W.hen the word “major project” is mentioned in Berlin, everyone rolls their eyes. This is mainly due to the recent history of the major project in Berlin – the new museum of the twentieth century doubled its costs to a good half a billion even before construction began The airport had been built and changed for so long that it finally seemed to its planners like an inexplicable alien thing full of strange secrets and, in all seriousness, construction archaeologists had to be employed to find out what, who, when, and why, had or hadn’t done what.
In 1979 the Berlin Congress Center showed that there is another way. It took only four years for Europe’s largest congress center to be located on the exhibition grounds: the architects Ralf Schüler and Ursulina Witte-Schüler had built something that did not look like one of the largest conference centers in the world, but rather a gigantic, telescopic aluminum shell that was resistant to space radiation encased machine that performs important tasks at the outer ends of our solar system. Inside, the three hundred meter long building was reminiscent of a space airport. Outside, massive structural beams dominate the facade; This is not about beauty, and if it is, then it is what André Breton called “convulsive”, the expression of enormous energy, great forces, the euphoria of a mega-machine: the ICC pumps up to 20,000 visitors like blood cells through its 200,000 square foot interior, it functions like a small town.
Two huge and eighty smaller halls were housed on an area of 28,000 square meters. They were accessed via a sophisticated system of paths with different light colors and controlled by a so-called “brain”, a light sculpture by the artist Frank Oehring that hovers over the actual control room. It reminds a little of the movie Metropolis and a little of the space dreams of the sixties and seventies. The artist and the architects managed to bring all the techno utopias of the 20th century into one form, and it is no wonder that the ICC has been featured in many films, from the “Bourne Ultimatum” to the “Hunger Games”, served as a backdrop for a desert, exciting future world.
A multi-storey bridge connects the building with the old trade fair and hovers over one of the multi-lane streets; when you sit here, you get the impression of living in a metropolis with at least 20 million inhabitants. Perhaps that was a comforting illusion, especially back when Berlin was still a divided, walled city.
Like the Center Pompidou, the ICC, which opened two years later, is a building from the era of the great modern city machines – only that it was primarily about congresses and not about art education for everyone. But that could change now: For years, the building, which cost almost a billion marks when it was completed, has been considered technically tired. Messe Berlin does not want to continue to operate it, a renovation would probably come to around 200 million euros. But nobody wanted to pay the costs for a demolition, and now that it is a listed building and it is known that the construction sector contributes more to climate change through demolition and new construction than global air traffic, the idea of an ICC demolition seems downright obscene.
But how could it be used? Refugees were quartered here in 2015; now, Thomas Oberender, director of the Berliner Festspiele, has it performed by artists for ten days for their 70th birthday under the title “The sun machine is coming down” borrowed from David Bowie. Films and video art are shown, performances take place, artists and musicians appear, all rooms are played on simultaneously, so that the empty building is transformed into a kind of humming beehive.