Rand Carter Examines Berlin's Response to Building Restoration

Schinkel’s Bauakademie in Berlin.
Schinkel’s Bauakademie in Berlin.
On the 20th anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall, both sides of the city are still grappling with reconstruction issues dating back to World War II. In a recent essay that he contributed to an upcoming book, Professor of Art History Rand Carter addresses one of these buildings located in the east/west section of the city.

Carter’s essay will be published in the upcoming book, The Venice Charter Revisited: Modernism, Conservation and Tradition in the 21st Century, which is edited by Matthew Hardy. Titled “The Project to Rebuild Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Bauakademie, Berlin,” Carter’s essay is a detailed response to the local efforts in Berlin to restore damaged or destroyed buildings that had been deemed culturally significant.

The book as a whole (a collection of 64 essays) is a meditation on the Venice Charter, an important document drawn up in 1964 by delegates from several countries, including Italy, Spain, Austria, Tunisia and Mexico. The Charter outlines each nation’s responsibility to preserve its artistic and academic heritage through architecture. In the words of the Charter, historic monuments are “imbued with a message from the past” and “remain to the present day as living witnesses of their age-old traditions. People are becoming more and more conscious of the unity of human values and regard ancient monuments as a common heritage. The common responsibility to safeguard them for future generations is recognized.” The Charter is composed of 16 articles that detail the conservation and restoration of historic sites.

“The principles have been questioned, however,” says Carter, referring to the current debate as to whether those 45-year-old principles “are still the principles that they should be now.” For example, Article 9 of the Charter states that “any extra work which is indispensable must be distinct from the architectural composition and must bear a contemporary stamp.” Current architects have used this clause, among other things, to validate the construction of jarringly dissimilar additions and alterations to historic buildings.

In his essay, Carter examines the restoration of the Bauakademie in Berlin. Designed by architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel and built between 1832 and 1836, the Bauakademie was not only an important architecture academy, but also a landmark of modern architecture itself. Though it survived the destruction of World War II, it was damaged nevertheless and restored to some extent. It ended up being demolished in 1960. After the German reunification in 1990, officials began to focus on “what in the nucleus of Berlin should be reconstructed.”

“And they should be reconstructed,” says Carter, referring to both the Bauakademie and the Royal Palace that had been across the street (the Palace had been dynamited in 1960). However, there is the question as to “whether there is the technology and craftsmanship to do so,” explains Carter. Currently, a “model façade” – proposing what the actual building looked like (and hopefully will look like again) – stands at the site. Carter also states that there were once archives and various exhibitions at the Bauakademie, and that he wishes the reconstruction to “have something of its original function.”

Carter, a veritable expert on Schinkel’s work, has also contributed to several other books, which include Karl Friedrich Schinkel: Aspects of his Work, edited by Susan M. Peik (2001), and From the Italian Vernacular Villa to Schinkel to the Modern House, edited by Emanuele Fidone (2002).

Carter has also been invited by the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute to write an essay on the opening of the Philip Johnson Museum in Utica and to write a proposal to obtain landmark status for the building. The event will happen around autumn 2010.

For further information about the Venice Charter and The Venice Charter Revisited, go to http://www.intbau.org/venicecharterbook.htm.

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