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Monday, September 24, 2001

Biosphere and Flower Pavilion

Biosphere and Flower Pavilion in Postdam, Germany by Barkow and Leibinger, 2001

Built as a Flower Pavilion and centerpiece of the National Horticulture Show (BUGA) in Potsdam, Germany by Berlin-based Barkow and Leibinger, this building has an intended lifespan of at least 20 years, as a Biosphere and a major part the site's transformation into a new residential district of nearly 20,000. Partners Frank Barkow and Regine Leibinger looked at the history of the site as a conceptual basis for the competition-winning design. While used by both the Prussian and Nazi armies, it was the postwar creation of earthen berms to enclose Russian barracks that provided the dramatic direction of the project.


The architects veered away from creating a glass, greenhouse-like object on flat ground, typical of previous European structures influenced by the 19th century Crystal Palace. Instead the design merges with the existing berms while burying itself into the ground, thereby reducing the height of the building and creating fill for additional berms. This simple maneuver defines the interior spaces, provides surfaces for planting, and allows the architects to frame views and bring in daylight in interesting ways through the opening of gaps in the sloping earth.


Inside the pavilion is a single 200m (985 ft) long space, shaped by the berms and enclosed by curtain walls and a long span, concrete roof, punctuated by skylights. The berms, clad with plants and flowers on the south faces and stone and wood on the north faces, exist somewhere between the natural and the man-made. They seem to represent natural geological conditions, such that water moving through the building formed the walls of the space. Moving along the wood bridge, one looks down at the water basin, saturated with vegetation, which furthers this representation.


As the Flower Pavilion is taken over by the Cinemax movie theater company, the structure will become the Cinemax Biosphere, a for-profit commercial attraction with theaters and gardens. Their 20 year lease will not only preserve the building and its contents but also its message of architecture built with the landscape, not on the landscape (the ecological sensitivity of the building, though too extensive to describe in detail is also worth a mention).

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