by Malgorzata Adamczyk
Berlin’s architecture is special. There are many buildings which are not beautiful, but still precious and important in the context of the history and culture of the city. People love Berlin for its chaotic structure, colorful style and variety of shapes. This is why it took me a long time to choose the topic of this critique. I didn’t want to offend or misjudge any of the grey Plattenbauten, neither the monumental classical buildings of Museum Island nor the metropolitan skyscrapers at Potsdamer Platz. I know they are there for some reason and I don’t feel entitled to criticize them. They ma y not be beautiful, but together fall into place.
There is one building that doesn’t match this logical whole though. It’s the Alexa shopping mall at Alexanderplatz. It was planned by the architects studio Ortner & Ortner from Austria and RTKL Baltimore and build after the dismissal of the architects on behalf of the investor, José Quintela da Fonseca from Portugal. It was inaugurated in 2007. The project costs were as high as 290 million euros.
Alexa is literally the only building in Berlin I truly dislike. It looks heavy and monumental. The rough ceramic fabric of the façade, as well as its washed-pink color, don’t match anything what surrounds the Alexa. It makes this building a lonely pink concrete mountain growing between spacious Alexanderplatz and S-bahn railway brick arcades. Moreover, it’s a mixture of shapes, metaphors, frescoes and futuristic golden waves at the entrance.
As I said before, many buildings in Berlin may seem ugly, if you don’t know their history and background. Once you learn something about them, you appreciate or maybe even like them. I don’t think it is possible in the case of the Alexa. This building has no broader context, no historical, cultural or geographical reason to stand there. It was inspired by the 1920s and 1930s popular Art Deco style. Actually together with the sophisticated entrance and all the trade marks it looks rather artificial.
Despite its appearance, Alexa attracts crowds of shoppers. What is also interesting is that the Alexa looks much better from the inside, where it surprises with space and lightness. The references to Art Deco are here much more subtle – and there is no overwhelming pink. Inside, a visitor forgets how the building looks from the outside. This raises the question, whether it’s only me who considers this building to be extremely ugly, or do people just not care about the appearance of shopping centers? Perhaps they are interested only in the content of the malls? If so, why do investors give so much attention to detail? Boutiques could just be located in a symmetric block or just under the ground.
The Alexa is an example of misused money and space. The scale of this investment makes it even more uncalled-for. It is hard to believe that in the 21st century it was possible to realize such a badly thought and hasty project. I think I would have more understanding for the Alexa if it was built before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It would be easier to blame that ugliness on a no more existing political system.