From the minute I saw it, it was love. Standing out from the steady stream of pop-cultural detritus on Facebook, I saw something that, for a second, gave me faith in Berlin again: Green8, the beautiful 150m twisted “garden city” skyscraper conceived by architects Agnieszka Preibisz and Peter Sandhaus to fill a gap near Alexanderplatz, across the road from that pink shopping centre we all love to hate.
“It’s a cucumber,” people commented. Germans are weird about the vegetables they use to describe things – the TV Tower looks nothing like an asparagus. Or better yet: “Barcelona and London have their dildos, Berlin goes for the butt plug.”
That didn’t damper my enthusiasm: the idea of a garden skyscraper in the city centre is extravagant, visionary, interesting, ballsy. By contrast, the stuff built in Berlin since 1990 ranges from boring to boxy to gaudy. From the windswept Legoland of Potsdamer Platz to the institutional gravestones lining Pariser Platz – there’s nothing truly inspiring in sight (with the notable exception of the zinc-plated zigzag of the Jewish Museum. The architect of that landmark, Daniel Libeskind, is currently working on an extravagant apartment building across the street from the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s CIA, spy-HQ). Just when things couldn’t get any worse, along came Alexa, a building aspiring to be a slab of bacon. Worse still is the Prussian wet dream aka Stadtschloss aka Humboldt Forum taking form on Museum Island.
When it comes to new architecture, Berlin needs to grow a pair. Where is our Centre Pompidou, our Tate Modern, our Sagrada Familia for that matter? For a “creative, cutting-edge” city, the building culture is astoundingly timid. If it’s not boxy, utilitarian and deeply conservative, we don’t want it, seems to be the current mantra.
Which is why the garden city – a flight of fancy if there ever was one – could be such a breath of fresh air. Not only does it look great, Green8 is conceived as a multi-generational communal living facility. We don’t just need one of these towers – but two dozen of them lining Tempelhof Park as part of a solution to our city’s acute housing problem.
But don’t worry, Green8 will never be built. And not just because skyscraper gardening is probably the most expensive way to grow food conceived by mankind. It will fail because it’s visionary and slightly crazy. And we wouldn’t want that in Berlin, would we?