Reviving Concrete

There are natural progressions that seem completely unnatural when examined. The path through puberty is the most obvious one as children shed their childlike ways to become something inexplicable until, of course, they achieve adulthood. The natural progression of fashion is no different, but it is not as clearly defined as puberty. Styles will spark, flare and either catch for a while or just fade away, but they almost never completely die. And the “new” can look entirely incompatible with the old and yet, you know as well as you know about puberty, that the new is never unrelated to the old.
The NY Times Style Magazine has a photograph of a poured concrete house, a former underwear factory near Potsdam in Germany, that looks vaguely unfinished. Actually, it isn’t so vague, it is purposely rough with two irregularly shaped windows that are not squared. The style touches on brutalist, naïve, functional and, in a way, even rustic. There is a distinct lack of decoration save for a downspout that juts out from the roof on one corner and looks somewhat like the spout of an oil can. Set amidst trees in a country like setting, the house resonates in a number of ways.
What sparked this particular repurposing? Look at all the glass towers being built in this world and you might have one idea. But think also of the desire for authenticity that seems so hard to attain in our slick modern world. But most of all, think of how much money was saved in the re-use of this place. It is by no means “undesigned” and it beats the costs of razing and building. And, if you know the area where the house is located near Potsdam, you will also know that there are numerous poured concrete camps, places for holidays in the days of the GDR. In other words, there is a tradition for the style in that area.
This is not to say that the house is representative of any style shift. The poured concrete buildings of the 1950’s are not particularly revered although they are admired, not unlike Sir John Soane’s austere classicism. This villa may simply be an enigmatic outlier to early 21st century architecture and promptly forgotten. The point is that there are very good reasons why it exists and why it is on the cover of the magazine. It says something about who we are at the moment, even if you don’t get the message. Liking it is one thing, understanding it is something altogether different.

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