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Resourceful Germans target export market

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The UIA held its 21st congress in Berlin last week, where visitors heard about sustainability, football stadiums that change colour, glazing at Foster's TAG McLaren project, and how the Germans could export their design skills. Ruth Slavid reports

A young man handing out flyers at the entrance to the International Union of Architects (UIA) World Congress in Berlin was looking for a job. 'I am an MA in architecture, ' his pitch began, going on to detail, in English and in German, his qualifications and how he could be contacted.He perhaps had interpreted the title of the congress - 'Resource Architecture' - to mean 'human resources' but, since everybody else had their own interpretation of the subject, why shouldn't he?

And if his concern was with selling himself, he was not alone.Kaspar Kraemer, president of the Bund Deutscher Architekten, the elite German architects' organisation which ran the congress, said at the closing press conference: 'This can help export German architecture and German planning skills. The federal government believes planning is something that we can export. We have seen how well we can do planning in Germany.' Albert Speer, one of Germany's foremost planners, gave two well-received presentations, one on a massive project in China and the other on the new football stadium for Munich, won in competition by Herzog & de Meuron. One of the reasons the practice beat a strong field that included Foster and Partners and Peter Eisenman, was that the stadium is to be shared by Munich's two club sides, and the Swiss architect came up with a new cladding material that can change colour depending on who is playing.

The story of how the location was selected was gripping, involving not only the usual urban analysis but the rejection of two sites near Frei Otto's iconic Olympic stadium, despite the fact that noise and other requirements could be met. There was a fear that strong local opposition could slow the process unnecessarily. 'It is a residential district where MPs and other politicians live, ' Speer deadpanned.

Frei Otto himself spoke at the conference, warning that: 'Architects should serve mankind. But we must also know how to say no. As an architect one can cause great harm.' The big question, he said, is: 'How can we cope with the environment and with nature in harmony and in consensus?'This was a question Christoph Ingenhoven of Ingenhoven Overdiek und Partner addressed, producing a manifesto for architecture in 2030 by attempting to define its heart. With phrases such as 'architecture is a means of survival' and 'zero energy is a pre-condition for future architecture', he built up what could have been a series of platitudes into a statement of faith that received tumultuous applause.

If Ingenhoven was the optimist, Meinhard von Gerkan of von Gerkan Marg und Partner, which is building a superb new central railway station in Berlin, was the pessimist. 'We are building more than ever before, and a smaller proportion of what we are building today will achieve longevity, ' he said. Even the best of today's buildings will not be as well-loved as such icons as Chartres Cathedral or the Parthenon. The cause, said von Gerkan, was the introduction of the lowest common denominator of taste, and the rule of marketing people and accountants. 'Monuments did not produce the right bottom line for builders, ' he said, arguing that museums were the only building form likely to escape commercial constraints and produce transcendence.

Germany's commitment to the congress was underlined by the presence of chancellor Gerhard Schröder: 'Architecture and policy are good bedfellows, ' he said, and he went on to show an informed enthusiasm for the subject that would have been unlikely to emanate from Tony Blair, had he deigned to attend such an event.

With 5,000 delegates, the congress was only half the size of the last European event in Barcelona six years ago. Part of this was down to a deliberate decision not to invite a panoply of international superstars.

Those that did appear were mobbed by autograph hunters.One of them, Lord Foster, received some criticism for sweeping in and out rather grandly with his client and the head of glazing company Schüco, although he did give a fascinating insight into the way glazing was developed at his practice's TAG McLaren building in Woking.

Peter Eisenman, who arrived a day late, talked about the struggle to build his monument to the murdered Jews in Berlin. And Ken Yeang, also late, ended up giving the final talk of the congress. After explaining the ideas he is constantly developing for ecological architecture, he invited the young delegates to pick up those ideas and take them forward 'as there are far more than I can develop in my lifetime'. Here was an architect talking about resource architecture, and using other architects as a resource to create it.

For in-depth coverage from the congress see ajplus. co. uk


Resource architecture: much-ignored title of the congress; 'it should be 'Resource: architecture', said American critic Cynthia Davidson.

Citytainment: German sociologist Dieter Hassenpflug on the Disneyfication of cities.

VegasSpree: Nevada-based historian Janet Ward on Berlin's new identity.

Thermal onion: Thomas Herzog on an environmental principle of building.

Updraught technology: engineer Jörg Schlaich on the principle behind the giant solar power stations he hopes will produce energy from the deserts.

Enthusiastic pragmatism: Christoph Ingenhoven on the approach to architecture needed in 2030.

Iterative design process: the benefit of three-dimensional computer modelling, which Australian architect David Sutherland believes will allow architects to reclaim their place at the heart of the building process.

Post-Modern Deconstructivism and Destructive Post-Modernism: Meinhard von Gerkan on the ills of today's architecture.

Biotic and abiotic: Ken Yeang on the organic and inorganic elements in buildings.

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