Unit 1 explored mineral paradigms to challenge spatial and material conventions. Navigating between utopian models and the realities of building, the unit developed architectures of solidity, interiority and groundedness.
The site for the year was Berlin, a city in which the notions of ground and void are particularly acute. Students worked on one of two mirror sites, both models for developing city centres and recurring acts of erasure due to ideology shifts in the city’s violent history. Schloßplatz, until recently occupied by the GDR’s Palace of the Republic, is probably the most contested site in reunited Germany. Under the new programme of ‘Critical Reconstruction’, future plans entail the controversial resurrection of the nineteenth-century castle. The Kulturforum, a site initially developed according to a masterplan by Hans Scharoun – and a rare fragment of his vision for a ‘Stadtlandschaft’ (city landscape) – has been overshadowed by the development of Potsdamer Platz since the fall of the Wall, and has lost a sense of direction.
Students worked with the scripting and modelling of crystalline properties, which provided a reservoir for formal and material systems. Empirical experimentation helped to exploit their habits and capacities to produce physical and sensory effects. Monolithic construction provided a technical focus while mineral matter such as sand, cement, silicates, clays and gypsum delivered a material palette of plastic qualities.
Grounded yet autonomous, the unit sought to radicalise ideas of context and address public space: from Nas’ super-museum, a heavily sunken body sitting precariously in Berlin’s water-saturated ground, to Akis’s strategy of building with Berlin sand to establish a dynamic relationship between the city’s public spaces and its rising and falling water levels. Thomas’s project for new ground treatment takes after Scharoun’s obsession with Berlin’s condition as a glacial valley and further explores the technology of landcasting. Alan’s contextual erosion and formal echoes synthesise a site of differing ideologies. Takamasa’s strategy for material and mnemonic inclusions reacts against the political, historical and cultural erasure all too present in Berlin.