New exhibition “The Great Repair”: Repairing instead of building new

The exhibition “The Great Repair” at the AdK Berlin advocates a social-ecological revolution in urban development. One key to this: more repairs.

View of the exhibition “The Great Repair” in the Academy of Arts, Berlin, 2023 Photo: David von Becker

This exhibition has shaken up the venerable institution, says Anh-Linh Ngo, editorial director of the architecture magazine published in Berlin Arch+ and one of the curators of “The Great Repair” exhibition. This refers to the Academy of Arts (AdK), founded in 1696 – and the exhibition, which Ngo curated together with five other experts from the field of architecture and urban research in their exhibition halls on Hanseatenweg, makes an effort right from the start to do justice to this claim become. Instead of the usual access via the main staircase, you can now access the halls on the first floor via the backstage – via a functional and by no means representative staircase, otherwise only accessible to AdK employees.

With this curatorial trick, the focus is instead on the architecture of the building on its structure, because here you suddenly come across the label for an exhibit on which it is already written: “The floor does not correspond to today’s DIN standards, due to its robustness However, the construction has aged well and shows no significant damage. No intervention is necessary.”

“The Great Repair” is one of a mediation program and two Arch+-Exhibition lined with issues that dares to attempt to derive the major project of urgent social transformations from existing (architectural, urban planning, restoration, etc.) practices.

Case study AdK: For the renovation of the building designed by Werner Düttmann and Sabine Schumann, which was completed in 1960 and is a listed building, and which became necessary in the 2000s, the Berlin office “Brenne Architects” had the premise of making as little damage to its material substance as possible, despite the necessary technical interventions to change. Some examples of how this was solved “creatively” are shown here in the stairwell.

The main staircase of the Academy of Arts Hanseatenweg during its renovation Photo: Holger Herschel

The connection to the AdK for the exhibition largely ends there. Rather, the renovation of the academy is just one example of many in the adjoining exhibition halls, in which, given the waste of resources and the exorbitantly high levels of CO, particularly in the construction industry2-Emissions, which is primarily about structural rethinking, connecting, remodeling, pausing, sometimes in an artistic, sometimes in a documentary way.

“The Great Repair.” Academy of Arts on Hanseatenweg, until January 14, 2024

The exhibition’s thesis is that the socio-ecological revolution will succeed through repair, beyond green growth ideas. Works and exhibits from around 40 participants – architectural offices, artists, university institutes – are not intended to illustrate the urgency of necessary systemic changes, but are always one step further, trying out, researching, determining, realizing.

Continuous repairs

There is the model of a house in Tokyo that the architects Fuminori Nousaku and Mio Tsuneyama live in in the spirit of “continuous repair” and thus saved it from the actually programmed demolition – with the consequence that for some it looks like a permanent construction site likes, represents for others a role model of preserving and resource-saving living.

There is the example of the “Triemli Towers” ​​in Zurich, three still-standing high-rise buildings from the 1960s, whose demolition decision 20 years ago has now been successfully questioned by the “Zurich Working Group for Urban Development” with concrete suggestions for conversion and continued use Demolition was initially postponed.

There is the video “Cars into Bicycles” by the Berlin artist duo Folke Köbberling & Martin Kaltwasser, which documents the conversion of a broken car into a functioning cargo bike. How this can be related to urban planning is shown by a project at the University of Luxembourg, which involves ideas for the conversion of a large commercial area, the soil sealing of which is not insignificantly caused by parking spaces.

Radical expression of self-repair

The exhibition is consistently aware that these are all transformation ideas that can only selectively address the systemic nature of the problem – the “commodity-like state of architecture”. A poster with the text of the “Global Moratorium on New Construction” (2020), a call by the architect Charlotte Malterre-Barthes to refrain from any new construction activities worldwide, sets the visionary’s bar highest as the “most radical expression of self-repair”.

The “demolition moratorium” initiated by the architectural historian Alexander Stumm in 2022, which calls for the preservation or conversion of all existing buildings identified after a successful socio-ecological examination, rather sums up the design policy spirit of the exhibition. At the end of the course you can also take it with you for further distribution by tearing it off a block – let the curators get away with this joke.

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