40 Years of Aedes 1980 - 2020

From Postmodernism Into the Digital Age

In the late 1970s and early 80s, postmodernism was at its peak and the IBA Berlin – decided on in 1978 – was to become the first International Building Exhibition not only dedicated to new constructions, but also to careful urban renewal and citizens’ participation. Against this backdrop, Aedes Architecture Forum was founded in 1980 in a 40m² gallery space on Grolmannstraße 51 in Berlin-Charlottenburg.

 

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Journalist Kristin Feireiss, who worked at the International Design Center Berlin (IDZ) and Helga Retzer, who was active at the DAAD, were neither architects nor continually engaged with the subject in practical or theoretical terms. Their respective institutions only sporadically touched upon the topic of the built environment. In founding Aedes, both women merely followed their intuition: to anchor architecture and urban space as important factors of everyday life in the awareness of a broader public, thus putting these issues up for discussion independent of questions of style, reflecting changing societal conditions and, most importantly, beyond the experts’ discourse.

After four decades of continuous programming, Aedes itself has become a part of recent international architecture history. While major museums had always included exhibitions on architecture (history), it was a first when Aedes gave architecture a dedicated public cultural space as one of its kind in 1980.

In order to make the subject more accessible to the wider public, all of Aedes’s exhibition spaces have been situated in central locations of the city, and entrance to exhibitions and events has consistently been free of charge.

The expansion of the ‘Aedes Universe’ over the course of the four decades was dynamic, in addition to the physical relocations – from 1988 in the S-Bahnbögen at Savignyplatz, from 1995 at Hackesche Höfe and since 2006 at Pfefferberg – the appeal of the first private architecture gallery in the world already started transcending the borders of Berlin and Germany soon after its founding.

 

An experiment in terms of content and business model, created by Kristin Feireiss and Helga Retzer († 1984), Aedes has been co-directed by Kristin Feireiss and Hans-Jürgen Commerell since 1994. Today, Aedes Architecture Forum with its approximately 600 m² of exhibition, event and office spaces has become an internationally renowned, independent institution for contemporary architecture, urban design und related topics, which does not receive public funding. Although Aedes continues to be financially uncertain and experimental, Kristin Feireiss and Hans-Jürgen Commerell have never let mainstream tendencies determine their curatorial practice, the development of new formats and the extension of their network. Continuing to be driven by the cutting edge, best practices and visionary concepts from all over the world, Aedes has presented the avant-garde and the big names of architecture, while always including fresh ideas and young talents in its more than 400 exhibitions to date.

Aedes and the transdisciplinary Dialogue

In 2020, Aedes is celebrating its 40th anniversary. For four decades, the Architecture Forum in Berlin has been representing an international dialogue on manifold subjects regarding urbanity, space and society. It has created an experiential cultural space in so, evolving the communication of architecture and urban/building culture into a genre of its own, while developing new thinking spaces, curatorial concepts, techniques and formats for its mediation and discourse. The platform has become a reference point for innovative public educational formats for international museums and local architecture centres alike as well as for cultural institutions from various fields. In four decades, Aedes has established an international network of impressive depth and reach that is based on the diversity of the presented ideas, strategies and designs. Together these reflect an architectural, urban and cultural history of the late 20th and early 21st century. The continuous and critical examination of what city, periphery, countryside and architecture are and should be forms the essence of Aedes Architecture Forum.

The Aedes Locations

At its present location, the Pfefferberg in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg, a former industrial areal, Aedes has significantly shaped the development of the quarter since moving there in 2006. Meanwhile, Pfefferberg has become home to the workshops of artists such as Ai Weiwei und Olafur Eliasson as well as the Museum for Architectural Drawing by the Tchoban Foundation or the ICI Berlin (Institute for Cultural Inquiry) with their formidable programmes. Aedes Architecture Forum’s two exhibition spaces were expanded in 2009 by the Aedes Network Campus Berlin, ANCB The Aedes Metropolitan Laboratory, which was developed by Hans-Jürgen Commerell und Kristin Feireiss and is located in the neighbouring building.

