Josef Kleihues’ masterplan for Potsdamer Platz, Berlin
WHY I LIKE IT...
In 1994 the book recording the competition entries for the renewal of Potsdamer Platz was published. As one of the most important pieces of Berlin cityscape, the entries expressed a mood of optimism for a nation’s reunification after the decline of the Soviet Union in 1989. Berlin, although wholly in the east, was under several western protectorate regimes with The Wall running through Potsdamer Platz. The renewal project became a ‘statement of intent’ for Germany, so the masterplan had to be a symbolic gesture as well as being physically purposeful.
For the period of Soviet occupation, Potsdamer Platz was a wasteland with no features indicating its previous importance as the heart of the city. The divided city and Platz were featured in the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire (1987). In one part, an old man stands in a bleak no-man’s land that is the Platz. He remembers a place of bustle and vibrancy; confused, he recalls ‘this is where Cafe Josty used to be… I would chat and watch the crowds’. Reunification provided the opportunity to re-establish this important civic space and to perhaps contribute further to such memories.
The Berlin Senate organised the competition which was concluded in October 1991. As ever, there were a few eccentric masterplan ideas entered for the competition. These were nonetheless important as they allowed all to question the idea of national identity and reunion.
At the other end of the spectrum from the unconventional were the calmly ordered rationalists, and although not the final competition winner, Josef Kleihues’ competition entry fitted into this category.
The masterplan by Josef Kleihues has a degree of sensible logic about it, with blocks, an axis of canal and park, and regular streets. As when any design is worked on so well, it becomes so comfortable it can become invisible.
There is minimal signature pattern of objects or novelty architecture in Kleihues’s scheme that shout to be looked at. For him, ego is disposed of at the macro scale; perhaps with the author’s signature identity is left to be displayed as bright red urban blocks.
WHAT TO LEARN FROM IT...
What Josef Kleihues did achieve was a critical framework that gets the main urban design vocabulary right. Are the routes direct and obvious with a number of circulation options? Are the scale and massing judged right, a good living environment and a contextual fit within the city? Does the proposal retain the spatial structure of the city as a main priority? Can other designers come along afterwards and carry out further designs for streets and building activity? The answer to all this is yes. It is as if there is sufficient restraint, possibly humility at this stage of the framework to unlock a multitude of other creative thinkers and allow further contributions.
I wonder what Wim Wenders’ old man would have thought, given the opportunity to see a favourite city place before and after such upheaval, and of course, to have another coffee.
Urban designer and masterplanner, Design Director, Iceni Projects
Urban Design and Architecture degrees (with Distinctions), Oxford Brookes University.
town design and delivery of new and regenerated neighbourhoods, from the scale of villages to cities.
Passionate for design quality and craftsmanship in all artefacts whatever the scale. Always return to streets and urban spaces I have contributed to.