Defacing Hejduk

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hejduk's Kreuzberg complex in happier days. (Courtesy architectureinberlin)

The late John Hejduk, dean of Cooper Union, a member of the Texas Rangers, and an influential member of the New York Five, built very few buildings, preferring to leave architectural ideas on paper. But he did build several housing projects in Berlin as part of the influential IBA program, and now one of his finest projects, the Kreuzberg Tower from 1988, is being defaced by its new owners in the name of “improvement.” Kazys Varnelis sends word that a petition is being created to protest this destruction. The effort is being led in part by Hejduk’s daughter Renata, an architectural historian who urged the new owners to halt the work, but apparently received a rude response. According to architectureinberlin, Renata explained: “I tried everything I could to get them to stop and at least consult with the Estate and other architects who were interested in helping to preserve them. They were completely uninterested and felt their facade changes would be much better than the original.”  Help save the tower by spreading the word, signing the petition, and putting pressure on the new owners to reconsider their actions. You can see the terrible plans after the jump.

Despicable. (Courtesy Slab Mag)

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65 Responses to “Defacing Hejduk”

  1. Nadi Ghurjdi says:

    One more thing … can someone post a link to a site that has the wonderful plans several posters spoke so highly of. THX.

  2. DL says:

    John Hejduk’s profound contribution to architecture is that he taught me (and Bob, and many others) to think. Differently.

  3. elan says:

    it is very difficult to engage with stupid, angry people, but i will try to respond to ed. calling architects who think, speculate and pursue theories as ‘so called theoretical architects’ is like calling physicists ‘so called theoretical scientists’.

    some architects (they aren’t fictional, they’re real!) contribute long after their death to what is considered DISCOURSE. now that’s not just you or me yelling through the computer. that’s something more enduring and meaningful. and it just may be what people are referring to as ‘a (profound) human contribution’. don’t kid yourself, who ‘engages the non-professional public’, your brain surgeon, your banker, your developer? do you tell your doctor what’s right?

    the profession of architecture is increasingly marginalized in a narcissistic society, just like discourse in general, and creative, critical and social thinking (what to many is still a discipline) are being replaced by personal opinions.
    The real issue is that the free market has torn down what to many experts (though you may not personally understand why!) represents something noble. A vision of a human face for a divided society: berlin in 1988. That is what my metaphor meant. That noble, public cause is being demolished. This stands for Berlin as a whole, and the Kreuzberg Tower is its most explicit example.

  4. Charles Rice says:

    For Renata, the need to preserve this building may have a lot to do with a daughter’s dutiful need to remember her father. For others, the issue may be colored by pleasant memories of college years under Hejduk’s tutulage.

    Neither is cause for celebrating the building itself. That it is better than other other low-income housing in Berlin is laudable, but it is very faint praise indeed when measured against the yardstick of mediocrity that neighboring low-income projects attained. The bigger question has to do with how well Kreuzberg Tower stacks up against, for example, popular and indisputable architectural masterpieces like Manhattan’s Grand Central Station, or perhaps less well known, (outside architectural circles, at least), but seriously poetic work like Carlo Scarpa’s Cemetry Brion-Vega.

    Personally, I can’t see the Kreuzberg Tower in this company. And while it is not as silly as most Post Modern work (Stanley, are you still with us here?), it doesn’t seem to aspire to much beyond a rather simple and obvious visual pun packaged in an otherwise featureless, Lego-like construction.

    As for the rationalization that the building “constructs a bridge between the Regime of the late 20th century, to the hope of a post-regime era….”, that is little more than a contrived, subjective speculation dressed up in the entirely pretentious language of contemporary architectural discourse. It is always disappointing to see supposedly creative people resorting to such formulaic, unthinking and trite “jargonspeak”. It may intimidate gullible and impressionable young students, but outside of the academy, it is rightly percieved as laughable.

