“It is called Anti-villa,” says Arno Brandlhuber, “because it is the size of a villa but is not used as one. Its shape is given by the land on which it sits; a plot up for sale for a 100 sqm building that already housed a 500 sqm industrial structure in which women’s lingerie had been produced in the GDR.”
Before changing “status” and gaining a sudden and unexpected life, the Anti-villa had led an anonymous life as a “rejection” of history. Anyone would have demolished it. But Brandlhuber understood it as an opportunity for an aesthetic “breach”; an unusual, anachronistic act, wielding a jackhammer to open up gashes in the existing masonry walls transforming the uninteresting into interesting (perhaps unconsciously in the vein of Lucio Fontana). In doing so, he managed to generate an “iconic act” and, by extension, an unforgettable formal and cultural manifesto, literally carved out of an absolutely forgettable object.
This alone, however, does not explain why the work transcends the occasion and is much more than an excellent exercise in style. The fundamental value of this work lies in its ability to relate to a tragic past nobody wants to talk about, and to do so without telling a sort of “moral” tale that does not expire in moralism: a risk that seems to thicken behind the scenes.
The work succeeds in this by using the dangerous double-edged sword of irony, generating a new human tonality that runs like an acrobat on a tightrope between being kitsch and being hipster without ever really falling into any of these safety nets. The Anti-villa renews architectural form through a cultural attitude that uses irony seriously, and gravitas ironically. Their mutual dialogue generates a lyrical and critical dimension that lives within both the dialogue of time and that of cultural and aesthetic differences.
What remains most important, however, is the poetic ability to use any opportunity that presents itself, to create an atmosphere of suspension: an ambition that is curiously underestimated by many architects today.
Brandlhuber does this through a philosophical use of irony, understood not as a fatuous or arbitrary exercise but as a mechanism of self-control (or self-limiting) that an author exercises on himself, trying, in some sense, to abandon the limit imposed by his own corporeality. It is an irony that consequently expresses a philosophical problem inherent in the form of architecture, namely the need to mark a necessary distance between the author and his forms or, as Novalis would say, “the free mixture of the conditional and the unconditional.”
The Anti-villa thus sponsors a total authorial indifference towards almost all the values on which our recent present is based, which are ridiculed by this anti-globalization and anti-communication object. Take, for example, the radical unconventionality, or what is presumed as such, of many “starchitects” who thought it was a good idea to make every object in the life of human beings “pretty” (or “designed”), opening the door to new forms of contemporary kitsch that “maximize visual effects to hide the poverty of their own architectural principles, mystifying as new what is not.”
This alone is enough to consider it one of the masterpieces of recent times.
Authors: Brandlhuber+Emde, Burlon
Place: Potsdam, Germany
Photographs: Erica Overmeer
conrad-bercah works as an architect, architectural/urban thinker and author. He is the founding director of c-b-a, a Berlin-based architectural practice aiming at expressing in its work the bare life of architectural form stripped of the prevailing rhetoric of the day.