“…beneath a blue, umbrella sky”

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To celebrate 25 years of Glasgow’s official twinning with Nürnberg (Bavaria) David Reat reflects on this silver anniversary, and on the continuous conversation between these two classic cities.

Nürnberg
49.27° N 11.5° E

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Detail of the facade of the Congress Hall

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Underside of the Dokumentationzentrum entrance canopy

Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city is located on the River Clyde having been settled since prehistoric times due to its location at the furthest downstream fording point. The city increased in importance during the 10th and 11th centuries under King David and expanded exponentially over the ensuing centuries. From the first bridge over the river (circa 1285) establishing the main North-South route via the Cross to the Cathedral, through the establishment of the University of Glasgow in 1451 and accession to an Archdiocese in 1492, the city matured into a major centre of the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century. Glasgow became one of Britain’s principal points of transatlantic trade with North America and the Caribbean, and post-Industrial Revolution established it as one of the world’s superlative centres of Heavy Engineering – most significantly in Shipbuilding. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the city expand in population to over one million citizens – becoming the fourth-largest city in Europe, after London,Paris and Berlin. Glasgow has a present population of approximately 600,000.

Nürnberg, the second largest city in the German state of Bavaria, is situated on the River Pegnitz. Ostensibly founded around the end of the first millennium, from 1050 to 1571 the city expanded and rose dramatically in importance due to its location on key trade routes. Nürnberg – the ‘unofficial capital’ of the Holy Roman Empire – was granted significant town rights in 1219 by Frederick II. The 14th century witnessed further gravitas bestowed upon the city, when in 1356, Charles IV’s decreed the Golden Bull – naming Nürnberg as the site where recently coronated German kings were instructed to implement their first Reichstag. The 15th and 16th centuries saw Nürnberg become the centre of the German Renaissance, and in 1525, Nürnberg accepted the Protestant Reformation (Glasgow followed this in 1560). 1532 celebrated the signing of the religious peace of Nürnberg, following the Thirty Years’ War, and was explicitly demonstrated through its architecture. Baroque architecture (although empirically acknowledged as the adopted language of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation) is exemplified in the newly Protestant city’s rebuilding of the Egidienkirche and through the layout of its civic gardens. Nürnberg became one of the great trade centres on the route from Italy to Northern Europe and was acknowledged as a nascent centre of humanism – especially in the fields of mechanical invention, printing, and scientific research – contributing considerably to the advancement of astronomy. Anton Koberger opened Europe’s first print shop in Nürnberg in 1470, followed a year later by Johannes Mueller astronomical observatory. In 1515, Albrecht Dürer mapped the northern and southern celestial hemispheres, producing the first printed star charts and publishing the first perspective drawing of the terrestrial globe. The principal part of Nicolaus Copernicus’s work was published in Nürnberg in 1543, attracting more and more people to share its successes. The city’s population continued to expand and has a current citizenry of circa 500,000.

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Detail of war damage to the granite of the Congress Hall facade

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Underside of the Dokumentationzentrum entrance atrium roof

