2022 McDermott & Swank Traveling Fellowship
For the 2022 McDermott & Swank Traveling Fellowship, Hunter Bradshaw had the opportunity to travel to Germany, The Netherlands, and Austria, focusing on buildings with inventive material expressions placed in a historical context.
Place and Identity
The initial motivation behind this study was straightforward and, in some ways, a reflection on how and why we design and build the things we do here in Dallas. There are architects practicing in Germany, namely firms like Sauerbruch Hutton, Allman Sattler Wappner, Behnisch Arkitecten, and more, whose projects are always lively, intense, expressive, and uniquely sensitive to their site and program, despite not making efforts to fit in stylistically with their deeply historic contexts. One could even say that the buildings are able to connect more deeply to their users and programs by not limiting the material expression of the building to what helps it feel like something from another time or place.
While this initial idea may still hold true, I think the study expanded a lot after seeing each of the 4 cities – Amsterdam, Cologne, Munich, and Salzburg. The initial theory was just about key, signature buildings that constitute a tiny percentage of the built environment. When traveling from city to city, it became clear that everything – buildings, plazas, rivers, boats, sidewalks, parks, hot dog stands, and train stations – vary dramatically from city to city and can tell us about a city’s history and people. In the end, the study transformed into a curiosity about how our physical environments relate to our values and identities, as individuals and communities, and how those change over time.
Our trip started in Amsterdam, a city known for how pedestrian-forward it is, but I learned that Amsterdam hasn’t always been this way. In the 60’s, Amsterdam was much more of a mid-century, sprawling car city, as was happening across America in cities like Dallas. In fact, they looked to America for the future of cities and the impact that cars would have, so much so that the government brought in American planner David Jokinen to, by their view, modernize the urban plan for Amsterdam. The plan, known as Plan Jokinen, sought to bring huge highway corridors through working class neighborhoods like De Pijp, and would assume that most people would live in the suburbs and commute into the city. Luckily, there were mass protests against the plan by many of the people of Amsterdam, and the city has become even more of a bike haven since then.
One of the most surprising things I found when exploring Amsterdam is how many different urban conditions there are around the city. And what better way to see these than by bike?
In the old city, architecture really plays a very small role. For the most part, the buildings just serve as a vertical plane that defines the extents of the public space around the canals, and that is generally true throughout most of the old city. A notable exception to this is the Crystal Houses by MVRDV, which re-interprets the heritage of Dutch townhouse design through the use of cast glass bricks that dissolve into terracotta bricks as it moves up the façade. What amazed me most about this is that there are also cast class windows, doors, door knobs, rowlock sills, and even window trim. Its almost like the ghostly apparition of the original building. The area around the canals, though humane and 21st century in the best ways, is a relatively homogeneous experience where architecture plays a relatively insignificant role.
Riding bikes around the city to see more distant neighborhoods was one of my favorite experiences of the trip.
The area around Vondelpark felt very much like a garden district, and the park itself was a complete delight. A favorite memory here was running into an elementary school where for recess, the kids would go play in the adjacent plaza. City as playground!
We also rode through De Pijp, a historically working class neighborhood that is the epitome of density and mixed use in cities. This was one of a few areas in Amsterdam that, had I visited before I started architecture school, would have inspired me to study Urban Design or City Planning instead.
We took a brief ride through Funenpark, a unique neighborhood that must be one of the most architecture-centric places we visited. Its got a perimeter linear building of residential that shields the interior courtyard from sound pollution from the nearby rail, and the interior of the courtyard has 16 buildings that are all varying in size and design, but all equal in their boisterousness.
We ended the bike ride going through the Docklands, a mixed use area east of the city center that, as the name would suggest, is narrow and flanked on both sides by docks. The area is dense, mixed use, covered in people and parks and boats, and features some heavy hitter architecture like the NEMO Museum by RPBW and the Booking.com HQ by UNStudio (Amsterdam locals!). Again, though the quality of architecture is unmatched here, and the buildings are not confined to just one face defining the public circulation, there is really no building that can stand to the awe of experiencing Amsterdam, especially by bike.
Amsterdam was such an incredible city that it made me concerned that Cologne had no chance of standing up to the experience I had, but luckily Cologne had its own, very different type of charm.
