www.wilkhahn.de, Mai 2005

"Madness and civilization" Kisho Kurokawa und Stefan Häfner at DAM in Frankfurt/Main – exhibition until 19.06.2005

Future city scenarios are on show at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt. In two individual exhibitions, the visitor can experience a confrontation of the visions of the established Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa with the work of Stefan Häfner from the Frankfurt Goldstein Studio.

Kurokawa talks about the birth of a new age, of an age of life, which is successively replacing the age of the machine. He founded the Metabolist Movement with a view to advancing the dawning of this new era. He feels it is no longer the order of the day to subordinate oneself to an all-encompassing system, but to impose a framework on this life with all its diversity and abundance. The exhibition at the DAM includes impressive models, entire cityscapes, and his helix city model for Tokyo dating back to 1961, in which an individual house, the unity of a single family, seems to be a cell incorporated in an organism. Visitors find themselves strolling by the metabolist city models, viewing skyscrapers, football stadiums and airports like the Kuala Lumpur Airport. The mere dimensions of the projects are impressive, as well as the concentration on detail that never looks coincidental, but supplies the buildings with their inherent rhythm. The idea of capsule houses seems revolutionary even some 30 years on. The Nagakin Capsule Tower in Tokyo and the Sony Tower in Osaka have not lost any of their bold approach: houses with prefabricated rooms that are docked onto the main structure. Cells that have a limited service life like their users, and that are then exchanged.

Just a few steps further along from Kurokawa' superlatives, Stefan Häfner's work bears witness to his model of the city of the future. Like Kurokawa, the vision of this city started to take on shape in the 1960s. Due to increased risk of flooding, he has built his city on pilotis; the dense city structure only starts on the third level – with the cellar of course. The legs of the models were initially made from cardboard but are now in plastic tube, which is more hardwearing. The city on pilotis grew so rampant and was literally on the verge of collapse. Häfner had a problem and found a solution. He does, after all, have to deal with many problems in his city, in this crazy conglomeration with steelworks, bank, snack bar and dentist's surgery located side-by-side and on top of one another. The vast wealth of detail, problems and solutions, deviations, improvisation and compromises is highly fascinating. It soon becomes clear that a pragmatist is behind all this. Häfner is only too familiar with the problems arising in his city as this embodies life for him. He has even thought of imminent catastrophes by including a fire station and a hospital. After a while, the visitor realizes that Stefan Häfner actually lives in a model city himself. He knows every room and can explain its function, every object inside it and its colour scheme.

The DAM is showing quite an odd pair this time: on the one hand, the star architect and on the other hand, the eccentric model maker. On the one hand, the visionary who talks about the dawning of a new age of life – contrasted with the artist who lives in a model city in which the excitement of life already seems to have become reality. By combining these two exhibitions, the DAM has succeeded in creating a superb dialogue. If only Kurokawa' exhibition could always be accompanied by Stefan Häfner's city of the future. In Frankfurt, Kurokawa' cool architecture in steel, concrete, glass and plastic capsules has to co-exist with the counter pole of Häfner's multi-coloured world. The logical arrangement and precision thrives on the distraction stemming from chaos and improvisation. Häfner has even included a fire extinguisher in his city model. Kisho Kurokawa shows his oeuvre on another scale. The show, in which models of skyscrapers about the size of one's finger can be viewed through a magnifying glass while strolling over drafts by the great old master that scale the floor beneath, suggests that for his projects people figure in the numbers that are generally accommodated by football stadiums. The question as to who is the crazier of the two is one that occupies visitors long after the exhibition. And anyone who tunes in to Häfner's imaginative spatial vision may leave the exhibition in a good mood, with the feeling that city life can be more exciting and bizarre than any perfectly organized mega structure – and than cities as we know them today.

Jan Rinke

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