Interview with Christoph Struhk (Modulor)
Mr. Struhk, are you from Berlin? Nope, I was born in Braunschweig, but I've been living here in Berlin since 1987.
How exactly does your own personal Berlin story begin? I visited Berlin a lot when I was young. I used to love being here, even back then.
Tell us a bit about that era. Things were quite different back then, at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s. Everything was much more political; there were lots of squats and broken-down city neighborhoods. But back then, Kreuzberg's atmosphere was something special for me.
How did you come to found Modulor? I originally came here to study architecture at TU Berlin. My father is an architect and I come from what you might call an architecture family. As soon as I started studying, I noticed right away that you couldn't buy model building materials for architects in Berlin. My best friend then and now, Christian Ebbecke, studied economics, so we founded Modulor together in Berlin. We basically just tried it out. Back then, it had nothing to do with being a "startup" like it would be today. We just really wanted to find out how things worked; we were curious, energetic and interested in gaining experience. The company was very successful within the first two years, and after that we were able to completely support ourselves as students. The most important insight for me from that time was finding out that building materials play an important role in other professions and industries, too – not just in architecture. And the need for these materials was already evident back then. This is why I took Modulor even further and continued to do it all these years.
What would you say is Modulor's best souvenir for tourists? Definitely our Modulor Musterkiste ("Modulor Sample Box"): it contains 199 quality samples from our collection, a good cross-section and decision-making aids for the selection of colors, materials and surface structures.
How did you experience Berlin after the Wall came down? Berlin was very much alive. There were many more open spaces – although some of them are still there today, thank goodness. Active, innovative companies had great opportunities for growth because the Berlin economy in both parts of the city had so much catching up to do. Even in West Berlin, so many companies still operated as if it was the 1960s. Ultimately, they were not able to compete as soon as companies from West Germany came here.
What kind of influence does Berlin have on you and the Modulorhaus as a city of design and creative processes, i.e. as a site of creative production? Even more than 20 years after the fall of the Wall, there are still open spaces here, and many of them are occupied by creatives from all sorts of backgrounds. This applies to urban spaces but also in a social and sociopolitical sense. This creative physical and mental space is what needs to exist for new ideas to emerge and creativity to unfold. Creativity always emerges out of dissatisfaction; in its very nature, it is a process that is connected to incompleteness, disorder, flexibility and vibrancy. Berlin would do good to make sure that these prerequisites for creative work are maintained over the long term. This is difficult and can only be achieved with creative ideas. On the other hand, to use creatives as the spearhead of gentrification is counterproductive. Instead, we should be aware that open spaces bring a certain level of disorder that can be beneficial to all of us.
How would you describe the Berlin style in terms of a) design ideas b) the use of materials c) approaches/statements that are made? In terms of design, I don't really see any particular Berlin style. Nor do I see anything in the use of materials that is any different from other European cities. However, there's a lot more improvisation going on in Berlin; here, people work with what they have – maybe because you can live relatively cheaply here. People from all over the world can still live and work here in their chosen creative professions.
What would you consider the ideal souvenir from Berlin? An ideal Berlin souvenir would definitely transport the feeling and lifestyle of the city and wouldn’t focus exclusively on formal or historical aspects. Off the top of my head, I could imagine a seed bomb that you could throw somewhere so that flowers would bloom there the following year. That would be a creative way of dealing with open spaces. Plus it would also have an element of process, which makes Berlin such a great place, in my opinion, because there is a limited effect you can have on the result. At the moment, the Prinzessinnengärten are the best representative of the current atmosphere in Berlin.
How do you see Berlin developing as a design city in the next ten years? I have a problem with the term "design" the way it's used today. In contrast to creativity, design is always targeted towards something finished – something that is usually related to some sort of consumption. Seen in this context, design and Berlin – as it is perceived today – contradict one another. If I interpret design in its broadest sense by using the term "creation," and if I understand this concept in its entirety, i.e. if I consider the social and sociopolitical aspects and not just the formal and functional aspects – which is something that is most definitely done here in Berlin – then I believe that Berlin will continue to play a definitive role in Europe for a very long time. The prerequisite for this, however, is a willingness to make bold decisions and take certain risks.
Your Planet Modulor on Moritzplatz was a very bold, pioneering and successful move. What is your next move in Berlin? I'm not quite sure at this time. Modulor and Planet Modulor haven't yet entirely fulfilled my expectations. There's still work to be done there. After that, we'll see what comes.