Aedes and Berlin

The 1980, the first decade of Aedes, was shaped by the peak and culmination of postmodernism, which was also reflected in the International Building Exhibition IBA Berlin (1978 - 1987). Aedes critically examined the IBA, also presenting positions by architects who had not been invited and providing them with a compelling stage. Thus, Zaha Hadid, who was unknown at the time, had her first exhibition at Aedes and Venturi Scott Brown, Cedric Price, John Hejduk, OMA, Peter and Alison Smithson, Bernard Tschumi and the likes also presented their architectural and urban ideas and designs at that time.

The showdown of the first decade of Aedes came in the form of two major exhibitions Berlin – Denkmal oder Denkmodell? for ‘Berlin Kulturhauptstadt Europa 1988’, commissioned by the Berlin Senate and Visionen für Paris 1989 commissioned by Jacques Chirac, then Mayor of Paris. At the Kunsthalle Berlin and the Pavillon de l’Arsenal, newly opened in 1989 in Paris, in which about seventy international avant-garde architects put their ideas up for discussion.

Berlin-related topics have informed exhibitions and discourses at Aedes until today, such as the development of the plot on Kochstraße (GSW highrise), the competitions Alexanderplatz (1993) and Moabiter Werder (1995), counter drafts of the Berlin Palace (in Catherine Feff’s mockup palace, 1993/94) and the proposal Central Park Berlin by Christoph Ingenhoven in 2001, to name but a few.

Aedes and the World

While the initial intention was to exhibit and discuss exciting examples of architecture and urban development from all over the world in Berlin, this new and unique Berlin platform itself became a barometer for sophisticated designing, planning and building culture – in pre-digital times by post and fax and via international magazines and journals.

The exhibition Berlin – Denkmal oder Denkmodell, that was subsequently shown in Paris (after 1988 in Berlin), afterwards travelled to Bern and then to the countries undergoing the great political transformation in Eastern Europe. In Krakow, Kiev and Moscow, the show actually “built bridges”. In addition, Kristin Feireiss curated exhibitions for the Kunsthalle Hamburg, the Deutsche Architekturmuseum (DAM) in Frankfurt and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

This expertise, the growing reputation of Aedes and its truly global network prompted the Ministry of Culture of the Netherlands to offer Kristin Feireiss the position of Director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi) in Rotterdam in 1996. This comparatively small country allowed itself the biggest museum for architecture worldwide at the time.

Kristin Feireiss and the NAi

During her time as director of the NAi (1996-2001), Kristin Feireiss gave important impulses to the societal discourse on architecture, significantly strengthening the museum’s international standing. She brought the NAi and its topics closer to a broader public and redefined cultural and curatorial parameters with exhibitions on architecture and spatial development in post-apartheid South Africa, on the relations between city, periphery und countryside in Japan and on the significance of sports stadiums in the city, her contribution as commissioner of the Dutch Pavilion at the International Architecture Biennale in Venice, among many other important exhibitions.

Large-scale exhibitions that were spatially experimental, fostering new communication formats with a broad public impact, continuously inspired new architecture museums and institutions around the world.

Aedes and Hans-Jürgen Commerell

While Kristin Feireiss was able to place local, national and also global themes of urbanity and architecture on the agenda in the Netherlands, Hans-Jürgen Commerell diversified the programme of Aedes back home by looking more closely into the East-Asian cultural space. Around the turn of the millennium, Aedes opened the window to China. While Europe and the western world went to China in pursuit of architectural missions, Hans-Jürgen Commerell asked questions about the state and identity of Chinese architecture itself, thus mediating the discourse on spatial production and the architectural self-confidence of China’s avant-garde since 2001. Another focus during that time was corporate architecture, which was presented in exhibitions on the DG Bank by Frank Gehry, on the competitions for BMW Welt and Mercedes-Benz-Museum and on the architecture strategy of Louis Vuitton.

