We packed our bags in the office on Friday the 13th of March when most of the German federal states had announced the shutdown of schools. As daycare centers followed almost immediately and a lot of employed parents were practically forced to switch to home office, Germany fell into lockdown more or less within a weekend. The many who were not privileged enough to stay at home or whose work was considered systemically relevant did not get a pay rise, but were applauded from the balconies of the home officers every day. The first week brought the press images of the Italian army taking hundreds of dead bodies out of the city of Bergamo. The idea of dying alone in a sickbay full of people, connected to artificial respiration, became the dominating image of the virus. The people quietly and attentively listened to every word of the country’s most famous virologist who addressed „the nation“ on a daily basis with his „corona-podcast.” That earned him the nickname „The Secret Chancellor of Germany“. The actual governments of Germany and its federal states established some surprisingly unbureaucratic support structures. We benefited from this with some emergency money being transferred from the state to our bank account, which initially had a calming effect on us.
Occurrences like this raised hope among many that the corona crisis could be a real chance for changes we urgently need to tackle issues like general inequality or anything in the context of the destruction? of our planet. This should not hide the fact that there was no ideologic shift happening at all. A lot of communities and individuals had to and still must fight hard to be recognized in their precarious situations at all. The German government contributed nothing to European or international solidarity and seriously celebrated itself for not issuing an invoice for the treatment of 200 EU-citizens that were brought to Germany only after Italian officials were complaining about their northern neighbors’ catastrophic role during the events.
We ourselves honestly did not have the worst time in quarantine. Things got slower, but we took no immediate damage. Sure, the whole story had its surreal moments but that is written on another page. The only real shock moment was when one of our families had to spend the night in the car after the first 5.3 magnitude earthquake hit Zagreb on the 22nd of March. That event didn’t gain either much attention nor solidarity across Europe, but the family thankfully escaped with a fright and the earthquake did not turn into a super-spreader. We also must be thankful that we were able to spend the last weeks in a country that was – with all due respect to the many suffering and dying from the virus – nowhere near the drama in Italy or Spain we spectated on television and the internet.
After a couple of weeks Germany has lost its patience now. The chancellor-virologist meanwhile receives death threats, the technocratic advisory role shifted from medicine to economy, people want the football league back (and got it last weekend) and the government is about to organize bail outs for the car industry, airlines, unleashed capitalism and all other climate killers. We are back in our office for almost two weeks now and while people are still hospitalized in Berlin’s main clinic just a stone’s throw away, while people are still wearing masks, while we still do not meet friends and – if we do – with distance and outside, while we say cynical things like “see you next week during 2nd wave”, just the routine of leaving home every morning for work again and coming back in the evening makes the corona crisis feel like an already distant historic event, almost like a weird dream. While we stagger into something that feels like springtime, once a week we listen to the students of Stuttgart University - more than 500 kilometers away from Berlin - talking about mounted police, expensive penalties and 5.000 conspiracists protesting at the city’s fairground. For the two other countries we have an eye on, Austria is in a quite comparable modus to Germany and Croatia is mainly concerned with organizing possibilities to get tourists back into the country by summer, as tourism is pretty much what is left as an income after the last remains of the Yugoslavian infrastructure were dismantled respectively sold when entering the EU some years ago.
So now to the question of what the coronavirus did or will change in the field of architecture and the city? What is our discipline able to contribute? What can c/o now store in your Wunderkammer? Honestly, we are a little challenged by these questions. It is not like we do not discuss the virus. And it is not like we do not “meet” other people talking about it: fellow architects and students, the helmets and bubbles of Haus-Rucker-Co here, Beatriz Columina’s “X-Ray Architecture” there. But it is what it is, namely a disease. Sad, terrible, we must fight it with all we have and that will primarily be medical care. Can we build a wall around it and make it disappear? By no means. Indeed, we are facing systemic problems. Corona is just a booster and an accelerator for things that are already going wrong. For example, people talk about the mafia like privatization of the northern Italian health care system and name it as a driving force behind the situation being so harsh in this region. But that is not an exclusive model. We just say one word: Austerity.
As professionals in the field of architecture and the city there initially is pretty much not more than that by our training, we are able to observe processes and things, name them and maybe take agency for them. That, which is another story, will not pay for our rent from which no one bails us out. We take the bait when concepts like resilience and names like De Carlo’s are mentioned. Resilience, de-centralization and so forth are goals that should be driving forces when we (re-)imagine and (re-)design architecture, the city and the definition? of our profession. And then of course it is part of the self-conception of our profession that we do not only name issues and define goals but present ideas, images, plans, models and so on. That question will not yet be answered by us. Not today. For now, we can only state that “Updates, Transformation Skills & Resilience” are among our focus points for the immediate future. Meanwhile, we can only refer to the little corona-exercises we did for the upcoming Tbilisi Architecture Biennial on home office, Googlewalks, Europe, Society and Corporate Rococo.
Back to the Wunderkammer: As we do not even have that sketch of the future in our pocket, we decided to contribute a symbolic artefact to your time capsule. Kind of a future archaeology. A work by architecture photographer Zara Pfeifer. If it wasn’t for the current situation, she should would be in the middle of taking images at our construction site in Brandenburg right now - in our new reality she’s stuck in the Styrian countryside, facing a strict quarantine when crossing the Austrian-German border. And if then, you must stay home, where would you like that to be? Hence, we decided to put a place of longing in your Wunderkammer: A photography of the Residential Park Alterlaa. So many things could be said in relation to it: We could talk about the very specific history of Alterlaa and its architect Harry Glück; we could talk about its pre-history, which is the big saga of Viennese housing; we could talk about the recent weird but totally likeable song of praise by Talking Head David Byrne; and we could talk about the whole story of Zara Pfeifer’s long-term observation. We simply would like to say: Quarantine or not – we’d love to live in social housing with swimming pools on top!
Thank you, Zara, for the photography!
Andrea, Andrijana, Duy An, Markus, Paul, Tobias
© Zara Pfeifer