  5. elan says:

    What is missed in this discussion of Kreuzberg tower is that it is symmetrical about the North axis, and both east and west halfs are interchangeable. Each person leaving the building faces South, neutrally, and the tower as an anti-wall is at the center. I’m sorry Mr Rice but it is more complex urbanism than a visual pun, if you can read it. The point is even more subtle when you consider the time and place of this construction, and that is what distinguishes it from a train station for New York City or a Mausoleum park for a wealthy Italian family. It is not a monument, and not as extensive in scope as the cemetery-landscape, (it’s just a house!) but it speaks to individual and collective dwelling in a post-wall Berlin. (do you live in the east wing or the west wing?)
    The Kreuzberg Tower elevated the housing block complex and grounds to some meaning that fuses both early modernism and a less literal social realism, both important periods in Berlin. In the Kreuzberg Tower, upon the background of Hejduk’s other unbuilt work for Berlin, there are ideas of urbanism within the city block and memory within the city. These ideas for constructing public space and dwelling in a new Berlin are just as relevant, if not more, today as they were 20 years ago.

  6. Charles Rice says:

    Aaah … of course! “It speaks to individual and collective dwelling in a post-wall Berlin…” How did I miss that? I’m confident that most people arriving home to Kreuzberg Tower miss that critical symbolism too. So perhaps Hejduk didn’t speak clearly enough. Or perhaps his excutiuon is inarticulate. Or, maybe the post facto rationalization is just a load of bullshit. How about that? Certainly the supposed ‘reading’ is entirely subjective and is entirely extraneous to the building itself. And certainly it is not provable as it is something superimposed on the object rather intrinsic to it.

    But let’s say another pretentious academic (Peter Eisenman, for example), “read” this building as being symbolic of male penile domination (the erect tower) over two submissive females (the fluttering eyelashed faces lying prone on the ground). – Sounds ridiculous right? But perhaps not so much as it first seems. In one of architecture’s most ludicrous “critical texts”, Eisenman made a more or less similar sexual reading for his own Nunotani building, in which he described his deformed building as readings of an erect and floppy penis. – (Google it. You’ll see.) – I agree, it’s very juvenile and even embarrassing. But this is just what ridiculous modern “theorists” do. They can’t help making fools of themselves. And they expend their limited creative energies generating “critical texts” intended to add value to designs that lack any true, inherent architectural merit.

    So, to continue. Is the reading of the building as a symbol of male domination any less plausible that the reading of the building as a symbol of “individual and collective dwelling in a post-wall Berlin”? Of course not. Both are equally foolish assumptions added to the building much like salt is added to three-day-old meat in need of some flavor enhancement.

    But let’s say that the “male domination” reading was more accurate. I’m sure people would be outraged and would want to destroy this abominable sexist symbol and replace it with something more attractive. It’s all in the “reading”.

    But I’m no fan of immature “readings”. I’ve thankfully outgrown the amateur-hour intellectual posturing of the academy in favor of developing mature works of architecture which stand or fall ON THEIR OWN MERITS rather than are judged on the infinitely variable, infinitely pliable, infinitely mutable and spurious readings of people who should know better.

    But if people want to jot down their “readings” of Hejduk’s little building here, and preserve them in a glass vitrine set nicely on the manlepiece, I’m all for that. But I expect a bit more from architecture and urbanism, especially if it is to remain as a legacy of my generation.. And frankly this lame effort just doesn’t cut the proverbial mustard.

  7. D. Osborne Mason says:

    Charles Rice hit the nail on the head. The colleges are full of this sort of half-baked nonsense masquerading as theory. Pretentious sophistry and architecture are two different things. (Does anyone today still take Derrida and Foucault seriously?) And the constant striving to give the appearance of profundity is not a substitute for design.

    Compare, for example the great work of former students trained under the Beaux Arts System* (arguably the high point of architectural training in the US), with the silly crayon-colored doodles and puerile fantasies like ‘House of the Suicide’ that Cooper Union students wasted their formative years on. (* Louis Kahn was perhaps the last of a long line of notable students, that included Charles McKim, John Russell Pope and Cass Gilbert, all of whom who became first rate architects, both classical and modern, under this sophisticated mode of training.)

    The sorry legacy of John Hejduk and his cronies is the deplorably misguided and professionally inept generation of halfwits trained on his watch. Far from creating a generation of architects worthy of the name, Hejduk merely brought potentially promising students down to his own level of intellectual pretension. As the old adage does, “Those who can – do. Those who can’t – teach.”

  8. jimbo says:

    D.Osborne Mason,

    Have you thought about having your psychiatrist increase dose of anti psychotic meds?

