DID THE UNIVERSITY CLIENT FIND A LANDMARK BUILDING TOO HARD TO RESIST?
Foster's new library at the Free University of Berlin exudes a haughty disdain for the 'non-architecture' of the surrounding campus.
It towers above its neighbours, riding roughshod over Team X's vision of an architecture of equal parts, while the geometric purity of its form is a direct snub to the notion of a system designed to accommodate infinite change. The most obvious stylistic reference points are in Foster's own recent work. But while the self-contained bubble of City Hall had a certain logic, given that it was designed to house a new (or rather resuscitated) organisation, it is less appropriate when adding to an existing institution - especially one with such a distinguished architectural pedigree.
Foster's potentially sterile perfectionism is at its most potent when it serves as a foil to historic fabric, and his restoration work to the Free University's existing infrastructure is, by all accounts, exemplary. So why is there such a clear distinction between the refurbishment of the existing campus, and the creation of a new monument?
Perhaps the gulf between Team X and Foster was not sufficient for one to work as a dramatic counterpoint to the other. Perhaps the design team found less to engage with and enjoy in '70s construction than in Classical architecture. It has taken a couple of generations, and a good deal of intellectual distance, for Team X's work to be fully revived and appreciated - one wonders how the Free University project would have been tackled had it fallen into the hands of Sergison Bates, Caruso St John or any of the other practices whose work has been informed by an almost obsessive appreciation and investigation of that oeuvre. Or does the answer lie with the client? Could it be that, having secured such a top-notch architect, the temptation of securing a 'landmark' building was simply too hard to resist?
Turn to pages 33-45 for a contrasting assessment of Foster's work.