Berlin has established itself as a paradigm for European urban design. The element of its compact size pre-First World War urban districts; the emergence of suburban residential estates during the 1920s; the retrofitting and careful renewal of its compact 19th-century districts from the 1970s onwards; and the critical reconfiguration of its urban form since the 1980s are the reasons. However, Berlin never was always regarded as a model. For decades, the unflattering label “the world’s largest tenement city” – a fairly unfair appellation – functioned as a bogeyman, as did large-scale social housing developments in both East and West, which have been strongly criticized since the 1970s. Despite this, the region has escaped the suburban development that affects cities throughout the world.

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Street map of Berlin_©Michael Tompsett

A city is generated from its long-rooted heritage, context, what is actual and existent, and where we, humans, have added nothing modern. It will be a difficult effort to examine Berlin’s fractured urban structure; the city’s generic and non-generic fabric. As the world sees Berlin as a capital with a lengthy chain of terrible history and a problematic national past. As a result, Berlin’s strong centralised identity does not allow us to believe otherwise. But what if it’s only a trick of the light, a performance, and there are other sides to Berlin? As a result, it is vital to uncover all of the various layers of architecture and history that have contributed to Berlin’s non-generic or generic urban shape. When a city’s identity is diluted, we begin to grow acquainted with experience synchronization. That city’s only identity is that it no longer has one, and thus a generic area is formed. However, I feel that neither city is established generically. It has been converted. Similarly, the generic city is connected with more than just a lack of individuality. Several variables in Koolhaas’ work contribute to the depletion of history and the creation of a generic region, sometimes known as the ‘junk city.’The superficial city generates a new identity every day; it is extremely fast; vying to be bigger and better equipped, while remaining uncomplicated for easy global information sharing. It is necessary to consistently maintain the position of a contemporary city. To be the most significant on the global stage, “it needs to be the most ancient and the most modern, the most stable and the most dynamic.”

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Brandenburg Gate Berlin_©Twilight Photo

Berlin has been designated as Germany’s capital city, as well as the third biggest metropolitan region after the Rhine Ruhr and the Rhine Main. The Berlin-Cölln twin city was discovered at the crossroads of two key trade routes. It quickly became a major economic hub in Germany. The city has experienced decades of destruction and tragedy since its inception. The city is notorious for its wounds. The city was ravaged during the Thirty Year’s War and the 7 Year’s War. Berlin’s history includes not just the nineteenth century, but notably the Second World War and rebuilding. Ignoring the Cold War (the wall) everything else will likewise be cosmetic. These catastrophic occurrences have progressively shaped Berlin’s urban setting; a hybrid and repository of all the wreckage. The city features a polycentric organisation and an eclectic mix of buildings from the Kingdom of Prussia, the 1871 German Empire, the Weiman Republic, Nazi Germany, East and West Germany, and the reunified Germany. In comparison to Koolhaas’ notion of a generic city, this historical study may be referring to a non-generic skyline at the time, but the architecture of Berlin is the result of these historic occurrences, where the generic is chiselled from the non-generic.

Industrial revolution

While the industrial revolution transformed Berlin in the nineteenth century. When the economy and population grew rapidly. It has also witnessed World War One leave the country in economic and political disarray. The postwar period demanded that the existing city be urgently transformed. Gentrification and globalisation both led to attempts to enhance the look of the city and to create more visually harmonious streets, which formerly showed their history on every corner of the street. The several competitions produced what were most likely the most complicated plans. The contest between Greater Berlin and Stadknone’s first skyscraper led to unconventional concepts and approaches, including Mies Van der Rohe’s Friedrichstrasse building. High-reaching steel skeletons coated in glass are mentioned. His work had a significant impact on later contemporary architecture. However, increasing Nazism and the Nazi government soon made Germany unsuitable for modern architects, until the twentieth century, when we see the emergence of modern architecture once more. 

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Spree Painting of industrial revolution_©Juan Bosco

Moreover, the Berlin Zentrum Design includes a mass of buildings that were carefully spaced to give Berlin a new urban appearance. Four large-scale buildings were constructed with no specific purpose other than to generate a conspicuous urban expression. We may now begin to surround Berlin’s generic quarters. It would not be incorrect to describe the urban trend as pseudo-suburban or simply a dramatic stage set being constructed at the scene of the tragedy. The hyper-local characteristic of the city emerged from the post-war expressionist movement, in opposition to communist architecture and parallel to hyper-globalization. Hans Poelzig’s Great Playhouse, a result of the style, imposes cryptic shapes in concrete. “The proper knowledge of architecture is so indescribably vital because it dictates the appearance of our nation, which has been so distorted by half-hearted architecture and art of past few decades,” Poelzig said. The architects’ expressionist style undoubtedly protected the complete urban form from being obscured by the universal shape. The expressionist movement has been defined as a confluence of seemingly disparate purposes and a nearly psychedelic industrial aesthetic; a synthesis of purpose and imagination.

