Conference lectured at the Symposium "Architectures of fear. Terrorism and the Future of Urbanism in the West" CCCB 17-18 May 2007
Weapons serve for destruction and deletion. In order to protect themselves, humans have developed obstructive blocking mechanisms in order to stand up to destruction.
“The passive weapon is on the side of defense, self-preservation. Not action but hold-up, not breakthrough, but blockade is its function”.1 The classical architectures of resistance are stone walls, towers, bastions and ramparts. To protect the country castles, and get strategic viewing points against the enemy, whopping defense walls were erected at the borderlines of empires.
Defense as the countermovement to affront was developed at different levels. The first level of protection for the city was the belief in the permanence of its existence. The belief in divine protection should be mentioned in this context.
The city wall can be found in many old cities and still forms the inner part of city structures today. Because drawn city walls defined a territory’s size, cities could grow just to certain dimensions. Phases of enlargement of cities with city wall sections which are references for growing and redefining.
The city wall not only assigns the “occupied” territory, the place, a differentiation between inside and outside, including and excluding, but rather describes a borderline against enemies and asserts the boundary of laws for its inhabitants.
The city wall as a material protection level has become inoperable, since the “modern” enemy no longer approaches “modern” cities with horses or tanks. The advancement of technology has enabled distantiated warfare and replaced watchtowers and arches and arrows with satellite pictures and long-range missiles.
It is described as a change from horizontal to vertical warfare. In the event of martial violation, escape to the hinterland is impossible. Vertical warfare blocks escape routes, danger impends from all sides. Humans are losing their safe cover; the only means of escape is underground.
The city in its texture and structure as accommodation, milieu and immediate neighborhood relations offers numerous examples for resistance mechanisms.
I want to focus on the singular building. Envisioning some characteristics of architecture, the barrack, the tent, the house, are the shelters humans look for or create in order to protect themselves from environmental influences. The character of architecture is geared to obstruction, reducing danger, creating a safe environment for human beings. Another basic condition of architecture is its inherent destructive moment, the gravitation, which it is necessary to counteract through constructive power and material dimensions.
Materialized architecture can be seen as a spherical space, bound to a two-dimensional surface, whose transversal axes connect inside and outside.
Today these interfaces are not just in architecturally originating apertures of the building itself, in the form of doors and windows, another dimension is the medial perforation, which connects spaces by use of technology.
Entrances and doors are equipped with add-ons, be it through CCTV detection or spyholes, which allow inhabitants an insight without losing safety-enforcing distance. Besides insight, closing devices distinguish apertures.
Considering the building in relation to its immediate environment, it is possible to reach distance by setting it back from the property line, if the building is directly adjacent to public space, whether single-building or in building coherence.
Accessibility of a parcel is the first barrier, which marks a borderline for strangers. The parcel fence, the enclosure, can be built in different ways: as a high wall with barbwire or low and easily conquerable as a psychological border. Additionally this borderline can be monitored in an active way by watchdogs, and in the case of public buildings with guards. Despite widespread CCTV surveillance, the active guards are not abandoned, because, as opposed to surveillance technology, they can act in case of emergency.
Beside its material formulation, a building can be isolated by its demarcation from the environment. The disruption is perceptible (for the public) if the building doesn’t refer to urban context or possibly even negates it,2 for example when the public space around the building is used just as a transit space. I understand disruption as an abrupt irritating change of unrelated signs and spaces which cause disorientation. How does city production work and what analysis methods can make it comprehensible and understandable?
Bourdieu describes the genesis of the state, which is characterized by the fact that it successfully calls for the monopoly over the legitimated practice of physical and symbolical force over a certain territory and over the entire living population inhabiting this territory.
The state, Bourdieu argues, has the ability to officiate symbolical force, because it assimilates objectivity “in forms of specific structures and mechanisms” and subjectivity “in forms of cognition and cerebration schemata” at the same time.
“Once introduced, the institution, which is the final outcome of a process of rooting in social structures and the mental structures adapted to these structures, consigns to oblivion the fact that it has arisen from a long series of decision-related events and presents itself with every semblance of naturalness”.3
Bourdieu’s ideas about the naturalness of a construction as a final result of a process, led me to scrutinize architectural decisions, which can appear natural too.
I understand Bourdieu’s term Violence as Power. I suggest we differentiate the terms. As Hannah Arendt argues, force can abolish power, and “it is entirely unable to produce power”.
