Anna Schäffler
The Bauakademie as Bauakademie as Bauakademie as… The Bauakademie as the Production of Knowledge

In my essay I focus on the process of producing knowledge within a discussion of what the Bauakademie (Academy of Architecture) was, may have been, and could be in the future. It is based on the proposition that the Bauakademie is not in a fixed, unalterable state. Nor is it a fact. Rather, it is a processual, relational construct in a constant transformation. The following deliberations reflect upon and conceptualize selected observations made during the multi-disciplinary workshop Total Reconstruction: Re-enacting the Design of Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Bauakademie, a part of the “Curatorial Design: A Place Between” research project of December 2018.1

Through a number of examples, I will outline various procedures of meaning and knowledge generation about the Bauakademie while also examining problems that arose. My considerations are grounded in my research on the preservation of processual artworks and my experience with posthumous installations of ensemble works by the German conceptual artist Anna Oppermann.2

The images accompanying this article should not be regarded as mere illustrations of the text. Rather, they provide insight into the important role associative referencing of archival materials plays in developing various knowledge production methods. They also underline my argument—whose aim is to show and operationalize—the relationality and incompleteness of the Bauakademie.

It is impossible—according to the basic thesis underlying my ideas—to reconstruct an original replica of the 1836 Bauakademie because it is situated in a historical context that is fundamentally different from today’s circumstances—if only through the amount of time that has passed since then. Consequently, the Bauakademie has to be understood in the context of its own historicity. At the same time, it is necessary to be aware that throughout this history, there has never been a singular Bauakademie per se. Even the nineteenth-century Bauakademie can be regarded as a synthesis of the buildings that preceded it. During its more than one hundred years of existence as part of the city fabric, it was continuously subjected to processes of change, including restoration, demolition, and partial reconstruction. It is therefore important, both in formulating and potentially applying various processes of knowledge production, not to regard the Bauakademie as primarily a static object, existing in a finished state, but as an object in a temporary state, a constantly reformulating result of multi-perspectival negotiations, and hence, a long-term process.

My primary thesis—with a backdrop provided by the competition to rebuild the Berlin Bauakademie as a National Academy of Architecture, sponsored in 2018 by the Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung (National Office for Building and Spatial Order) under the motto “As much Schinkel as possible”—is that the Bauakademie can be thought of as a catalyst to explore various notions of value.

*Figure 1.0 Various drawings of the Bauakademie, from 1831 to 1953, including the cross-section of a wing (1831) and a south-west section by Emil Flaminius published in Allgemeine Bauzeitung, no. 2, issue IV (1836), among others.
Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Bauakademie Berlin. Querschnitt durch einen Flügel, 1831, SMB-KK SM 31.13;
Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Bauakademie Berlin. Durchschnitt nach der Richtung ABC, Berlin 1858: AM-TUB SAE 1858,122;
Emil Flaminius, “Der Durchschnitt nach a-b der Grundrisse von der allgemeinen Bauschule in Berlin,” Allgemeine Bauzeitung 1, no. 2 (1836): Appendix IV;
Richard Lucae, Projekt zum Umbau der Bau-Akademie, Schnitt a-b, 1875, AM-TUB 10723;
E.K.S. (Eggert, Knauf, Schreiber), “Entwurf Bauakademie Schnitt,” scale 1:100, Güstrow 1952, IRS Wiss. Samml. C_11-59;
Richard Paulick and Deutsche Bauakademie Meisterwerkstatt III, “Schinkel-Akademie Berlin, Schnitt A-B,” scale 1:50, 1953, SMB-ZA II A-BV, BA 10;

The Bauakademie as Correlation

Figure 2.0 Perspectives of the Bauakademie, as noted by the author during the workshop, Total Reconstruction: Re-enacting the Design of Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Bauakademie*, held in 2018.*

The process of producing knowledge begins by correlating the concept of the Bauakademie with other concepts that identify its characteristics, events, conditions, or functions, e.g., the Bauakademie as a ruin, as a brick measurement, as a doctrine, etc. The Bauakademie coexists in an interplay with each associated concept, each pair of words defining each other. A correlation, however, does not always describe a causal relationship: it creates a mutual dependence between the concepts, but is not verifiable—only hypothetical. Depending upon which variable is connected to the Bauakademie, a different understanding may result. Correlations can be stronger or weaker. For example, some, such as the brick remains, are in a direct material relationship with the Bauakademie, while others require a more substantive argument. The link between concepts is only valid if it is recognized by those participating in the process of producing and negotiating knowledge. To comprehend this interplay as an object for negotiation, its analysis, elucidation, and argumentation is important: which correlations were created with which implications, and how do they produce knowledge about the Bauakademie?

