Berlin's best kept architecture secret...

Monday 26 Nov 2012

Secret Garden: Adaptive reuse of an old cabaret theatre from the 20s in Berlin

Recently a semi-derelict music hall theatre, built in 1905 on Gartenstrasse in Berlin Mitte was accidentally discovered by Dirk Moritz, founder of the Moritz Gruppe, Berlin. The Music Hall Theatre has been buried in thirty tonnes of rubble since 1934 when it closed, perhaps as part of a crackdown on the cabaret scene by the Nazi regime. Moritz’s search into the building’s history revealed that it was designed by famous Berliner businessman/architect Oscar Garbe, who designed other prominent buildings in Berlin such as the Samariterkirche and the Ullsteinhaus. Constructed in 1905, the theatre hall, complete with a stage and vaulted ceilings, was opened as a musical hall and restaurant, named 'Fritz Schmidt’s Restaurant and Festival Halls' and was soon an established venue for Berlin’s ballroom society. The building changed hands in 1919, and it became the Kolibri Festival Halls and Cabarets, marking the heyday of German 'Kabarett', followed by a period where no records of the building’s use are discoverable.

The Moritz Gruppe has cleaned out the tonnes of rubbish and will now renovate the spaces. Renovation, budgeted at about €1.7m ($2.2m) is due to start early next year. As the building cannot be turned back into the music hall due to city regulations, the aim is to make a contribution to art and contemporary living. Called the ‘Secret Garden’, the three level building will comprise spaces for performances and exhibitions, studios, meetings and conferences, and luxury apartments for short term and executive rental. Moritzgroup has asked LAVA (Laboratory for Visionary Architecture), with offices in Berlin and Sydney to develop an architectural concept to determine how to maintain the unique and exciting atmosphere of the 'secret' space.

Tobias Wallisser (Director, LAVA Berlin), notes that: "The feeling inside this long forgotten space is unique as it is, so we are trying to preserve this while adding functional elements and turning it into a place suitable for multiple occasions.” Wallisser explains further: "We are working on proposals determining what to keep as found, what to restore and what to add in a contemporary style. We are also studying options how to furnish the space to cater for the needs of different users. Historic preservation, fire protection, and modern comfort levels need to be considered when converting this place into a 'Secret Garden'. We will make sure that all this is met while suitable state-of-the-art technology is employed to create a very special user experience combining a feeling for the original use with modern day Berlin. We are also involved in adding a new penthouse onto the top of the building.”

LAVA’s practice is about the larger economy of ideas, evidenced in their rich body of work that includes built projects, invited competition entries, exhibitions, and installations for objects, interiors, surfaces, canopies, enclosures, buildings, landscapes, infrastructure, furniture, lighting and so on. LAVA is a truly international practice that stands apart due to their capacity to think meaningfully across scales of projects ranging from the design of a lamp to the design of a city, with a strong interest in minimal geometries, fluid space, and material and fabrication sustainability. Above all, the element of innovation and a fresh way of doing things is central to their every contribution.

What is worth waiting for is not merely the technical and the professional expertise that LAVA will bring to the project but the manner in which they are able to negotiate and reconcile their own aesthetic sensibilities to the historic, atmospheric, and archaeological character and markings in the theatre hall that it has inherited through years of abandonment, disuse, disappearance, discovery, and recovery. This is bound to be a complex project, especially as the need to provide a compelling, authentic and inclusive narrative of the building’s history and local memory will need to negotiate new technologies and controls - an outcome we anticipate with enthusiasm.

Dr Anuradha Chatterjee
WAN's Sydney Correspondent

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