The Heinz Galinski School
The design unfolds its petals to form “a village for children”.
Arriving in front of the school in the suburban Berlin neighborhood, you do not see what is going on inside; the building does not reveal itself immediately. The design, based on the sunflower, unfolds its petals to form “a village for children.”
|The school is a city within a city. Its streets meet at squares and the squares become courtyards. The walls of the schoolhouse also build walkways, passages, and cul de sacs. The outside of the school is also the inside of the city, because the school is the city.|
I was very lucky Zvi Hecker took the time to show me around. It was a joyful experience being led into one of Hecker’s colored pencil drawings where a curving “snake” intercepts with the sunflower theme. The petals form the classrooms; the curving snake connects and conceals them at the same time…you move through a landscape of walls and roofs, alleys and corners. It is always about light and how the light penetrates the building; direct light, reflected light, diffused light.
The sunflower is a metaphor, not in some abstract geometry, but because of the way the building absorbs the light and projects it inside. There are no parallel walls, the sunflower is actually catching the sun…it turns with the sun the school absorbs the light.
The spaces between the walls form the “canyons,” the stairways are the “mountains,” the windows frame views or open up to balconies and roof terraces. One never comes directly to an empty space, but arrives slowly. There is a hierarchy of space; it is closed, but never really closed. And there are endless hiding places for children.
“All future revolutions begin here you always see children hiding and talking about what nasty things they will do soon”, Hecker explains with a smile.
Hecker was at the site every day during construction. Although they were designing and changing things to the very end, they still managed to stay within the budget. The materials are ordinary; painted stucco (36 centimeter hollow walls), simple concrete, corrugated aluminum, asphalt sheets, and standard windows and skylights. In some places the concrete ceiling has what looks like an interesting yellow ‘design’ from the nails rusting in the rain while the concrete was being cured. A wall left unfinished has calculations and dates written on the exposed brick traces of the people that worked on the building. “Children should know it is hard work”, Hecker says.
At the end of our visit, a bell rang and the corridors were suddenly filled with children laughing and running. We followed them through the slightly sloping snake like corridors out into the “village” square.
|Zvi Hecker’s Jewish Community School in Berlin must be considered one of the major works in our time for its thought provoking energy that makes us think deep about many things related to life and architecture, not least about the meaning of knowledge, expulsion, place, and death.|
All Jewish institutions in Berlin are heavily policed. To get to see the Heinz Galinski School is a long process; groups must write in advance for a date, then apply for a permit from security…then wait two weeks for security to get the permit.