HvdHA_Lose23 March 2016 – The tasks for design of the model housing estate at the river Spree have been divided. The 34 participating architects drew names from a jar held by Claudia Kromrei, chair of the Berlin Werkbund. Each architect will now proceed to make designs for three different sites which will be pasted together later in July. Ultimately all architects will receive a commission to elaborate one of their proposals.

Prior to the lottery the principles of the façade design, the choice of materials, and yes, the form of the roofs were hotly debated. That did not result in any kind of agreement. It proved, also among like-minded architects, not easy to take a collective position. All those present conceded eagerly to want ‘to work at the city’. But which city did they mean? And for whom is this city and who owns it? Coincidently I read a piece from Richard Sennett’s book ‘Together’ in the plane back to Amsterdam:

A rehearsal will not progress if one player comes in with an explanation of the ‘Meaning of the Schubert Octet’ or if all the players discuss its cultural significance; the rehearsal itself would then become like a seminar. But in fact few rehearsals run like philosophy seminars. Musicians with good rehearsal skills work forensically, investigating concrete problems. True, many musicians are highly opinionated […], but these opinions will sway others only if they shape a particular moment of collective sound. This empiricism is perhaps the most resonant point about artistic cooperation in a rehearsal: cooperation is built from the ground up.

Perhaps precisely this lack of prejudice is an important precondition to do real experiments in Berlin. I like to think that it is precisely the discursive approach that makes this Werkbund adventure relevant. It is a modest approach which fits into our times in which grand ideals are lacking, but the demand for a sustainable urbanism is urgent. As a Dutch architect I find it stimulating to hear well-known international colleagues talking about the fundamentals of their profession, the practical choice of materials and the construction of facades and roofs that thoroughly and seriously. Apparently one has to go to Germany for that. In any case the debates in Berlin had some similarities with the rehearsals Sennett wrote about so passionately. I hope that there was built a cooperation from the ground up indeed and that together we will shape this moment of polyphonic sound at the Spree bank in the form of a differentiated piece of city.