Cologne, or Koln as the Germans say, has a “constitution” which has 11 articles which reflect the way of life in Cologne. I certainly found these to be true through the interactions we had with the Kolsch people, but they also help frame the history and current state of Cologne’s built environment.
Article 1 – It is what it is.
Article 2 – It’ll come as it comes.
Article 3 – It’s always gone well.
Article 4 – What’s gone is gone.
Article 5 – Nothing stays as it was.
Article 6 – Don’t know it, don’t need it, chuck it.
Article 7 – What’re you going to do?
Article 8 – Do it right, but not too often.
Article 9 – What’s with that?
Article 10 – You drinking one with us?
Article 11 – You’ll split your sides laughing.
The second world was left German architecture scarred both physically, though the destruction of buildings by bombings, and intellectually, through the emergent issues it was facing with its own history. Any modernist architecture developed by Germans, such as those of the Bauhaus, was suppressed under the Nazi regime and considered to be degenerate. At the same time, after the war, the traditionalism that was embraced and abused by the Nazis was now outlawed. This meant that multiple branches of architecture coming out of Germany were crippled, and the development of any architecture after the war was a contentious issue. When we heard, through research and talking to Kolsch people while in Cologne, that Cologne is often considered to be an ugly and grey city by Germans, this historical context provides some insight into why that is. I must say though, that I disagree with this, and found Cologne to be a totally charming city, even if it doesn’t feel as old as Amsterdam or Munich.
This dissatisfaction with Cologne’s “grey-ness” must have been a primer, culturally or otherwise, that allowed the creation of two of the buildings I came to Cologne to see – the Immanuel Kirche and Oval Offices by Sauerbruch Hutton. Sauerbruch Hutton is a German firm that creates some of the most delightful, timeless, inventive, and fun buildings in recent history. They operate on multiple project types and scales, and luckily have two projects in Cologne.
The first of these projects is the Immanuel-Kirche, a small church in suburban Cologne that was built in 2013. It can’t be more than 8000 square feet and is set on a shared block in a completely residential area. The outside is clad in a dark dimensional lumber, which you see on nearly every surrounding residential building, but the wood is set in a herringbone pattern. We had a tour guide that took us through the smaller sister chapel, then to the main chapel. The interior feels like it is clad almost completely in one material – a pale blonde wood – except for the wall behind the pulpit. This wall is clad in short-faced dimensional lumber that are painted in an incredible variety of colors which go from darker tones to lighter tones as you move towards the top of the wall. Seeing so much color done so tastefully seems like an almost intentional response to the understanding of Cologne’s architecture being so grey and bland.
A 20-minute bike ride down the Rhine river led us to the other of Sauerbruch Hutton’s projects – the Oval Offices. These are a pair of relatively small commercial office buildings in southern Cologne, not even a block from the Rhine, in a context of medium density mixed use buildings. Most of its neighbors here are relatively neutral buildings that, even though they are authentic expressions of their programs or building systems in a way that is not at all distant from Bauhaus modernism, they are relatively unremarkable. Its in this context that these two buildings – relatively small, kidney shaped office buildings clad in operable, multi-colored, vinyl-fritted glass panels – can really sing. In a way, their vibrance is needed for the area, and is again, an almost direct response to Cologne’s history of post-war construction.
The final building we visited was the Kolumba museum by Peter Zumthor, which is maybe the best example of this connection between the built environment and the history and culture of a place. It’s a very somber building, being a museum building around the bombed ruins of nearly thousand-year-old Kolumba church. The thing that is so great about this building is the way that it looks at the charged relationship between the new and old co-existing. The clearest example is the main exhibit, where Zumthor created an archaeology site out of the bombed ruins by simply cladding it in a neutral brick façade and running a wooden walkway through the ruins. The museum provides the history of the ruins and their chronology, and tells the story of what was lost. In architecture books, this is what they show.
What I didn’t realize about this museum is that it is also a proper art museum, and the upstairs gallery space took a similarly serious approach to the tension between the old and new co-existing. The art on the walls is both really old and really new, and is displayed in really interesting ways. I’ve never seen a collection like this, but it was so cool that even the collection, which changes over time, still communicates the organizing idea for the entirety of the building.
