Repairing run-down buildings one Lego at a time

The colourful plastic toy bricks you may have noticed patching up buildings around Europe recently have nothing to do with municipal budget cuts. Shannon Smith examines a Berlin-based artist’s quirky open-air installations.

Repairing run-down buildings one Lego at a time
Photo: Kathleen Waak

Jan Vormann hopes you remember your youthful fondness for Lego.

The Berlin-based artist’s “Dispatchwork” project appears simple enough at first glance: observant passersby in the German captial’s Mitte district this summer could spot chromatic constellations of Lego and other building blocks filling holes in the facades of buildings on the Humboldt University campus.

Still pockmarked from World War II and 40 years of communist neglect, the surfaces proved to be the perfect candidates for Vormann’s exercise in collaborative repair.

“We wanted to demonstrate the effect of filling a hole, but also how a repair can highlight it,” the 26-year-old artist told The Local recently.

On certain days, lucky passersby and visitors to the exhibit – sponsored by Berlin gallery Jarmuschek+Partner – could be seen altering the installation, removing, rearranging and reusing the toy bricks as they saw fit. Vormann described public participation as a fundamental aspect of the project.

Click here for photo gallery of the art project.

“I think one of the reasons people are so willing to join in is the excitement inspired by building blocks and creation,” Vormann said. “Almost everyone has some sort of emotional connection to Legos.”

Berlin was one of several stops including Bocchignano, Italy, Tel Aviv, Israel, Amsterdam, Belgrade, Serbia and most recently St. Petersburg, Russia. Vormann said the idea originated as part of a project called 20Eventi on an invitational trip through the Sambina region of Italy.

“I began noticing that the locals would make repairs to damaged walls and other structures with whatever they had lying around,” he explained. “They were repairs made out of necessity, and the special thing was that it worked. In fact, often times something more beautiful was born.”

The Amsterdam leg of the art project took place in cooperation with the Institute for Achitecture ARCAM and Platform 21, an organisation and self-described design platform, which touts repairing rundown objects as a valuable and endangered undertaking. It’s Repair Manifesto has already been downloaded more than a million times, according to the group.

“Whereas our Western society is trained to always want the newer, better and shinier version, dismissing chipped or superficially damaged items as broken, Jan Vormann is not afraid to make his repairs visible,” explained Dewi Pinatih of Platform 21.

Vormann’s work “shows what repair should be about: a hefty dose of improvisation, mixing old and new techniques and materials and above all, he’s having fun with it.”

Representatives of Platform 21 contacted Vormann and were quick to recruit him as a platform ambassador. Not long after, select parts of Amsterdam received their own “Dispatchwork” repair treatment.

“It was incredible to see a group of serious adults turn into people enthusiastically playing and digging through their bags of Lego looking for the right brick,” recalls Pinatih.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.