Review Kultur:Stadt

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the exhibition Kultur:Stadt at Akademie der Künste. The exhibition has quickly become the talk of the town and not without reason.

Kultur:Stadt is interactive and communicative, but in its eagerness to succeed and exceed the limits of traditional curatorial practice, it on the one hand comes to contradict itself in that debate, which it wants to ignite and on the other, opens a whole view on communication.

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Hitherto, Akademie der Künste has paid homage to great architects through a biographical lens, among others Hans Scharoun but with Kultur:Stadt, they articulate and discuss a very hot topic not only present in Berlin but also in the rest of the world. The exhibition presents a needed debate on the cultural habitat and responsibility of the urbanized city.

This debate is not only casted in architectural models and drawings but has over a longer period of time also been articulated under the auspices of Akademie der Künste at Pariser Platz. Kultur:Stadt is the culmination of an extended dialogue on the interaction between culture and city carried out through the three lectures “Kultur als Impuls” (July 2012), “The Informalization of Architecture – The Open City” with the American sociologist Richard Sennett (September 2012) and a roundup discussion with architectural historian William J.R. Curtis (October 2012).

Kultur:Stadt focuses on the cultural and urban exchange in cities in which process architecture plays an essential role. In the five categories “Neue Ikonen”, “Das Gebäude als Stadt”, “Stadt als Palimpsest”, “Akupunkturen” and “Wissenräume” 37 both historical and contemporary architectural projects are exhibited. Each is spatially represented by their original architectural model and accompanied by tectonic plans as well as atmospheric sketches. In other words, Kultur:Stadt offers a very traditional as well as comprehensive presentation of the different projects. Models of the Berliner club Berghain, the original model of Mies van der Rohes Neue National Gallerie, Herzog and de Meurons Hamburg Philharmonie, the new Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo etc. are to be seen throughout the exhibition.

Yet, the curator Matthias Sauerbruch explores other methods to express these processes between city and culture. As these cannot only be regarded as physical but also virtually, the exhibition has reflected this diversity and offers each guest an iPad and a pair of headphones. For every project, there are several possibilities to explore the history, photo material, further plans and the most importantly, the curator himself explaining the choice, advantages and problems of this particular part of architecture. This is a small treasure for the exhibition, which incidentally contains no physical text boards, as well as the narrative addendum of the students from the Deutschen Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin, who have for 15 of the exhibited projects created a short film that explores the phenomenology of the exhibited architecture. All this is made possible with the iPad. Further, the combination between exhibition and iPad also attracts and entertains a younger audience.

The disadvantage of constantly being plugged in is the silence. Even though exhibitions and museums a priori are rather silent, I have for long not visited such a silent exhibition. Communication within the audience is put on hold until leaving the exhibition. It can be argued that this fact works a bit against the concept. Kultur:Stadt shows how a dialogue and good planning can create integration and activity, which among others was a relation Richard Sennett accentuated under the debate “The Informalization of Architecture – The Open City”, while its methods encourage the audience to withdrawal and reflectivity. All virtually presented material could, roughly said, have been explored from my living room.

On the other hand, this contradiction could be seen as demographic: While the adults were very withdrawn, the part of the audience under 15 was very active, communicative and cooperative – and this was not merely because they were noisy. How they managed to cooperate with each other through the iPad, I do not know. Maybe we, including me even though only 24, have to acknowledge the possibilities of this media and learn to use it for dialogue.

The horizons are widened in both directions: The younger audience, or, the future urban citizens get a insight in architecture and they can on the other hand lead the example of how to adapt to change – in curatorial manners and maybe also, in the city.

Akademie der Künste represents a place of cultural fusion; or in other words, a space for cultural hermeneutics: In the exhibitions and through the diverse lectures held by the Akademie both high and low culture (if these strata still exist) as well as the ideas of both artist and layman meet. The exhibition Kultur:Stadt as well as its curating are a successful extension of this idea.

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The exhibition can be seen at the Akademie der Künste, Hanseatenweg 10 from 15.03.2013 to 26.05.2013.

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