Potsdamer Platz - An American Construction?

Seminar Paper, 2000

17 Pages

Free online reading


1 How the Skyscraper became an American Epitom

2 The Bauhaus 1919-1933 - an international movement

3 The Bauhaus in America
3.1 Mies van der Rohe at the Armour Institute
3.2 The New Bauhaus
3.3 Bauhaus-exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

4 Europeanization of modern American architecture?
4.1 Transformation of the Skyscraper
4.2 The International Style

5 Criticism of the International Style and the development of a new American architecture
5.1 Robert Venturi

6 Dominance and export of American architecture

7 US-Architects in post-wall Berlin

8. Potsdamer Platz and the city in the 21st century

9 Potsdamer Platz: Berlin or New York?

10 "Both-and" instead of "Either-or"


Will the reconstructed Potsdamer Platz be identified as a place in Berlin or could it as well be a place in America?

This paper discusses the influence of European and American cultural traditions on modern architecture. The lineages as well as the mutual influence of both architectural cultures will be looked at. Examples are the Bauhaus and its influence on American architects in the 1920s as well as today's apparent ascendency of American architects. Finally, the current reconstruction of Potsdamer Platz in Berlin is used as example to raise the question whether American architecture today is dominating European cities.

1 How the Skyscraper became an American Epitom

Nineteenth-century Americans pursued a conscientious course of isolationism, and mainly tended to business. The development of a nation of three million square miles provided Americans with markets for industry and sources of raw materials that European powers could satisfy only through colonialism. In this isolation from Europe rose a specific American culture of design and architecture.

Although divided by stylistic eclecticism, the United States took the lead in the development of advanced building technologies in the second half of the 19th century. Engineering became a distinctly separate profession, and works such as the Brooklyn Bridge by John and Washington Roebling (1869-83) number among the most impressive of all American achievements. The technical innovations of this era included the use of cast iron, steel, and reinforced concrete in construction.

The trend towards functional design, which had been steadily growing, reached its greatest expression in the works of the so-called Chicago school of architecture led by Louis Henry Sullivan. Sullivan broke completely with historical eclecticism and used modern materials in such a way as to emphasize their function. The commercial buildings and skyscrapers of Chicago and other cities built under his influence were admired for their power and originality as well as for the rational organization of their parts.

This American design ethic was founded on domestic expansion, immigration, transportation and invention. But this frontier/pioneer model for a creative culture did not survive long into the present century. At the end of World War One America found itself in an strengthened and nearly undamaged position. The victorious nation now had to grow into its new role as the new great world power. Hesitatingly the Americans adopted to their new role and responsibility.

The period of the Great Depression didn´t change the United States as fundamentally as

Europe, also when F.D. Rossevelt, who was elected for president in 1933, reacted to the social changes with his New Deal-program. The United States soon ascended to the most industrialized and wealthiest nation. The crisis of the depression didn´t change the political and economical power status of post-war America. The 'American Century' continued.

In the late 1920s, the image of a powerful and urban America found its epitom in the

Skyscraper. The fully accomplished expansion to the west was in favour to the call for the Skyscraper. The frontier changed its direction - from horizontal to vertical."The American Skyscraper ... stands as a noble expression of the high standards and ideals of modern American business. Strength, honesty and sincerity are the features of its design as they are characteristic of commercial enterprise."

The best examples of this period are the Daily News Building by Hood and Howells from 1930 (1), the McGraw Hill Building by Hood and Fouilhoux from the same year (2) and especially the Rockefeller Center (3). All of them built under the criteria of economical efficiency combined with the aesthetics of the Beaux-arts, "...lyric castles of Big Business."

It was this architecture of representation which European artists and intellectuals who fled from Nazi-Germany saw in the the United States. Their own ideas of a modern architecture were completely different, promoting a universal modern architecture (Neues Bauen) without historic references, ornaments or national representation. Their influence on the ongoing evolution of an American archietcture will be discussed in the next chapters.