Next to monographic exhibitions, the focus veered to the city as social, cultural and political habitat: Frankfurt, Johannesburg, Vienna, Seoul, Medellín, Paju, Mexico City, Moscow, Zurich, Thessaloniki and Almere all presented their various urban strategies at Aedes.

Sometimes this involved overcoming challenging diplomatic obstacles, such as uniting North and South Korean protagonists in the same exhibition.

Architecture and Ecology

When, in the 1990s, ‘green’ architecture became ‘sustainable’ architecture, Aedes embraced this topic in its exhibition programme, continuously connecting societal demands for ecological processes in construction with new design questions, while re-negotiating the relationship between people and urban space. Abroad, the exhibition Made in Germany – Architektur und Ökologie that Aedes conceptualised and produced for the Goethe-Institute was received with huge interest. Due to international demand, even two copies were produced of this exhibition that was shown over the course of seven years in 48 cities around the world. Germany’s pioneering role in the field of sustainable architecture was thus ‘sustainably’ consolidated. Similarly successful was another exhibition that Aedes conceptualised for the Goethe-Institute; Made in Germany – Architektur und Religion was shown for six years in 36 cities worldwide.

For the Austrian lighting manufacturer Zumtobel, Aedes developed an international architecture award connecting aspects of sustainable construction with demands for a more liveable and healthier environment. Today, the Zumtobel Group Award for Humanity and Sustainability in the Built Environment is an internationally renowened architecture award.

Aedes Abroad

In 1992 and 1993, even before the opening of the Architekturzentrum Wien, Austria’s architecture museum, Aedes had a branch in central Vienna on Annagasse. The exhibitions of the Aedes branch in the Austrian capital were met with great interest from the media and the public.

In 2004, Aedes was invited to do a year-long programme in Barcelona. Public interest for these activities, located directly next to Fundació Antoni Tàpies, was equally exceptional. The programme was kicked-off with the exhibition Made in Germany – Architektur und Ökologie, opened by Peter Sloterdijk.

ANCB – Aedes Network Campus Berlin

An important step in the internationalisation of the Aedes programme was the founding of the Aedes Network Campus Berlin, ANCB The Aedes Metropolitan Laboratory, initiated by Hans-Jürgen Commerell. The starting point of this new joint experiment was again the strong network, built from cultivating years of personal contacts and including many leading international universities, academics and architects. At ANCB, global topics are ‘negotiated’ in a local context. In multi-week workshops, for example, architecture students from all over the world seek exchange and experiments. Increasingly, international ministries, municipalities, foundations, embassies, industry partners and institutions of civil society take an interest in the approach of ANCB, resulting in new collaborations and formats.

Just like Aedes Architecture Forum with its exhibition programme, ANCB today is sought after and internationally acclaimed, wherever transdisciplinary dialogue is considered an essential necessity.

Aedes and the Discourse with the Arts

Since the beginning, Aedes has cultivated the dialogue with art. Over the course of 40 years, various artistic positions have critically and playfully engaged with architecture and urban space in contemporary cultural discourses: from installation and sculpture, photography and film, painting and illustration to music, dance and performance. Well-known artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi, Madelon Vriesendorp, Annett Zinsmeister, Alexander Brodsky, Olafur Eliasson and Ai Weiwei, to name but a few, were shown over the years.

Common to all these artistic investigations is the creation of new spaces for imagination, which was also the topic of the exhibition series In-Between, curated by Lukas Feireiss.

In the discourse with art at Aedes, architecture and the city appear both as object of examination and as an experiential space consciously questioning conventional forms of architectural practice. By working with artists from all over the world, Aedes investigates architecture and urban design as manifestations of social, political, economic and cultural conditions while questioning how the transformations of these conditions in our society can be read.