World War II

Furthermore, World War II is a significant part of Berlin’s history, leaving imprints just on the urban form which is still apparent today. The conflict forced Germany to be divided into two half, resulting in the establishment of Communist East Berlin and Capitalist West Berlin. Parting the ways resulted in two distinct architectural versions of Berlin, depending on the opposing economic and political influences on both sides. As a result, we cannot generalise Berlin’s urban shape as a whole, given that Berlin’s history as a split city dates back to its founding as a mediaeval twin city, Berlin- Cölln. Walls have played an important part in Berlin’s history. For centuries, architectural constructions have been utilised to demonstrate political power and identity. The Berlin Wall, which divided East and West Berlin, is a typical example that also influenced the city’s image and legacy. Aside from the casualties, the bombing, raids, fires, and street fights that occurred throughout the conflict severely destroyed the priceless structures. 

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Soviet war Memorial, Berlin_©Nik(ou)

As a consequence of the war, Germany was peppered with many vacant places. This chance might be linked to Koolhaas’ forecast in his essay that “voids are the key building component of the generic city. “Moreover, most of the surviving buildings were removed in the postwar period on both sides to make way for new business and residential sections. As a result, the critical point is “What is being maintained is not a ‘historical item,’ but a recollection of the networks of relationships to the built landscape, spatial image’ of the past.” This was seen as a watershed moment in the growth of the urban fabric. Once again, post-war urban change and reconstruction were required. “Generic city is the post-city getting developed on the site of the ex-city,” says Koolhaas. In order to handle the growing obstacles and avoid both sides from collapsing, a postmodern city that was more commercialized and functional was created.

The architecture was utilized to convey normalcy

The political authorities on both sides were pulled between opposing interests and demands for their city’s economic performance and competitiveness. “When the empire’s centre was the centre, the centre remained to dominate until its eventual collapse or desertion.” As a result, the reconstruction began quite swiftly to restore and densify the depleted cities. In Berlin, architecture was employed as a technique to symbolise normalcy. There were two normalisation procedures at work. First, in the commercial sector, and then in the way the past is remembered. The supporters of critical reconstruction anticipated that architects would draw inspiration in the old cities even as they built new ones.”Both sections of the city became iconic attempts in modernist urban rebuilding in the postwar age, albeit at considerably different rates.” Unlike the East, West Berlin received international aid, which aided in the construction’s speed. 

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Berliner Dom Painting_©Juan Bosco

Thus, stability in West Berlin appeared to be closer than in the east. Its sole purpose was to get the attention of travellers. As a result, it was unavoidable to envision a rebuilt city amidst the ruins of 1945 as a society of the future to realise the aims. The attempts are visible in the utopian ideas submitted to the Hauptstadt Berlin Architectural Competition. The competition centred on the creation of multi-level transportation facilities and a self-contained skyscrapers metropolis. Raised walkway networks are viewed as architect errors, although the general public benefits from these ideas. The ‘old’ was simply ignored; as Koolhaas stated, “History weighs down its (city’s) performance.” In federal buildings, the west chose the Bonn style, which combined contemporary functionalism with a degree of humility. Memories of memories converted the city into an open-air horror museum, with monuments such as imprinted cobblestones, railroad lines, and Jewish street names are strewn about.

Transitions from horizontal to vertical

While West Berlin had a memorial culture, East Berliners believed that they managed their freedom from the traumatic historic centre (identity) by stating that it was their express mission to fight and oppose imperialism manipulation and expansion. To put this into reality, the communists (GDR) destroyed the Stadtchloss (imperial palace) as an icon of reviled Prussian imperialism. It seems strange to remove a vital element of Berlin’s past in the name of history. Because the communist and imperialist palaces could not cohabit, they were replaced with the Palast der Republik (castle of the republic), a legislative building built of bronze mirrored glass, steel, and concrete.”The plan was to recreate history by ignoring, if not erasing, the old.” When the argument over rebuilding the palace began, history was quickly returned as a service. These demolitions and buildings are a clear reflection of Berlin’s current state. A modern city, according to Koolhaas, is a generic city. One crucial feature of a generic metropolis is that it self-destructs and revives, discarding what doesn’t function and accepting whatever develops in its stead. While the western side flourished thanks to international help, the success of East Berlin was dependent on the hard labour of the East German people.

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Skyscraper at Berlin_©Alphein

The economic contrasts that may be attributed to the one-way traffic flow, human and financial, largely from east to west, offer an interesting comparison between East and West Berlin. Aside from the erasure of traces of heritage and the mobilisation of recollections of memories, the prefab concrete buildings for post-war victims were the shared fabric that spanned both sides. Architects regarded the built environment as a potentially transformative tool for society. “Concrete is the long-lasting architectural trend of brutalism’s aesthetic and technological protagonist.” The large structures that took use of the technical solutions made possible by the usages of reinforced concrete are designed to create vertical cities.”This confirms that the metropolis was transitioning from horizontal to vertical. It reflects the realisation of current demand and is yet another trait of a general city. This is similar to Koolhaas’ notion that “the skyscraper is the ultimate definitive type.”