2 The Bauhaus 1919-1933 - an international movement

The Bauhaus in Weimar was founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius and moved to Dessau in 1925. Its last resort was Berlin, where director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, under the pressure of the Nazi-regime, had to announce in 1933 the self-dissolution of the school. Everyone who was associated with the school's ideas or who tried to continue his work in its tradition saw himself attacked and suspected of 'cultural bolshevism". As for a lot of other Germans in this time, the result was that many artists and architects went into exile. Ironically this expulsion led to an almost explosive international spreading of the Bauhaus-ideas.

Actually the Bauhaus had never been bounded as a merely national initiative. Much of its potential and profile is derived from an extraordinary international cooperation. Bauhaus- founder Walter Gropius called the Swiss Johannes Itten, who had developed revolutionary pedagocical methods for art in Vienna, to teach the famous Vorkurs - the preliminary course, which became the core of the Bauhaus-education. Furthermore the American Lyonel Feininger, Swiss-German Paul Klee, the Russian Wassiliy Kandinsky and Laszlo Moholo- Nagy. The Austrian Herbert Bayer and Marcel Breuer from Hungary contributed to the school's development as well as later Swiss Architect Hannes Meyer, successor of Gropius as the director. Additionally there were many international guests at the Bauhaus, like El Lissitzky from Russia or the Austrian-American Architect Richard Neutra, not to speak of the very international body of students.

But not only personally the Bauhaus was international. Its program, which was looking for new ways to teach arts, its experimentical approach and work and its contributing role in the movement of European avantgardistic architecture and design was recepted beyond German borders very early.

Maybe the internationality of the Bauhaus was one of the reasons the political right and especially the Nazis were fighting it so hard and what led to the school's closing in 1933. But another effect of the internationality was a certain notion and knowledge about the Bauhaus in other countries, including the United States. And it was America which the exiles chose as base for the continuation of their movement.

3 The Bauhaus in America

Among the expatriotes in the United States were the most influential of the Bauhaus. The architects Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Hilbersheimer and Breuer, the painters Albers, Bayer, Feininger, Moholo-Nagy and with them many more who had found an exile in America. The United States became the country in which the Bauhaus was most active and influential. For example in New York there were times when twenty or more Bauhaus-members worked in their actual artistic field.

An even more important factor were schools which institutionalized the Bauhaus-ideas and called the European artists as teachers. One is the Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where Josef Albers (since 1933) and later Xanti Schawinsky worked. Another important school is the Harvard Graduate School of Design, which called Walter Gropius in 1937 and later Marcel Breuer. Especially Gropius teaching at Harvard became very successful.

3.1 Mies van der Rohe at the Armour Institute

Mies van der Rohe taught at the Armour Institute's department for Architecture since 1938 - today the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Armour was a modest technical training school on Chicago's near south side, when Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was to take over the leadership of its architectural program. In doing so, the school hoped to transform its traditional architectural program to one of international stature and innovation. The selection of Mies as chairman of the school's Department of Architecture was a logical choice for achieving this goal; at that time, as Mies had already achieved international recognition as one of the leading figures of modern architecture.

Relocating to Chicago in 1938, Mies reshaped the architectural curriculum of Armour Institute along similar lines to that of the Bauhaus, developing a disciplined curriculum carried out in a cooperative environment that encouraged interaction between students and the faculty, comprised of professionals from a wide variety of design disciplines. The curriculum consisted of progressive, Bauhaus-inspired courses on the visual and tactile characteristics of materials, as well as more fundamental classes on drawing and construction techniques. Beginning students were first educated in the essential characteristics of materials and construction, providing a sound foundation in how a building is built and the nature and capabilities of materials. Only when students fully grasped the basic concepts were they gradually advanced into applying these principles into actual building design.

3.2 The New Bauhaus

The most important, as it was the directest American Bauhaus-successor, was the New Bauhaus in Chicago, founded in 1937. The extraordinary status of the New Bauhaus is due to its continuation and further development of the complete Bauhaus teaching method and curriculum. At the same time does the development of the New Bauhaus and the School of Design (Institute of Design since 1944) show the process of acculturation, the merging of the Bauhaus-methodology with American influences.

