0154 San Gimignano Lichtenberg ×

199 steps. Up here, everything looks a little different. Surrounded by a distant wall of prefabricated buildings, the commercial and industrial area around Herzbergstrasse lies like an island in the city. The television tower lies to the west behind the slabs around Landsberger Allee. In the east, wind turbines show up between the slabs of Marzahn. They mark the edge of the city, which is closer today than it was a few years ago. In the 2010s, Lichtenberg seemed far away. At least in the sense of the strengthening real estate industry, which concentrated on Berlin’s historic center and thus shaped our understanding of the city. Equally foreign seemed the idea that something else could be built on this site than the one-story halls of the Pakistani and Vietnamese wholesalers that characterize the area around Herzbergstrasse today. No one was found who wanted to invest in a ruin project.

The ruins, these are the two towers of the former VEB Elektrokohle Lichtenberg. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the site was left abandoned until it was privatized at the end of the 1990s to fill the state budget. The former production facility was demolished and only the two concrete towers remained because the demolition costs were too high. A reuse made no economic sense and so the towers remained closed and empty. Looking back on this short history today, one realizes how quickly the perception of a place and its architecture can change. Because the present includes not only the past of a place, but also its past futures. What people thought a place stood for and what it could be. Thus, the two towers are not only building ruins, they are also the remnants of a past idea of the future. Of ideology and strength, of technology and economy. Due to the fall of the Berlin Wall, they not only fell out of use, but also out of their time and narrative. The idea of the place changed towards failure. This should be changed. Read more

In that sense, the first architectural intervention was not a physical one. With the goal of making a reuse of the towers both thinkable and possible, their meaning had to be enhanced in order to open up an imagination beyond the Berlin ruin chic. This is how the story “San Gimignano Lichtenberg” was born, based on the small Italian town in Tuscany, which is known for its (gender) towers. The idea of the place is thus developed further which not only applies to the two towers. As part of the industrial area around Herzbergstrasse, this area is in a state of flux.

Looking around from the top floor today, one cannot help but think about its future. Faced with the current situation – this text has been written in March 2021 – it has become difficult to continue functioning as before in this changed present. Time has accelerated, once again. The two towers are a symbol for that, for the change of seemingly alternative values and structures: of political systems, of economic models, of ecological awareness. Not only the recent crisis has shown us how quickly local and global economies can potentially change. Entire economic sectors flourished, were disrupted or completely restructured. But our present also marks a moment of stasis. The urgency of the issues that define our coexistence make fundamental and structural change inevitable. The present has thus proven wrong the idea of no alternatives. Human paradigms and cultural values are not a matter of course, but are inscribed in the social, economic and legal frameworks that structure our daily lives.

Anyone standing up here at the center of the friction between rezoning policies, zoning regulations, and changing perceptions inevitably asks the question: how will we live together? Price and development pressures from downtown have long arrived and continue to grow. The question of growth in our cities, in times of recent global crises - between economy and production, ecology and new models of living - makes one look in a different way. How can we as architects act spatially to counter speculative construction, social and spatial segregation, resource exploitation, and technological escalation? How do we find new strategies for a common and better future? How do we reuse the existing building stock and adapt it for future use?

Those who talk about the future must not avoid responsibility: Skin in the game - you have to risk losing and shrinking. What one describes and articulates in all seriousness should not be an escape from the present, but a sharpening of the discussion, a question to raise or even an answer to anticipate in a speculative way. “How can we, as architects, not only design the thing, but the advent of this idea into culture?” (Keller Easterling in Architecting after Politics). If one follows this thought, the meaning of speculation in architecture changes, shifting away from a purely economic to a design concept. The object and its form are no longer in the focus. Its design is part of the design of the financing, the operating, the maintaining, the using – in the present and in the future. All these factors, not either or, but both/and, become a visible part of the design and architecture thus becomes an argument for the change that has long started.

A text by Olaf Grawert and Gabor Kocsis

Video by Nuno Cera as part of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale Read less

2012 –
researching, producing
Brandlhuber+ Georg Diez, Nikolai von Rosen, Christopher Roth
Lukas Beer, Martin Buchholz, Thomas Burlon, Marta Dyachenko, Jakob Eden, Markus Emde, Olaf Grawert, Dorothee Hahn, Hannes Hehemann, Tobias Hönig, Maria Hudl, Gustav Ingold, Jonas Janke, Florian Jaritz, Marjan Jobke, Roberta Jurčić, Jolene Lee, Tim Martens, Leander Nowack, Janz Omerzu, Markus Rampl, Paul Reinhardt, Kristof Schlüßler, Peter Richter, Justus Schweer; Andreas Schulz (Pichler Ingenieure); Martin Steinert (hhpberlin)

© Brandlhuber+ Team

San Gimignano Lichtenberg by Nuno Cera

© Erica Overmeer

Historic Site  © (unknown)

VEB Elektrokohle © (unknown)

San Gimignano (Postcard) © (unknown)

© Erica Overmeer

© Erica Overmeer