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Xavier Costa-Guix

Xavier Costa-Guix is currently Professor of the History of Art and Architecture at Northeastern University in Boston, where he served as Founding Dean of the College of Arts, Media and Design between 2010 and 2015. Prof. Costa is also a Visiting Researcher at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a Visiting Lecturer at the Metropolis Program, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. Some of his main publications include: “Metaphorical Peripheries. Contemporary Architecture in Spain
and Portugal”. in: Elie G. Haddad and David Rifkin (Eds.) A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture, 1960-2010 (London: Ashgate, 2014). As editror: Ai Weiwei (Barcelona: Miesvan der Rohe Foundation, 2011); Coup de Dés. A Symposium on Housing and Public Space
(Barcelona: Mies van der Rohe Foundation, 2010).

Demolishing modernism: GDR and Neo-Prussian architecture in Berlin

This paper seeks to examine the significance of some recent architecture and urban demolitions in Berlin. As an example of present-day iconoclasm in the heart of Europe, the relevance of these cases lies not only in the destruction of politically-charged artifacts, but also in their replacement with replicas of 18th century architecture, thus materializing a Prussian revival and a nostalgia for the country’s royal past.
In 2006, Berlin initiated the demolition of the Palace of the Republic (Palast der Republik). This was an iconic late modernist structure in former East Berlin, completed in 1976 to a design by Heinz Graffunder, and conceived to house the parliament of the German Democratic
Republic. This demolition had followed others, such as that of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, a fine example of modern architecture destroyed in 1996. The Palast der Republik occupied the site of the original Berlin Palace, or Berliner Schloss, the residence of the Hohenzollern dynasty between 1701 and 1918. The Weimar constitution abolished the monarchy in 1919, and in 1950 the East German government decided to expropriate and demolish the palace, which had been severely damaged during the war.
The demolition of the Palast has been followed by the constructiobn of a replica of the 18th century Schloss, intended to house the new Humboldt Forum, a museum dedicated to non-Western art, that has triggered a political-colonial debate of its own, due to the contents
of its collections and programmed exhibits.
In recent years, both Berlin and neighbouring Potsdam have witnessed several integral reconstructions of historical buildings. The trend started in Potsdam, where the City Palace, also a Hohenzollern residence, the Garrison Church and the Barberini Quarter have been
carefully replicated. These architectural facsimiles have provoked substantial controversies given their historical significance. For instance, the Garrison Church is known to have staged the “Day of Potsdam” in 1933, when the National Socialists presented themselves as heirs
to the old elites’ glorious Prussian past.
“Should Germany Rebuild its Past?” This title from a recent Wall Street Journal article (28 December 2019) reflects to what extent the debate has superseded its European academic and political context to become a matter of wide public interest. This series of architecture demolitions and replicas therefore appear as a calculated and well-orchestrated operation to redefine the presence of the past through built artifacts, deserving to be examined from the broader perspective of iconoclastic precedents in art and architecture.

Key words: Berlin architecture, urban demolitions, reconstructions