building 21st Century Berlin: Collective approaches
Many developers are busy building new luxury houses for the city’s wealthy elite, a trend which has been described as the “Russification” of Berlin. The social housing schemes have come to a halt and the city is busy building for the high earners. But Berlin is also changing old building habits and embracing more collective approaches to urban development which include citizen participation in urban planning and development. An example of this collective approach to the 21st century urban development can be seen in the Holzmarkt project which is based near the Spree River and offers hope that Berlin may adopt bolder and more innovative architectural designs in harmony with the aspirations of city residents.