Her item of power “accords to human ability not just to act or to do something, more to incorporate with others and to act in consultation with them. No single per-son disposes over power; it is in the possession of a group ...”4
According to this the democratic state is based on power not on force. She makes a difference between several forms of despotism, one of them terror, which is characterized by the fact that it “not only cooks the antagonist’s goose but also its friends’ and followers’”.5
Bourdieu describes as an analytic method the “reconstruction of the genesis” as a “powerful instrument of disruption”: “While it brings to light conflicts and confrontations from the beginning and at the same time the abolished possibilities too, it also inspires the possibility that it could have been (and still can be) different and with the help of this practical utopia it puts the chosen possibility, realized among many others, into question.” 6 This method allows the retracing of the culture of synthesis too. Take the case of the development of Pariser Platz and its environs; a process which is not yet finished and enables the retracing of a “practical utopia”.
In terms of security, the reason for change in urban architectural processes cannot be found at the place itself. When bombs were detonated in London, big cities around the world reacted within a short space of time to this incident in equal and comparable ways.
The Pariser Platz in Berlin as the chosen example seems to be interesting, because it has an important political relevance for the city even today. The plaza is located between the Strasse des 17 Juni and the Unter den Linden adjacent to the Tiergarten and marks the old entrance to the Dorotheen-Stadt.
The plaza was completely destroyed after World War Two, because in Nazi Germany it was dominated by important institutions like the Ministry of Armament and Warfare Production.
The rebuilding of the totally destroyed plaza could only start after German reunification in 1989, because the Brandenburg Gate had been closed since 1961, located by the Wall in no man’s land, in a prohibited area of the GDR.
In 1991 it was said: “The Brandenburg Gate and Pariser Platz represent the central entrance situation to the city centre of Berlin. The area around the gate is a symbol of the separation and reunification of Berlin. This site has to show, in an exemplary way, how to handle the centre of Berlin.”7 The intended aim was to revive the plaza as the core of Berlin, as a civic “plaza, which serves as the magnificent setting for a dignified public space, rather than the location for privileged addresses”. The former consignees of the plaza are the embassies of France, the United States of America, Great Britain, the Hotel Adlon and the Academy of Arts.
Planning in the early 1990s embraced the services sector, meaning that banks predominate today. The most frequented spaces are located in the Europa-Haus: Starbucks, a bakery, the Berlin transport (BVG) shop and a souvenir shop.
The former US Embassy during the time of the GDR on Neustádtische Kirchstrasse, together with the consular department in Berlin-Zehlendorf, still operate as the American diplomatic headquarters. After the attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam in 1998, the area around the embassy was closed for weeks and emergency protective barriers were constructed. Since the 9/11 attacks the protective barriers have become permanent and cyclists are not allowed to go by bike through this area. The barrier, which was extended to the Unter den Linden, was reset from a safety distance of 100 meters to 25 meters at the beginning of 2005.
The embassy building is marked off by a fence followed by road blocks in the form of flexible concrete elements filled with sand, security fences, guard-houses and policemen.
The Brandenburg Gate was closed off permanently to traffic in 2002 in order to create a quality pedestrian area. The gate survived the onslaught of the bombings in World War Two and today, traffic endangers the monument.
To make the gate inaccessible to traffic, bollards were placed in the passageways through the gate. The Hotel Adlon, residence for state guests, appreciated this measure, because it is an advantage for its sun terrace.
The newspaper Berliner Zeitung reported on 26th July 2004 that the Christian Democratic Party, the CDU, was in favour of reinforcing video surveillance around the plaza, while the Greens rejected this suggestion, preferring more security guards instead: “A guard is more effective than a camera.” 8
Wolfgang Nagel talked about the abrasive general conditions of the plaza in 1991, not just about the return of its former users but also about the traffic problem and the gate.
It was felt that the gate should remain open to traffic, not only for functional reasons, but because it was, essentially, a gate. The sense of continuity in the connection of East and West could be disrupted by closing off the gate to traffic, an argument stemming from the explicit ransitory-circulatory character of the gate and the plaza.
Structural engineers from the Federal Agency of Materials Research indicated in 1998 that the gate was suffering from erosion caused by traffic. This led the senator for Urban Development, Peter Strieder (Social Democrat Party - SPD), to prohibit the opening of the gate. In May 2002, the Monument Conservation Berlin Foundation, which redeveloped the gate, detected serious damage to the foundations, because during the time of the GDR they had been incorrectly drilled for pipe laying.
Nevertheless, in May 2002, the Free Democratic Party, the FDP, requested that the Senate open the gate after its redevelopment, but without success. The redeveloped gate has been closed to traffic since 3rd October 2002, German Unification Day. At this point I would argue that the basis for the decision was political. We have been able to “translocate” the Kaisersaal to the Potsdamer Platz by lifting an entire building some 2.40 metres from the ground and moving it about 75 metres, so why can’t we rebuild the foundations of the Brandenburg Gate?
