ARCHITECTURE AS EXPERIMENT
Ludwig Leo’s circulation tank // Ludwig Leo (1924-2012)
Foto: David von Becker
The spectacularly towering circulating tank 2 in blue and pink on the Straße des 17. Juni in Berlin is an icon of experimental design of international late modernism. The facility for ship engineering model tests works much like a wind tunnel – but with water. It was conceived in the mid-1960s by the young engineer Christian Boës, designed by the architect Ludwig Leo as part of an artistic overhead line, and officially opened in 1974. From the very beginning, the Circulation Tank 2 (UT 2 for short) was not just a fascinating machine. Leo’s design was always also a projection surface and a promise – an architecture rich in associations and complex, capable of provoking irritating aesthetic experiences and an infinite number of meanings.
Using largely unknown, historical photographs and plans as well as three newly produced films, the exhibition “Architecture as Experiment” shows the context of the history of technology, the architectural design process, and the restoration of the Umlauftank 2 in accordance with its status as a historic monument. It is based on the hypothesis that it could only have been built the way it was in Cold War West Berlin. For in the insular frontline city there was the political will to assert oneself, the necessary subsidies, and the courage for radical architecture that made it possible for what is still the world’s largest facility of its kind for ship engineering model tests to be built in the middle of the center.
In the fall of 2017, the Wüstenrot Foundation completed the restoration of the building, which was carried out by the offices of HG Merz and adb Ewerien und Obermann, in accordance with the preservation order. Since then, Umlauftank 2 and its historical context of origin have once again moved into the public focus – and with it the question of the social value of experimental thinking. For Umlauftank 2 tells of a Berlin that lies astonishingly far back in time and today – against the backdrop of the renewed conservatism in Berlin architecture since 1989 – is increasingly understood as a place of longing for an experimental late modernism that worked out of the local and was able to set international standards in the process.
Part of the exhibition is the 45-minute animated film “Ludwig Leo Werkfilm,” which shows seven of Leo’s projects from the years 1956-73 on the basis of montage and digitally set in motion archive material from the Baukunstarchiv der Akademie der Künste in Berlin. The focus is on Leo’s multi-layered drawings from the 1960s. The film will be projected on Ernst-Reuter-Platz on the occasion of the exhibition opening.
An exhibition by the Wüstenrot Foundation to mark the completion of the restoration of the circulating tank in accordance with the preservation order, curated by BARarchitekten (Antje Buchholz, Jack Burnett-Stuart, Michael von Matuschka, Jürgen Patzak-Poor) and Gregor Harbusch, in cooperation with ARCH+ magazine. The exhibition in Berlin takes place in cooperation with BHROX bauhaus reuse.
Film still from “Ludwig Leo Werkfilm” (Antje Buchholz, Gregor Harbusch 2019).
View and section of the circulation tank, superimposed with a color study.
© Original material: Ludwig Leo Archive in the Baukunstarchiv of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin / Morag Leo.
To accompany the exhibition, Spector Books has published the bilingual (German/English) publication “Ludwig Leo. Umlauftank 2” by the Wüstenrot Foundation, which will also be presented on the occasion of the exhibition opening. It is dedicated to the process of restoration and sheds light on the role of historic preservation for young buildings.
In addition, ARCH+ features 100: Architecture as Experiment – Ludwig Leo’s Circulation Tank is published to accompany the exhibition. In it, Pablo von Frankenberg talks with science historian Anke te Heesen and writer Felicitas Hoppe about the relationship between architecture, science, and poetry. And Anh-Linh Ngo discusses the challenges of preserving young architectural monuments with art historian Kerstin Wittmann-Englert, Berlin State Conservator Christoph Rauhut, and Wüstenrot Foundation Managing Director Philip Kurz.