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Ruins of Modernity: Erich Mendelsohn's Hat Factory in Luckenwalde

Architectural Assocation, 1998. 72pp. £17.50

In Ruins of Modernity (aa Documents 4), students from the aa's Intermediate Unit 8 join authors such as Rowan Moore and Kenneth Powell in seeking a practical response to the problems presented by a Modern ruin - in this case the hat factory at Luckenwalde (1921-23), designed by Erich Mendelsohn soon after the Einstein Tower. It served its original purpose for little more than a decade (in 1935 a law was passed forbidding Jewish ownership); later roles include Nazi armaments factory, Soviet Army machine shop, and gdr ball-bearings plant. It was much altered over the years, and complete loss of the distinctive dyeworks roof is only one aspect of its current ruin.

In his brief essay, Rowan Moore points to the paradox that such a building embodies. Demolition may be the logical move; in practice, 'there is something in most Modernist ruins - the sense that here somone had an idea or an ideal and fought to realise it - that stays the hand, just as one hesitates to destroy the relics of someone else's religion.' Moore argues that at Luckenwalde neither exact replication of the original (as with another Mendelsohn building, the De La Warr Pavilion), nor a layered juxtaposition of old and new (Scarpa's 'manipulated palimpsest'), is desirable. Instead, in the manner of Herzog and de Meuron at Bankside Tate, old and new should be fused into 'a single new-old entity . . . a composite experience'. The building will then convey 'a sense of time and transformation' but be fit to fulfil a new cultural role.

Such is the predominant approach of the Unit 8 students, whose proposals for re-use of the hat factory include an exhibition hall, an ice- and roller-skating park, and a film school. This book should prove a useful reference in a continuing debate.

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