Braun (Berlin XI)

Taste changes, as do necessities.

What you see here are impressions from the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, which has been controversial for two decades, mainly for financial reasons.

My own reservations are more of a more esthetic and, alas, political nature. At first, I was struck by its boredom.

We have low ceilings, steel, glass, and — brown decor.

The prevalence of the color brown (mostly in the form of dead wood and marble tiles) darkens the place, and, much worse, reminds me of an esthetic that I believed had been overcome long ago.

Curiously, the older airport Berlin-Tegel (which had replaced airport Berlin-Tempelhof, famous for the being used for the Luftbrücke during the Berlin Blockade) still feels much more modern, with its successful usage of simple geometric shapes like hexagons and triangles to create an efficient and stimulating atmosphere, was co-designed by the same architect, Meinhard von Gerkan.

Admittedly, here in Indiana I am used to the color brown, and I have always feared that it supports an unhealthy emotional state.

At least here, at BER, there is a solution built-in: Leave.

History Lessons (Berlin X)

If you search the internet for Cemeteries at Hallesches Tor, you will find blog posts about this cemetery, and some of them mention an encounter with a friendly middle aged man.

Saying a greeting led to a polite exchange, which in turn led to a conversation about the cemetery in general, which in turn led to an in-depth discussion of many specific graves.

This is another one of these blog posts. I, too, met this person, and received the best history lesson I had in my entire life.

For instance, I learned about the strange markings on many graves that look like gun shot holes. They are from gun shots, inflicted in one of the many utterly senseless battles of the Second Word War, when the Nazis forced teenage boys to confront the Soviet army, with only a handful of ammunition and no hope but death.

Or about the bunker that the Nazis build on this cemetery after making room by eliminating all traces of the Jewish graves, a bunker that was never used as it filled instantly with ground water, a bunker that has resisted demolition ever since, a bunker that couldn’t be more meaningless.

Or about the grave of Archduke Leopold Ferdinand of Austria, one of the last hopes of the Austrian Monarchy after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, one of the escalations that led to the First World War, but who happily renounced his title in order to marry the sex worker Wilhelmine Adamovicz. His grave (together with this third wife Clara Hedwig Pawlowski) is reportedly still visited yearly by mourning monarchists.

Other visitors commemorate E.T.A. Hoffmann’s death by following his request not to bring flowers but champagne…

And of course there are graves of mathematicians, like the one of the immortal Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi, and less famous ones, like the one of Horst Kirchmeier, whose brave attempts to liberalize the German law governing sexual offenses went rather far.

I could continue my history lesson for a while. Or write about the symbolic of the cast iron fences.

Or about the massive thefts of tomb decorations that apparently sell world wide for enormous sums. Or what happened to the churches to which this cemetery belonged, and what buildings are there now… Another day.

Remains to be Seen (Berlin VIII)

Mona Hatoum’s impressive installation of this name was shown in the Diversity United exhibit in Berlin this year, and the catalogue speculates that what we see here are the ghost-like fragments of a house.

I saw these hanging concrete pieces as probes into space, an attempt to make visible what has disappeared.

In this reconstruction, I am using PoVRay to probe textured space. A texture in PoVRay is function of the three spatial coordinates whose values is used in a color map to determines the color value of an object at the point given by the three coordinates. Above the function is sqrt(x2+y2+z2), and the color map a simple grayscale gradient, so that spheres centered at the origin have the same color value. Objects placed into the scene appear to be carved out of this space.

Above is a more complete reconstruction of Haroum’s installation, using the same spatula texture with added reflection. And below are the same probes, using an entirely different texture based on the function sin(x)+sin(y)+sin(z).

Disappearances (Berlin VII)

One of my favorite post-wall places to photograph in Berlin is the Hauptbahnof, the main railway station, about which I have written twice already.

If you look at the previous posts, you will see that I took full advantage there of the strong lines that steal beams, rails, escalators and elevators offer.

The many transparent and reflective surfaces seem to emphasize the structural strength even more, but one can also take a different point of view.

Using a shallow depth of field, the lines disappear in secondary and tertiary layers. Out of the sudden we become insecure, and the certainty of the place is cast in doubt.

The overwhelming feeling of being here and now is replaced by questions about elsewhere and tomorrow. A mistake? I don’t think so. After all, we come here in order to leave.

Borders to Canvasses (Devil’s Mountain III)

The interior of the four-story building that supports the domes of the former Cold War listening station on the Devil’s Mountain in Berlin is accessible only through two (new) exterior stairwells. Each has a long corridor (without any doors!), and open spaces separated by walls.

Most of the walls are decorated with the most wonderful graffiti in bright colors.

The entire building has become a piece of art.

Views through the ‘windows’ show more building-sized graffitis.

