Urban Zigzag in Berlin
A Montreal Architect Explores the German Capital by Bike
What one notices fairly quickly in Berlin is the network of public and active transportation options. Strangely, Bombardier’s installations are more present here than in any Canadian city. There are also bicycle paths integrated everywhere, and where there aren’t, the city seems to be systematically planning them in their road works. The paths are integrated either into the sidewalks or the roads depending on the urban conditions. Everyone told me that in Berlin you need a bike and I can confirm that this is the case. And if ever you can’t use a bike because of the distance, time or the weather, you can always take your bike onto the S-Bahn or U-Bahn, Berlin’s system of trains and subways. In the former East Berlin, there is still the tramway (improved since reunification) which efficiently serves the residents. Being a city with few slopes, it’s easy to bike in Berlin, but due to the organic composition of the city, there doesn’t ever seem to be a straight line between two places. However, this adds to the city’s charm, even if we often have the feeling that we’re zigzagging everywhere.
Cycling allows us to explore the various neighbourhoods more in depth. I often went cycling with my camera ready to take photos of interesting street planning and architectural elements. It made it easy to discover hidden corners far from the S-Bahn/U-Bahn. And in moments of disorientation, I just needed to look up to find the Fernsehturm (telecommunications tower) to better orient myself, as even the former East-West division is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Since reunification, the two cities are slowly melting together and this process has given place to all sorts of architectural interventions in a city which has had to reconstruct itself many times over its history.
Opaqueness and transparency in architecturFrom the architectural perspective, contrary to the masonry culture of Montréal, I noticed the omnipresence of stucco as a surface covering for the majority of buildings in the city. A material which isn’t expensive and offering a neutral character, it thus brought my attention to the city’s doors and windows. Accentuated with colours, wood and/or metal, I really liked the combination of openings with worked metal on the balconies, trellises and sliding screens. There is a sense of opaqueness and transparency concerning privacy and the quantity of sunlight in recent projects. This sensibility brings a vitality to the facades, with screens that open and close vertically, or fold or slid across elevations. This is not a play of volume where the majority of buildings here have shared party walls, but rather an attention to details and to the proportions of openings. These aspects are subtle and enjoyable without drawing too much attention or breaking with the existing built form.
is architect and associate at TAUTEM and CEO of the Centre d’écologie urbaine de Montréal
Copyright: Goethe-Institut Kanada
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