Interférences/Interferenzen Architecture: Germany and France 1800-2000               

Herbert Bayer, Le Werkbund allemand à l’Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs. Salle 5. Vues d’architectures modernes en Allemagne, avec des maquettes du Bauhaus de Dessau (Walter Gropius) et de la banque régionale de Stuttgart (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe), Paris (1930), tirage argentique, 12,6 x 21,6 cm. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin © VG Bild-Kunst Bonn

Bianca Rubino│

Inspirational meeting with the renowned architectural historians Jean-Louis Cohen, Professor at New York University, and Hartmut Frank, Professor at the Hafen-City University of Hambourg, also curators of the exhibition “Interférences/Interferenzen Architecture: Germany and France 1800-2000” which delivers an exceptional approach to discover the architectural and urban interferences between Germany and France, exploring the architectural space of Europe.

The city of Strasbourg seems to embody the best scenario to frame and host the exhibition named “Interférences/Interferenzen Architecture: Germany and France 1800-2000”, as inaugurated on 28 March 2013 and which will run until 21 July 2013 at the MAMCS (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Strasbourg).

28 March - 21 July 2013 at MAMCS, Strasbourg
28 March – 21 July 2013
at MAMCS, Strasbourg

This is a truly Franco-German project, conceived and realised by the Franco-German architectural historian pair of Jean-Louis Cohen and Hartmut Frank, which clearly sees the result of life-long passionate careers and research. Both men have always been interested in interpreting certain architectural phenomena through a common perspective, not necessarily a national point of view that could hinder the complexity of architecture. Already twenty-five years ago the first ideas of the project exhibited today emerged, but it was only about four years ago, after a long series of separate and joint professional ventures, that an extended project began to see its realisation thanks to the positive response of the city of Strasbourg. At this time, the city was also working on the project of the extension of their UNESCO World Heritage site. The “Grande-Île” (“Big Island”) had already been inscribed as such since 1988, and now work was being done to extend the World Heritage area to the Neustadt (“New City” but also known as the “German Quarter”), an urban area realised at the end of the XIX century after Alsace and part of Lorraine became part of the German Empire.

Explaining the choice of the term “Interferences”, or better Interférences/Interferenzen, as key words for the exhibition, Jean-Louis Cohen and Hartmut Frank like to stress the reasoning behind it. Concepts such as Cultural Transfers, Interactions, Histoires Croisées, Contaminations, or Influences could have been used, but they decided to borrow a concept of physics which refers to electro-magnetic fields. In fact, Interférences/Interferenzen best express the idea of the effect that each national French and German cultural field has on the other.

The exhibition embodies a new approach in the field of architecture, not separating countries, in this case France and Germany, but working on the totality with the aim to show their many levels of observation and mutual exchange.

Fernand Léger, Les Constructeurs, 1950, huile sur toile, 126 x 143 cm, Henie Onstad Art Centre, Høvikodden, Norvège. Photo: Øystein Thorvaldsen © ADAGP Paris 2013

With around 600-700 m2 of space and more than 400 pieces from 60-100 different sources, rarely or never yet exhibited, from the spheres of architecture, art and history, Interférences/Interferenzen is an extraordinary exhibition. Its itinerary chronologically leads the visitor from the aftermath of the French Revolution and Empire until today, guiding from Napoleon to Angela Merkel, from Schinkel to Nouvel. The exhibition path follows nine sections, each of them developing further themes. You begin with gothic and classic crossed passions and art from Schinkel and Hugo, then move to the dawn of the industrial age and new issues of workers’ accommodation, and later to the phenomenon of nationalism and new urbanities with Haussmann in Paris and James Hobrecht in Berlin. In the XX century, you find monumental rhetoric, the use of concrete, and arrive to the First World War. Continuing, you discover the occupations and reconstructions of 1939-1949 and then modernisation, the dialogue between France and the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, and end with a united Europe and the mobility of professors, architects and students (referring also to the Erasmus Programme, of course!).

Otto Warth. Campus und Gebäude der Universität Straßburg (Palais universitaire), 1878-84, épreuve historique d’après photo n&b, 48×64 cm. Südwestdeutsches Archiv für Architektur und Ingenieurbau (saai) Karlsruhe

Strasbourg is present in almost all of the sections. In particular, it is referred to in the context of the Franco-Prussian war in the late XIX century and the subsequent construction of new areas in the city, as well as the cité-jardin by Edouard Schimpf constructed in the area of Stockfeld and the bridge in the Jardin des deux rives which, built in 2004 by the French architect Marc Mimram, connects Strasbourg to the closest German city of Kehl. The exhibition ends with a stand of the city of Strasbourg presenting the project of the extension of the perimeters of the safeguarded sector, the extension of the UNESCO World Heritage site to include the Neustadt, and the inventory of the Neustadt. The inventory of the Neustadt is being carried out by the Region and Sophie Eberhardt, who is working on the UNESCO application at the Culture Department of the City of Strasbourg, considers the exhibition to be a great opportunity to question the idea of frontiers and how to overpass them. She also considers it to be a great opportunity to raise awareness among Strasbourg’s population and its visitors, and foster exchanges between experts about architecture which is neither unequivocally German nor French. Hartmut Frank also believes that the re-evaluation of a part of the city that is historically not appreciated (even the colossal Palais du Rhin’s existence was questioned in the late 1950s) is demonstrative of a radical change in line with a European dimension and which indicates awareness of the fact that Strasbourg’s three wars represent the legacy of the city, which is in fact a Franco-German history. He also points out that the Neustadt was realised by 80% of local architects that had studied in Paris or Karlsruhe, thus being urban planning as a result of interferences of city planning from Paris and Berlin.

The exhibition required a lot of dedication because, as Frank reminds: “Architecture is not easy to communicate, the only true exhibition of the architecture is the city, the exhibition in a museum is always a translation”. In this, they have been helped by an architect agency for the display, Frenak & Jullien Architectes, and Volker Ziegler, lecturer at the École nationale supérieure d’architecture of Strasbourg, is the associate curator.

When asked to send a message to the MA Euroculture students, Jean-Louis Cohen says: “Go to school but do not limit yourself. Go outside, observe the landscape, meet people and you will learn as much as you can do at university”.

MAMCS, Crédit photo : Mathieu Bertola

* Practical information:

Tickets cost 7 Euro, reduced price 3,5 Euro. Free entry with Carte Culture or on the first Sunday of every month.

There is a book-catalogue of the exhibition available. The texts of the exhibition, which has been jointly organised with the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt, are bilingual, in French and German. The next destination for the exhibition will be Frankfurt, from 28 September 2013 to 13 January 2014.

Bianca Rubino, Exhibition Editor

Bianca is Italian with Swiss roots. She studied BA Humanities for the study of Culture in Modena, Italy, and went on Erasmus to Malmö, Sweden. She is now enrolled in MA Euroculture , which she studied in the University of Groningen and the University of Strasbourg. She did an internship at Interarts, based in Barcelona, Spain, in the field of cultural project management and cultural policy and is now back in Strasbourg to finish her MA thesis. Her interests are anthropology, sociology, artistic and cultural life and institutions, cultural management and policy, and many more. She has the smallest feet a girl ever had.

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