So in a miraculous way, one of the most secretive and locked up places from Cold War Berlin has become an organic landscape of open art.

If only we all could deal with our own borders like this.

The Unclosable Door (Sanssouci II)

By building fences and walls, we impose an artificial structure on an existing landscape. Is there a difference in our way of seeing these structures? Both allow us to see them as beautiful, but is it the same esthetics we are applying?

And, probably more importantly, is there a functional difference between natural grown and artificial structures?

And what happens when we consider a landscaped landscape? Is this wall really a wall?

Maybe I am wrong, but it seems to me that Nature doesn’t allow for closed doors.

Has René Magritte ever painted a closed door?

Fading Time (Devil’s Mountain II)

One of the most fascinating buildings in the old listening station on the Devil’s Mountain is the Villa. That’s my name, I don’t know what it is called, or as what it was used for. We are free to imagine.

Dark corridors eventually lead to brighter rooms, where the colors of the outside graffiti is blinding.

Then, the main room, in faded colors, with shards from a faded time. Who can sit on a chair like this?

And was that lamp used to take away the light?

It seems like all the happiness has been removed from this place.

And yet what has been left behind appears to be waiting for something, for someone.

Is this how the place looks like where we will eventually go?

Or is it us that will be like this?

The Canvas (Devil’s Mountain I)

One of the concise views one can have of Berlin these days is from the top of the Devil’s Mountain (Teufelsberg), the artificial hill that consists of rubble from the ruins of World War II.

The conciseness decreases when stepping back, inside the structures on top of the former US listening station from the Cold War.

So we enter a place of fascinating decay and devastation that has become in its entirety a canvas.

The ruin as a design pattern for our self seems an aporia, but not so: as in many paradoxa, there is synthesis.

Descending further we witness that light and dark not only coexist, they require each other,

and they require a canvas.

The Library of Babel II

Today we are taking the 2-dimensional floor plans of the Library of Babel  to the third dimension. The simplest way is to use a single floor plan and copy it for every level of the library. For instance, last time’s finite hexagon becomes a daunting infinite tower, at least in our imagination.

Babel hex 01

One could also do the same with several separate hexagons, but the resulting library would consist of several buildings, which, while not explicitly prohibited by Borges, seems unacceptable.

Doublyplus 01

But there is another possibility. For instance, using the arrangement of hexagons in horizontal lines, and repeating them vertically (as on the left above), but then, on the second floor, using the same floor plan albeit rotated by 90º (as in the middle), and then repeating this periodically, we arrive at a single building where it is sometimes necessary to climb up, walk across, and then down again to reach a different room on the same floor.

Nearby places can sometimes be terribly far away.

In the double floor plan up above on the right we see that this can be done by aligning the vestibules in a square pattern, leaving star-shaped Voids. Below is a partial view of this magnificent library:

Babel3The condition that the staircases in the vestibules extend infinitely in both directions is quite limiting, even if one doesn’t require that each staircase can be reached at every floor. A good strategy for designing even more complicated libraries is to begin with a floor plan that includes hexagons and squares, and use on each floor a different subset of these squares and hexagons as vestibules and galleries. For instance, we can start with this Archimedean tiling that has large dodecagonal Voids:Archi2 01


One individual floor then could look like this, seemingly giving each gallery three exits to vestibules with staircases, one of which, however, will be blocked off by a bookshelf on two of its sides:

Third 01

This floor plan will be rotated by 120º on each subsequent floor (about the center of one of the dodecagonal Voids), creating a single labyrinthian library.

Here is a deliciously maddening view into the resulting skeleton of this library. I haven’t closed off the inaccessible staircases yet, so please watch your step.


Happy are those of us who can get lost in a single book like in this Borgesian library. 

Window and Door (Badlands VI)

Rooms without a view are prisons for the people who have to stay in them.

From Windows Overlooking Life in A Pattern Language by Christoper Alexander et al.

At the Notch trailhead and the Castle Trail trailhead there are two more short trails, the Window and the Door.

These are also obvious architectural design patterns whose lack or presence in a building we much more easily perceive than their lack or presence in ourselves.

Windows offer a protected view, the exchange between inside and outside is virtual, and, like at the Window Trail, there is no safe way to step outside.

The Door is an entirely different story. And what Alexander writes about doors is valid also for our personal doors: Placing the main entrance is perhaps the single most important step you take during the evolution of a building plan.

On the map, the Door trail looks even shorter than the really very short Window trail, but the former does allow us to step outside into a vast landscape.

We instantly encounter unfamiliar heights, dangers, and the fear of getting lost.

So why should we step vvvvv

So why should we step outside? What are the benefits of an encounter with the undesigned?

In essence, I think, this is a form of survival instinct. Life needs protection but doesn’t like confinement.

Tomorrow, we will begin to step outside — — —