Complexity @ ARCH+

Often, comparisons, parallels to landscape, are drawn to nature in the work of Behnisch & Partner.

The architectural ensemble is perceived as a continuation of the landscape.

Publication the Work of Behnisch & Partner, Elizabeth Sikiaridi @ ARCH+, Germany, 1 September 1994


It is naturally integrated into the landscape and rooted in it, whether it be the slightly hilly landscape in southern Germany or the riverine plain on the Rhine. The landscape of this architecture becomes all the more revealing if it is not viewed at the level of the object, the regional boundaries of the southern German landscape with its different topoi, but at the level of the subject: the man moving in the landscape. The way in which the building is developed corresponds to the experience of crossing the landscape.


As far as the importance of man’s movement for architecture is concerned, Behnisch stands in the tradition of organic architecture, e.g. Of Scharoun. In the landscape, simultaneous, diverse views are completely normal. As you roam the country, you can see things in changing angles. The open relationship of the landscape elements is perceived in alternating and successive perception. Openness is also reflected by the flow of movement: one has always the choice between different ways, between the curved path, the direct path to the next tree or over the meadow. In an open relationship to each other and to the viewer, the building elements also present themselves, and with unrestrainedness they can be opened up. Movement flows freely in the competing attraction of several densification sites. One finds itself in the midst of complex fields of force, which produce new constellations at every new angle of view. In the partial contradiction of the forces, one’s own freedom finds space. Multiperspectivity, relativity, hierarchy, and local order are not only concepts that describe the building landscape and its perception, but also characterize the office’s intellectual attitude and work methodology. Against this backdrop, it is not far off in the architecture of these buildings to see a metaphor for a discontinuous world view. Architecture appears as a tangible, material symbolization of a world in which the discontinuity of phenomena has questioned the unified, de fi nitive world picture. The real, immediate, sensory experience of this discontinuous architecture may expand our sensitivity to complexity and thus support the ability to cope creatively with it.


The fact that local orders are brought together within an open, less hierarchical structure, and not subjected to a principle, a single order, makes it possible for several individual aspects to be taken into account. The basis for this is an analytical thinking in Eiermann’s tradition. Directly adopted by Eiermann is the method of cleaning the façade or other elements in different layers. Similar to Eiermann, the individual elements, often industrial semi-finished products, are not fused together when they are put together. In Behnisch, the autonomy and autonomy of the individual parts are reinforced by the fact that they retain their own geometry and alignment at the time of their attachment. This approach is pragmatic and leaves great liberties to the whole design process, up to detailing on the scale of 1: 1. It does not require the one superordinate decision under which all successive dogmatically subordinate itself, whether it fits or not. ‘Concept decisions’ form a soft frame for all subsequent crystallizations, whereby these ‘conceptual frameworks’ can be partially relativized or reinterpreted in the course of further elaboration of these ‘conceptual frameworks’. In this sense ‘deviations’ do not lead to the collapse of a rigid hierarchical conceptual structure. They are anticipated and integrated as situational moments in a pattern based on constellations of local orders. The buildings (parts) generated with the aid of such a method of working have a very direct influence on the various influencing factors due to their complexity. Thus, e.g. The free position and shaping of the props of the ring building in the project of the expansion of the Deutsche Bundesbank on the one hand due to the ring geometry and the load load. On the other hand, the position of the columns reacts to the free geometry and ground plan of the low base structure, which is pierced by the columns. If one follows the development of the structure of the Deutsche Bundesbank’s ring from the draft competition to the above-described solution, it will be seen that, after trying out many different solutions, a solution which appears to be ‘banal’ has been chosen: a thick steel concrete slab below the last Ring floor, which absorbs and distributes the forces. A solution has been chosen, in which construction is not a priority, “a succinct solution. An attitude of Behnisch expresses itself here, which does not give a superordinate significance to the construction, and does not subordinate it to other aspects of the form. Is the case with high-tech architects. The construction is bypassed. Statically required elements are not ordered on the basis of a grid, but according to the requirements and conditions of the overall design. Often, flat blankets are used here, whose flexible support system can be easily calculated with the aid of recent developments in statics. In the last few years the calculation of multiple undetermined static systems has become easier due to the wide use of PCs in the design offices and the possible applications of novel calculation methods (finite elements, boundary element method). Static calculation programs, which are directly linked to CAD programs, enable a fast, direct and accurate calculation of the voltage profile of highly complex arrangements and thus facilitate the handling of irregular ground plan constellations.