On 19th November 2003, nearly six months after the start of the Iraq war, President Bush met Tony Blair in London. Next day the British Consulate and a British bank in Istanbul were attacked, with the consequence that four days later, on 24th November, the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin, where the British Embassy is located, was closed off with concrete cubes. In July 2004, the decision was taken to replace the concrete cubes with bollards, some of which can be moved to allow embassy traffic through.
Ambassador Peter Torry said about the architecture of the embassy: “Today diplomacy has a lot to do with public relations. In addition to the political functions of an embassy, our aim is to reach as many people as we can and convey to them that Great Britain is a modern, dynamic and creative country. A country worth visiting which manufactures good products. The British Embassy was built without losing sight of this aim. Transparency and openness are among our predominant characteristics.”9
The senator for Internal Affairs, Ehrhart Kórting (SPD), said “We have found a solution which takes into account the special dangers and can be maintained urbanistically”,10 because the imminent threat of Islamic terrorism will remain over the coming years and he doesn’t bargain on opening the Wilhelmstrasse to traffic in the near future.
In 1996 the architectural competition for the new US embassy at the Pariser Platz was held, and won by the Moore-Ruble-Yudell architectural practice.
The building was not constructed because of strict security guidelines and in view of the 1998 and 2001 attacks. The new draft called for a greater security distance, which would have had the consequence of rerouting Behrensstrasse. In 2002, the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, and the former US ambassador, Daniel R. Coats, signed the Memorandum of Understanding.
“We want to offer German and American employees a safe and comfortable workplace, ensure safety for visitors and inhabitants, and correspond to the overall picture of the Pariser Platz”.11
The United States of America and the Federal State of Berlin agreed to “pivot part of Behrensstrasse for 8 metres southward”, and the costs were to be met by the US. As consequence, the new embassy building impinged on the plot where the Holocaust memorial is located.
The front of the building was set back 7 metres from the planned borderline inside the plot in order to achieve the security distance of 25 metres from the public space on Ebertstrasse and Behrensstrasse. This is probably why the building stands above the drop height of 22.5 metres, which is acceptable, as senator of Urban Development Peter Strieder said.12
On the side of the Pariser Platz, the embassy will connect with Frank O. Gehry’s building. The former planned borderline of the building will be constructed as a fence, making the pedestrian area wider than the street. The connection with the street involved placing steel bollards filled with concrete in the street area. Even the street lamps have been designed according to the same concept and are now not just lamps, but also bollards.
The model of the embassy on the archINFORM database shows the bollards ending on land belonging to the US Embassy by the Haus Sommer. However, in reality, the bollards have been placed beyond the embassy site and continue right up to the Brandenburg Gate. The embassy entrance on the plaza shall be given additional protection by barriers and bollards. These barriers are of the same type used in the British Embassy. Work was due to be completed by the end of 2006, but the basic structure has not yet been built.
The failure to include the Unter den Linden, the plaza itself and its connection with the Tiergarten in the concept as a whole, and the permanent presence of police at this site, has diminished the quality of life for residents and reduced the gate to a landmark for tourists’ photos.
“As a promenader you feel shunned by the guards outside the banks (and embassies) as well as the concierges of the Hotel Adlon. And when the citizens are there, the cameras ... give them the feeling that they are just a nuisance.13
Instead of being a connector between the former Eastern and Western parts of the city, the plaza is an appendix used by tourists, hotel guests, policemen and bankers. The plaza has been cut off by closing the Brandenburg Gate and Wilhelmstrasse to traffic, and cannot be experienced as part of everyday life. Berliners seldom go there, because the banks and embassy buildings are barely accessible. The plaza is populated with tourists and is also the setting for several commercial and political events.
Shouldn’t we concentrate on the qualities of the city and defend these qualities instead of concentrating on defending ourselves against terrorism? In the words of Hannah Arendt: “Indeed we know, but don’t understand, what we are fighting against, but we are much less aware of, and much less understand, what we are fighting for”. 14
If terrorism, as Mark Wigley argues, exposes an existing violence in spaces, this work on exposure is not a task for terrorists, but much more one for society and, consequently, for architects. The critical questioning of reaction modes is a moment of back-pedalling in the reaction-schema and opens up dimensions of dialog.
Here, in the Pariser Platz – a “space of possibilities” – cultural, historical relations and ledgers are mixed with contrary governmental requirements for security for the embassies.
