Berlin Hauptbahnhof "a work of art"

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Berlin Hauptbahnhof "a work of art"

Postby ctesiphon » Thu Nov 30, 2006 6:18 pm,,3-2478965,00.html

Came across this article in The Times today. Interesting generally, but interesting specifically for the declaration that a work of architecture is a work of art, at least in the eyes of the German courts if not in the eyes of the wider public ("Architects are not creative artists but part of the service industry...")

Architect raises roof over station changes
Roger Boyes in Berlin

Court backs art over cost concerns
Railway faces €40m repair bill

The “Glass Cathedral” — the Berlin central railway station that is Europe’s biggest and most beautiful transport hub — was supposed to be a shining symbol of the new self-confident Germany.
Instead, the Hauptbahnhof station is at the centre of a bitter row about the relationship between an architect and his paymaster that is likely to set a national, and possibly even European, precedent.

A Berlin court has ruled that German Railways was wrong to throw out the original design of architect Meinhard von Gerkan and build cost-saving flat ceilings rather than the vaulting arches of his blueprint.

The measure was one of several taken by Hartmut Mehdorn, the head of German Railways, as he tried to hold down the €700million (£470 million) costs of the glass-plated railway terminus.

The court decided that the station was a “work of art” and said that even if German Railways was paying the bill it should not be allowed to alter the approved blueprint.

“There is not a writer in the world who would accept a few pages being ripped out of his book,” said Mr von Gerkan yesterday. “I feel the same about this building.”

The controversial ceilings cover the underground platforms. German Railways calculates that it would cost another €40 million to replace them.

As the changes would take three years to complete, the construction could seriously disrupt east-west rail traffic across Germany. Mr Mehdorn is expected to appeal and it appeared that he had the tabloid press on his side.

“This architect is taking himself far too seriously and making a fool of the general public,” said the Berlin tabloid BZ. “Architects are not creative artists but part of the service industry, whose function is to plan houses on behalf of others.”

Ultimately the court had decided, according to the paper, to punish the German taxpayer to satisfy an architect’s vanity.

The court case has been a battle of wills between Mr Mehdorn, who is determined to give his railway network a handsome veneer before privatisation, and Mr von Gerkan.

The 71-year-old architect, who has designed several top airports, was furious that Mr Mehdorn sliced off a section of the roof to save cash — destroying, he claimed, the visual proportions of the station.

“The railways commissioned from me a Cathedral of Mobility,” said Mr von Gerkan. “It was supposed to be a place that you wanted to linger in but now it’s rather a place that you want to run away from.”

Architects across Germany applauded Mr von Gerkan’s courage in challenging his paymaster on an issue of artistic principle.

Mr Mehdorn has been criticised by rail passengers who complain that the new station is difficult to use, with too few benches, no clocks and hidden ticket offices.

Mr von Gerkan’s court victory is a blow for the railways chief, who saw the station as a crowning achievement.

“A station isn’t a monument, it is a functional building,” said a spokesman for German Railways, contradicting the verdict of Judge Peter Scholz that the station was in effect a damaged work of art.

“A property owner who is having a house built doesn’t let the architect dictate what kind of ceiling should be put in the living room, so why should we?” the spokesman added.

The station is close to the Chancellery and the German parliament. It opened, with a music and firework spectacle, six months ago in time to transport millions of World Cup visitors to and from Berlin.

Reminds me of the court battle some years ago (I don't know how many- 1960s? 1970s?) over the Brancusi sculpture that was seized by Customs in the US. Customs officials were of the opinion that it was just a lump of metal, albeit a heavy lump of a fairly precious metal and therefore worth quite a bit as a raw material, and thus should have the appropriate duties applied. Brancusi argued that it was a work of art, and thus should qualify for examption from the duties applied by Customs. The courts found in Brancusi's favour afaik.

Another story, not exactly similar but not entirely unrelated, concerned Richard Serra's 'Tilted Arc' sculpture in NYC- a court-resolved dispute over artistic merit (the sculpture was ultimately removed).
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