The Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the Cultures of the World) is an interdisciplinary museum and exhibition space for non-European, contemporary art. Remember how everybody went crazy about the Transmediale partys a couple of days ago? The Haus der Kulturen der Welt plays a central role in enabling the exchange of cultural practices, even in music and pop-culture. Besides, it’s one of the last institutions that is still completely funded and commissioned by the state, a growing rarity in Berlin.
Germany’s center for non-European contemporary art
The congress hall was sponsored by the US for the International Architectural Exhibition in ’57. Remember how we covered the Hansaviertel last summer in the context of Interbau? The HdKdW is not too far away from it and basically springs from the same cultural, architectural and social time. It was a gift from the Americans to Berlin-West and is now “Germanys center for non-European contemporary art”.
The architecture is stunningly modern. The building was created by an American, Hugh Stubbins, who was a student of Walter Gropius.
From the website of the Haus: “In 1955, Hugh Stubbins started work on a design for a building that would soon become a remarkable landmark in the cityscape of post-war Berlin. Stubbins, who had been Gropius’s assistant at Harvard before the Second World War, was familiar with Germany. Wanting to make a statement on that conflict between the systems commonly referred to the Cold War, Stubbins planned a building with a hall to hold cultural events and congresses. It was intended to serve as a symbol and beacon of freedom with its message reaching the East too. The former Zeltenplatz square was chosen as the site. To ensure its contours would be clearly seen from Communist-ruled East Berlin, the Congress Hall was erected on an artificial mound.
Stubbins described the symbolic value of his architectural design as ‘completely free’. The form of the curved roof bore a striking resemblance to that of wings. In Stubbins’s view, the roof upheld the promise that there would be no restrictions on the freedom of intellectual work – a political vision shared by the Benjamin Franklin Foundation, which commissioned the building.”
Haus der Kulturen der Welt though wasn’t actually founded til 1989 – before that, it existed purely in a purpose as congress hall. The focus on interdisciplinary, cultural exchange was needed for Berlin to grow out of its long lasting restrictions. So when Berlin re-unified, the HdKdW became a cultural symbol of that unification, an institution that knows no borders at all, as opposed to limiting itself to one city or one country or one continent only.
Apparently, the HdKdW is lovingly referred to as “the pregnant oyster“. Because it looks like a “pregnant oyster”. I have never heard anyone call it that. Please do not call it “a pregnant oyster”.