»Architectural interpretations accepted without reflection could obscure the search for signs of a true nature and a higher order.«

Louis Isadore Kahn

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Future Perfect

The fantastic 70s architecture collages of Dieter Urbach

  • “These collages were meant to seduce...”: Dieter Urbach’s photomontage view towards the TV tower at Alexanderplatz, 1972. (All images © Dieter Urbach/Berlinische Galerie) 1 / 17  “These collages were meant to seduce...”: Dieter Urbach’s photomontage view towards the TV tower at Alexanderplatz, 1972. (All images © Dieter Urbach/Berlinische Galerie)
  • Urbach’s collaged view towards the Palace of the Republic from the bottom of the TV tower, 1973. 2 / 17  Urbach’s collaged view towards the Palace of the Republic from the bottom of the TV tower, 1973.
  • Collage from 1964 depicting the interior view of the TV tower‚ as designed by Josef Kaiser.  3 / 17  Collage from 1964 depicting the interior view of the TV tower‚ as designed by Josef Kaiser. 
  • Visualisation of “a multi-purpose building”, later known as Palace of the Republic. The design was supposedly by Josef Kaiser, Urbach’s collage dates from 1973. 4 / 17  Visualisation of “a multi-purpose building”, later known as Palace of the Republic. The design was supposedly by Josef Kaiser, Urbach’s collage dates from 1973.
  • Another perspective of the Palace in 1973, the project was actually built between 1973-76. 5 / 17  Another perspective of the Palace in 1973, the project was actually built between 1973-76.
  • Urbach’s collages of the “Big Hall” in the Palace of the Republic demonstrated the proposed multifunctional nature of the building, that would not only serve as the seat of the GDR parliament... 6 / 17  Urbach’s collages of the “Big Hall” in the Palace of the Republic demonstrated the proposed multifunctional nature of the building, that would not only serve as the seat of the GDR parliament...
  • ...but also as a cultural centre, hosting visitors in its bowling alley, theatre, restaurants and art galleries until its 1990 closure and 2008 demolition. It will now be replaced by a reconstruction of the original Prussian city palace. 7 / 17  ...but also as a cultural centre, hosting visitors in its bowling alley, theatre, restaurants and art galleries until its 1990 closure and 2008 demolition. It will now be replaced by a reconstruction of the original Prussian city palace.
  • Entrance of the GDR’s Ministery for Foreign Affairs as imagined by Urbach (complete with glamerous citizens and cars) with the Staatsratsgebäude in the background. The ministery existed for 20 years between 1976-1996. (Repro: Markus Hawlik)& 8 / 17  Entrance of the GDR’s Ministery for Foreign Affairs as imagined by Urbach (complete with glamerous citizens and cars) with the Staatsratsgebäude in the background. The ministery existed for 20 years between 1976-1996. (Repro: Markus Hawlik)&
  • Perspective of the “Palasthotel” on Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse (designed by Ferenc Kiss with Walter Bauer and Jerzy Karon) next to the Palace of the Republic. The hotel was torn down in 2001. 9 / 17  Perspective of the “Palasthotel” on Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse (designed by Ferenc Kiss with Walter Bauer and Jerzy Karon) next to the Palace of the Republic. The hotel was torn down in 2001.
  • Proposed office building for “Allgemeiner Deutscher Nachrichtendienst” (the GDR state news agency) at Mollstrasse in Berlin, c.1968. 10 / 17  Proposed office building for “Allgemeiner Deutscher Nachrichtendienst” (the GDR state news agency) at Mollstrasse in Berlin, c.1968.
  • Collage from 1971 showing an unrealised design for a “Großhügelhaus”, a massive social housing project designed by Josef Kaiser. 11 / 17  Collage from 1971 showing an unrealised design for a “Großhügelhaus”, a massive social housing project designed by Josef Kaiser.
  • ...and a collage offering an imagined view of life inside the project, being enjoyed by typically glamourous citizens. 12 / 17  ...and a collage offering an imagined view of life inside the project, being enjoyed by typically glamourous citizens.
  • Proposal for a holiday home for the GDR’s Trade Union Federation (FDGB) from 1974, the design by Roland Korn was never built. 13 / 17  Proposal for a holiday home for the GDR’s Trade Union Federation (FDGB) from 1974, the design by Roland Korn was never built.
  • Proposal for the new city center of Jena (design: Hermann Henselmann and Jörg Streitparth), c.1966. 14 / 17  Proposal for the new city center of Jena (design: Hermann Henselmann and Jörg Streitparth), c.1966.
  • Unrealised design by Manfred Jäckel and Lothar Kwasnitza for East Berlin’s Leninplatz (today: United Nations Square), collage from 1967. 15 / 17  Unrealised design by Manfred Jäckel and Lothar Kwasnitza for East Berlin’s Leninplatz (today: United Nations Square), collage from 1967.
  • Whilst some reproductions of the work had appeared in various journals and exhibitions over the years, the discovery of more of the collages at Urbach’s home in Brandenburg... 16 / 17  Whilst some reproductions of the work had appeared in various journals and exhibitions over the years, the discovery of more of the collages at Urbach’s home in Brandenburg...
  • ...sheds light on the very analogue means by which these images were produced, which are particularly striking in the time of ever more homogenous, hyper-real architectural renderings. 17 / 17  ...sheds light on the very analogue means by which these images were produced, which are particularly striking in the time of ever more homogenous, hyper-real architectural renderings.