Berlin’s Restructuring

The rebuilding was necessary to get away from the tragedy of the city. Wolf Jobst Siedler, on the other hand, sees postwar urban planning as the “second annihilation” of the metropolis. There were several competitions conducted to gather ideas for a utopian Berlin as well as its transition into a contemporary metropolis. The alteration was necessary to create an illusion of power and majesty (that Berlin lacked). As a solution to the issues of old Berlin, several suggestions referenced prototypes of the Parisian boulevard, the London subterranean system, and American high-rise skyscrapers. The utopian ideals alluded to Ebenezer Howard’s garden city concepts. A distinct north-south axis was proposed. The concept of the axis already has a strong resemblance to modernist planning. The architects’ desire for order was based on ideas for generic cities. Berlin was regarded as a newcomer. Remodelling Berlin as Weltstadt had the potential to unite the people and adapt the concept of unity to the new urban scale, much like the Bismarck towers, which were constructed throughout the empire and once awoke national feelings.

Suffering throughout both capitalist and socialist modernity

When Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989, two cities that had drifted apart were allowed to develop together once more. “The attempt to instil hope through a great new city centre defied too much history.” The reunified centre aimed to bring the east and west together and to resurrect the 1920s flare that matched the points of interest of London, New York, and so on. The reunified Berlin looked to these international cities as a model for its future. However, a case can be made here that Paris can confidently create outstanding new structures because of the strong bulk of 19th-century “background” structures that make Paris identifiable.

“Berlin, on the other hand, has lost far too much of its backdrop and has to choose between recovering it and embarking on yet another huge experiment.” Aside from the lack of representativeness, Berlin’s urban district differed significantly from that of Paris. Within Berlin, a war for regional and national identity erupted. Convergence is only feasible at the cost of identity loss. The city has reached a tipping point. The restoration of the city means first establishing the business and city status by resolving all of the issues of traffic congestion, inadequate sanitation, and housing shortage in old Berlin.

According to Marciano, it was a fantasy of ‘complete planning’ and a unified urban framework because historical cities are ‘too tiny’ to hold so many human destinies, events, and economic transactions. The general shape of the city was emphasised. Berlin is a one-of-a-kind example of enduring both capitalism and socialist modernism. The new urban form was designed to heal those wounds. Having stated that, the operation began by entrusting the treatment for the parliament building to a foreign designer, Norman Foster. In 1993, he won a competition to rebuild the century-old German Reichstag, which had been left in ruins following a fire in 1933. Because of its closeness to the Berlin Wall, it has been mostly forgotten until the country’s reunification.

The Model city 

Additionally, the significance of skyscrapers was progressively examined, becoming a recurring subject of the twentieth century. Koolhaas adds that standardization is a deliberate process, and also that the architecture of the typical metropolis is beautiful yet produced at breakneck speed. It is a city that has both interesting and uninteresting structures. It is a variation that delivers results quickly enough to keep up with the general growth of cities. “Its fundamental motivation is the perplexing revelation that Americans speak about their cities’ difficulties, Europeans talk about their cities’ problems, and Asians talk about their cities’ problems, yet when you look at these cities, there is virtually no difference between them.”

The general city is the standardized form without a name.It will inevitably spread over the planet. It is unable to create a link with the classic city or sustain interaction with the current city. When we look back, we can see Berlin’s remarkable history as well as its non-generic fabric getting soiled by the generic. Looking ahead, we may see Berlin’s architecture being surpassed by the metropolis. There were increasingly serious disputes regarding skyscrapers, or big-scale mixed-use buildings, in the late twentieth century. They carefully adhered to the American model. It was essential to interact with the vertical axis of the metropolis.Although the earliest efforts were evident before Berlin’s split, they grew more severe by this time, as shown in Potsdamer Platz. It represents the new Berlin and is home to contemporary buildings that provide all of the functions of a city; according to Koolhaas, it is a city inside a city. Several high-rise businesses and hotel buildings exist as a testament to revolutionary Berlin, regardless of nature and location, time and location.

Although Berlin is recognised as a city rich in local historic fabric, it has lost its purity. It has taken more than one subject from the definition of the generic. And Friedrichstrasse, Potsdamer Platz, and Unter den Linden are manifestations of Berlin’s modern ambitions. We were able to emphasise the juxtaposing urban form of Berlin in light of Koolhaas’ essay and concluded that it is a specific case where the generic, as well as the non-generic, coexist. 

References

  1. Britannica. (n.d.). History of Berlin. Retrieved from Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Unter-den-Linden
  2. Evans, Z. (2017, August 30). Deliberate Urban Planning: A Case Study of Berlin, Germany. Retrieved from HMC Edu: https://www.hmc.edu/hcsed/2017/08/30/deliberate-urban-planning-case-study-berlin/
  3. Senate Department for Urban Development, B. a. (n.d.). Historical maps on land use planning in Berlin. Retrieved from Senate Department for Urban Development, Building and Housing: https://www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de/service/de/sitemap.shtm
Author

An aspiring urbanist, who is trying to explore herself through architectural writing currently, she believes that the remedy for a healthy planet begins with designing responsive spaces. She is an optimistic, determined and curious person who is always eager to learn and improve her skills.

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