Olympic Velodrome and Swimming Pool BerlinEdit profile
VELODROME AND OLYMPIC SWIMMING POOL – BERLIN, GERMANY
This project is bound up with the reunification of the two Germanys. It was related to the wish of a city, Berlin, then about to become the capital, to be nominated for the Olympic Games in the year 2000. From the first, there was a conjunction of the political ambitions of the Berlin Senate, an extremely strong desire for the redeployment and linking together of the two parts of the city, and a unifying project, the Olympic project, that enabled the planners to develop not only the setting up of a certain number of sporting facilities, but also a certain number of networks to serve these sporting facilities. It is within this context, at once enthusiastic and contentious, that the city of Berlin set up an international competition for the design of the Velodrome Olympic and Swimming Pool. The site chosen is at the intersection of two important urban elements: a major axis that goes from the city center (from Alexander Platz in the direction of Moscow), a wide avenue, which subsequently meets a second element, a peripheral one, namely a short metro line, which has since linked east and west, and which enables a tour of the city to be made.
The intersection of different networks, then... But also the intersection of fabrics... The concave part of the system contains an ensemble of fabrics typical of the standard Berliner block, plus the presence of the former Berlin abattoirs; and on the other hand, we find, on the far side of the railway track, 20 km given over to extended, slab-type blocks of flats; a completely different type of urbanism, then.In order to resolve the conjunction of these two systems, we decided, in a somewhat obvious experiment, to cause the two buildings that house the Olympic Swimming Pool and Velodrome to vanish from sight. The concept here is limited to the considerations of a rectangular, quadrilateral territory on which two forms are inscribed; a round shape for the velodrome and a rectangular one for the swimming pool. The question of the form being thus resolved, done away with, we were able to address other issues... There are many things to stitch back together in this neighbourhood, many things to link up, and neither the time nor the place appeared to lend itself to the reception, the welcoming of a volume (or two volumes) of this size, which would, in my opinion, have curtailed exchanges between the different areas, rather than uniting and developing them...
Just as the National Library of France offers to Paris a large public space, it seemed interesting to me that the design of these two enormous buildings would provide an opportunity for the design of the city. Our experience in weaving urban fabrics has often been based on the sitting of a public space, and in this instance in Berlin, in the sitting of a verdant public space. The urban concept behind this project is the creation of a green space on a handsome scale (approximately 200 500 meters), and at the center of this green space to implant... buildings, shall we say. Berlin is highly interesting from the geographical and landscape point of view, because it is almost a suburban space intimately linked to a city that has every claim to its noble rank. In Berlin one finds a way of blending nature and architecture. And this blending of nature and architecture is, as I see it, a form of intervention, of a work that can be developed in the city... and particularly in Berlin. This didn’t mean creating the umpteenth public park... Since there are already many of these, it meant finding a definition for this park that would be appropriate to the neighbourhood while being different to the others, yet also relate to this natural presence at the heart of the area. Our idea was to create an orchard. Namely, to plant apple trees. The idea is that when you approach on foot through this orchard you discover, set into the ground and sticking out at a height of about a meter, two tables... One round and the other rectangular covered with wire gauze. These two metal surfaces will shimmer in the sunlight and appear, at first sight, to be stretches of water more than buildings, rather like lakes at the center of the orchard. To do this, and before speaking of buildings, the trees will have to be procured! We tried to find – in Germany, but also in France – apple trees that were, so to speak, already the bearers of a certain history. A little over 400, say 450, apple trees have been planted, and they must bear the traces of their past, so that we get the feeling that this orchard has been here for a certain time.
It just so happens that when you try and buy fruit trees of a certain size, around 35 years old, it becomes rather interesting from the financial viewpoint, because the tree has already paid its way. That’s why you can find, particularly in Normandy, splendid apple trees at very competitive prices, which allowed us to propose transplanting such trees. To compare a German apple tree and a French apple tree is a bit like comparing a French cheese to a German cheese... One the one hand you have a farmhouse cheese, and on the other a pasteurized one... German apple trees are very fine, extremely upright and well put together, but they are rather uniform in kind, the product of a particular sort of production, at least in terms of their bearing. And that didn’t suit us. It wasn’t enough just to find these trees, it was also important to be sure they’d first resist being transported, but above all that they’d then cope with being transplanted; that is, adapt to their Berlin life and its winters... If I had to do things all over again, I’d probably concern myself more with trees than with buildings, because I’ve met people involved with trees who remain passionate about what they do (which isn’t necessarily our everyday environment), and on top of that there’s a really moving relationship with the living world which enables you to glimpse other ways of being, and maybe even certain ways of being that are currently beyond our ken.
Text by Dominique Perrault Architecture 2000