John Körmeling giving a lecture in Cologne. Photo: Patrick Janszen
John Körmeling once placed a big arrow in front of a museum in Germany pointing away from the entrance. The entrance tickets stated that exit was free for all. His message: what happens outside is much more interesting than what is inside. What could this provocative attitude mean for a conservative city like Cologne?
April 2012 is the month of Dutch architecture for the Museum of Applied Arts of Cologne (MAKK). It consists of a small exhibition designed by the Dutch Design Desk Europe, accompanied by a public programme with Dutch and German architects. Artist and architect John Körmeling, who is known for his unconventional and sometimes subversive constructions and interventions in public space, kicked off the month on 5 April with a presentation. He ended by announcing a spontaneous walking tour through the city the next day, calling on inhabitants to show him their favourite places that had potential for improvement. What did he learn from this walk?
When asked to design the Dutch pavilion for the Shanghai Expo 2010, Körmeling came up with the opposite of what most other countries presented. Instead of making a sleek pavilion with one highly controlled entrance, he made a whole street, open for all: Happy Street. A very apt statement for China, with its population that is increasingly housed in gated communities. What could such an attitude mean for Cologne?
After being severely bombed in World War II, Cologne’s inner city became known as the world’s greatest heap of rubble. Some of the most important monuments of architectural heritage were then meticulously reconstructed, including twelve monumental churches. A successful strategy, since the world heritage site of the cathedral, or Kölner Dom, is Germany’s most visited landmark.
Cologne continues to excavate its past, uncovering Roman and medieval archaeological sites. The construction of a new Jewish museum above these sites is currently under way. Now the city boasts over thirty museums, including the exquisite Kolumba museum by Peter Zumthor. This bold structure from 2007 covers an entire Romanesque church and a twentieth-century chapel, effectively closing them off from passers by.
Most of Cologne’s protected heritage is now separated from public space by beautifully designed and guarded institutions with opening hours and entrance fees. Has the city perhaps focused too much on preserving its heritage, thereby neglecting what is arguably its most valuable treasure: its public space and its inhabitants?
It may come as no surprise that during our city walk of places with potential, inhabitants of Cologne only showed us public spaces. These included the Domplatz around the cathedral, the squares around the City Hall, and the Ebertplatz along the ring road around the city centre.
When asked how to deal with the entangled squares around the oddly positioned city hall, with its museums and layers of Roman and medieval heritage right under the surface, John Körmeling answered clearly: Let’s Make A Happy Street! In other words, what happens outside is more interesting than what takes place within the buildings.
A recent series of interviews with young architects from Cologne shows that they describe their city as highly conservative. They experience a fierce generation gap, which virtually prevents them from contributing to the public realm. Why not engage this pool of talent in exposing the city’s contemporary treasures?
NAI Proposal #2012-2: Open up Cologne to its inhabitants by engaging young designers in focusing on public space. Free exit for all!
Walk through Cologne with John Körmeling. Photo: Chris Luth
Throughout the month of April, the MAKK (Museum für
Angewandte Kunst Köln) focuses on Dutch architecture, in the context of their 'Jahr der Architektur'. Under the title ‘Stadt-Design.NL’ the
museum is displaying a number of Dutch projects in its
lecture hall, starting on 5 April with a lecture by John Körmeling, on
invitation of the NAI.
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Casablanca is a showcase of the interplay between planned and unplanned urban development and construction and the varied architecture that results from this. What can architects learn from these developments? In collaboration with the African Perspectives Conference and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Morocco, the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) organised two Debates on Tour in Casablanca on 4 and 5 November 2011.
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Albania’s capital has changed dramatically over the last 25 years. With
the transformation from a socialist to a market economy, private
property became a prime concern and public values declined. How can the
public realm be reclaimed through architecture? Can private waste and
leftovers – both mental and physical – provide a starting point and be
turned into a public good? In collaboration with the Tirana Architecture Week, the NAI organised a Debate on Tour on 4 October 2012 in Tirana, Albania.
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Does wealth paralyse creativity? On Thursday 29 March, NAI director Ole Bouman gave a lecture during a seminar about Architecture and Social Responsibility in the National Museum for Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo. The seminar was organised alongside the travelling exhibition Architecture Of Consequence, which is currently on display at the same museum. A comment from the audience triggered a spontaneous event, culminating in the first of, what might very well become, a series of propositions for a more sustainable future. Read Ole’s personal report.
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How has modernist architecture in Africa, often designed by European architects, been repurposed and reinterpreted by Africans? And how can the study of this lived modernism inform contemporary design practices in Africa and Europe? Johannesburg-based architect and researcher Hannah le Roux addressed these issues in the second evening in a series of debates about the informal city. Antoni Folkers introduced Le Roux and joined her in a discussion afterwards.
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