How the walls that were shape the cityscape

Walls are dividing lines. They cut areas apart, separating them both spatially and symbolically. What happens to places where walls were torn down and barbed wire fences were removed? The German Pavilion at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice is supposed to offer answers to this question.

Titled “Unbuilding Walls”, this year’s contribution will display 28 examples that show how German society dealt with spatial voids along the former border wall after the fall of the German Democratic Republic, and discuss whether the wall still shapes the image of the city today. The area once occupied by the wall now randomly features new buildings or reconstructions of historic ones. Sometimes only voids remain.

The exhibition is curated by Marianne Birthler, former Federal Commissioner for the Records of the Stasi (the former secret police of communist East Germany) and the Berlin-based architecture firm GRAFT.

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Why did the curators select 28 examples? Germany’s history as a reunified country spans 28 years – and the Berlin Wall stood for the exact same amount of time, from 1961 to 1989. The exhibits include the future Axel Springer Media Campus along the former Berlin Wall death strip, Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstrasse – former border crossing and now tourist magnet, and the Iron Curtain bike trail. This year’s Biennale follows the theme of “Free Space”, which is why the German contribution “Unbuilding Walls” sets its focus on exemplary urban spaces and architecture.

The historical symmetry of 28 years before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall is an opportunity to research the effects of division and the processes of healing as dynamic spatial phenomena. The exhibition will feature images and experiences of what life surrounded by walls is like. Not only the German Cold War division, but contemporary international cases of barriers, fences, and walls will be in the spotlight as well.

The 16th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice begins on May 26th and ends on November 25th 2018.