In 1937 Moholy-Nagy came to Chicago at the invitation of the Association of Arts and Industries, which wanted to organize a design school in the hope that it would enhance the economic and cultural life of the city. But the Association members felt that Moholys method was too experimental and just over a year later, in the fall of 1938, withdrew their support. Moholy, however, continued his pursuit. He found an important backer in Walter Paepcke, a member of the Association and chairman of the Container Corporation of America. Paepcke and his wife, Elizabeth, helped Moholy reopen the school under a new name, the Chicago School of Design. In 1944 it acquired its present title, the Institute of Design. In addition to his distinguished reputation as a painter, photographer, graphic designer, and educator, Moholy brought boundless energy and enthusiasm for the new undertaking. His ideas were more experimental than those of many of his Bauhaus contemporaries. The Institute of Design does still exist. Today as department of the Illinois Institute of Technology and has an excellent reputation for its experimental and theoretical character.

3.3 Bauhaus-exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York

One of the most influencial events to the American reception of the Bauhaus was the Bauhaus-exhibition by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1938. The concept of this exhibition was made by Walter Gropius together with Bauhaus-designer Herbert Bayer. Bayer was responsible mainly for the exhibition's much regarded catalogue. In it one finds a famous quote from Alfred H. Barr, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York:

"Why is the Bauhaus so important ?

1. Because it courageously accepted the machine as an instrument worthy of the artist
2. Because it faces the problem of good design and mass production.
3. Because it brought together on its faculty more artists of distinguished talent than has any other art school of our time
4. Because it bridged the gap between the artist and the industrial system.
5. Because it broke down the hierarchy which had divided the 'fine' from the 'applied' arts.
6. Because it differentiated between the what can be taught (technique) and what cannot (creative invention)
7. Because its building at Dessau was architecturally the most important structure of the 1920's.
8. Because after much trial and error it developed a new and modern kind of beauty.
9. And, finally, because its influence has spread throughout the world, and is especially strong today in England and the United States."

The exhibition was a success and a controversly discussed topic in the press. There where statements which described the exhibition as "final danse macabre" and others declaring it to be "the finest thing in existence". With the exhibition the Bauhaus-idea was brought to a public audience.

4 Europeanization of modern American architecture?

All the last examples show how the idea of the Bauhaus spread in America since the forced closing of the Bauhaus in Berlin and the expatriation of its most influential and creative teachers and students. The early and strong influences of the Bauhaus can be seen in its members continued work, their teaching at architectural and design-schools and their influence on the art-scene of America.. Have the ambitious European architects adopted to the American culture or did their ideas begin to dominate American architecture?

Frank Lloyd Wright, leading American architect, was in opposition to the Bauhaus-ideas and their influence on American architectural culture. The 'Bauhäuslers' ignorance of cultural history and their minimalistic-functionalistic style were criticized by him and those who feared a loss of America's cultural independence. Evidence for the replacement of Frank Lloyd Wright as leading American architect by Mies and Gropius gives the transformation of the skyscraper´s facade: From brick to glass.

Transformation of the Skyscraper

"Rue de Regret: The Avenue of the Americas in New York. Row after Mies van der row of glass boxes. Worker housing pitched up fifty stories high."

As the evolution of American architecture went on, disputes whether the economical and technological standards were sufficient to represent American culture and identity led to the discussion about new aesthetics in architecture. Modernist ideas became part of the architectural discourse. Philip Johnson, one of Gropius’s students at Harvard University and others promoted modernist thoughts like the Bauhaus ideas. Johnson became very important for the success of Mies van der Rohe's architecture in America, himself becoming his best copist.

The skyscraper, the image of the American city, changed it´s representative brick facade with a mirroring glassfront. Ornaments or historical quotations were casted out - The architecture of the International style was free of any possible meaning besides the building itself. As Mies put it: 'We don´t know any form we only find costruction-solutions. Form is not our aim, it is the result of our work.'

