Wednesday afternoon, a street, a block, a gate house with social housing. It's in greenish grey, with square windows, a bit rough appearance, no details. But we stopped.
The street is a myth, born in the Twenties, cabarets and trade, Mies van der Rohe's crystal skyscraper. Than world capital planning and bombs destroyed the most, and real estate bargain. The Wall crossed the street and Checkpoint Charlie was there. In the south was West-Berlin, in the north the East. The West-Berlin part turned to be a calm living area, and then competitions started to fill the empty lots and all the big names of architecture came and built. I was a student, we went to them, I was disappointed, all that Eisenman, Rossi, Hadid. Than in discussion with a schoolmate we stopped by accident at the grey house: That's nearly architecture, and for sure better. At that time, I didn't knew that brambles grow beyond the house.
Later than I got interested in the paper work of a New Yorkan architect with dishevelled hair. He created masques, theatrical (and somehow poor, poetical) installations of dwelling devices like the house for the inhabitant that refused to participate, or buildings which rooflights were made by trombone-maker or whose doors were welded by the town administration. He scribbled on A4, filling it with these and there they moved to unknown and known places, with known and unknown characters. Always familiar and strange, always both. He was dean of an architectural school in NYC and a good guy. Counted strictly, he built three houses, all in Berlin. The dusty laurel coloured is one.
It's a bulky box on pillars and on top a two-storey 1-window-1-room-wide tower, reminding me of a cyclops with the shoulders up to the head. He drew the house of the cellist woman in the Midwest, or the sea captain's house in Vladivostok, all like the widow-walk, this New England chamber, on top of the houses of the seamen's widows with this one window starring at the sea, where he didn't come back from. It appears as a bridge house in Riga, a bit like the Colossus of Rhodes.
The side wings are separated by an interstice from the main body, which has legs, 16, four with hooves bashfully turned inside, like the mythic fast-as-the-wind eight-legged horses of some gods. Set off the street, so you can see the whole hight easily, he's standing in front of you (the Mies van der Rohe trick in the Seagram building is working with the same proportions). Left and right at the adjacent fire walls side wings flank like the legs of a Sphinx (which also heads to the east, to dawn).The only windows of the house that are in the line of the street are here, for the others, the side wings work like blinder. It's like a Propylaea, entry to a sanctum. A gatehouse, here to a kindergarden and brambles, a pass-through from the Friedrichstraße to the Wilhelmstraße, the way like the hyphen between Friedrich and Wilhelm, Friedrich-Wilhelm, the soldier king that started the quarter, ordering to build potemkin corridors here (the film “Battleship Potemkin” had his first screening few houses away, there it all started). In Wilhelmstraße Hejduk suggested another Masque for the area of the Gestapo-HQ: Victims, every year there should appear one of his nearly mechanical constructions, mute and usable. Others suggested perplex and confessing architectures. For the pass-through he suggested a book market for old and used books. Like Godard says: “because human people don't start a revolution, the found a library. ”But brambles grow there, “darkening like caviar, the tendril my finger cut” (the other Wilhelm writes, Lehmann) and yet I am at the hills by the sea, near the girl whose legs are scratched, her mouth has berry stains of the “brambles of love” (Dylan Thomas and my childhood).
Back to the Future
The side wings are in the line of the street staircases. Six windows on each side, twelve together: For the “Berlin Masque” he suggested a clock tower, and I take measure and: the same width. On the drawings for the house there were 12 windows each side, each with one of the digits of the clock. A plate covers the actual hour.
1986 stood on a square in London a structure made by him: “The clock / collapse of time”: Wooden boxes (Jencks wrote: coffins), 1-13, one on top of the other - the twelve is covered, time of holocaust. In four weeks they sank down to the horizontal of their bier, on a railroad car.
Here it's vertical time. Here the clock is the staircase, the only vertical room of the building, we move up and down in it.
The rooms seem banal but there's this Chechovian folding door, the minoan corridor, all the rooms rotate somehow by their L-shape, at the dining place we suddenly look straight at the neighbours dining place and the fire walls of the other wing, which feels nice, a bit like seeing the own train by watching outside a train.
