Architect Robert Slinger chose a housing block designed by John Hejduk (1929-2000) in Berlin as his building of desire for the film series “Architects in Love”. uncube asked him to explain how he came to love the building, where he lived for eight years.
“A house knows who loves it.” – John Hejduk
When Architectuul’s Christian Burckhardt asked me to participate in his film series “Architects in Love”, there was no question for either of us which piece of architecture should be the focus of the film. We had first met in 2010, whilst involved in the successful campaign to prevent proposed alterations to John Hejduk’s Kreuzberg Tower and Wings, which would have been an appalling defacement of this important landmark from Berlin’s IBA (Internationale Bauausstellung) of 1987.
As a young architect, I followed this American architect’s work with fascination, captivated by his ability to make worlds exist in the space between lived experience and imagined possibility. So my first encounter with this building (one of his rare built works) in 1992, held not a little trepidation. Imagined architectures are always loaded with expectations which reality can seldom live up to. Whilst impressed by its powerful exterior presence, its austerity and frontal directness left a strangely cold impression upon me.
But that night, I dreamt of being inside the tower looking out. And like Alice eating cake in Wonderland, my body grew to fill the volume of the building, my eyes looking out through the two windows of the south façade, my hands forced out into the small side room spaces flanking the tower, palms pressing against the small windows. The building became a costume, a mask through which I saw the city ...then I woke up. It was to be another eight years before I finally got to see these interior spaces I had dreamt of, when I moved into an apartment in the tower, a maisonette on the 8th and 9th floors. After living there for a further eight years, I came to understand how Hejduk’s architecture both flexibly accommodates and yet asserts a presence which resists any attempts to co-opt it. For me, this relationship was never adversarial, but rather more akin to a debate with an old friend, where differences of opinion are thrashed out over a given ground of mutual respect.
Hejduk referred to similar feelings when he installed an exhibition of drawings in Le Corbusier’s Villa la Roche in Paris: his feeling of hesitancy at making a hole in the wall of the building, followed by one of shock at the deep, blood-red colour of the plaster that came out of the hole when he finally did.
It is interesting to look back at the places we have called home and reflect upon where, and to which surfaces, memory clings. My memories of the Kreuzberg Tower alight not on those elements of Hejduk’s architecture which silently, ergonomically accommodated, but rather those which challenged, resisted and surprised, framing new forms of encounter.
Since love is born partly from the embrace of complementarity and the acceptance of faults, one might say that our buildings often love us more unconditionally than we do them in return. But in a meditation invoking by turns the adoptive inhabitation and quiet observation of the buildings we occupy, there is a space of empathy found between ourselves and them which lies at the heart of what we call architecture.
– Robert Slinger is an architect and partner at KAPOK in Berlin, a transdisciplinary design practice, he established with Claire Karsenty in 2002.
John Hejduk quote taken from his book: “Sentences on the house and other sentences” in Pewter Wings Golden Horns Stone Veils: Wedding in a Dark Plum Room, Monticelli Press, 1997.