A Spatial Shift: Re-occupying Berlin’s No Man’s Land



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No other city in Europe has seen as much urban landscape changes as Berlin, Germany. How can a contemporary urban design approach along the former site of the city’s division help stitch together the physical as well as cultural disconnects and introduce a new public space in the city? The relationship between the built landscape and the social world is dialectical, with each perpetually and cyclically shaping the other. There is a direct language spoken between the architecture of a city and the inhabitants using the space. This relationship is dynamic and stands at the center of my endeavor. When studying the urban grid of a city a production of processes is found – both social and physical – creating a navigable network. “The immediate questions raised for an urban observer by its configuration are related to the communicational capacity and power of these shapes and their legibility” as they relate to the architectural quality of urban space.1 Interruption in the grid of a city can occur from a multitude of reasons: physical terrain conditions, a modernizing intervention such as a highway, urban planning programs (such as a Haussmann boulevard in Paris), or even a political play of forces that can divide a city with physical boundaries. Perhaps the most notable specimen created from political transformations was the Berlin Wall, existing from 1961 to 1989. This physical structure interrupted the building culture and social life of Berlin to an extraordinary extent and changed the urban grid of this city forever. Berlin was seeing a separation in the political positions during this time and soon their ideologies were superimposed onto the citizens. While people attempted to carry on with life as usual the cultural movements also began to divide between the East and West. While there were no physical barriers until 1961, the political ones had begun and were only strengthened by the actual separation of these two “cities”. In Berlin there are three primary phases of this evolving relationship between the urban grid and society: the historical growth of urbanism until 1961, physical division of the city into East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989, and the forward motion of current design as these two worlds has physically become one again. In a general manner the aim of my urban design solution will be generated by evaluating the historical building culture of Berlin and critically applying a social theory in design to an urban architectural intervention. Key components of the project will focus around urban housing demands and cultural institutions that need a home in the city. I plan to organize public spaces in this contemporary society. Berlin has been chosen as the site for my master’s design study because it has a rapidly changing building development, a collision of nationalities, and a diverse artistic culture.