4.2 The International Style

Despite noteworthy exceptions—including such later works as Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York (completed 1959) - the style initiated by the Bauhaus architects and termed the International Style gradually prevailed after the 1930s. The theory and practice of the new style was introduced in the United States largely through the efforts of Philip C. Johnson. In the hands of its most gifted architects such as Mies, the International Style seemed particularly well suited to large metropolitan apartment and office towers. The "pure elegance" and "subtle proportions" of Mies’s Lake Shore Drive Apartments (1951) in Chicago and (with Philip C. Johnson) his Seagram Building (1958) in New York City represent modernism at its finest. Many of his imitators, however, took advantage of its commercial potential; which proved extremely efficient for large-scale construction, in which the same module could be repeated indefinitely. Inner spaces became standardized, predictable, and profitable, and exteriors reflected the monotony of the interiors; the blank glass box became omnipresent.

Assessing modernism after a half century in which it was dominant, commentators pointed out that even though it was embraced by big business and big government, the lay public never grew fond of it. At most an ascetic classicism was conceded to it, but this was achieved in a coldly impersonal and often overwhelming way. Modernism had cut off architecture’s roots in the past by about 1930. Suddenly it became incorrect for a new building to show any resemblance to old ones; and for a period of time the study of historical styles almost disappeared from professional schools.

" 'History is bunk'

The thirtie´s generation is the only one "free from history". The architects of the Heroic Period were in revolt against a saturation in history...their teachers taught them about it; the architects they worked for as young men were fighting with it; their uncles and aunts knew all about Florence. But for the next generation the revolt was over...history of architecture just a boring academic subject, something almost sinful für working architects to be interested in."

Americans began to disregard their domestic design tradition in favor of that of the Bauhaus. The aesthetic developed and promoted by designers such as Greene & Greene, Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan and Louis Sullivan was replaced by that of Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer. "For the emigration of Mies van der Rohe to the United States in 1938 had allowed his 'thirties to continue and Mies' work and presence in Chicago in the early 'forties passed on to native Americans the radical stance of the European designers."

Modernist architecture had once been a critical avantgarde, but by the late 1960s it had both become established and revealed its deficits. It also seemed as European architecture had replaced home-grown American architecture, just as Gropius replaced artists like Frank Lloyd Wright as the future of American architecture. at least through the remainder of the 20th century. At this time an awkward feeling of inferiority of the old tradition seemd to dominate

- a foreign design tradition had been implanted where had been a domestic culture.

Criticism of the International Style and the development of a new American architecture

Around 1960 a formal and theoretical reaction to the International style began to take shape as architects became increasingly disenchanted with the sterile aestheticism of much postwar building. Louis I. Kahn reintroduced axial planning and other Beaux-Arts principles, while Eero Saarinen experimented with dynamic sculptural forms. In addition, Robert Venturi argued for the value of studying the vernacular and commercial landscape, with the effect of broadening the theoretical foundations of modern design and ushering in the postmodern era. American Architect Charles Jencks marked the "death of modern architecture" with the blasting of the Puitt-Igoe housing complex in early 70s. The demolition seemed to show the avowal of a monumental mistake which neglected any human needs for living. After this, Jencks states, the era of postmodern architecture began.

By the early 1980s postmodernism had become America's dominant style, particularly for public buildings.

5.1 Robert Venturi

In his books "Complexity and Contradiction" from 1966, Venturi compares the ornaments of the gothic cathedral´s facade with the advertisement-signs of Las Vegas, showing that signs and direct references had alwas been part of a city. The rediscovery of the facade as a building's face which communicates with the world trough direct expression was in direct opposition to the modernist idea of a building, which was supposed to be pure and without symbolical character. Venturi called this re-humanization of a building.

But his critique at Modernism is not a complete rejection, an "either-or". His proposal is an architectural language of ambiguity, of "both-and".