Following the 1707 Acts of Union, Glasgow aspired to be known as the ‘Second City of the British Empire’ becoming prominent as an epicentre of economical trade relations with the Americas – especially in the movement of tobacco, cotton and sugar. By the late 18th century more than half of the British tobacco trade was concentrated on the River Clyde. The Industrial Revolution saw Glasgow produce and export chemicals, engineered goods, steel and textiles and shipbuilding became a major industry – constituting a substantial section of Glasgow’s economy. The concurrent construction within the city’s locomotive workshops established the railways, which consequently further enhanced commerce and industry, and precipitated greater prosperity. By 1870, Glasgow was producing more than half of Britain’s tonnage of shipping and a quarter of all locomotives in the world. The city was home to the headquarters of the North British Locomotive Company, which was responsible for the British-built ‘Adler’ – the locomotive of the first German Railway (constructed between Nürnberg and Fürth, which opened in 1835). It is, however, the Nineteenth century which perhaps signified the economic summit of both our scintillating cities, when the architecture reflected the wealth and self-confidence of their respective citizens. Glasgow burgeoned, generated with the immense wealth garnered from the developed trade and industries, and manifest in the capitalist-inspired grid system layout of the city centre. The vast majority of Glasgow’s architecture dates from the 19th century, displaying an impressive heritage of Victorian buildings including the Glasgow School of Art, the University of Glasgow and most saliently, the City Chambers. The 20th century paradoxically presented both prosperity and paucity to Glasgow. After World War I, the city suffered from the impact of the Post-War recession and from the later Great Depression, resulted with a rise in radical socialism – most notably in the left-wing proto-socialist ‘Red Clydeside’ movement. Glasgow recovered by the outbreak of World War II, and following those hostilities, resurrected itself throughout the post-war resurgence.

At the same time, Nürnberg blossomed to become the ‘industrial heart’ of Bavaria and was acknowledged as one of the most prosperous cities of southern Germany. Currently the city is considered a crucial industrial centre represented through automation, energy, and medical technology. The medieval city centre, cloven North and South by the river Pegnitz, is seemingly demarcated by the 1385 Gothic Fountain (Schöner Brunnen) within the Hauptmarkt (most memorably approached via the exquisite Renaissance Fleischbrücke en route to the Hüttn, for an unsurpassed Nürnberg lunch of schnitzel [cooked on both sides], schwartzbrot, sauerkraut and kartoffel, washed down with a stein [or zwei, bitte] of Meisterbrau). Resplendently, St. Sebaldus Church (Sebalduskirche), the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), and the Gothic St. Lorenz church (Lorenzkirche) compose the triumvirate of ecclesiastical edifices demarcating North, Centre and South respectively. Nürnberg held great significance during the Nazi Germany era because of the city’s relevance to the Holy Roman Empire and its position in the centre of Germany, and consequently suffered severe damage during the Allied strategic bombing between 1943 and 1945. The Nazi party rally grounds (Reichsparteitagsgelände) form a site in the southeast of the city, and is where the Nazi party rallies were actively held from 1933-38. They were planned by Hitler’s architect Albert Speer (except the Congress hall) and today serve passively as a memorial.

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Elevation of the orders of the Congress Hall facade

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Underbelly of the Dokumentationzentrum roof pavilion

In the heart of Glasgow is George Square, to the East of which sits the elaborate Victorian City Chambers. Glasgow’s ‘Rathaus’ has functioned as the headquarters of civic government in the city since 1889, following its construction between 1882-88 by the architect William Young. Devised as a piece of propaganda, to revitalize Glasgow’s battered reputation following the disgrace of the city’s bank collapsing, the edifice was erected to regain public confidence in the city again – both locally and internationally. It represents both the zenith of swashbuckling baroque civic architecture and the nadir of socio-political manipulation. The city was at odds to convince the community, and through the classical camouflage of the new structure, would successfully resurrect the reputation of Glasgow and restore the faith of the city’s inhabitants. Constructed from the most ostentatious materials, harvested through Imperial gain, the palette is then profligately deployed within its grandiloquent hulk. The building is an interpretation of Renaissance Classicism composed through a vast range of ornate decoration of Italianate styles, shamelessly expressing the city’s unscrupulous wealth and resultant economic prosperity. The language deployed, substantiated by the choice of exquisite materials, serves to theatrically convince the onlooker of the building’s (and indeed, occupant’s) status and intention. It is a manifesto, manufactured through the semiotics of its architecture. The Pediment depicts an enthroned Victoria, courted by characteristic figures of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales, alongside the colonies of the British Empire. Within, pillars of marble and granite surrender to staircases of Carrera marble, freestone, and alabaster culminating in a ceiling decorated in gold leaf gilded by a stained glass dome – artefacts and trophies of bureaucratric gains and conquests. Political resurgence and enhancement of public self-confidence excepted, they are signs of colonial power and fig-leaves for the corruption, enslavement and suppression of other peoples in foreign lands.

