The special exhibition the city of tomorrow: a crowd-puller at Interbau
The urban planning exhibition the city of tomorrow was the largest and most popular special exhibition held at Interbau and, after the new buildings in the Hansaviertel, it was the most visited part of the architectural exhibition. Situated near the main entrance at the Großer Stern, it wasn’t just its subject matter that attracted the attention of the public. Its appealing design and the innovative temporary pavilion in which it was held also contributed to its fame.
An “umbrella for Tiergarten” (1): the pavilion for the special exhibition the city of tomorrow
The pavilion for the special exhibition was a particular attraction at Interbau. For the trade press, its construction and design, along with that of Hugh A. Stubbins’ Congress Hall, embodied “the shapes of the future”. (2) Devised by Karl Otto (1904–1975), Frei Otto (1925–2015) and Günther Günschel (1928–2008), it was the first time the Mero System had been used for an exhibition hall. It consisted of a space frame made of 2-metre long Mero-norm tubing, held together at the joints by spherical connectors, which allowed for a roof construction needing few supports, giving the pavilion a light and airy feel. To provide protection from rain and sun, the Mero space frame was covered with a white polyurethane-coated strong cotton fabric, the brainchild of Frei Otto. The distinctive bumpy-shaped roof was created by wooden springs mounted on the Mero System bending strongly under the fabric tension, and this light-weight roof construction, resembling an umbrella, provided the exhibition with ample daylight, even in cloudy weather. The pavilion was mostly without walls, allowing views into Tiergarten and ensuring excellent ventilation during the hot summer days, so that the pavilion was “climatically the most pleasant place to be” (3) at the Interbau exhibition.
The exhibition: the city landscape – urban planning for tomorrow as an educational mission
Initially planned as an accompanying exhibition, the city of tomorrow became increasingly important during the planning of Interbau as it became more apparent that a “city of tomorrow” could only partly be achieved in the Hansaviertel. This was down to the complicated planning processes involved and the many considerations to be taken into account regarding ownership, construction law and political stipulations. Therefore, over time the city of tomorrow became the heart of the Interbau programme. The guiding principles of the exhibition were prepared in development consultations involving an interdisciplinary group of sociologists, representatives of planning authorities, landscape architects, Senate employees, representatives of the Design Council and from Federal Ministries, as well as a doctor, a psychologist, a sociologist and an agriculturist. These consultations were led by the two men responsible for the special exhibition – Karl Otto, the architect and director of the Werkkunstschule in Hannover, and Erich Kühn, Professor of Urban Development and Regional Planning at the RWTH in Aachen. A series of catchy statements of intent were developed in the consultations and then illustrated in a colourful and varied presentation under the leadership of the graphic designer Claus-Peter Groß. The content was conveyed in an entertaining way through photoboards, explanatory texts and humorous drawings by the Berlin cartoonist Oswald Meichsner, who had made his name under the pseudonym Oswin. (4)
Right at the beginning of the special exhibition, it was stated that city structures from the imperial era no longer “worked”. Life was in “a state of disorder in city housing that was no longer suitable”. (5) The dense city of the 19th century with its tenement blocks, rear courtyards and narrow alleyways was identified as the reason for such societal disorder, alongside the mix of living, working, recreation and transportation. The exhibition presented an alternative model – a subdivided, more dispersed, landscaped urban structure, in which life would become decent again and where social and family values would come into their own. The city should turn into a sort of “structured casing” (6), where individuals, families and neighborly communities “would have living conditions that would protect and shape them”; indeed, the whole of society would re-discover “an orderly structure”. What is more, in such an environment “the shared responsibility of each individual towards the wider community would flourish in accordance with true democracy”. (7)
The focus of the exhibition was a diorama designed by Oswin showing the ideal open, green city landscape. This was further illustrated in different sections of the exhibition, dealing with the themes ‘City and Man’, ‘City and Health’, ‘City and Nature’ and ‘City and Transport’, before being converted into planning principles and twelve concrete examples for urban planning. (8) One of these was a design by Hubert Hoffmann and Walter Rossow for Berlin-Moabit, showing a city divided into neighborhoods, pervaded by green spaces and laid out around a green centre, disregarding the city structure in existence at that time.
As in a burning glass, the special exhibition the city of tomorrow brought together the socio-political expectations that were connected with this more relaxed urban planning design. In no other architectural exhibition of the 1950s was the assumed interrelationship between urban structure, way of life and societal values so clearly expressed as it was in the city of tomorrow. At the same time, the exhibition unambiguously dedicated itself to the goal of influencing public opinion, not least through a targeted and accessible presentation of the content and through various publications. (9)
Dr. Sandra Wagner-Conzelmann