Palast der Republik

The Humboldt Forum, Germany’s answer to the British Museum and the Louvre of Paris, reopened this month in the rebuilt Berlin Palace after almost two years of controversy and debate.

The Forum combines the collections of the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the Museum of Asian Art, with many pieces acquired (or stolen) during the colonial era.

Palast der Republik Berlin Germany
The Palast der Republik at night in August 1976 (Bundesarchiv)

The building is a reconstruction of the Hohenzollern residence that was torn down by East German authorities in 1950 to make way for the Palast der Republik, which was itself torn down post-reunification. Both demolitions were controversial — and both, I think, were a mistake. (Although renovating the asbestos-filled Palast might have been more expensive than knocking it down and building something new.)

The Palast was designed by architect Heinz Graffunder and the Building Academy of the German Democratic Republic in the modernist style and opened in 1976. In addition to the unicameral, and toothless, parliament of communist East Germany, it contained two large auditoria, art galleries, a bowling alley, restaurants and a theater.

Let’s take a tour.

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The Art of Yakov Chernikhov

Yakov Chernikhov

Yakov Chernikhov (1889-1951) was a Russian constructivist architect and graphic designer, born in what is now Ukraine.

He set out his ideas in a number of books published in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but his (for the time) unconventional style did not win him many friends and favors under Joseph Stalin.

His later work, of which examples are shown below, was closer to the Stalinist Empire style — but they don’t exactly suggest he thought life in the Soviet Union was a happy one.

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Unbuilt Amsterdam

Amsterdam could have had a Parisian-style boulevard.

Around the turn of the last century, the city council accepted proposals for a new commodity exchange. It initially favored a design sponsored by hotelier W.P. Werker, who would have demolished a whole street of buildings between the Dutch capital’s central railway station and the Royal Palace on the Dam Square to create something of a miniature Champs-Élysées.

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Unbuilt Barcelona

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Barcelona was bursting at the seams. The city hadn’t expanded beyond its medieval walls, but its population had grown almost 50 percent between 1800 and 1850. The congestion was contributing to outbreaks of disease. There was clearly a need for expansion, but it wasn’t until 1853 that the central government in Madrid allowed Barcelona to tear down its walls.

Two expansion plans were introduced, one by Antoni Rovira i Trias, which was favored by the Barcelona city council, and another by Ildefonso Cerdá, which was favored by Madrid. Neither was implemented in full, but Cerdá’s, with its distinctive hexagonal blocks, proved by far the most influential.

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Modernista Architecture in Barcelona

Modernisme is the Catalan version of Art Nouveau. Its popularity coincided with the late-nineteenth-century expansion of Barcelona, which more than doubled the city in size. Walk around the Eixample district, which rings the historical city center, and you’ll find countless examples of this organic architectural style that is rich in decoration and incorporates Arab and Gothic elements.

Some, like Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família and Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s Hospital de Sant Pau, are well known. Others you would probably pass by if you didn’t know where to look.

What follows is only a selection. The best way to explore Barcelona’s Modernista architecture is to take a day to roam Eixample and give yourself time to gaze at the many beautiful buildings here.

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