Faculty Activities: Julia Walker at the Society of Architectural Historians

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South African President Jacob Zuma before a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Assistant Professor Julia Walker will be presenting a paper this Friday, June 9, as part of the panel Publicly Postmodern: Government Agency and 1980s Architecture at the annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians in Glasgow, Scotland.

Dissolving Monumentality: Schultes and Frank’s Berlin Chancellery Building

This paper examines a crucial government project—Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank’s Federal Chancellery Building in Berlin—completed in the waning years of postmodernism’s trajectory, but no less emblematic for that fact. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Germany’s decision to return to Berlin after years of retreat in Bonn, the government sought to define a new image for itself through the architecture of its past and future capital. A yearning for a return to tradition infused the series of government competitions held to determine the master plan and individual buildings of the federal district, and the results show the government’s attempt to discover a simultaneously light and monumental architectural idiom.

This typically postmodern monumentality is most apparent in the proposals submitted to the Chancellery competition held in 1994. O. M. Ungers’s colonnaded design won third prize, while the firm KSV placed second with a proposal that jurors deemed indisputably classical. Yet Schultes and Frank seemed to have struck the balance between continuing the rhetoric of modest transparency established in Bonn and offering a new architectural confidence to the reunified nation. Their design, a nine-story, partially transparent cube flanked by lower wings, was intended to elicit “sympathy at the first glance,” as the architects stated. Its forbears are the pastoral government buildings designed at the beginning of the postmodern turn for developing nations, like Le Corbusier’s designs for Chandigarh or Louis Kahn’s National Assembly in Dhaka, as well as Romaldo Giurgola’s high postmodern New Parliament House in Canberra. By using this mode of monumentality, I argue, the German government intentionally and explicitly aligns itself with the political liberalization of postcolonial capitals. Yet implicitly, it also aligns itself with economic neoliberalization; this dissolved monumentality powerfully evokes the elimination of barriers fundamental to Germany’s new role in the global economy.

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