Architecture as Instrument: The Role of Spielraum in the Work of Barkow Leibinger

Courtesy of Barkow Leibinger

Founded in 1993, -based practice Barkow Leibinger has become known for a research-based approach to design that fully explores the possibilities offered by tools, fabrication techniques and materials. In the following essay, adapted from his contribution to Barkow Leibinger’s monograph Barkow Leibinger: Spielraum, art critic Hal Foster examines the historic context of the practice’s work and the influences that have shaped their production.

One origin myth of modern architecture involves the voyaging of German designers like Walter Gropius to North American cities such as Buffalo, where they first saw in situ the industrial structures, such as grain elevators, that they had already proposed as models for functionalist buildings in Europe. The partnership of Frank Barkow and Regine Leibinger is a new variation on this old theme of international encounter: in the late 1980s the American Barkow and the German Leibinger met at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD, where Gropius had once presided as chair). In the literature on the office, this encounter is taken as a primal scene: Frank Barkow, the rangy man from Montana, impressed by the huge infrastructural projects and the great land art of the American West (e.g., hydroelectric dams, in the first instance, Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson, in the second), meets Regine Leibinger, the sophisticated daughter of the innovative director of TRUMPF, the designer-manufacturer of laser-cut tools based near Stuttgart (which is also where a classic of European modernism, the Weissenhof Siedlung, is located). After training at the GSD, under the chairmanship of Rafael Moneo, the two young architects set up a practice in Berlin, in 1993, at a time when the new Europe came to represent what the old America once did: an expanded horizon for ambitious building.

AD Interviews: Barkow Leibinger / Kinetic Wall at the Venice Biennale

The room dedicated to the Wall at the 2014 Venice Biennale’s “Elements of Architecture” exhibition traces the development and evolution of walls over time, starting with archaic walls and ending with Barkow Leibinger’s “Kinetic Wall.”

It was here that we caught up with the Kinetic Wall’s architects, Frank Barkow and Regine Leibinger, to learn more about the vision and thought process that went into the design of this expanding and retracting elastic wall.“It’s very ephemeral, very light, but an idea of a kind of maybe not too far away future, that’s spatial. It changes the space that we’re standing in by moving back and forth. It has a kind of front, it has a back, it’s a little tongue-in-cheek,” Barkow explained.

A series of motorized points extend and retract the wall’s translucent synthetic material, creating peaks and valleys. Two layers of gridded fabric produce a moiré effect, “a second scale of movement, that is translucent/ephemeral,” according to a project description on ’s website.

If you enjoyed this video interview make sure you check out the rest of our 2014 Venice Biennale coverage, here.

Barkow Leibinger Win Competition For Berlin’s Tallest High-Rise

Visualization. Image © / bloomimages

Berlin’s Barkow Leibinger has won an invited competition to design a new hotel tower and conference centre as part of ’s largest hotel complex, the Estrel. Establishing a new gateway to the center of Berlin from Schönefeld International Airport, the tower will stand at 175 meters (578 feet) making it the tallest high-rise in Berlin to date. Located on the Sonnenalle at the intersection of the Ship Canal, S-Bahn and Autobahn, the site acts as a threshold between the heterogeneous industrial and residential periphery of the city and the historical neighborhoods of Neukölln

Tour Total / Barkow Leibinger Architects

© Corinne Rose

Architects: Barkow Leibinger Architects
Location: Berlin,
Project Management: Klaus Reintjes
Design And Building Staff: Hans-Georg Bauer, Andreas Lang, Christina Möller, Ruwen Rimpau, Tobias Wenz
Project Year: 2012
Photographs: Christian Richters, Johannes Förster, Corinne Rose, Ina Reinecke, Nicole Nunez

Higher Atlas / Barkow Leibinger Architects

© Johannes Foerster

Architects: Barkow Leibinger Architects - Gustav Düsing
Location: Marrakech
Year: 2012
Photographs: Johannes Foerster