While Modernism had rejected the symbolical representation of power, Venturi restored the expression of represenation through the facade as a carrier of ornaments and symbols. In the early 1970's, Venturi's design ideas and strategies had been given the name of Post- Modernism, and were gaining a list of prominent followers such as Charles Moore and Robert Stern. Known as the "Greys", and including such architects as mentioned above, this group of Post-Modernists gained a reputation for using historical references in their work. As mentioned above, it is important to keep in mind, however, that Venturi did not denounce Modernism entirely, he simply could not condone the "unimaginative versions thereof", rejecting also the idea of "form follows function". Although Venturi considers himself a architect of Western classical tradition, he claims that architectural rules have changed. He rejects a populist label, but in Learning from Las Vegas he shifted from an intellectual critique of Modernism in terms of complexity to an ironic acceptance of the "kitsch of high capitalism" as a form of vernacular. His theories have generated the aesthetic of the Post- Modernism.

6 Dominance and export of American architecture

At around this time, the United States, often an importer and interpreter of modernist architectural trends, became an exporter of postmodernist concepts. In postmodern design, architects as Philip Johnson (in one of his many changes of architectural style), Michael Graves, Richard Meier, Charles Gwathmey, Robert A. M. Stern, Charles Moore, Helmut Jahn, Thomas Beeby, and others reintegrated the ornament, historicism, technology, and often vivid color in diverse, eclectic, and often humorous manners. Among postmodernism's most notable buildings are Graves's Portland Building (1982), Portland, Ore., and Johnson's AT&T Building, now the Sony Building New York City. While postmodern architecture remained a dominant mode in the 1990s,

some contemporary architects have created their own styles. Foremost among these is Frank Gehry, whose asymmetrical, sculptural buildings using both common and unusual materials, are an architectural world unto themselves. One of his finest works is the monumental and organic titanium steel Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (1997). His latest work can be seen in the center of Berlin, where he built the DG-Bank.

7 US-Architects in post-wall Berlin

Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, American architects have been pouring into the German capital to take part in the city’s rebuilding or as some say: "rebirth".

Famous names such as I. M. Pei, Philip Johnson, Helmut Jahn and Frank Gehry all have projects under way in the city. Some $15 billion a year is being spent on new buildings in Berlin, mostly in the eastern part of the city.

But now, as the projects are being realized, the American architects have become some of the most vocal critics. Because of the strict building rules imposed by the city’s conservative politicians, they say the new Berlin is going backward and becoming what it was before World War II, a city of heartless and unimaginative buildings.

The rules are not so harsh that the architects have refused to accept commissions. But the architects say they wish the city had let them be more creative. "The huge building site here was unique," says Los Angeles architect Daniel Libeskind. Berlin, he declares, is a "missed opportunity."

"Completely uninteresting," is how I. M. Pei has described the buildings at Potsdamer Platz, a miniature city arising at what used to be Europe’s busiest intersection.

The architects had high hopes. In the days of the Wall, even while East Berlin was shackled by Communism, the architectural scene in West Berlin was among the world’s most lively and creative.

But after the Wall fell and the two Berlins were joined, innovation gave way to conservatism as the city adopted rules favoring granite and concrete over steel and glass and restricting building height to five or six stories

Daniel Libeskind's zigzagging, ultramodern Jewish Museum in the West Berlin district of Kreuzberg, was approved before the Wall fell and the rules changed. He has received very few assignments in post-Wall Berlin because, he says, he was unwilling to compromise his standards just to win commissions.

The abrupt shift in Berlin from modernism to conservatism can be traced to Hans Stimmann, who became the city’s building director after the Wall fell. He says the politicians of West Berlin erred by letting architects run free. "They believed that if you blew up the city, history would be gone," he says. "But people, not architecture, made fascism."

Mr. Stimmann’s vision was to repair the city rather than reinvent it. So he forced architects to remain loyal to the past while he declares he is not against modern architecture. A few modern buildings in an old city are enriching, he says. But he believes it would be dishonest to fill the city with them. "A city is not an art collection," he says. "It is an expression of the local identity."