Figure 3.0 Diensträume Technische Baudeputationen, Dienstwohnung, Verkaufsläden (Offices of the architectural authority, official apartments, shops), GStA I. HA rep. 89, no. 28620.

Figure 4.0 A screenshot of the filing system for the digitalized archival materials on the Bauakademie under the ‘literature’ category. Screenshot and archival research by Ortrun Bargholz (2018).

Interpreting these correlations (the Bauakademie as… ) depends upon the relevance participants attribute to each individual aspect. In order to substantiate them and make them negotiable, the correlations can, for example, be related to a large quantity of historical source material. However, the Bauakademie archives are extremely disparate and fragmentary, even if the materials that might be employed for enclosure and negotiation include, for example, drawings, writings, blueprints, paintings, photographic documentation, speeches, practical reports, comparable examples, and other material.

Such documents are not merely passive placeholders representing a historical building that no longer exists in the urban fabric. Instead, they are activated when they are brought into relation with the correlations. And it is precisely in the creation of these relationships, which are variable and contingent, that today’s Bauakademie is constituted.

Figure 5.0 Die Bauakademie (1868). Oil painting by Eduard Gärtner from the collection of the Nationalgalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Identification number. A II 61 a). Photographed by Jörg P. Anders.

Paradoxically, it is both the incompleteness and plethora of existing material that could be associated with the Bauakademie that might lead to the iconographic canonization of a few images. These are used extensively and influence the perception of the Bauakademie. Here, relating correlations with materials that are not part of this iconographic canon have the potential to instigate new framings, emphases, and evaluations.

Figure 6.0 Illustrated examples of the repetitive use of Eduard Gärtner’s painting in various contexts include, clockwise, from top left: Jonas Geist’s Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Die Bauakademie. Eine Vergegenwärtigung, Frankfurt/M (1993), Niels Beckenbach u.a., “Karl Friedrich Schinkels Berliner Bauakademie: In Kunst und Architektur,” in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, Berlin (1996), Jürgen Tietz, “Haus ohne Körper Schinkels Bauakademie. Was wir wissen, – wer es erzählt – und was nicht,” in Baunetzwoche #498, S. 6-22, hier S. 16 (2017), “Schinkels Bauakademie in Berlin: Roter Kasten voller Wunder,” in Berliner Zeitung, 21 March 2017 (2017), Michael Müller; Christian Thomsen, “Ein Gemeinschaftswerk von Land und Bund,” in: Neue Bauakademie, Broschüre hrsg. von der Technischen Universität Berlin, S. 6-8, hier S. 7 (2017) and in “Wer wollte nicht das Fenster öffnen?,” in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (July 2017).

The Bauakademie as Speculative Imitation

Figure 7.0 Photographs by Christian Raabe. From Christian Raabe’s Eine Ecke der Bauakademie: Zur Rekonstruktion der ‘Allgemeinen Bauschule’ Karl Friedrich Schinkels (2011), p. 10.

Archived documents are not silent witnesses, and they take an active role in the processes of knowledge production related to the Bauakademie. Even though working with archival materials is considered to have an objectifying effect, these are not objective processes, but constructive and speculative. This is so, not just because of the paucity of primary archival sources about the Bauakademie, but also because the documents themselves do not contain inherent evidence: their evidentiary value is ascribed to them. The claim to reality, which the Bauakademie sources and documents make, needs to be problematized. This, because they appear to be evidence of historical facts that cannot be experienced as they are but can only be mediated through archival materials: the historical facts can only be experienced in relation to these materials. Thus, the archival sources allow us to see something that is in and of itself not possible to see.

Furthermore, the desideratum of the existing materials manifests as fundamentally incomplete and fragmented, since they only represent an excerpt. Intangible aspects, such as smells, atmospheres, or haptic qualities, are entirely missing in every material set of documents. The limitations of the source material may be a reason why debates like the one around the planning competition for the “Wiedererrichtung der Bauakademie Berlin als Nationale Bauakademie” (Reconstruction of the Bauakademie Berlin as a National Academy of Architecture, initiated by the German Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung in 2018) are strongly guided and defined by visual representations: it is easier to discuss things that can be depicted and shown.

