Book Review: Crucible of Modernism

A Form Berlin coverModern Architecture in Berlin: 466 Examples from 1900 to the Present Day, By Rolf Rave (Edition Axel Menges); $49.

An invaluable guide to an endlessly fascinating city, which was the crucible of modern architecture and planning in the 1920s, and is just beginning to regain the confidence it lost during the dark years of dictatorship, destruction and beleagured isolation. Norman Foster, David Chipperfield and Daniel Libeskind have built on solid foundations, and two building expositions (1957 and 1984) are time capsules of architectural history. Though Berlin is now drawing as many tourists as Paris, and the flashy Potsdamer Platz embodies the worst of the new, most of Berlin retains its integrity and capacity to surprise.

Rave is an architect who comes from a family of architects and art historians, and he has made an eclectic and well-judged selection of buildings from the city he knows so well. It includes all the familiar names, from Behrens and Mendelsohn to Scharoun and Mies, and it gives equal weight to architects those masters have overshadowed. The cool white villas of the Luckhardt brothers, the expressionist churches of Ernst and Gunther Paulus and Hans Hogar, and the Hufeinsensiedlung of Bruno Taut and Martin Wagner would draw more attention were the competition not so strong. On a recent trip, I rented the Taut house that has been lovingly restored to its colorful 1928 palette, and drove out, guide in hand, to see a score of buildings I had missed on previous trips. The book is a model of its kind: solidly bound and portable, with succinct texts, photos and plans of each building. Armed with this guide, you too can declare Ich bin ein Berliner. —Michael Webb

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