Philip Johnson designed a project on the former Checkpoint Charlie. He, too, agreed to play by the new rules. But in a lecture delivered in 1995 and attended by Mr. Stimmann, he ridiculed the restrictions. First, he showed slides of his project. Then he showed another set of slides of what he really wanted to build. They showed an adventurous series of sloping buildings that, from above, look like fallen leaves.

But there are not only critical voices. Helmut Jahn rejects the assertion that Potsdamer Platz is "completely uninteresting" American architects are accustomed to building restrictions. More puzzling for them is the city’s jury system of awarding projects. Mr. Pei, in a January interview with a Berlin newspaper, said competitions are too expensive for cost-conscious American architects. His own project in Berlin, the expansion of the city’s German Historical Museum, avoided the process. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, envious of the striking glass pyramid Mr. Pei designed for Paris’s Louvre Museum, personally invited him to Berlin.

Gehry, who won a competition with a jury that included Mr. Stimmann, says Berlin should not be singled out for standing in the way of innovation. "Many cities screwed up," he says. But at least in Berlin people are willing to talk about it. "There is no city where the debate is as exciting," he says.

8. Potsdamer Platz and the city in the 21st century

Can a city or even part of a city, normally shaped by the passage of time, be planned and built in a single step? These two questions which have posed an interesting theoretical challenge over the past few decades suddenly took on a new and urgency with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Though these may be questions that apply throughout the entire city centre, the most insistent and spectacular example is Potsdamer Platz. It has an almost mythical aura. Potsdamer Platz has become the acid test of every hypothesis posited by contemporary architecture. After all, what was once the crowded center of urban traffic, by 1924, it had become the site of Europe's very first set of traffic lights, was a deserted urban wasteland in 1989. Potsdamer Platz reflects and even epitomises the political, social and architectural challenge of rebuilding Berlin.

In the summer of 1990, just a few months after the Wall came tumbling down, DaimlerChrysler acquired a large site directly by Potsdamer Platz. The adjacent sites were purchased by Sony and Asea Brown Boveri. In the following year, Berlin's Senator for Urban Development and Environmental Protection announced a competition to develop the entire area. Sixteen architects of international standing were invited to submit their urban development concepts and the winning project was presented by Heinz Hilmer and Christoph Sattler. Their design was then taken as the basis for a development masterplan and as a guideline for a subsequent architectural competition held by DaimlerChrysler in close collaboration with the Berlin Senate and the district authorities of Tiergarten. This time around, fourteen international firms of architects were called upon to present their ideas and it was the design submitted by Renzo Piano and Christoph Kohlbecker won. The first steps towards developing the DaimlerChrysler site had thus been taken. The site, overing an area of 68,000 sqm, will not be developed by Renzo Piano and Christoph Kohlbecker alone. This design team, having drawn up the masterplan and been commissioned to execute a number of buildings, also have the artistic directorship of the project as a whole, for which Arata Isozaki, Hans Kollhoff, Ulrike Lauber and Wolfram Wöhr, José Rafael Moneo and Richard Rogers have also been commissioned to build. Since 1993, these architects have met regularly for workshops in which they spend several days discussing, developing and consolidating the individual designs. On 28th October 1994, the foundation stone was ceremoniously laid. The new complex, with some 340,000 sqm of floor space costing in the region of three thousand million DM is scheduled for completion by 1998. The reconstruction of Potsdamer Platz can be compared with an attempt to replace the destroyed 19th century heart of a city with one from the 20th century. Those involved have no easy task. They have to create diversity on a site whose ownership is entirely homogeneous. They have to create unity within this diversity and have a wealth of technical and design options. They have to produce individuality within the structures of a uniform overall program. Not to speak of the criticism from all sides.

9. Potsdamer Platz: Berlin or New York?

"Das ist nicht mehr Berlin!" - 'Thats not Berlin anymore!', said Berlin architect Jürgen Sawade when asked for his opinion about the new Potsdamer Platz. Sawade, who was jurymember in some architecture-competitions, is one of the important thinkers for the new architecture of Berlin. But now he criticizes Potsdamer Platz of not being a place in Berlin - and many people would probably agree with him.

