A lacklustre screening of short films in Berlin struggled to hold its audience’s attention but raised critical questions of the city’s relationship to its past
Berlin-based website Architectuul.com was founded three years ago by a group of architects and architecture-lovers. As an online platform for the international architecture community − part social network, part architecture database − the founders wanted to explore the question: how can you describe a building?
This year the team has approached the question through another medium: video. An ongoing movie series called Architects in Love will be shown in various live screenings and eventually released on their web platform.In each short movie an architect is asked to choose a building he or she loves, and to pay it a visit with a cameraman, describing its notable qualities in a simple voiceover. The series takes as its main inspiration the 1979 film Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, a 50-minute documentary featuring the renowned architecture critic driving around his adopted home city while pontificating on its lovable attributes.
John Hejduk’s Kreuzberg Tower, built for the Berlin Internationale Bauaustellung of 1987
Architects in Love is presented in Lisbon this autumn as part of the Lisbon Triennale’s seemingly endless stream of offshoot programmes, but it had its launch screening in September 2013 at the Walther Koenig bookstore in Berlin. The first four movies (all shot in Berlin) were shown, and the featured architects were present for brief questions in-between. By far the most compelling of the four documentaries − each under 10 minutes − was with Robert Slinger of Kapok Architects. Slinger chose a building where he lived for several years, John Hejduk’s Kreuzberg Tower, a 14-storey Postmodern residence from the 1980s. His intimate knowledge of the unusual interior spaces led to insightful formal interpretations − describing the tower as an ‘anthropomorphic’ figure; and philosophical meditations − asserting, based on his experience living in its unusual interior, that good architecture should provide ‘the combination of a challenge and an inspiration’.
Overall, however, all the videos verged on Wikipedia-style overviews. The architects and the buildings they chose certainly merit portraiture: Florian Koehl (of Fat Koehl Architects) described a rotund corner-residence at Kaiserdamm 25 by Hans Scharoun and Georg Jacobowitz; Martin Osterman and Lena Kleinheinz (from magma architecture) paid a visit to Hans Scharoun’s Philharmonie; and Stanley Fuls (Code of Practice) explored the Onkel-Toms-Hütte underground station designed by Alfred Grenander. Yet unfortunately the videos’ hasty (sloppy) production hardly allowed for more than a surface-level investigation. The architects themselves are only shown in one cheesy intro-shot − many chuckles from the audience − and we don’t get more of the buildings than awkward close-ups. Moreover, as one audience member mentioned, there were no interior shots of any of the residential buldings. The audience was left to fill in a lot of blanks.
Architect Robert Slinger celebrates the building through the medium of film
It’s not that architecture should only be depicted via glamorous, Iwan Baan-quality money-shots; alternate, real-life documentation is sorely needed in the field. Yet in the absence of time and resources for making a movie, a creative approach to make the most of the material is crucial. For instance, while Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles has a remarkably simple premise, it’s Reyner Banham’s incisive take on the city that makes the video work − at once an ode to the city that Banham loved and a portrait of Banham himself. The architects’ personalities are what would make these videos compelling, especially in the absence of high-quality shots or interior views. Moreover, if shooting inside a building isn’t permitted, how about images and models?
As a time-based medium, films can convey an experiential aspect of space that exhibitions and texts cannot. But perhaps even more important than their formal possibilities, movies, from their creation to their presentation, create platforms for collaboration and conversation. At this stage, Architects in Love is precisely that: a series of quick sketches explicitly intended to serve as talking points − and their collection as a whole series will perhaps come to equal more than the sum of its parts.
The building was recently saved by activists from a deeply insensitive makeover proposed by developers
On the night of the screening, Walther Koenig was so packed it proved futile to stand in line for a post-screening glass of wine. This goes to show how many architects and enthusiasts in Berlin are actively searching for forums to talk about architecture. Now is a critical time for the city, as new development is rapidly altering the urban context. That’s why the particular focus of this series strikes a chord. Concentrating on beloved existing buildings, rather than obsessing over flashy new construction, provides a way for Berliners to stay linked to the past. And it’s crucial for the architecture community to come together in support of the buildings we love. Slinger’s adored Kreuzberg Tower, for instance, has been threatened with defacement; only outspoken local support has preserved it.
They may not be great works of art, but ultimately the cinematic qualities of the Architects in Love videos take a backseat to their primary function: promoting conversation. After all, what’s driving them isn’t a love of cinema − it’s a love of architecture.