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The Kulturforum

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The Kulturforum


The aerial photograph by Reinhard Friedrich shows the Kulturforum in the fall of 1978. © bpk / Nationalgalerie, SMB / Reinhard Friedrich

The Kulturforum grew out of the initially contrapuntal ensemble of the Philharmonie and the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery). It was not until the competition for the Staatsbibliothek (State Library) that the design of the largely cleared wasteland of the former Tiergarten district became an issue. In terms of urban planning, it marked the third step since traffic planning had already been drawn up before the first building designs. In this concept, the relocated and newly formed Potsdamer Strasse became an experiential space of mobility utopia. It negated the “Potse” which started right behind the Potsdamer Brücke as the main street of West Berlin and a remnant of the old, chaotic, and mixed metropolis. The entire outdoor space of the Kulturforum became an urban space that could only be experienced in the act of driving through it. The solitaires, which look like spaceships that have landed in the neighborhood, were to be experienced in the literal sense of the moving gaze before visitors parked their cars in the parking garages. The interior spaces, on the other hand, were designed for strolling exploration. They should now make possible what constituted the city in the past. In the planning of the Kulturforum, thinking in functional pigeonholes led to the unsatisfactory result of a monofunctional urban quarter perceived as unfinished. Given the dominance of the utopia of individual mobility in the 1950s and 1960s, probably no other planning of the street network in the Kulturforum would have been possible. Thus, the Kulturforum became the crown of a partial city that hoped for relief, purification, and a new beginning through the combination of high culture and road construction – from today’s perspective, a failed utopia.

The urban landscape by Hans Scharoun (1963)

“What remained, after bombing and final battle completed a dispersal, gives us the opportunity to create a cityscape. The urban landscape is a design principle for the urban planner to master the large settlements. Through it, it is possible to divide the unmanageable, the scaleless into manageable and moderate parts and to arrange these parts in relation to each other in the same way that forest, meadow, mountain and lake interact in a beautiful landscape.” This vision of the urban landscape, presented in 1946, was concretized by Hans Scharoun in 1964 in the realization competition for the Staatsbibliothek (State Library). His comparison of Potsdamer Strasse with a river valley, lined with rising vineyards on both sides (the terraces of the planned guesthouse and the rising structure of the Staatsbibliothek (State Library)) linguistically transformed the Kulturforum into an idyll. He thus camouflaged the urban situation with a busy main road cutting through the neighborhood.


The photograph by Reinhard Friedrich from 1964 shows the model of the Kulturforum by Hans Scharoun with the Senate Guest House and the Staatsbibliothek (State Library). © Berlinische Galerie

The competition for the State Museums 1965/66

For the new buildings of the Museums of European Art of the State Museums of Prussian Culture, a two-stage competition took place in 1965/66, in which an ideas competition was followed by a construction competition. In the first stage, the designs for the new buildings of the Gemäldegalerie (Old Master Paintings), the Sculpture Department and the Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings), on the one hand, and the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) and the Kunstbibliothek (Art Library), on the other, were to be brought into an architectural context. In addition to technical exhibition issues, it was also necessary to express the national importance of the museum departments in terms of design. In addition, a proposal had to be made for the arrangement and design of the building masses of the guest house planned to the northeast of the St. Matthew’s Church and the actual “Forum” (square to the north of the St. Matthew’s Church). Statements about the traffic relations, especially for the car traffic, were considered very important in the competition. With its complex competition task and the extensive and related spatial program required, the competition led to the submission of numerous futuristic cluster designs. The antagonism of a centrally managed universal museum with departments that want to be understood as self-permanent houses, which is rooted in the organization of the state museums, could not be implemented in an architecturally convincing way. Most of the designs decided against an architecture that could be perceived as a structural unit, as Scharoun had realized with the Staatsbibliothek (State Library). They dissolved the indecision between a whole and its parts into megastructures typical of the time. The jury was not convinced by the results and did not award first prize in the second competition stage in the summer of 1966


