Art + Design
Last update: 13 July, 2011.
An asphalt ramp at the end of a well-appointed suburban road leads down to a concrete terrace that opens onto the vast and uncertain space left behind by a mine. Into that space juts a strange steel structure, half suspension bridge, half board walk. It once was the front end of a large spreading machine and is now a pier waiting for its lake. We are at the headquarters of the IBA Fürst-Pückler-Land, the International Building Exhibition that has, for the last decade, been the brain trust and clearing house for innovative post-mining landscape design and architecture in the Lausitz.
The white-on-blue See with its German-English double entendre (lake, view) is the IBA's logo. The German entendre refers to what is becoming of the abandoned mining pits, the English entendre alludes to a hightened visual awareness that both informs, and is informed by, the transformation of the landscape. Design is central to the transformation. It creates focal points, vistas, contrast, shelter, precedents, and, not least, the tourist destinations sorely needed to reinvigorate the local economy. The IBA headquarters set the example. Perched high on the anticipated shore of Lake Ilse (webcam), they form a handsome modern ensemble that houses offices, an elegant café, two exhibition spaces, an auditorium, and a bookstore replete with informational brochures and publications on industrial and cultural history, landscape and architecture. This is the ideal starting point for excursions into the active mining and post-mining landscape.
Lake Ilse is being filled with cleaned mining waste water and scheduled to reach its final level in 2015. How soon thereafter it will open for recreational activities remains to be seen. For one thing, there are concerns about the acidity of the water, which may require expensive chemical or biological treatment. For another, the loosely poured ground may be more treacherous than previously thought, as demonstrated by a dramatic recent landslide. In the interim, the adjacent town of Großräschen advertises lakeside plots for home construction.
The projects sponsored by IBA are an eclectic bunch, including floating houses, an observation tower, a power plant turned event location, a Slavic fort, a nature preserve, various parks, a marina, land art, a bicycling route, a garden city, a housing development, industrial heritage sites, an artists' barn: 30 projects in all, too many to cover here.
One of my favorites is the gorgeous Landmarke (land marker) on lake Sedlitz, dubbed rusty nail by the locals, a steel tower designed by Stefan Giers and Susanne Gabriel. The tower is made from plates of corten steel welded together into a monolithic sculpture whose rusty surface recalls the area's industrial heritage. The staircase profile is reminiscent, to my eye, of the terracing in a coal mine. I don't know whether this is intentional; if it is, then there is no flat-footed didacticism about it. Climbing the stairs is an acoustic adventure as the plates vibrate and reverberate differently with each step.
Its long list of projects notwithstanding, IBA, with a yearly budget of about 1.4 million Euro ($2 million), is the financial featherweight in the reclamation business. The two heavyweights are the LMBV (Lausitzer und Mitteldeutsche Bergbau-Verwaltungsgesellschaft), a publically funded organization that took over the cleanup responsibilities of the disbanded East German state and has disbursed several billion Euros so far; and Vattenfall, the corporate owner of all mines and power plants. The large and expensive infrastructure projects - lakes, canals, locks, roads, soil stabilisation - are the work of the LMBV. Without them, the region would be a dysfunctional wasteland. The LMBV lays the groundwork for IBA's activities.
Vattenfall's role is more complicated. The company carries out reclamation work as mandated by the law (e.g. recultivation and water cleanup), but beyond that it is also heavily involved as corporate sponsor in pretty much every reclamation and cultural project in the region. Like the LMBV, Vattenfall is indispensable for IBA's work. Its own approach to design tends to be, shall we say, a little more corporate than IBA's, as seen in the concrete observation tower at the Cottbus-Nord mine and the botanical garden at Nochten.