    It sounds like school was a bit of a trauma for you…

  9. [...] Architects Newspaper, “Defacing Hejduk,” illuminates the impending threat to John Hedjuk’s Friedrichstrasse tower but may defeat [...]

  10. elan says:

    Charles Rice, are you suggesting that the wall in Berlin is really only just a little piece of concrete? I mean, that’s all it looks like!! Or does it, hmm have some meaning? Why not build another? After all you very eloquently have proven that meaning is not embedded in form.

  11. Charles Rice says:

    Elan, Elan, Elan,

    No. No. No. What I proved was that meaning was not embedded in your “reading”.

    FYI. The Wall in Berlin no longer exists. You need to refer to it in the past tense (“was really only …”) rather than the present tense (“is really only ….”), … unless of course the time-space continuum no longer has meaning in your world.

    Toodle Pip, or something.


  12. elan says:

    The wall is still present, albeit fragmented. So is the Kreuzberg Tower. Both have been only partially demolished. What is, however, a more decisive demolition taking place in Berlin – and this is the point upon which to focus – is cultural. It is the demolition of a civic program, a social vision, and an ethics of practice which this building of Hejduk’s, among others, represents in the context of its time.
    Without intervening in the discussion with personal aesthetics, John Hejduk’s project currently under discussion and demolition, was one element within a larger project for the city of Berlin. Created and put together at a pivotal and extremely meaningful moment in the city, national and international history. The most reasonable, selfless and humane justification to defend this project, (rather than to attack it superficially or perversely) is to recognize the integrity and uphold the civic value of its originally commissioned construction.
    The intent to provide personalized and affordable housing for workers, artists, and other low-income people was a tenet once treated more honorably than today. The period of the Tower’s construction, among other projects under the IBA (International Bauaustellung), intended to be a social, material and imaginative connection at the critical divide in Berlin’s history: at the threshold of its falling wall, at the location of a failing city quarter. Moreover, the opportunity to provide a civic platform for non-commercialized, architectural innovation, was important, much moreso than today. These were real times.
    The civic project for Kreuzberg, as a whole, intended to provoke and present a more equitable, coherent and unified future for the city and its people, through the collaboration of many independent and innovative architects and thinkers with the civic society, planners and their future users. Now you may say it failed – since its achievements, twenty years later, are being reconstructed to suit a free, market, narrow and selfish private financial agenda. However, advocating destruction (and resentment) of Hejduk’s Tower, is a tacit approval of this greater cultural and historical undermining, and an outright rejection of an historical period and ethos, that was an optimistic, and visionary moment in the history of Berlin, that sought to re-balance social inequities and celebrate artistic imagination. Unfortunately, these values, today, are to many people themselves laughable. Today the economy, and many participants, do not care about either art or justice. And today, under neo-liberal Berlin, it is the architecture of its time which remains a testament to the period. To preserve Hejduk’s Kreuzberg Tower, within the Berlin as we now see it, is not only an issue of aesthetics and interiors. The cultural heritage which is being lost is bound up with social values. The selflessness and civic imagination of planners; the collective and poetic commitments of designers; and the collaboration of the civic body, which were, at that time 20 years ago, so greatly valued, are under threat in the name of indifference and profit.

  13. Alex says:


    Never argue with idiots. First they bring you down to their level, then they beat you with experience. Or, to put it another way: why would you try to seriously argue with someone who thinks the Berlin Wall is just a wall (or, for that matter, signs with ‘yours in Christ’)? While the debate about meaning in architecture isn’t as polarized as a debate on universal health care, any amount of cynicism reduces the argument to a shouting match of ‘for’ or ‘against.’ That’s why talking with people like Mason – with an adage about teaching that you only hear from people who have never taught – or Rice – who knows that the best way to be condescending in writing is to repeat someone’s name three times – is especially disheartening. As Hejduk once said, “They’re all just little businessmen.” Still, despite the tone of their arguments, they did not bring you down to their level. Thank you for your series of well-written and eloquent arguments. They were a pleasure to read.

  14. Matt says:


    Thanks for writing that – I was about to write exactly the same and you saved me the time while restoring some faith in the readers of this blog. If I were Mr Rice, I may congratulate you with a hearty ‘bravo!’ or something equally mundane. Elan, thanks for the insightful reading. The IBA was a fascinating project.

  15. Bill says:

    WE WON!

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