The photo shows the model by Rolf Gutbrod for the second stage of the competition in 1966. The spectacular design was reviled by the public as a “burst hand grenade”. The jury criticized the grouping of the museums around a central plaza, which would lead to a lack of contact with each other and with the planned surroundings. © SAAI, Archiv für Architektur und Ingenieurbau, Werkarchiv Rolf Gutbrod, Foto R. Friedrich

Rolf Gutbrod

Rolf Gutbrod is the fallen angel among the architects who worked on the Kulturforum. His design for the second stage of the competition was purchased in 1966. In 1968 he was awarded the planning contract for the five museums of European art. The expectations of the client were high. In 1972, after several years of intensive exchange between the museum curators and the architect, the general director Stephan Waetzoldt wrote: “Museum architecture must…be authoritative and restrained at the same time, it must make the past (in the work of art) and the present (in the visitor’s ego) tangible…it should make experience and contemplation, discussion and meditation possible, be tailored to individual and mass visits. Museum architecture should unite the incompatible…” Gutbrod attempted to accommodate the numerous divergent demands in an exceedingly differentiated design. On the initiative of the Berlin Senate Building Director, a wing set on supports was added to the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) to serve as a plaza wall closing off the museum courtyard. It was intended to house a large café and restaurant area, which would also be accessible outside opening hours. The building project did not go well for Gutbrod. Due to a lack of funds, construction work on the first phase did not begin until 1978. When the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) opened in 1985, the 1965 ultra-modern Brutalism looked as if it had fallen out of time. As a result, Rolf Gutbrod’s office was no longer in charge of the construction. The plans were changed, and the building program was only partially realized. After reunification, the museum buildings remained a torso. The abandonment of the gastronomy wing had serious consequences for the entire district.


The site plan shows a later planning stage of Rolf Gutbrod’s design. The square in front of St. Matthew’s Church is framed by Scharoun’s guest house, which is set at an angle. The museums’ forecourt is given a boundary by the elevated two-story restaurant, which creates an attractive sequence of squares with the church square. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek, Dietmar Katz

Hans Hollein

As part of the International Building Exhibition (IBA), an “International Expert Procedure Kulturforum” took place in 1983, to which six architectural firms submitted designs. The aim was to draw up an urban development concept for the Kulturforum, taking into account Hans Scharoun’s planning and the existing and planned buildings. The designs of Alvaro Siza and Hans Hollein were shortlisted, and the latter was selected for realization. Hollein developed his concept further until it was ready for construction, taking into account the “Concept for the Spatial Order in the Central Area of Berlin (West)”, which was created at the same time. It envisaged a two-part plaza up to Potsdamer Strasse, shielded by colonnades arranged in the shape of a quarter circle. The square was delimited by a “Citykloster” (monastery), a Bible tower and a water-bearing canal in front of the piazzetta. This way, Hollein found an elegant urban planning solution to mediate between the opposing architectural views of Mies van der Rohe and Scharoun. This and the orientation of his new buildings to the dimensions and design of St. Matthew’s Church show the influence of postmodernism, which incorporated the given structural situation into the planning. Hollein’s postmodernist mannerism was bitterly criticized. With the quarter-circular design of the Kolonnadenplatz, he evoked the memory of Speer’s Runden Platz without daring to really deal with the history of the Tiergarten district. The stage-like character and furnishing of the square, reminiscent of De Chirico, also had an ambivalent effect on this building site. Due to ongoing controversies, Hollein’s concept was not executed.


The photograph by Markus Hawlik from 1983 shows Hans Hollein’s presentation model for the “Internationale Gutachterverfahren Kulturforum” (International expert evaluation Kulturforum) Berlin. Model view from the south. © Berlinische Galerie


In this sketch by Hans Hollein, the reference to Albert Speer’s Runden Platz is clearly visible. The colonnades are arranged in a quarter circle. They shield the Kulturforum from Potsdamer Strasse. © Archiv Carsten Krohn


The drawing shows the square layout with the Bible Tower as a counterweight to St. Matthew’s Church. © Hans Hollein


The drawing shows the square layout with design elements, including tall columns, a pergola, a group of trees, and lying and standing components that are intended to be reminiscent of an ancient forum. © Hans Hollein