Julia Walker is Assistant Professor of Art History at Binghamton University. Her talk, titled “Allegory/Archipelago: Crossing Berlin’s Boundaries,” will be held on Friday, April 26, 2013, at 5:30pm.
Upon winning the commission to master plan Berlin’s new government district, Axel Schultes remarked, “the challenge posed by the competition was to coax the soul out of the Spreebogen, the genius loci, to pour its historical and spatial dimensions into the mold of a new architectural allegory.” Schultes and his partner, Charlotte Frank, had generated public enthusiasm with a design anchored by a Band des Bundes (or “ribbon of federal buildings”) spanning the Spree River twice and traversing the former boundary between east and west. Supporters saw the plan as symbolically repairing the torn urban fabric and suturing together the formerly divided city. Indeed, Schultes and Frank’s design thematized the Spreebogen’s status as a boundary that needed somehow to be crossed—a historical zone of rupture, movement, and surveillance, from the course of the Berlin Wall along the Spree to the spectral presence of Albert Speer’s imposing north-south boulevard. Yet Schultes’s reflection that the Spreebogen’s vexed history must be refigured as a “new architectural allegory” also reveals that the boundary between his plan and its precedents is theoretical as well as historical. Schultes and Frank’s postmodern approach to urban planning draws heavily on the thinking of Rem Koolhaas and O. M. Ungers, who had planned in 1977 to reconfigure Berlin as the “green archipelago,” a decentralized, fragmented, and dispersed city in which islands of architectural intensity floated in depopulated green space. In both the allegory and the archipelago, the unified city is hardly unified, but rather diffuse and inchoate.