LAVA to transform 1920s Berlin cabaret theatre

December 27, 2012

LAVA’s selection as the architects responsible for the interior refurbishment of an abandoned cabaret theatre in Berlin has received significant interest worldwide. Michael Holt looks into LAVA’s plans for the space.

Laboratory for Visionary Architecture’s (LAVA) selection as the architects responsible for the interior refurbishment of an abandoned cabaret theatre in Berlin, Germany (the Secret Garden project) has received significant interest both in Australia and abroad. But rather than focus on the proposed design, it may well be more prescient to view the project as a lens onto the work of the practice more broadly in regard to the contemporary profession.

With offices in Sydney, Shanghai, Stuttgart and Abu Dhabi, LAVA is undoubtedly an aspiring practice. The notions of minimal geometries, biological networking, fluid space and fabrication feature prominently in their design ethos. However, what is more intriguing is the idea of scale. Whether it is the renovation of a small-scale project, or the design of a metropolitan area, the same principles apply. The office strives to create more with less; to produce, as office director Chris Bosse says, “more architecture and more amenities, with less material, less energy footprint, and where possible, less money.”

In the Secret Garden, LAVA will elaborate on this notion further, using existing building material as a springboard to add to the fabric of the building’s history. What transpires from such restorative work is a willingness to experiment with typologies. What the office attempts through restoration is in fact a reinterpretation of the building’s original use. LAVA removes a quotidian approach to preservation, implementing state-of-the-art technology for small- scale performances and exhibitions, studios, meeting and conferences, apartments and a new penthouse suite.

LAVA, in exploring typological change and possibility, create projects that suggest a compartmentalisation of space. By reorganising existing volumes LAVA may well formulate reformatted programmatic space, but a question remains as to how the approach resides within the contemporary architectural discipline. Their method and ideology is erudite and in-keeping with notions of contemporary sustainability, but it will be interesting to monitor as to whether the practice is more than merely redolent to Buckminster Fuller’s concepts in the 1950s (as seen in the Future Home project in Beijing, China).

Memory is a significant aspect in the ethos of the practice, whether it is in the biological frameworks in bubbles, spiderwebs or oceanic coral; or, in the evolution of the systems employed in the office’s architectural projects. Bosse says “ultimately architecture is not about shape but about the intelligence of the system. The intelligence of the smallest unit results in the intelligence of the overall system.” If memory and bio-mimicry are intrinsically linked to an overall system, how then does LAVA imitate or err on the side of the profession in its present guise?

The Secret Garden – originally a three-storey music hall and restaurant, designed by German architect Oscar Garbe in 1905 – lay dormant, seemingly abandoned, that is until Dirk Moritz rediscovered it. LAVA have been commissioned to investigate which elements to maintain, restore or replace. The existing space provides an architectural residue of a very different Berlin; it memorialises, epitomises and canonises a period in history. It raises questions as to localised city regulations pertaining to preservation and restoration but, more importantly, the idea of individualisation or compartmentalisation in contemporary architectural discourse.

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