Points of Conflict and
Confrontations

Günter Behnisch was never one to shy away from giving his opinion. This can be seen in particular from his participation in and initiation of public debates, frequently revolving around the transformation of urban spaces. He vehemently opposed those in society who advocated the restoration of the past or situations in which he found this reflected in architecture. His criticism of post-Modernism, the re-entrenching of old structures and axes, and a monumental and prestigious architecture led to confrontations with various sides and in part polemical debates in the media. 

He once stated in an interview, for example, that architecture was precisely “not meant to arise through the self-importance and arrogance of either developers or architects.” And he went on to say that “the craving for history is no basis on which to build a city.” (Interview with Christian Schröder, in: Der Tagesspiegel, August 1, 1996)

Behnisch had little sympathy for Berlin, as his memories were of a city primarily defined by the Nazis, and one of the last of his buildings realized was also his first in Berlin. Only five years before he died, the Akademie der Künste on Pariser Platz in Berlin was opened – designed by Günter Behnisch and Manfred Sabatke together with Werner Durth.

The design and especially the glass façade, in combination with the design statutes, led to fierce discussions and delays. The opposing positions were especially pronounced when it came to how to best interpret the concept of “critical reconstruction.” The debate on whether to rebuild the ‘Berliner Schloss’ true to the original, something that, like Pariser Platz, also had to do with German Reunification, meant the new Humboldt Forum was not commissioned until 2021.

“For me, architecture is highly political and social at a time when it is incumbent upon us to achieve a political consensus.”
Günter Behnisch 1981

Pedestrian Area Königstraße and Schlossplatz

Stuttgart
1973-1980
Behnisch & Partner

In 1973, Behnisch & Partner won the competition for ideas for redesigning the pedestrian zone in and around Stuttgart’s Königstrasse – an area with a defining profile for downtown. The long, straight axis was transformed into a vibrant urban space through the creation of an avenue with a double row of trees and groups of individual trees, coherent paving, and a new street-lighting system. Making the space in front of Königsbau car-free meant the link between the busy street and the more tranquil, green square was strengthened. Parallel to this, Behnisch & Partner designed the subway station at Schlossplatz.

The design for the Schlossplatz square and the adjacent commemorative courtyard attached to Neuer Schloss was also part of the competition brief. The proposal borrowed from Walter Rossow’s ideas back in the 1940s of opening the “feudal” courtyard up to “civic use” through the introduction of a green link. However, the Heritage Council insisted that the square be returned to its former shape in the mid-19th century. The commemorative courtyard was given a paved surface and separated off spatially by candelabras and chains. 

Behnisch viewed this trend with concern: “For me that is a sign [...] that not only do functions produce form, but forms that have arisen in a different socio-historical setting can also restore their functions and are therefore part of a Restoration.”

Günter Behnisch in conversation with Wolfgang Pehnt, in: Bauwelt, no. 19/20, 1981

“You should not be able to excuse everything by labeling it pluralism of style.”
Günter Behnisch 1978

Schlossplatz Underground Station, Stuttgart

Many aspects of this project could not be influenced by architectural considerations; they were determined by local conditions and technical necessities: the position of the exits by the layout of the Schlossplatz square, length and curve of the platform by the railway technology, ceiling, walls and columns by structural considerations. Escalators and other technical systems also imposed limitations on the design.

These predetermined aspects which gave rise to thick, level ceilings and cumbersome supports were offset by a freely formed space without constraint. Thus, rounded, flowing spaces were created. The unique nature of this underground structure, where there is no roof and no facade, becomes clear.

The materials were selected on the basis of the special forms and in accordance with the desire for bright, friendly, clean spaces.

“I try to directly oppose administration and state apparatuses. I only oppose the various trends when I think I see totalitarian tendencies in them. And I have to say that these tendencies have become stronger from wave to wave. That scares me to death.”
Günter Behnisch 1981

Competition Staatsgalerie/ Kammertheater

Stuttgart
1977
Behnisch & Partner, Kammerer, Belz & Partner

Together with Kammerer, Belz & Partner, in 1974 Behnisch & Partner participated in the nationwide competition for ideas for an “Expansion of the State Parliament and Staatsgalerie” in Stuttgart. It received one of the three joint 1st prizes. However, the contract was not awarded and three years later a new, international and limited realization competition was held, to which the three 1974 winners and four international architecture practices were invited. 

Despite the criticism Behnisch and Kammerer expressed, the competition went ahead. In September 1977, the entry by James Stirling & Partner emerged as the unanimous winner after the jury had convened, while the joint entry in which Behnisch took part won 3rd prize. 

The mutually contradictory design approaches sparked a discussion on the principles involved and the architectural community in Stuttgart was split. At a panel discussion on November 15, 1977, there was a face-to-face confrontation between Behnisch and Stirling, with Behnisch responding sharply and polemically. This in turn left him the butt of criticism which he responded to no less polemically. On the occasion of Stirling’s death, Behnisch gave an address at Akademie der Künste in Berlin, in which he returned to the events of 1977 and moderated his initial stance. 

“The spirit of the times today points less to the future, it just seems to lean less towards the side of freedom, which also means risk. Perhaps we are just taking a rest.”
Günter Behnisch 1978
“Modern architecture is open to everything. Per se, architecture is neither large nor small, neither comprehensive nor limited, neither stone nor steel.”
Günter Behnisch 1978

Academy of Arts Berlin-Brandenburg

Berlin
1994-2005
Behnisch & Partner, Werner Durth

The design by Günter Behnisch and Manfred Sabatke together with Werner Durth won out among Academy members in an internal competition in 1994. In 1993, the two academies of art, the one in East, the other in West Berlin, had been united. Since that time, the goal had been to return to the Academy’s original location at Pariser Platz 4. 

Destroyed during World War II while the city was divided, the square had been part of the border zone. After Reunification, there was a controversial debate over whether to rebuild the square, among other things given the design statutes that applied. 

The Academy building is divided into three parts: one at the back housing the admin and archive, one accommodating the surviving exhibition halls, and the main building enveloping them. The lattice structure placed in front of the glass frontage along the square traces the structure and proportions of the former palace building’s facade.

Project architect:
Franz Harder

“A longing for history is not a basis on which to build a city.”
Günter Behnisch 1996