Suppose we position the Bauakademie as described above as a productive, provisional space in a network of references, linked to correlated concepts and archival sources. In that case, it becomes clear that it is a narrative dependent upon the partaking agents’ values and their ascriptions of meaning. Each fact about the Bauakademie and its history is constituted within this nexus.

In attempting to understand the Bauakademie, we are always confronted with ambiguous interpretations. Blue marks on a plan, for example, lead to a discussion of whether or not it is possible to conclude that the colors refer directly to the ceiling painting’s original color scheme. Since there is hardly any other visual evidence of the building’s interior, this detail can instigate a speculative discussion in which not knowing is becoming productive. This can also lead to a setup in which something is considered more important than before—a kind of over-interpretation. At the same time, some aspects that were significant in the past may no longer be understood today. Therefore, it is crucial to hand down the things we do not know, because future generations may create new relationships between or references to things based on other knowledge or their prioritization of questions.

Figure 8.0 Detail from Querschnitt durch einen Flügel (cross-section through a wing) of Schinkel’s Bauakademie, 1831.

Figure 9.0 Photograph by Christian Raabe. From Christian Raabe’s Eine Ecke der Bauakademie: Zur Rekonstruktion der ‘Allgemeinen Bauschule’ Karl Friedrich Schinkels (2011), p. 32.

What were the intentions, for instance, behind the material choices? Why was the building constructed in this manner? What kind of statement was made by this architectural design? Was there an ideological motivation behind the decision to build with bricks? We can look to Michael Baxandall on a bridge design by Benjamin Baker: “In dissecting and examining what is assembled in it [the Forth Bridge, A. S.], by layering the form with conceptualizations that have at least something in common with Baker’s own self-critical thoughts, we make it accessible to us—to a certain degree, somewhat.”3 Baxandall describes this form of conceptualization as a “triangle of imagination … made up of three complexes: concepts relating to the task and the target; concepts referring to the means that were either employed or not; and concepts that describe the bridge.”4 On the heels of this triangle comes “… a kind of conceptual game; [we] reconstruct in simplified form the ideas and rationalizations of a creator who approaches a task with an individual selection of means.”5 As we try to understand how and why something was done through this “triangle of imagination,” according to Baxanadall, description and explanation become intertwined in the developing critique. Consequently, the creation of a historical perspective after the fact is a form of conceptualization. It is also always an interpretation of fragments, because we are receptive to the traces of things differently than their producers were. As far as not-knowing goes, it raises the question of whether it is only possible to recognize things that were already known or expected. Instead of clear answers, we have provisional states of knowledge.

The Bauakademie as a Reflective Practice

Figure 10.0 “Just as documents cannot be reduced to writing, a concept of the document as such cannot assume there is a correspondence between the document and reality, nor can it insist upon a naive claim to authenticity, meaning an accurate depiction. Instead of being a record of what happened—in Barthes’s sense of ‘that’s the way it was’—documents, technologies of evidence, create and regulate visibility and clarity. Instead of reproducing realities and bodies of knowledge, they produce and shape them. The extent to which documents evoke doubt about what they have made visible, or make claims of transparency and plausibility, is subject to the processes, technologies, and rhetoric used in depiction, translation, communication, and verification. In this sense images, recordings, or objects are not documents per se. They become documents when they appear to support reality and truth, and they are ascribed epistemological, aesthetic, or political value in the processes of producing knowledge, even when the concept of what constitutes a valuable document is constantly being deconstructed and redefined in a certain culture at a certain time. Thus, the focus shifts from the question of what documents show to how documents show things and what kinds of functions and desires are connected to them in the discourse on knowledge.” A quote from Daniela Hahn’s introductory text to Beyond Evidenz. Das Dokument in den Künsten (2016), p. 10. Translation provided by Allison Moseley (2019).

In accordance with the above quote from Daniela Hahn, the process of analyzing and associating disparate sources and the practices linked to that are of primary importance in the relationship between archival materials and the meaning making. As was developed within the framework of the Curatorial Design research project, a dialogue-based workshop is crucial, because it opens up space for social interaction and communication. Here, knowledge is created as a social activity, as well as through a haptic exploration of existing materials.6 This collective act of exploration immediately multiplies the perspectives, thus relativizing the apparent neutrality of the archival materials. These shared thought processes each result in preliminary contexts of meaning, which in turn produce their own materials, which are then documented in computer files, which, in the next step, become the starting point for yet another iteration.

