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Two Germanys, one Architecture.

German reunification did not mark the end of the Cold War for the former citizens of the West German Federal Republic and East German Democratic Republic. Their prejudiced ideological view of each other lingered on. It has taken 15 years for the former combatants to discover what unified, rather than divided, their two architectures. Why so long? Political sensitivities and power skirmishes lie at the root of the answer. The West denounced the East as a desert of slab blocks, shabby, inferior and authoritarian, and feared a 'rehabilitation' of the rigorous social agenda. As if the defeat of a socialist ideal was not enough any remaining traces had to be kicked over. The East, as loser, feared being condemned by a triumphant capitalism to the dustbin of history. As it turns out, neither side need have been afraid of the outcome. Though the title of this new exhibition flirts with the idea of schism, the truth is more banal. There was no outward difference.

East and West set out on divergent missions, but, while they focused on different aspects of the architectural brief and served different clients, their manifestos and Modernist theories sprang from the same sources. The East aimed to do away with design hierarchy, redefine solidarity between people and make functions transparent. To begin with, the East's strict weeding out of National Socialist-conta-minated personalities left few practising architects. On the other hand, returning emigres such as Mart Stam. Otto Haesler and architects from the studios of Le Corbusier, Pieter Oud, or Karel Kotas (who had built in the USSR, Turkey, China, US and Britain) had far more experience. During his first visit to the East in 1961, Aldo Rossi proclaimed it 'a test bed for the struggle against a capitalist organization of society'. He applauded the East for embedding residential areas into city centres and wanted to abolish zoning. In the West, paradoxically, zoning laws were the last line of defence against the egotistical urges of private landowners.

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During their research, historians Simone Hain (East) and Hartmut Frank (West), fought against taboos in thinking and strove to present facts. A chronological order was meaningless and would have led to prejudiced comparisons. Segregating East and West would have prevented surprising discoveries. Finally, 22 projects were divided according to function. Egon Eiermann's Olivetti Centre in Frankfurt am Main (1972) is set against Roland Kluge/Gunter Hauptmann's offices for the VEB Wohnungsbaukominates in Karl Marx Stadt (1963), and Erich Hauschild's kindergarten in the new suburb Halle-Neustadt (1968) is in the same category as Hans Scharoun's Geschwister-Scholl senior school in Lunen (1962). International exhibitions and one-off flagship projects featured new concepts, independent of opportunities or means to build on a wider scale. West Berlin's Interbau (1957) and IBA (1984) highlighted international names and a new generation of postwar German architects. Hermann Henselmann's and Richard Paulick's Stalinallee was a showpiece of social housing and amenities in the face of scarce resources. International Futurist ideas did not pass unheeded either. Ulrich Muther's life-saving station on the Eastern Island of Rugen was one of the few '60s space-age visions to be actually built. Megapolis scale centres and experimental structural systems, from Frei Otto cables and nets, to Ulrich Muther and Gerhard Lehmann's concrete shell hyperbolic paraboloids, show an equal enthusiasm for the Modernist zeitgeist regardless of political ideology.

For East German examples, the research process was, in some cases, a race against time. Seminal buildings have been demolished in the post-1989 buy out and closing of the East's industrial base. Eyewitnesses are fast disappearing. Archival institutions have been closed or down-sized resulting in a shortage of qualified people to sift through the accumulated documentation of half a century. In contrast, there is no shortage of publications on Western architectural development.

Now, since all the original fears in mounting this exhibition proved groundless, Germany is sponsoring a 12-year global tour with a travelling salesman's suitcase of transportable, silk-screened images on anodized aluminium panels, presenting architecture as cultural treasure, marketing event, and exportable product. It is especially encouraging in the dark days of Germany's economic stagnation and unemployment that its government is still batting for architecture.

Two German Architectures 1949-1989, Kunsthaus, Hamburg, 12 year global touring exhibition. Catalogue with essays by Simone Hain, Hartmut Frank, Marco De Michelis available in English or German. Further information: info@kunsthaushamburg.de
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Title Annotation:View; Two German Architectures
Author:Dawson, Layla
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Aug 1, 2004
Words:725
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