But how does a true Berlin-architecture look like? Is there any? Is it the premodern style of the brick-facade, the representative of prussian power and monumentality? In search for an identity for postwall Berlin, the question, what architecture represents Berlin has been discussed intensivly - not only by architects but by the media and public as well.

The statement of Jürgen Sawade is conservative and unprogressive, typical for German architects and city-planners in the discussion of Potsdamer Platz and Berlin's future. These opinions seem especially conservative when compared to ideas of the mid-twenties when the German/European avantgarde was expressing a widespread feeling of discontent with the state of the city. They considered it neither worth preserving nor of importance for future development. To say it even more drastically: They would have rebuilt all of Berlin. When in 1925 a competition of ideas was launched to provoke a debate about Berlin's historical architecture and invite proposals for the future of Unter den Linden, German modernist architects showed no interest at all. The first prize went to the Dutch architect Cornelis van Eesteren. The radical spirit of this time can best be seen in Mies van der Rohe's most prominent project for Berlin, the glass tower block of 1921. The complete departure from traditional architectural motifs and the emphasis on transparancy represent one of the most radical denials of monumental architecture. The glass tower at Friedrichstrasse has never been built. Firstly it was New York where modernist large-scale projects were actually constructed.

While modernist approaches to build in Berlin have often been criticized for their uniformity, the critics of Postdamer Platz complain about its unhomogeneous "American" character. The bulding's height, the glass-roof-mall of Daimler-City and especially Helmut Jahn's big circular atrium of the Sony-Center, are identified as imports from northamerican city-culture, not wanted in Europe.

The criticized height of the buildings, being above Berlin-standard of 22 meter, certainly do not have "American" dimensions. Most skyscrapers in Frankfurt/Main are three times as high as the tallest building at Potsdamer Platz. Not to speak about vertical dimensions of skyscrapers in New York or Chicago.

In reality the identity of the new place is determined by its ground plan, which follows the tradition of the old European city. Places bundle up the roads, the buildings are located closely to the street, build corridors and frames for courtyards.

9. "Both-and" instead of "Either-or"

The critical voices calling the Potsdamer Platz 'americanized' don't seem to have very plausible arguments. Potsdamer Platz certainly is neither a typical American nor European place. It represents the vision of a city-center, as formulated at the Habitat-conference in Istanbul 1996: The role-model of a place, respecting the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds.In times of globalization the representation of the variety is necessary for the identity of today's cities - more than the representation of a one-dimensional national history and culture. Berlin will reinvent itself again - as it has many times before.


Bayer, Herbert, Walter Gropius, Ise Gropius: Bauhaus 1919-1928, New York 1938, German edition Stuttgart 1955

Franz Schulze: Philip Johnson: Leben und Werk, Springer-Verlag, Wien - New York 1996 Ghirardo, Diane: Architecture After Modernism, London 1996

Hahn, Peter, & Engelbrecht,: Lloyd C.: 50 Jahre New Bauhaus. Bauhaus-Nachfolge in Chicago. Berlin 1988

Jencks, Charles.The Language of Post-Modern Architecture.Rizzoli, New York, 1977

Kahlfeld, Kleihues, Scheer: City of Architecture. Architecture of the City. Berlin 1900-2000, Berlin, 2000

Kentgens-Craig, Margret: Bauhaus-Architektur. Die Rezeption in Amerika 1919-1936., Frankfurt/Main - Berlin - New York, 1993

Schmidt, Dieter (Hrsg).Manifeste Manifeste 1905-33. Verlag der Kunst, Dresden 1962 Smithson, Alison & Peter: The 1930's.Berlin, 1985

Sexton, R.W.: American Commercial Buildings of Today, New York, 1928

Venturi, Robert:Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, Chicago, 1966 Venturi, Robert et al.:Learning from Las Vegas, Chicago, 1977 Wolfe, Tom: From Bauhaus to Our House. Toronto, 1981

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Potsdamer Platz - An American Construction?
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Kasimir Druscher (Author), 2000, Potsdamer Platz - An American Construction?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/97508


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