If we think about these cultural and historical relations, events are envisioned, which are from the past and not changeable. In opposition to the past, the future is a forward-directed view with no existing certainty. The desire for security and defense, and the expectation of a possible attack, form the basis of a longing for security. Hannah Arendt calls “hope and fear” the main forms of expectation.
“Every hope adds fear and every fear appears with the analogical hope”.15 The uncertainty of expectations, the possibility that Vele Est Posse may come apart, create an exertion, which should be conquered by acting. The buildings are aligned for a situation that should never become reality. The security installations anticipate the event and give rise to the exertion. In her book Raumsoziologie, Martina Lów worked on the potential of spaces, which can influence feelings, similar to Bourdieu, who described subjectivity “in forms of cognition and cerebration schemata”. Lów calls the potential of spaces “atmosphere”. In perception, atmospheres are realized external impressions of social commodities and humans in spatial order and arrangement. This means that atmospheres are generated by perception of interdependency between humans and social commodities in arrangement”.16
If atmosphere can be perceived, how does this influence the thinking and acting of the visitors to Pariser Platz? Doesn’t it contribute to a general acceptance of security installations as natural necessities?
The scale for acting, in this case, decision-making and designing, planning and constructing buildings in Pariser Platz, has less of an impact on foreign affairs policy than it does on local and spatial conditions. The attacks in Eastern Africa generated the assumption that attacks could happen all over the world, and in Berlin too. This view is undergirded by a legitimate experience, but the local conditions are not considered. In this case, the view becomes a bias, because it refers to the past and is implemented in another place, on another scale.
As the media tells it, the phenomenon of terrorism and the attacks demonstrate a confrontation with something “we have never seen before and for which there is no scale available”.17 In this way, fear becomes an instrument for policy.
In the case that we really have no scale, no reliance on pre-decision and have to rethink existing scales, we still have the ability to differ.
But if we assume that it is part of human nature, that people can only judge when they have fixed and ready rules to hand, it would be a matter of fact, as is generally supposed, that in the crisis of the modern world, it is not the world but human beings themselves who have become unhinged”.18
Even when the embassy buildings reach the end point of their construction and restructuring, the variances in the plaza, barriers in the streets, the gate, the bollards, the presence of the police, show a certain flexibility and convertibility.
Violence starts where discourse ends. But discourse is the never-ending basis for understanding and without final results; “it is the specific human way to be alive”. Thus the wish remains that, in the future, further discussion will shape the Pariser Platz, and that the current form is just one of many we can find in the past.
Notes1. Sofsky, Wolfgang, Traktat der Gewalt, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Verlag GmbH, 1996, p. 41
2. Sennett, Richard, Verfall und Ende des ffentlichen Lebens, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuchverlag, 2004, p. 30, 14th edition (as an example the author quotes two apartment buildings in the Brunswick Center).
3. Bourdieu, Pierre, Praktische Vernunft, Zur Theorie des Handelns, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1998, p. 99, original edition: Raisons pratiques. Sur la théorie de l´action.
4. Arendt, Hannah, Denken ohne Gelánder, Munich: Piper Verlag GmbH, 2006, p. 87.
5. Idem., p. 94.
6. Bourdieu, Pierre, op. cit., 1998, p. 99.
7. Dr. Ing. Hans Stimman (Senate’s director of buildings) in Pariser Platz, Kritische Rekonstruktion des Bereichs, report 2, Berlin: Senatsverwaltung für Bau- und Wohnungswesen, p. 5.
8. Ratzmann, Volker.
9. Embassy booklet.
10. Kopietz, Andreas, «Botschaft, Mahnmal, Nobelhotel- die Mitte ist in Gefahr», In: Berliner Zeitung, 26 July 2004, p. 17.
11. «US-Botschaft wird hóher und schmaler», In: Tagesspiegel, 3 May 2002.
12. Idem. The drop height of buildings was an obligatory number in reconstructing the historic location in the plaza, which was written down in the design rules of 1993.
13. Waiblinger-Jens, Christine, Der Pariser Platz in Berlin von der Nachkriegszeit bis zur Gegenwart—Stüdtebau und Architektur, Cologne: Kunsthistorisches Institut der Universitát zu Kóln, ed. Günter Binding, Kleikamp Druck GmbH, 1999, p. 204.
14. Arendt, Hannah, op. cit., 2006, p. 62.
15. Idem, p. 45.
16. Lów, Martina, Raumsoziologie, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2001, p. 204-205.
17. Arendt, Hannah, op. cit., 2006, p. 56.
18. Idem, p. 58.