If problems are not emphasized as dominant, but the different components are treated relatively equally, an elaborate field is created whose complexity is confined to a linear, causal view. A solution is then not derived in an abstract way, but it is developed. It is much under investigation, much tried, and almost as with a natural read-out procedure, the most suitable variant will end up in the end. Sometimes even back to the beginnings. In compiling the contest for Nuremberg Airport, the first intuitive solution was only satisfied when several conceivable alternatives, such as practical exercises, had been carried out, and the qualities and chances of this first intuitive design were clear: the sculpturally shaped tower building contrasts with the hangar environment And also offers interesting perspectives from the air. Conclusions and exclusions do not determine the beginning of the work. No fi xed image is set as the target, and then the work is done. One enters the design rather a discovery journey, tracking the inherent possibilities of the task. The desire to design (‘Kunsti ville’) has given way to an attitude which drives, observes, and directs the generation process. The whole is like an evolutionary process in which “solutions are self-sufficient.” The process is soft and reversible. It is attempted, e.g. By strict separation of raw construction and development-relevant decisions to keep planning freedom as long as possible. As far as possible, the shell is to remain neutral so as not to limit the development possibilities of the expansion unnecessarily early. It is planned for the construction phase, just in time, it is tested with models 1: 1 on the site and even in the end often with brush and color corrected. It has already been mentioned earlier on the local orders, which are combined into an open, topological structure. To polyphony, polyphony, many voices belong, and this polyphonic structure can not be the work of a single person. Behnisch’s role in the office is that of a conductor who directs and combines the work of very different individuals. This office structure is reflected directly in the results of the work: Through the work of several individuals the places get their so different characters. Neighboring areas are developed independently of each other by different agents. When harmonizing these independent work processes, harmonization can be made. On the other hand, such a work organization offers the possibility of pre-structuring dissonances in the work. The more people are involved and the more factors are considered, the more the moment of chance grows. Moments of tension and unpredictability often appear in the composition of the group as deliberately built-in to advance developments. Random moments are therefore acknowledged, positively occupied, sometimes even programmatically used. This strategy (structural formation) takes into account the dynamics of the process of creation, from planning to realization, and corresponds to the complex interplay of the participants involved in planning and construction. Unexpectedness is seen not only as an obstacle, but as an opportunity for reaction and further development. Chance is accepted, integrated and included as an opportunity.


If one pursues the work of the office over the years, one realizes that ever more complex orders have been worked out. There were projects that involved large jumps, e.g. The project for the Olympiastadion in Munich. But there was, above all, a slow expansion of orders. In the schools on the Schäferfeld in Lorch. This development towards more complex, less hierarchical compositions is very beautiful to see in the contest for the Deutsche Bibliothek in Frankfurt. The different places are free to each other, there is no superordinate structure, the energy is relatively evenly distributed. On another project, the project for the station forecourt in Stuttgart Feuerbach, one can very well offer the development of a hierarchical composition to an ‘entropic’ composition. This time the development was externally conditioned: the connecting, dominant element of the two half-timbered building clamps had to be omitted. The individual measures, inter alia, were implemented. The roofing of the stops, the underpass, individual places of very individual character. Their cohesion is loosely, they stand to each other like free individuals, a topological order arises which is borne by the emanation of the individual places to each other and to the environment. If they had been realized, the two half-timbered clamps would have created a uniform background and partly excluded the environment. On the other hand, they would have dominated the whole area and thus hierarchized. The increase in complexity is automatically made in the further development of a project and the increase in the level of detail. In the draft of the Bonn Bundestag, for example. The individual elements of the large room, the counters, stairs, etc. appear as objects which span a relationship braid. In further processing, the object character of these elements is resolved, they are themselves resolved into individual parts. It is no longer the one object that stands in relation to the other, but its parts, surfaces, and rods are introduced into the polyphony as individual moments. The polyphony of this architecture, however, never leaves the framework of a certain formal canon whose origin is to be found at Kandinsky’s point, line, surface. The basic elements of this open composition remain the same, whether it is a building constellation or a furniture in the room or a detail. Sometimes elements are integrated using a different shape vocabulary, a different color palette. Above all, the ‘art on construction’ comes into play by strange elements which have passed through an independent process of formation and which testify and preserve this independence, In the painting of the ceiling and the walls of the Bundestagsrestaurants by Nicola de Maria is the case.

Finally, there is one more thing to be said: In the longer circles around the topic of complexity in the work of the office ‘Behnisch & Partner’ the wrong impression could arise, complexity in itself would be the goal and content. But it would be a misunderstanding to think that this architecture was about exploring the limits of chaotic ‘noise’. Complexity is not self-purpose. It is used as a means and finds its meaning only as a correspondence of life. Complexity appears as an adequate form to meet the abundance of requirements placed on a reasonable environment. These requirements are not only functional in the narrow sense, but also try to meet emotional needs. Thus, the design process can not be equated with an optimization process. What is being sought are not the ‘optimal’ solutions. The search for an ‘optimal’ solution would presuppose objective criteria that would reduce man to a function of quantifiable factors.

Behnisch ‘s architecture seeks solutions which, going beyond the’ rational ‘, touch on several levels of reality and thus have a multi – layeredness and depth. It is looking for solutions that provide aesthetic pleasure that will make life fun for the user. Intended to be a ‘happy’ architecture. The method leading to it is questioning and searching: partially rationally analytical, partly open by experiment for developments and coincidences, and ultimately guided by short circuits of intuition. Solutions are sought which can not radiate any compassion, but rather radiate an indisputability and can be regarded as a suitable framework for the (cohesive) life of humans. This framework should be open and constituted by the contradiction of the local divisions. In it, difference and deviation are to be found. ‘Gleichschaltung’ is not intended to be pre-structural in architecture. In the experience of these spaces there should not be one order which determines everything (and thus the user). It is not the one way but the choice of paths.

Elisabeth Sikiaridi is an architect and currently works at the TU Berlin (1994) . From 1988 to 1992, she worked at the Behnisch & Partner office.

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