2024 Dulux Study Tour – Day 5, Berlin: Humility and innovation

By Emma Chrisp

Fresh-faced and ready for our second day in Berlin, we stepped into Barkow Leibinger’s office. Martina Bauer greeted us warmly offering fresh coffee and generous insights. Founded in crafted exploration of materiality and rigorous commitment to practical means of production, Frank Barkow and Regina Leibinger have established a compelling, ever-evolving practice. Research and academia are integral components of Barkow Leibinger’s architectural practice. Brauer beautifully articulated this symbiosis in a discussion about her role at the University of Stuttgart, where appreciation of industrial architecture is paired with material innovation. She left us with the uplifting and direct encouragement to talk to people who make things, embedded in this sentiment is a love of making and a deep appreciation for the collaborative contribution of many hands in construction.

Martina Bauer showing us around the studio of Barkow Leibinger. Photo by Emma Chrisp.

Swiftly skipping across to J Mayer H und Partner, Hans Schneider welcomed us into their first-floor Altbau (old building) studio with high ceilings and an impressive 1:1 prototype model. Meeting in a space filled with project references, samples and models, Schneider’s demeanour is engaging balancing a calm presence with infectious enthusiasm. Working with agility between artistic and architectural practice enables experimentation and innovation, which underpins their impressively dynamic portfolio. J Mayer H und Partner’s exploration of organic forms through new technology echoes themes around innovation and experimentation articulated by Brauer, highlighting parallels between the two practices with distinct stylistic expressions.

Hans Schneider from J Mayer H und Partner presenting their projects. Photo by Flynn Carr.

Following a delightful local lunch, we arrived at Wohnregal to be greeted by Marc Frohn and Max Blake. Embracing a propositional approach to architecture this stunning project is a product of ingenuity which creates its own opportunities for innovation. Utilising industrial precast concrete fabrication with a single-span structure, Wohnregal presents compelling elegance, enabling ultimate floor flexibility. An uncanny lightness emerges in structural joints from an appreciation of fabrication and construction tolerance, which excitingly offers an open-ended potential for repurposing. Within this regular system, an interest in blurring thresholds and invitation for occupation is overlayed, poetically echoing something of Berlin’s essence. Frohn speaks with nuance and rigour, which intuitively feels underpinned by his engagement with academia. This repeating theme of the enrichment that architectural practice gains through artistic and academic interface resonates with optimism.

Marc Frohn and Max Blake from FAR Frohn & Rojas took us on a tour of Wohnregal. Photo by Linda Cheng.

Refreshed by a brief aperitif, we headed to David Chipperfiled’s Berlin Studio, where Leander Bulst provided a comprehensive tour through the Chipperfield campus, with a clear appreciation for the urban grain of new and existing buildings that complement each other, creating a series of inviting courtyards. The public are welcomed into a new Seitenflügel (side wings), mixing public and private uses. The calm, balanced composition and delightful, deep window reveals express the monolithic wall construction utilising concrete with expanded clay aggregate. This material innovation paired with Chipperfield’s characteristically quiet architecture harmonises with the heritage fabric. Internally, a serene series of enviously light-filled studio spaces are offered.

Leander Bulst from David Chipperfield Architects explaining the new and existing elements of the Chipperfield campus. Photo by Pete Wood.

Running through the day and across a diverse cross-section of practices and projects was a consistently grounded sense of both humility and innovation. Characteristics of investment and ingenuity actively contribute to the ever-evolving city, both respectful and repurposing through appreciation of what is an optimism for what could be. There is a contagious energy in Berlin that feels as much about the people as the place, I finished the day feeling like I had grasped something integral about the place and deeply appreciative of what was so openly shared.

– Emma Chrisp is an associate at Hayball.

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