Firstly, as a man who mastered neo-classicism, Schinkel has an eye for proportion. So when asked by Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm IV to undertake a new architectural philosophy, he knew the design was in meticulous and balanced hands. This church, Friedrichswerdersche Kirche, was the first Neo-Gothic church built in Berlin and was commissioned with intent. The design was a promotion of the distinctly German identity in the symbolic religious leanings of state and church – a structure less preoccupied with the legacies of Greece and Rome.
As if by inherent nature, Schinkel still adopted shades of Classicism in aspects of the building’s proportion and features. For example the regularity of the pilasters that march down the flanks of the single nave and support the horizontals of the roof structure, surely an acropol’ish’ tip of the cap. The architect admitted his ambition to ‘refine the Gothic by the ancient’.
Goethe help romanticise the new style. He preached about the picturesque character of ruins and a new obsession was born. Hard to imagine these ideals from our perspective, but the ancient cathedrals dotted across Europe were adequate evidence of the inspiration.
However, the predominant constraint placed on Schinkel was the requirement to adhere to a miserly cost plan. The materials and its comparatively minimal design were measures to keep to the budget -but it also achieved something else: the new gothic, symbology borrowed from history but created with the practicalities of industry. The brick particularly is striking and unusual for its time, especially on prestige projects, likely to be the first of its kind since the medieval period.
The building is now empty and unsafe – its future looks uncertain. The tumult of the ensuing centuries after its completion did not fare too kindly for the building. It never really recovering from war damage and has been seemingly finished off by the disturbance of nearby developments. It had, until 2012, been used as an art gallery but sadly had to close due to structural damage.
Friedrichswerdersche Kirche in a way demonstrates the prevalent issues many modern architects face, for example, the need to achieve a lot for little. Also to find different materials and ways of putting them together, in coordination with a wider industry and importantly, throwing in some historic features that set habitual humans at ease in their surroundings. Modernism tried to do away with this referential tendency, rightly or wrongly, but it has worked its way back into architecture with modernism itself becoming a prominent ‘style’ referenced in todays chic magazine architecture.
And therefore the wheel keeps turning…
Should style and symbology be intrinsically entwined in our buildings? Should architecture be used as a tool to promote certain ideologies over others? Could we even escape that eventuality if we tried? Isn’t even the action of doing the first step in making an ultimate statement – a statement that people will inhabit and reflect upon, its messages present and obvious but readable subconsciously.