Under the street the underground train is running, that drove in times of the Wall though ghost stations with is frozen nazi history, it's ads from the Forties under dust and barbed wire. Opposite the house there is a air grid like for the Monroe (in this film of Wilder, who shot 1,2,3 here, just shortly before the Wall came).
The tender colours of the curtains: a dark curry, garam masala, a mint candy green, and a salmon to skin colour on the army olive windows in the greenish gray, laurel, of the façade. It's sounds more plantlike than it is, but the industrial colour code I don't know. The inhabitants spoil the building.
There is one detail, a single one: the kerbstones. Simple concrete ball quarter from the world of wodden wheels and backyards. The part of a building, that prevents one to touch it ungently. As feet they give steadfastness. A safe detail. Some fender posts are like cast iron comma, but this always reminds me of the rhinoceros' feet Dürer drew of the first rhinoceros in Europe 1515. Perhaps they are similar strange beings arrived from the world's fringe.
Still a monster from the wilderness, with turtle armor and dorsal spine. Stranger from India. Indians. From the Westindia (the New World / the Caribbean) and Eastindia, all exotic, all beasts living in the end of the world, that was still a disc. How does the rim of the world looked like in the moment, when the world got round? Suddenly the backside of the Moon, which got seen 500 years later. Fifty years after they got discovered all Caribbean indians were killed, Sebastian Münster, the Humanist, the man of Renaissance, is showing indians that still are cyclops, or having the head in the belly (the Blemmyai), or having just one big foot to protect them from (christian?) light (the Sciopods). A claw, the trunk, that anytime stepps on the axe that hew down the tree (Magritte).
After it was at Marseilles Châtetau d'If, castle of the eagle, (the place where Broodhaers started his Museum from and which is guarded by seagulls not eagles) the RHINOCERVS sunk with the ship on the way to Rom, victim of the first travel (like all first animals: Laika died on the first surrounding of the earth (in outer space orbit), the rests burned over the caribbean sea).
Now the renaissance man of measure can come, the opponent. The birth of the standard. Dürer starts his theory of proportions. The first ships with african slaves reach the Westindies. Next continent, next massacres. And Zarafa came in 1827 from a two years travel from central Afrika, and, being the first giraffe in Europe, also saw the Château d'If first with its neck through a cut out hole in the wooden deck. Here she stands, a bit motherlike, and stiff with its cyclop eye.
Zerafia, the arab word for the charming one, Serafina, arch angel, winged snake with a burning bite praising the Lord (the hebrew word for burning), and serif, the foot of the words, the north german word for writing.
Strange creatures with insecure origin, made by our human fantasy, coming from a dissimulated experience of mankind, masked with the imaginary. Us animals, us housing, the fear from building-societies, the fears of animals and demons vanished, but its fantasies still stays.
The Modern revised
Here pilotis have feet (and for you don't see a stair below, it must be an animal (all these ridiculous rebuilt troy horses with a staircase going up)) and the park under which was always a car park here is a passage. A gatehouse, but more an elevated house above a way, the only guarding is being watched, no lock. (and also modern: a house with no ground floor with shop) horizontal windows are eyes here (which are higher than eye-level), like Rossi's windows with a person standing behind it, the roof terrace is hidden between crouched shoulders, the skin is flat, modern and bad: small marks and lichens, was thought to be tiled.
The free floor plan is fulfilled in the tower room: just a single room, so no inner walls (even stricter in the DAAD-tower of Hejduk: Every room is a single volume). The outer appearance does not tell about the inner organisation. Free façade: like a wallpaper endless patterns of square windows.
You can also easily explain the whole design by the construction and zoning laws: If you want to build a tower, you can't start at the line of the street with its defined hight of the eaves, but you step behind the line to go up to the defined hight of the ridge. The rest is defined heights of the gate, the cheapest plastering, elements, only one window size, no ornaments. Apartment size is given.
No material aesthetics, no clever detailing, no architect's gestures. It's a quite hidden architecture, that starts to glow for the intimate ones that breath its histories in. The rest is camouflage.
Objects + Subjects
Exotic animals, menaced, colonial and nomadic, he is building.
The clock is used in a unusual way for architecture. The masques, that's a way of mourning.
Slowly it gets clear to me, his masques arrived.
Half a year later the owner changed the colour to that one, seemingly all new houses are obliged to wear: cake colour.