BERLIN WALL MEMORIAL

BERLIN, GERMANY _ 5th year student project

The re-offering of this sacred land back to Berlin plus the idea of gathering, produced a green site with a lifted plane that creates a space for gathering.

The Berlin Wall consisted of two separate walls which created a no-man’s-land in between, spanning up to 100 meters. The Bornholmer Strasse rail station existed in this “death strip” and thus was shut down, becoming one of Berlin’s ghost stations. However, the bridge spanning the tracks remained open, becoming one of the border crossing stations. When thousands gathered on the night of November 9, 1989, it was this border crossing that first opened its gates, marking the beginning of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today, this significant location is an overgrown parking lot, marked with a single plaque.

The fall of the Berlin Wall is still memory to many and its transition into history is a difficult process. There are a few attempts to remember and teach about the Berlin Wall, but on a whole, the issue is under prioritized and disputed. The challenge was to use this abandoned site of Bornholmer Strasse to create “something” that will commemorate the Berlin Wall in the most appropriate way.

The location of the site, on many scales, was a critical factor in the development of the program. The site is a good distance north of the heart of Berlin, without any nearby places of interest to draw people there. Because of this reason, I focused my development to serve a more local user group and the people of Berlin. The neighborhood scale shows a strong connection between this site and Mauer Park, a long stretch of the death strip that was converted into a Berlin Wall park. Upon our visit to Berlin, the close relationship and surprising success of the park influenced my initial decision to include a park, as a termination point for Mauer Park. Creating a figure ground revealed the significance of this site to the surrounding urban fabric. It is an entirely empty corner of the dense development to the south and east. Additionally it must act as a transition point from the dense urban fabric into the dispersed pattern of allotment gardens to the north and east.

Investigating what was truly and essentially significant to the site, I researched the other border crossings and memorials and determined that the fact that it was a border crossing is really not important. The location and previous buildings are not historically distinctive or remarkable for any reason. However, it was an event, a specific time in history that makes this location so important. The mass gathering of East Berliners on the night of November 9, 1989 sparked the initial fall of the wall, dramatically impacting the history of Berlin, Germany, and the rest of the world. So it is not the site or location or previous use that is important, but the event that must be remembered. An event of gathering.

While investigating dozens of memorials inside Berlin, I discovered a very critical difference between my task and every other monument. Existing memorials serve to commemorate the deaths, the oppression, and the destruction that the Wall caused. But this site is not one of mourning, but one of celebration. It became evident to me that I must treat this site differently, that it should preserve a memory of joy and celebration. Another observation of the existing memorials was a common theme of static objects: an art piece or installation, a museum, or information boards. This use of fixed and motionless objects to commemorate pain gave me a variable to contrast a memory of celebration against. I decided that my treatment of the site, building, and program must be kinetic.

The evaluation of these variables concluded in the development of a concept and program. The concept concerned the commemoration of the event of November 9th through continued acts of gathering. The idea was that this site would step further than any other typical memorial by incorporating the physical actions of gathering, assembling, mingling, and uniting in order to not only remember, but to celebrate the past. This concept lead easily into the program: an assembly hall and park. A large flexible green space could create endless opportunities for gathering and a large flexible enclosed space could serve not only the locals but all of Berlin for events of gathering.

I developed the entire site as a green park in order to preserve a cohesive image of contrast. It needed to be clear that this large site had been intentionally left empty, that the void in the city marked a significance. Any surface building developments would create new ideas of function and use, distract from the historical relevance, and potentially start to knit this corner site into the surrounding typical residential development. Covering the entire site with green grass protects the relevance of the site and sets up a neutral environment for the preservation of memory. Additionally, in order to maintain the surrounding urban fabric and “hold the corner” of the neighborhood, I lifted the ground plane to create strong edges which sustains the urban edge. The next step was to explore the manipulation of this ground plane and start sculpting the landscape in a way that responded to the context and served the program.

The form developed into a simple spiral of green space around a depression that could serve as a flexible amphitheater, with extended viewing from the interior edge of the entire spiral. The height of the spiral happens in the north-west corner of the site, which anchors the corner in terms of the urban context as well as providing a volume of space beneath. This volume of space becomes the optimum location for the assembly hall because it creates an excellent relationship with the exterior space of the amphitheater, it allows a clear approach from the Bornholmer train station, and it provides optimum services access to the parking area on the west side of the site. Additionally, the earth integrated north side, protected east and west sides, and the opening up of the south facade all create optimum environmental conditions for passive heating and cooling strategies. The rest of the site is developed in response to creating a place that draws people inward, allows good permeability, creates the occasion for events and gathering on multiple scales, as well as protects the existing cross-circulation paths through the site.

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