In conjunction with Alternatives for Living, the raumlaborberlin collective has developed versatile modular furniture that playfully intermingle aesthetics and functionality as well as images and items of everyday use. Raumlabor’s design cites the famous onyx wall from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion in Barcelona. Around the time the architect was at work on Haus Lange and Haus Esters in Krefeld, he was commissioned to plan the German Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona, Spain.
With its open ground plan, Mies van der Rohe liberated the structure from supporting interior walls. Individual suites of rooms flow into each other and the inserted walls now served solely as room dividers. The Barcelona Pavilion is famed as an icon of modernist architecture and as the building in which Mies van der Rohe was able to consequently realize his idea of flowing space for the first time. Working in collaboration with his partner Lilly Reich, he designed the overall appearance of the pavilion, including the interior furnishings, which are striking both for their simplicity and the beauty of the employed materials. One of the most remarkable elements of the pavilion is the onyx wall with its characteristic bandings and vertical reflections. As a self-contained wall, the object in Haus Esters designed by Raumlabor suggests the structures of the historical marble wall that is seemingly adapted in wood here — which is impossible because no wood could feature bandings with such a diameter. Upon closer examination, however, it becomes evident that the supposed wood veneer is in fact a painted imitation and that the wall itself is a kind of puzzle encompassing 50 quadratic stools as well as two large tables that visitors can remove as necessary.
The reverse of stacked stools and tables forms a bookshelf and a wardrobe. The fact that the stool legs themselves are in turn seemingly assembled from fragments of diverse design classics underscores the installation’s humorous character. This assemblage of classic design and architecture quotations point to the utopian impulse proceeding from twentieth-century modernism. At the same time, however, the possibility of the object’s deconstruction calls utopia into question. Modernism as a myth and failed utopia are likewise addressed. The onyx wall in the Barcelona Pavilion in particular stands for pure luxury that does not serve the social aspirations of the Bauhaus (for example housing developments). It demonstrates costliness, a material extravagance that hardly anyone can afford. It is not even suited to the conventional function of a wall that closes up a living space. Does this short circuit of purposive rationality and artwork show a social vision of equality and freedom? Or does it concern a self-imposed restriction with a view to design that runs contrary to art’s liberal thoughts. Utopian and dystopian aspects encounter each other multiple times in the piece 5 × 10.
raumlaborberlin was founded in 1999 as an interest group by a number of artists and architects involved with project-based interdisciplinary activities that pursue common objectives in the fields of architecture, urban planning, action art, landscape architecture and the shaping of public spaces in addition to working with art installations. The collective’s best known works include the Kitchen Monument (2006) and the ‘Bergkristall’ guesthouse in the Palace of the Republic in Berlin. They have developed projects for the Kunstraum München, the Kunstverein Heidelberg, the Venice Architecture Biennale and the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf. The essence of the group’s work is characterized by the consolidation of architecture, art and social interaction.
Magdalena Holzhey, Sylvia Martin