Strausberger Platz: Where Architects Come Together

It is really not surprising that architects should be drawn to architectural landmarks. In the case of Strausberger Platz and Karl-Marx-Allee, this is more than just an architectural gathering; it is an architectural summit – a place where the present comes together with the past and the future.

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architectural landmark Strausberger Platz, image courtesy of Ringo Paulusch

David Adjaye: pioneer with a passion for black

David Adjaye is an internationally lauded star. With offices in London, New York and Berlin. And where exactly in Berlin? On Karl-Marx-Allee, of course. He may not appear so often on the public radar, but he is described by insiders as an “architects’ architect”; a pioneer of his profession and publisher of books that rethink and reconstruct architecture. He has collaborated with a number of artists on a wide range of projects, such as the art pavillion he designed for an installation by the light artist Olafur Eliasson. Eliasson, who has worked with the Tate Modern and MoMA in New York, also has a studio in Berlin. So, to put things in black and white terms: we have two artists, one with his roots in the UK and the other with his roots in Denmark, coming together in Berlin.

Adjaye doesn’t just design for artists, he designs with them. His “Dirty House” in London is nothing short of sensational. He has also made his mark on Berlin, admittedly on a smaller, more personal scale: the next time you are standing at Strausberger Platz with Alexanderplatz directly behind you, cast your eyes to the Karl-Marx-Allee exit of the tower to the right of the central roundabout. This is where you will find the home of a true connoisseur of the arts, a home with an interior designed by David Adjaye. Then there’s the residence of the lifestyle guru and publisher, Angelika Taschen. A classic, late nineteenth century Altbau, tastefully modified by David Adjaye and his team. There is one characteristic shared by all of his projects: David loves black. On Karl-Marx-Alle it is the apartment; in Angelika Taschen’s home it is the corridor, and at the “Dirty House” the facade.

Gonzalez Haase: intricate German-Spanish precision

Light, airy and weightless – this is the attitude taken by the architects Gonzalez Haase to both architecture and life. The team is based in one of the towers on Strausberger Platz, with a view looking out towards Alexanderplatz. Judth Haase has an apartment here, whereas for Jorge Gonzalez this is “just” his office. They have been here since 1999. Both previously worked for Robert Wilson, which is how their partnership began. Wilson, a fascinating artistic all-rounder, established a creative think tank that met in the Hamptons, just outside New York, at least once a year, when he threw his annual summer party: an event that always gained enthusiatic and frantic press coverage, and included guests such as Lady Gaga and Marina Abramovic. The theater artist has become famous around the world for his “slowed down” performances, as well as for his set designs, which are both intricate and precise. And this former employer has become a guiding spirit for the architects Gonzalez Haase: intricate precision is one way to describe their architectural style. Whether they are designing a store for the Swedish fashion label ACNE, galleries and exhibition spaces, converting warehouse space into condominiums and artists’ studios or designing artistic installations – the German-Spanish team distills atmosphere into tangible form.

In comparison, Peter W. Schmidt, who also has an office in Berlin, could be described as down-to-earth. Blocks and cubes – nothing too exciting, but happily snapped up by private builders. Then there is the office of Schmitt van Holst. They take a few more risks with their designs. Zanderroth Architekten definitely have more sex appeal, building everything from housing developments to holiday homes. This author’s favorite: Zanderroth’s Hause Biesenthal. A classical apartment building in deepest Brandenburg, the facade still dotted with bullet holes from the Second World War, the extension only rescued from collapse by complex scaffolding – still, it has the verve of a piece of David Chipperfield architecture. At the same time, the building is a link to Karl-Marx-Allee. How does architecture provide the “glue” to this story? The trail that led architects to set themselves up around Strausberger Platz and Karl-Marx-Allee begins on this street, and others like it. Have the architects been influenced by Soviet neo-classicism? Judith Haase sums things up for everyone, “Influenced is probably putting it too strongly. But the atmosphere inspires, in one way or another.”

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residence and  workplace of international architects, image courtesy of Ringo Paulusch