The Berlin / New York Dialogues

(Still recovering somewhat from the trip. Things were so busy before I left a couple weeks ago and I neglected to get this posted…)Life Without Buildings’ New York correspondent and all-around bon vivant, Jac Currie attended the Berlin / New York dialogues last week at the New York Center for Architecture.The 10-week long exhibition aims to compare and contrast the architecture, culture, and lifestyle of the two ciites. It is presented as part of the Center for Architecture’s “Global City Dialogues” series.

 The tour began in a busy Center for Architecture. It was two hours before the VIP reception, and people were still getting ready – running around with mounted photos and stretched canvas. A twenty-foot, spiraling installation by Brooklyn designers, Made, bridged two of the floors, and the staircase walls were printed with various urban statistics – density of people, amount of public space by area, number of dogs, length of bike trails, how many cinemas in each city:“Two of the world’s most dynamic urban centers, Berlin and New York City, are making radical transformations in their streets and neighborhoods,” says Rick Bell, Director of AIA New York. “The purpose of Berlin / New York Dialogues is to discover the similarities and differences in what drives our architecture and urban design.”The primary themes of the exhibition include artist as a pioneer/culture as a catalyst, community-based activism, greening of open-space, and social engineering/government based interventions. To make the exhibition accessible to the general public, displays consisted of layers of information portrayed through various easy-to-understand media – charts, photos, text, and illustrations. Facts and testimonials about successful art school programs, snapshots of public art projects, photos of a development sites, and floor to ceiling landscapes printed on stretched canvas tracked urban development throughout the two cultural capitals over the last couple decades.While the overall exhibition, designed by New York design firm Project Projects came across as well researched and smartly displayed, the actual density of information and tightness of space made it difficult to a take in. Having lived in both cities, I could really appreciate the variety of information and comprehensive presentation. It was interesting to see squatters, warehouse clubs, and illegal urban farmers given as much credit as politicians, large-scale developments and social programs.My favorite features of the show were the agencies that went beyond architecture in attempting to affect their surroundings. Berlin-based design groups, Platoon and Deadline Architects. With public art, innovative media, and networking, Platoon’s projects use cultural activities to change lives in Berlin. Deadline Architects are perhaps best known for their project, Bender Berlin. Their first building, it was entirely self-financed by the architects, who raised the money over a period of three years. Now complete, it houses their office, apartment, art gallery, and 14 rentable mini-lofts. (ed. note: more on these offices soonish!)Despite all the careful comparisons and meticulously presented facts, I felt there was something missing, some strong, intangible difference between the two cities. Maybe it’s the uniquely American pursuit of wealth, fame, and “the Dream.” Or perhaps it’s New York’s status as hub of industry, media, and real estate versus Berlin’s economically bankrupt reality. It’s hard to say really, but perhaps Anders Lepik phrased the question best in his introductory speech: “What is the reason that NY dreams of Berlin, and Berlin dreams of NY?”And then there was the reception. It started quietly enough with just a few VIPs, a DJ bleeping and blooping his way through Minimal Techno records, and, of course, German beer. I took the opportunity to catch up with former schoolmate– and current Berlin / New York Dialogues researcher, Anthony Acciavatti. (ed note: what’s up Anthony!) Soon though, the place began to fill up with a serious crowd. A lot of black jackets, tall people, hip glasses, and hipper haircuts. The music kept getting better, a serious Techno set by Berlin pop act 2raumwohnung, and people were seriously getting their dance on. It really did feel like a party in Berlin, and New York loved it.Stay longer next time, Berlin.Berlin – New York Dialogues: Building in Context runs through 26 January at the Center for Architecture. Jac Currie is an artist and designer based in New York City and New Orleans. He is the founder of Defend New Orleans and Jaguar Jaguar.