Umwelt Hamburg: The Glass Dune/Ministry of the Environment Building (with Future Systems)

Umweltschutzbehörde, Altona, Hamburg, Germany


In 1992 Brian Clarke and Future Systems (the architectural practice of Jan Kaplický and Amanda Levete) worked together on a collaborative design proposal for the (unrealised) State Ministry for Urban Development and the Environment Building/Umweltschutzbehörde in Hamburg, known as The Glass Dune. The sample panel of stained glass fabricated for the project, a 1:1 scale section of the 'skin of art' conceived for the structure, measuring 322 x 297 cm and first exhibited in Licht und Architektur/Festival of Light 1992 in Ingolstadt, and at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1995, is in the permanent collection of the Corning Museum of Glass.

"The new forms created by Future Systems in their particular blend of organic Modernism provoked an altogether different approach from Brian Clarke. Taking the so-called ‘boomerang’ plan of the building, Clarke constructed an internal ‘skin of art’ that spans the internal plane of glazing. He felt that the bank of escalators climbing through the offices were an important ‘animation’ when viewed from outside and that the view through the wall of glass was equally important for visitors to the building as they used the stairs. Accordingly, he left the central area entirely clear save for two great ribbons of orange and yellow that dart across the space forming a bridge between the halves and lower down skirting the entrance, teasing the public in. The atrial heart of the building would therefore become a dramatic south-facing space enlivened by the movement of people horizontally and vertically and by the passage of light through the complex and delicate skin of colour. All the floors open onto this atrium which also contains shops, restaurants and terrace. All the office floors would directly access this animated and light-filed space. The glass would comprise over 1,100 sq metres (11,840 sq ft) and was designed in 1992." – from the book Frontiers: Artists and Architects, no. 128 of Architectural Design.

"Clarke’s twenty-first century incorporation of antique glass and antique glass techniques manifests an exquisite concern for surface. The materials configure the most profound density (no dark is more absorbent than the double layer of the lead H), and the most absent invisibility, but more often are something in between. His constant concern to ‘enlarge the possibilities of the medium’ is conspicuous in the expansive swathes conceived for the curve of Future Systems’ The Glass Dune/Ministry of Environmental Building, Hamburg (1992), an unlikely location and scale for antique glass. Its great undulation is animated by mimicking curves of leading and graceful imperfections in the glass itself. Bubbles vary and scatter light illuminating it from within." – Carol Jacobi in the essay ‘Weissnichtwo: Brian Clarke and the Global Sublime’.