Samstag, 14. Dezember 2013

Discovering Berlin: The Brutalist Architecture of the Czech Embassy

Everyone knows that Berlin is a very rich cultural center, but besides being a stage for individual artists, it also offers a lot of opportunities for cultural and country branding. When it comes to such activities, the Czech Cultural Centers are one of the best represented Central European countries, offering permanently interesting movies, discussions about design and architecture and creative art exhibitions. The activities in Berlin - multiplied by the events organized in Dusseldorf and Munich - are presenting local artists - during my visit there, at the beginning of December, in the one-year old gallery was running an exhibition by Vladimir Houdek - as well as movies produced by Czech, Hungarian or Finnish artists, among others. The Center also organizes regularly language classes attended by around 60 students of different backgrounds, from retired persons to students. Generally, people in love with the Czech culture. 
The Czech Center is hosted since November 2012 within the embassy, a space-navy building, situated in Wilhemplatz, right in the Mitte of the city. The brown sombre texture of the building gives a certain note of seriousness to the entire architectural complex, in an area where used to be and still are many official buildings.I went round the building and after a couple of minutes I got used with its unbalanced game of volumes. It is not a Rubik cube, rather a domino of cubes whose obsessive order is broken by some small - at the size of the building - pieces of red mosaic and vertical blocks.
The construction of the building - initially the Czechoslovak embassy in the then DDR -  was finished at the end of the 1970s and was authored by the couple of architects Vera and Vladimir Machoninovi (or Machonin how they are called in the local jargon of architects). It used to host around 2,500 employees, but after the creation of two different countries, the number decreased 10 times. The architects, who authored among others several department stores and hotels, followed the models of Brutalism architecture, introduced by Le Corbusier. Its style suited apparently the political demands of the time, but it is not necessarily a Communist pattern, as it suited also the plans for the US Department of Health or the Trellick Tower in London. 
Wilhelmplatz, where the building is situated, has its own rich history as well. The embassy was built on the remnants of the bunker of the famous Kaiserhof hotel. In the 18th century, this square used to be a beloved living for the local bourgeoisie, decorated with statues of Prussian generals on the ends of gardens designed by Schinkel. In the 19th century, ministries were placed in the buildings around the square that served the purposes of the propaganda of the WWII. After the war, the German communists used the space for various institutions of the new-old state, such as the People's Council or a government's guesthouse and later on, the Czechoslovak embassy. In 2007, the Western section of the Mohrenplatz was redesigned in the historical style, and it offers a sample of the mixed architecture of the new Berlin.

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