Initiative Haubrich-Forum too late Das Loch European Kunsthalle

Kölner Extrablatt Murder of the Humanistic City

22.06.2002. Prof. Catherine Ann Somerville Venart (University Halifax/Architectural Department) zum Denkmalschutz am Beispiel der Kölner Situation am Neumarkt. Abgedruckt im "Kölner Extrablatt".

Murder of the Humanistic City

It is a slow death, where piece by piece the "qualities" of a building, a city, or an urban space are eroded. It is a slow dissolve into nothingness. What is it within our society, within our organizational system and within our own human - nature, which allows this to occur? We either add to the heap - hoping not to be seen, or ignore all together what is happening. Is it not fear, and if so, then fear of what? Is it not the fear of being outcast, or isolated, of losing face or a standard of living. Is it not the importance of the individual, the individual, over the group, which allows for this deterioration of our urban environment to occur?

Köln itself is a prime example of this slow dissolve at work. The Kunstverein - The Josef-Haubrich-Forum - is only one example of many where urban planning has gone "a-wire". In this case the building and the public form that it encapsulates is not under Denkmalschutz, which generally, is the case for buildings built between 1930 and the end of the 60s. There seems to be an interest to erase this part of our history - an erasure of hard times after the war. Perhaps it is the fact that the buildings themselves don't have the capacity for nostalgia. Perhaps they are too austere, too pure, having no ornament and therefore express no "comfort" in the eyes of many, and therefore they are destroyed.

But, would it have helped to put these building under Denkmalschutz? I think not. One has only to look at any of the buildings of Riphahn on Hahenstrasse or the former Sparkasse / Promarkt at Rudolfplatz to see the outcome of buildings protected in this manner. It seems that even Denkmalschutz cannot protect the qualities? that are embodied by these buildings. Why is this? Is it due to relationships between form and function, concept to detail, and between material manifestation and craft? These relationships of user to building and building to the urban fabric create an embedded dependency between the concept(ion) of a building, its function and the public realm. Denkmalschutz seem inconsequential and are indeed unable to save these aspects of a building. When a building falls out of use or the method of public interaction changes and the attempts of Denkmalschutz at saving a building are useless and at best piece meal. Perhaps, the building falls into disuse or is inappropriately remodeled. Perhaps, the facade of a building is preserved but not its space, or seemingly insignificant details such as window frames are replaced by elements of different proportions and thereby destroy the quality of a whole facade and its space simultaneously. It is these small things which break the very significance and reason to preserve a building in the first place and they end up destroying the whole - the concept - the building itself. Perhaps we need to reevaluate how a building is preserved as an entirety, as a concept, its functionality or new use, and its relationship to the city fabric (to the human scale and to its detail) which are what gives it its cultural, architectural and historic significance. It is in this separation between urban fabric, building, detail and functioning space that a disjuncture between the purpose for which a building is produced and its concept and idea is created. A building then becomes a mere spectacle, a sign that is only used as an object of nostalgia, and becomes stripped of its meaning and its being.

To further explain the difficulty of a building such as the Josef-Haubrich-Forum to survive, regardless of whether it stands under Denkmalschutz or not, we just have to look at the Moeller Stoffpavilion for example. The Moeller Stoffpavilion (Wilhelm Riphahn, 1951) shows the relationships held within buildings of this time, of form, material and detail to a specific function. Here the Moeller Stoffpavilion functions, both architecturally and functionally for the display of fabric. Its relationship to the street juxtaposes private (interior, courtyard) and public (exterior, street) and expresses this to us as pedestrian. We look across the street at the small stores that create a public edge on the urban scale, a separation to the private Wohnblock behind. These are qualities that create a public or human engagement, and which allow real space, for both a visual and physical pause. This is something that has no economic price tag and has perhaps become too expensive to persist.