Ursula Müller, head of the Architecture Department of the Berlinische Galerie, shares with uncube the story about the rediscovery of a set of extraordinary architecture collages by Dieter Urbach that had fallen into obscurity. Graphic designer Urbach was officially commissioned to produce photomontage perspectives envisioning some of the GDR’s most ambitious projects including the Palace of the Republic, Berlin’s TV tower and some schemes that never broke ground, all in fabulous Internationals Style vogue.

In the 1960s and 70s the rebuilding of post-war German Democratic Republic city centres like Berlin or Jena were far from complete. So the GDR government set about commissioning their top national architects, such as Hermann Henselmann, Heinz Graffunder and Josef Kaiser, to sketch out a number of innovative urban renewal proposals in the International Style that was very much in vogue at the time.

Impressions of these visions of modern GDR cities were brought to life on paper in a series of hand-made collages by graphic designer Dieter Urbach. His paper perspectives, some in black and white, some in colour, served the function that 3D-animation and photorealistic computer rendering does today – giving context to the planned designs in terms of size, forms, materials and the desired location. The goal of these analogue renderings was to use them as a tool to convince planning authorities and state officials.

Combining these modern architectures with shiny cars and beautiful people in fashionable clothes, Urbach seems to prefigure the aesthetics of the computer renderings that were to come decades later. These collages were meant to seduce and indeed they became very popular. As soon as each was completed they were reproduced photographically by the state picture agencies, such as the Deutsche Werbe- und Anzeigengesellschaft (The German Advertising  Agency - DEWAG) and shown to the public at building exhibitions and in trade journals.

Urbach’s collaged view towards the Palace of the Republic from the bottom of the TV tower, 1973.

Today, however, the majority of Dieter Urbach’s collages have fallen into obscurity and only exist as photographic reproductions. Our search for the originals began while we were preparing the Radically Modern exhibition in 2015. In true detective fashion, it all began with a stamp found on the back of one of six reproductions in the Berlinische Galerie’s archive, which showed the artist’s name and former address. After talking to a number of former neighbours, we discovered that Urbach was still alive and residing in a little town in Brandenburg, but without a telephone or email connection.

When we finally got in direct contact with him, Urbach was very surprised that after all these years anyone still remembered his work. He invited the gallery archivists to visit and, after digging around in the far corners of his home, they discovered a number of his original collages in a pretty fragile state, as well as some further reproductions where the original works had meanwhile been lost. Most kindly, he donated these to our collection.

Thanks to support of the Kulturstiftung der Länder (Cultural Foundation of the German States) all of Urbach’s remaining collages have been repaired and a selection of them, focusing on the projects in Berlin are now on show to the public again for the first time in nearly fifty years, as part of the presentation of our permanent collection.

– Ursula Müller is head of the Architecture Department of the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin.

berlinischegalerie.de

Further reading: for more beautiful modes and methods of drawing, surrender to the vision that is uncube issue No.42: Walk the Line. And for an in-depth interview with Ursula Müller on her Radical Modern exhibition in Berlin and more, take a look at the first installment of our Radically Modern blog series.

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