Radical consequences of urban conditions
The urban crisis, following the destruction of the Second World War, brings Berlin into the most particular condition that the urban history has ever seen. The partition into two cities, two opposing blocks. The east Berlin as the capital of the Democratic Republic of Germany, and the West Berlin as a state of the Federal Republic. West Berlin, due to its condition of island, a city-state enclosed by a perimiter wall and surrounded by a hostile territory, in the 1970s still contained empty spaces in which buildings seemed being isolated, such as islands. In 1977 this urban condition will be the reflection above which set up a rescue project - led by Oswald Mathias Ungers with his students, along with Rem Koolhaas and Hans Kollhoff - which brought this fragmented reality to its most extreme consequences, Berlin as a green archipelago. Most than a century before, Friedrich Shinkel said that Berlin is a city made by single architectures and he made it clear on his project for the so-called Havellendshaft, and particularly on the design for Klein Glienicke. He proposed a garden with single architectures which constitute an archipelago of formal events. What is in common in these two projects is the same approach to a particular urban condition. Rather than to impose a spefic vision, and to work against the city forces, they decided to emphasize them, tying them together as the main concept of the project. They brought the urban condition of Berlin, in this case of segregation and separation, to its extreme consequences.
Starting the study of the site we used the same approach. The project area represents a crucial point whithin the urban structure of the city of Berlin. It is the point where the Straße des 17 Juni, which connects the Brandenburger Tor to the district of Charlottenburg, is crossed by the S-Bahn and moreover its potential on a large scale grows due to its proximity to the Zoolosischer Garten Banhohf and the parking area, which represent the arrival point of all the turists traffc from the city center. Furthermore, on a urban scale it represents the boarderline in between the dense tissue of Charlottenburg and the landscape dimension of the Tiergarten area and the Zoolosischer Garten. These first impressions brought us to formulate the idea of a dialectical status of the site. Rather than to complete the block with a finite architecture we decided to work with the existing urban condition in a different way, radicalizing this dual perception of the site. Hence we saw the opportunity to use this concept to set up a project which works with these strenghts creating two opposite interacting spaces.On the upper floor the Botanical Garden is a new public space for the comunity. It is conceived as an extension of the Zoolosischer Garten. The perimenter of this space accomodates all the public or semipublic activities, that establish a straight relation with the park inside, and becomes accessible for the public. Thus, on the ground floor we found different and flexible classes to accomodate educational or pre-school activities, the administration area of the museum, a conference room, a library and common open area.All the exhibition, as a negative reflection of the upper floor, takes part on the basement floor. Here the White Whale Hall accomodates the large artifacts and it is surrounded by other smaller exhibition rooms. From the geographical collections to the reptil and bird gallery, crossing a double high planetarium in a continuous exhibition loop around the main hall. The huge central space allows to place the large artifacts on a range mode, that allegorically send back to the way you can come up against animals on their natural habitats. In between these two floors the level -1 accomodates the large artifacts storage and research areas which don’t need natural light. The atrium is a simple architectural element able to produce the transiction between the public open space of the Botanical Garden and the basement floor with the exhibition areas. We decided to keep it the most simple possible, a clear architecture event constituted by a solid box wrapped by framming grid, as a little temple in the park. Inside, just the coffee area and the element of the stairs which with a double flights brings down to the exhibition. The light is fragmented by the windows frames and gently slided to the double high area of the tickets and the bookshop. From here a wide window overlooks the White Whale Hall, giving a glimpse of the exhibition or the current temporary event.
We wished to resit the generation of a formalist sculpture, and propose as an alternative an open civic structure. To do that we used a classical language, intending with classical the relation between nature and architecture in terms of propotions and space. We wished to create a public civic monument, as a museum should ever be.