The persistence of the block as an urban structure: a comparative study of the typology of the Berlin Block

Nottingham, Megan U. (2019) The persistence of the block as an urban structure: a comparative study of the typology of the Berlin Block. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This dissertation proposes a comparative study of the Berlin block, the city’s ubiquitous typology of the late nineteenth century and the form of the 1970s block. The study seeks to examine the block’s historical transformation based on the historical and typological interpretation. It sheds light on the specific moment in architectural history, in which the form was reinstated in Berlin’s urban fabric. After several decades of extensive criticism of the block since the form’s inception, the typology returned and proliferated in Berlin at the time of the Internationale Bauaustellung 1979-1984/87, known as Berlin International Building Exhibition, the IBA. This new planning framework, embraced the formal qualities of the nineteenth century’s block in a modified form: its density, dynamic mix of uses and programmes, together with a vibrant street life and spatiality defining urban space. These values were sought in the regeneration of the existing urban fabric as well as in new developments; they were further adopted in the new planning strategy - the 1995 Planwerk Innenstadt, and are said to be yet again reevaluated for the ‘vision and inspiration’ by the future planning framework, Stadtenwicklungskoncept, 2030 (the Urban Development Concept, Berlin 2030) (Bodenschatz, 2010, Bradley and Hedrén, 2014, Senate Department for Urban Development and Environment, 2013).

The study traces the development of the block, and compares the different typologies across time: during the nineteenth century, and the form of the block developed in line with the 1970s idea as exemplified by Rob Krier and Oswald Mathias Ungers. The objective of this comparison is less an evaluation of the block as representation of history, and instead it is the analysis of the changing logic behind the idea of the block, including its performance as urban structure. Thus, rather than seeing the block from historical perspective the study focuses at its form as an element of typology and morphology. It looks at patterns of architectural transformation, and explores the possibility of reoccurring typological relationships. It is argued that only from that point the resultant blocks can illustrate distinctive approaches providing formal and organisational grounds for the articulation of the city understood as an architectural phenomenon. Profoundly, the study further argues that also from that point we may provide a nuanced reading of the block seen as a gradually evolving form since the nineteenth century. This reading is unlike that suggested by the canon of architectural historiographies. It stands against the dominant historical narrative that sees the twentieth century Modernist planning and architecture as marked by a radical break from history. This study instead demonstrates a continuity of logic behind the idea of the block.

This study’s typological comparison and interpretation is proposed to enhance our understanding of the block in historical context. By taking different perspectives on architecture’s legacy the proposed interpretation can help to recognise and discover architectural types and connections between them and their history. The findings illustrate how the blocks’ different spatial qualities and typological performances define and respond to the role of architecture in the formation and organisation of urban processes. With the view that many publications seeking to understand the urban development and evolution in architecture address the complexities and expansion of the city or insist on architecture’s formal autonomy as some sort of language, this study promotes a different account of the built environment by extending our knowledge about architecture’s precise relation to the urban environment and history. It also foregrounds the fresh understanding of typology as a changing way of conceptualising and understanding architecture.

The scope of this study concerns the two distinct periods of history. It reviews the historical origins of the block and its early implementation, before comparing it with the block several decades later, when its form reappeared after 1970s. This reading traces the development of the nineteenth century form until the twenty-first century, revealing the results of the typological and historical transformations and reinventions throughout this period. The focus of the study is on the influence of the block within the spatiality and function of the city, highlighting its role as a defining element of the urban space.

This thesis is offered for the use of architectural history and theory, and may also help to inform the future challenges in urban design.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Borsi, K.
Heath, T.
Keywords: urban typology, Berlin block, typological design approach, urban development, architectural evolution, Neorationalism,IBA, Rob Krier, Oswald Mathias Ungers
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NA Architecture
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Engineering
UK Campuses > Faculty of Engineering > Built Environment
Item ID: 56392
Depositing User: Nottingham, Megan
Date Deposited: 18 Mar 2020 14:15
Last Modified: 06 May 2020 09:51

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