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The Director's Cut

The Director's Cut

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Published by Bernhard Blauel
Review by Jeremy Melvin of the first refurbishment phase of the Goethe Institut in Exhibition Road, South Kensington
Review by Jeremy Melvin of the first refurbishment phase of the Goethe Institut in Exhibition Road, South Kensington

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Published by: Bernhard Blauel on Sep 07, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The director's cut
28 March 2001
The remodelling of South Kensington's Goethe Institute, theGermany cultural centre, enhances the viewing pleasure of cinema-goers, while opening the building up to a rear terrace, away from the busy road.
Just at that crucial, terrifying moment when Graf Orlok emerges into theworld of the living, the last thing an audience of rapt film-goers wants is aburst of café noise as the cinema door opens to admit a latecomer. Thatis what used to happen at the Goethe-Institut in Exhibition Road, SouthKensington, and it has to be said that few other silent masterpieces ofGerman Expressionist film-making are enhanced by such sounds, even ifthey involve the clinking of foaming steins of lager or the swish of duellingsword blades slicing flesh to make those distinctive scars.Such barbaric practices have, of course, long since died out in Germanuniversities; and thanks to Bernhard Blauel's neat re-jigging of theGoethe-Institut's pair of terraced houses, so has the noise nuisance forfilm audiences. Blauel's project adds a revealing commentary on anotherdevelopment, the evolution of German diplomacy over the last 10 years.Since reunification, and renewed confidence and power, 'Germany is nolonger representing itself culturally; it can do so politically,' says Blauel.Goethe-Instituts the world over are having to justify their existence, andfind new ways of earning income. Hans Kallies, the head of administrationin London, confirms that major German cultural events need little supportfrom the institute, although it does have a role in smaller scale and lesser-known fields. Crucially, though, London is a major market for its Germanlanguage courses, and has potential for room lettings – for these reasonsthe German foreign office sanctioned a £500,000 expenditure, the onlysuch licence for any Goethe-Institut premises.Blauel's various proposals reflect these changes. Originally just with theremit of solving the acoustic problem, the project became a re-ordering of
the entire building, including the 1970s almost retro-chic library,administrative offices and classrooms with robust furniture which Kalliessays 'you could fight a war with'. Budget cuts turned it into just creating anew cinema and café. One suggestion was to locate them in thebasement, but Westminster planners turned down a glass rear extension,and in any case extra structural work added prohibitively to the cost.Consequently the project settled on the ground floor with remodelling ofthe basement, largely to move air handling units to the front vaults andmake space for a couple of lecture rooms.For Blauel, the crucial point was to open a clear route from the entranceand the environment of Exhibition Road to the rear, an attractive terraceoverlooking Imperial College's garden. Interwoven with this was a wish toavoid an unduly 'boxlike' character on the ground floor, caused by overlyprominent acoustic lobbies. The solution is a new opening under thestairs, leading to a lobby and the terrace or, to the right, the cinema. With92 raked seats which can fold away, or over100 in a flat layout, it isperhaps, as Blauel calls it, 'a multi-purpose room with an emphasis onfilm'. Having had advice from John Chapman, who also helped with thecinema at Tate Modern, it can take cinemascope projection, and Kallieshopes it will be used as a venue for the London Film Festival.With the cinema now approached from the lobby beyond the entrance,the new café has its own entrance off Exhibition Road, and no longerserves as a foyer for the cinema. After discussions with German breweriesfell through, Café Organic will occupy the space, with a fit out by its housearchitect, Robert O'Hara. So no specifically German food but, hopesKallies, 'a German accent'.
Lighting by Erco, stainless steel mesh by GKD.Fibracoustic panels by AMF. Suntex sliding sun panels from FlydorProducts, blackout blinds by Luxaflex. Sliding gear by Haefele.Suspended tubular ceiling by SAS Internatinal. Parquet flooring byBauwerk, Haltopex trowelled resin flooring by Lasar Contracts, entrancematting from Jaymart and Emco. Doors by Shadboldt, ironmongery by Allgood. Compact laminate from Decra Plastics. Acoustic metal louvres byNaco Air Diffusion. Cinema seating by Auditoria Services.

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