Street facade of Brunnenstraße 9, Berlin
Photo ©Erica Overmeer

Bernd Upmeyer spoke to bplus.xyz (Arno Brandlhuber and Olaf Grawert) about “Unfinished Urbanism”. Arno Brandlhuber is a German architect and university professor. In 2006, he founded the Berlin-based office Brandlhuber+, which is currently reforming with a new structure in an equal partnership as bplus.xyz. bplus.xyz understands itself as a collaborative architecture practice that brings together different actors from theory to practice with different formats from buildings to campaigns, exhibitions, texts and films. Olaf Grawert is an Austrian architect and author, and partner at bplus.xyz. The interview took place via Zoom on June 10 and 24, 2022.

”Unfinished” Berlin

Bernd Upmeyer: Your work has only rarely been characterised, whether by you or by others, as “unfinished”. However, we have the impression that some of your ideas for Berlin, many of your projects, and especially your research on political aspects of our built environment, are strongly related to our topic of “Unfinished Urbanism”. In Berlin, your project Brunnenstraße 9 in particular, has been described in 2009 by the German architecture magazine Bauwelt as a building where the “unfinished” is program. Do you agree with that description?
Arno Brandlhuber: Our architecture practice is actually unfinished by itself. Let’s say it is a collaborative practice since always. It is never finished in terms of “who is the student, who is the actor, who is having agency”. But this unfinishedness is related to finishedness too, as we still think that we could finish and improve the world. But we no longer regard architecture as an object that is finished at a certain moment. We see architecture as a process of cutting and taking care of it over the lifespan of a building. And for sure legal matters are a huge part in our practice.

BU: The “+” symbol that you added since always to the name of your offices seems to represent that kind of “unfinishedness” in your work.
AB: Additionally to “+” we added “xyz”, which is not only the ending of the alphabet or the name of a domain, but it also represents our unfinishedness as a practice to a certain extent. But to come back to your question for the Brunnenstraße project, I would agree with the description of the project as unfinished even if Bauwelt still focuses too much on discussing objects. They usually discuss finished projects. But then they discovered that this project seems unfinished and that it cannot be described differently than as unfinished. There are actually two ways I would describe it as unfinished. One relates to the fight against the “critical reconstruction” of Berlin, framed by Hans Stimmann, the Senate Building Director of Berlin at that time. Although the Brunnenstraße project related to the height of the neighbouring buildings, its image did not. Its image was to be an open building. With its unfinishedness it reacted to the very finished image of the “stony” Berlin idea that Stimmann tried to create or recreate. The second unfinishedness of the Brunnenstraße project is related to the use of the building. Our aim at that time was to study how cheaply one could build it and how minimally one could interpret the required regulations so that you are able to work, live, and party there. As we wanted to move our office into this building too, we asked ourselves what we really needed. You need soft light, you need some heating, but you do not need certain requirements that might be written down somewhere and that are related to a notion of finishedness. At that time, it was as much finished as necessary to be used, to be accessed. You cannot imagine it today, but the building did cost 1000 Euros per square meter, the entire construction…

… the complete interview was published in MONU #35 on the topic of Unfinished Urbanism on October 17, 2022.

Title: Unfinishedness, a Practice
Project: Interview with bplus.xyz (Arno Brandlhuber and Olaf Grawert)
Date: June 2022
Type: Commissioned interview
Topic: Unfinished Urbanism
Organizer: MONU
Status: Published
Publications: MONU #35, P. 94-101
Interviewer: Bernd Upmeyer