Munich was my most anticipated city of the trip. It didn’t face the destruction that Cologne did and has a bigger variety of scales than Amsterdam does. It seemed like a city of extremes – its architecture was either real blue-blood Bavarian design whose roots go back to the first millennium, or it was incredibly contemporary as seen in the buildings of Sauerbruch Hutton, Allmann Sattler Wappner, and Behnisch Architekten.
Our first stop was the Herz Jesu Kirche by Allmann Sattler Wappner, one of my favorite buildings in the world. It’s a church, no more than 12,000 square feet, that’s in the neighborhood south of the Nymphenburg Castle. The church’s most defining feature is its nearly 40-foot-tall doors that open the entire front face of the building, which is clad in glass that has a blue vinyl fritte applied, to reveal an interior volume of vertical wooden members that define the chapel. The vertical wood members all point towards the pulpit, creating an incredible gradient effect with the lighting that comes in through the exterior glass volume. The sides of the glass volume transition from clear to frosted glass as it moves towards the back of the building, which gives the building a transcendental quality. One of the greatest parts of seeing the building in person is seeing the contrast between this church and its context, and also how the glass manages to capture reflections of its neighbors from almost every angle.
Its simple, its perfect, and I may never see a cooler building before I die.
We also visited the Olympiapark, a park designed to host the Olympics in Munich in 1972. It’s a beautiful park that, on the spring day when we visited, was covered in people. Often things that get built for the Olympics are thought of as wasteful as they don’t always have a life planned after, but this park certainly can’t receive that criticism. It felt like this civic topography, populated with lush flora and lots to do. It was covered in people, and features the well-known tensile structures designed by Frei Otto. I can’t describe how much cooler these were than I was anticipating.
Time has been good to Munich. Unlike the other cities we had visited, Munich’s built environment seemed to be less an indication of specific attitude, values, or culture, but instead simply evidence of time, change, and memory. The new and old co-exist in a way that I think benefits from the fact that everything seems to be beautiful in Munich. It was amazing to see how much design has permeated the city at all scales. The rail stations, bus stations, neighborhoods, parks, and so many other parts of the city felt lovingly designed through and through.
Simply put, Munich was a magical city that offered so much, even beyond design. To illustrate how charming it really is, in one single day in Munich, we saw: a memorial for Orlando di Lasso that the people of Munich have turned into a memorial for Michael Jackson, surfers riding the year-round continuous wave on the Eisbach in the English Garden, a swan mother floating with her babies on her back on the Kleinhesseloher lake, and had a serious conversation to our e-bike renter about whether or not he made up that there were sheep hidden deep in the English Garden (we didn’t see any, and I’m convinced it’s a trick he plays on tourists).
I love Munich because, while it has amazing buildings, architecture isn’t the coolest thing there. In Munich, more than any city, everything felt civic and connected. Its all about trains and bikes, not cars, parks and plazas, not backyards, and beer gardens with benches, not restaurants with tables and chairs. Munich pulls you into being an active participant in the city – and you’ve always got company!
We did not spend much time at all in Salzburg, but I felt the need to include some images of the library for the University of Salzburg. It features a mass clad in operable vertical wooden slats that floats above a terrain that is variable an accessible to the public, a very civic and urban move. The elevation of the main mass of the building makes it feel like a building that’s meant to look at the mountains. It’s the Alps, what else are you going to do?
Bringing it all together
This is an unexpectedly hard trip to conclude. It was so varied, with multiple narratives and themes, and much like the world, is a bit messier than my application essay anticipated.
Ultimately, these cities are all so interesting in the ways their histories and values affect what they build. Amsterdam had a near miss with becoming the Los Angeles of the Netherlands, Cologne seems to be rebuilding in a way that reflects the happy-go-lucky lifestyle that they live after being dubbed an ugly grey city, and Munich is an unexpectedly quirky city with lots of old and really new, and not a lot in between.
What does this mean for us in Dallas? Its hard to point at something specific, but its also hard not to think of our relationship with old buildings. We are quick to demolish some of the best old buildings that we have and its not uncommon to see new buildings designed to look like old buildings, which you could argue are meant to replace the old buildings we just tore down. Regardless, I do believe that our built environment reflects our values, our identity, and our history. So, when you see the city, what does it say to you?