An exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie in Kreuzberg, Berlin, looks at the significance of the architectural visions developed in the divided city in the decade leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall. An ode to the astounding buildings and architects of 1980s Berlin, ‘Anything Goes?’ is the first attempt to examine postmodern reevaluations of urban design while highlighting how both halves of the city interlaced old and new, to create new local communities with a charming blend of urban typologies.
With the German capital being brutally divided by a wall and exhausted from decades of the Cold War, the 1980s presented a unique time for architectural and urbanistic experimentation. It was an opportunity to find new ways to manage what was still existing, and what was forever lost. Postmodernism, an umbrella term denoting both the use of building types and stylistic devices of the past, and the testing of alternative ways of life in the city, blossomed in both halves of the city. Born out of the disdain for postwar modernist architecture, this new vision compiled new ideas of urban living and a new interest in historic city structures as attractive cityscapes.
Utopian aesthetics and postmodernism turned Berlin into a one-of-a-kind architectural laboratory
“The exhibition is intended to offer striking surfaces for a newly ignited debate over the topicality of the direction taken in architecture during the 1980s,” reads a statement from the gallery. The Berlinische Galerie set out to examine how utopian aesthetics and postmodernism turned Berlin into a one-of-a-kind architectural laboratory, which found expressions in multifold interventions and different designs in both halves of the city. “The often contradictory, sometimes seemingly arbitrary formulations [of Berlin postmodernism] earned this decade in architecture the reproach ‘anything goes’,” the gallery explains about the exhibition’s title.
Presenting a comprehensive analysis of the significance of this “divided postmodernism”, ‘Anything Goes ?’ focuses on the reevaluation of urban design, its backdrops and main players, in both parts of Berlin. In the GDR (German Democratic Republic), also knowns as East Berlin, “one essential reason for the new focus on architectural traditions was a desire for a more visible presence of the past,” explains the gallery, adding that, “likewise, an enduring housing shortage played an important role, [with] concepts for revedelopment also addressing old buildings, which had been neglected until then.”From restoration of old buildings to new references to history via facade constructions with gables, bay windows, and reliefs, “the connection to the past was to give people a sense of identity and belonging.”
In the Eastern part of the city, developments centered on historicist reconstructions and large prefabricated housing developments characterized by concrete-slab high-rises in the city’s peripheries. In West Berlin, these centered on small-scale projects by internationally renowned architects of the time, which introduced new memorial sites, design elements, and urban housing types, such as multi-family villas, to the western part of the capital.
“Many buildings from this period were developed as contributions to the International Building Exhibition 1984/87 (IBA) in West Berlin and the Building Exhibition 1987 in East Berlin,” the gallery continues. “They were a part of the Berlin 750th anniversary celebrations, and also served as a continuation of the competition between their political systems.” From early pilot plans and pioneering achievements of social and ecological urban redevelopment, to different concepts of a new culture of memory, numerous projects are used as telling examples in the exhibition. “Its subject matter is focused on projects such as the expansion of the housing development in Marzahn, the reconstruction of the Nikolaiviertel and the Gendarmenmarkt, the renewal of neighborhoods of prewar buildings in the center of the city, and monumental and memorials built to reinforce a sense of identity,” explains the gallery.
The projects present a time of complexities and contradictions, but also of similarities
Some projects are about aesthetics and style, others about ecology, and empowerment of residents and participation. Altogether, they present a time of complexities and contradictions, but also of similarities. With the exhibition, the gallery attempts to show how, despite the tension between global and local demands within which architects were operating, East and West pursued in fact the same goal, albeit differently: balancing the achievement of a modern city with local cultures, traditions, and human needs.
Isa Melsheimer, titled ‘Times are hard, but postmodern’, presents a contemporary take on postmodern architecture, as the artist recreates materials, forms, and construction methods of postmodern Berlin on a smaller scale. Adding to the visual effect of the exhibition is a six-film program which documents and reflects on West Berlin as an enclosed city within East Germany—a refuge in which alternative lifestyles, political activism, music, film, and subcultures blossomed freely.The exhibition includes hundreds of prints, photographs, and paintings, as well as tactile models for a multisensory experience to blind, vision-impaired, and seeing people alike. Alongside the extensive archive, a fascinating installation by artist
Taking a more hands-on approach, architects and artists from the multidisciplinary collective Guerrilla Architects invite visitors to revisit homes built in the 1980s and explore the dialog between the current residents’ own accounts of changes and the original intentions of the planners, through sound and video recordings of the visits. Complementing the already enriching program are free audio walks by the title of ‘Out Into the City’, which let visitors experience the exhibition in urban spaces. With audio essays read by dramaturg and actor Frank Arnold, and photographs by Ludger Paffrath, the specially created audio walk app narrates the stories behind the buildings in their actual locations, including sites of the International Building Exhibition Berlin 1987 in Kreuzberg and the postmodern buildings in East and West Berlin along Friedrichstrasse. For more information on the exhibition, tickets, and visit slot, click here.