Nürnberg‘s Congress Hall (Kongresshalle) is the biggest preserved national socialist monumental building. In excess of one million Party members would travel to Nürnberg for the perennial week-long rally, inundating the city. To accommodate this influx, the chancellor commissioned the Congress Hall, designed to hold over 50,000 people within a horseshoe-shaped configuration. Covering a total area of about 300 x 300 metres, the scale of this structure is overwhelming, with an immense arcade marching relentlessly around the lower level serving only to suppress the insignificant spectator in the face of the Nazi system. The monumentality of the building is increased by the simplicity of the oversized architectural detailing. Designed by the Nürnberg architects Ludwig and Franz Ruff, the building reached a height of 39m (70m was planned) and a diameter of 250m. The Congress Hall is constructed from brick and reinforced concrete with a façade of monumental granite panels, with the external elevation paying homage to the Colosseum in Rome. Deploying granite on the façade was deliberate as it represented the eternal character of the Congress Hall – one of the intentions of the fascist stripped classical style was to give the impression that the Third Reich was to be a momentous period in world history. The dimensions, natural stone façade and use of ancient precedent were intrinsic elements of the ideology that informed National Socialist architecture. Additionally, Hitler believed that the Germans suffered from an inferiority complex and that viewing buildings of this nature would improve their self-confidence. The foundation stone was laid in 1935, but in spite of the enormous amount of manpower and building material involved (latterly by Soviet prisoners of war) the Congress hall remained incomplete. The shell of the building reached its present height in 1938 (50 years after the City Chambers) and by 1939 most of it had been covered in granite. Günther Domenig’s politically deconstructivist incision (Dokumentationszentrum) has been intravenously inserted within the solid, stone skin of the northern wing. The paradoxically aggressive slice violates the solemn silence of the structure, whereas the southern building now sings a different song, with the Serenadenhof playing host to the Nürnberger Symphoniker. The memories this structure resonates are chilling. The dark episode of this magnificent city during the last century is no better remembered than in the bricks and mortar of this trophy to willful triumphalism. The sweat, blood, tears and lives of the many who were involved in its construction are remembered through its very retention. It serves as a stark reminder of the misuse and abuse of power, and the subjugation of weaker people.

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Flying bridges in the Dokumentationzentrum entrance atrium

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Bernd Wöger attempting to protect David Reat’s camera as he photographs the Congress Hall in the Bavarian rain

Both buildings, representative of the respective ideology which created them, are memories to both a time and a place. They are cathartic souvenirs of controversial chapters of our cities’ pasts. Cities that are separated by spoken language yet inextricably connected through classical architecture. The current social acceptance of one building is ironically counterpointed by the repudiation of the other, in an almost hypocritical parody. Our past, present and future relationship is founded on communication. It is melancholy that our predecessors quite misunderstood the power that could yield. Until recently in Germany, the very thought of proposing a piece of architecture from the classical canon – be it supercilious, sardonic or stripped – was viewed as objectionable. Stirling and Wilford’s Stuttgart Staatsgallerie, Foster’s re-modelling of the Reichstag in Berlin and Chipperfield’s Stirling prize winning Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach have proven that German-British collaboration is a potent combination and one that is possible to exorcise mischievous ghosts from the architectural machine.

Glasgow
55.51º N 4.15º W

David Reat is a practicing architect and a partner in Wöger & Reat Architekten. He is a part-time teaching fellow at the University of Strathclyde, where he is also an honorary lecturer and studio design tutor in the Departments of Architecture and Architectural Engineering. David is a perennial guest lecturer of Cultural Studies in the Department and is currently undertaking a PhD at the University in the field of architectural language and semiotics.

All images: David Reat, except final image: Julie Rodgers-Reat

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