Figure 11.0 Documentation of the workshop, Total Reconstruction: Reenacting the Design of Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Bauakademie, 2018. Photograph by Dejan Markovic.

This reflective practice operates between physical materials on the one hand and intangible concepts on the other. In the workshop, they are explicated in constellations of diverse materials and joint conversations. This procedure does not result in a final answer or solution but instead shapes a field for discourse and negotiation in a collaborative treatment involving ambiguity within complex situations. The outcome is not a result, in the sense of being a complete piece of architecture, but rather, the interim state of a continual process of correlation. Thus, the Bauakademie becomes an ensemble of everything that it was and might have been. It is a potentially endless process, kaleidoscopically involving more and more negotiations of different notions of value. At the same time, the increased awareness of the conditionality implied in this process of knowledge production allows us to learn from this experience and to remain open to changes.

The Bauakademie as Potential

Figure 11.0 A view of the Bauakademie in 2016 with the printed banner installed in 2004. Image by picture alliance / dpa.

I propose that a future Bauakademie is thought of as a result of the construction process discussed in this text. In the end, a shift in concept can be derived from it: from reconstruction to construction. The prefix ‘re-’ creates a relationship to an original state that has never existed. As the architect Giorgio Grassi wrote, “There is no significant difference between construction and reconstruction.”7

In contrast to my argument, however, he believes that anything that places itself within a historical context is a reconstruction. On the other hand, when I argue that everything is construction, I am underscoring the idea that it is impossible to repeat the same thing. The benefit of such a shift lies in a changed notion of how to deal with history, liberating us from the notion that preservation is a way of materially reproducing a pictorial representation. By omitting the prefix ‘re-’, ‘construction’ emphasizes this exploration’s productive character and allows us to maintain an awareness of the fictional part of the desire for an authentic historical state. ‘Construction’ implies a perspective of the modes of interpretation and the explicit visibility of ascriptions of value. This goes beyond the example of the Bauakademie itself. In a best-case scenario, this awareness evokes a thorough and consistent critical observation of fundamental notions of value and other ‘re-’ construction projects in the immediate neighborhood of the Bauakademie.8

Every new network of actors produces its own notion of the Bauakademie state. The city’s planning competition (mentioned above), however, primarily aims at the logic of materialization in the urban landscape. Thus, the context of the competition “Wiedererrichtung der Bauakademie Berlin als Nationale Bauakademie” also plays a role, since the logic evoked here assumes that a version of the Bauakademie will materialize in the urban landscape. Yet, even if one of these versions was built, the material and immaterial forms remain open-ended and infinitely diverse, owing to the incomplete and iterative principle of the reflective methods. Being aware of the impossibility of reconstructing an original intention under today’s conditions allows us to focus on the Bauakademie as the potential of what it could be, somewhere between concept and solid architecture. The timing is ideal. For, as the competition jury responded to the prize-winning design by ARGE Kuehn/Tomic, Berlin/Graz: “The site calls for radical acts.”9


  1. The author is grateful to Ortrun Bargholz for her support in researching the images, as well as to the editors for their valuable notes.

  2. See Anna Schäffler, Die Kunst der Erhaltung. Anna Oppermanns Ensembles, zeitgenössische Restaurierung und Nachlasspraxis im Wandel, München 2021.

  3. See Michael Baxandall, Ursachen der Bilder. Über das historische Erklären von Kunst, Berlin 1990 [Originally published in English as Patterns of Intention, 1985], 66ff., here, 70.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid.

  6. For more on this, see, for example, Karin Knorr-Cetina, Wissenskulturen. Ein Vergleich naturwissenschaftlicher Wissensformen, Frankfurt am Main, 2002.

  7. See Giorgio Grassi, “Reconstructions in Architecture,” in: Displayer 03, July 2009, 233-238, http://www.kuehnmalvezzi.com/media/publikationen/Disp03.pdf [accessed July 7, 2019]

  8. For more on this, see Anna Schäffler, “Palastballast und Schlossgespenst. Zur Symbolik von Leerstelle und Besetzung am Schlossplatz,” in: Conny Becker, Christina Landbrecht, Friederike Schäfer, eds., Metropolitan Views: Berlin, Berlin. Kunstszenen 1989-2009, München 2010, 97-108.

  9. https://www.bbr.bund.de/BBR/DE/Bauprojekte/Berlin/Kultur/Nat_Bauakademie/Protokoll_Jurysitzung.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=9 [accessed July 7, 2019]