Heavy Load-Bearing Modernity: A Cultural Geology of Albert Speer’s Berlin/Germania
In my dissertation, “Heavy Load-Bearing Modernity: A Cultural Geology of Albert Speer’s Berlin/Germania,” I unpack the complex material, cultural, and intellectual history of the heavy load-bearing cylinder, a soil mechanical test-load built by the Nazis in Berlin in 1941 to examine the geological profile of the nationalist cosmopolis. The massive ferroconcrete cylinder is 46 feet tall, has a diameter of 69 feet, and weighs 12,650 tons, which is more than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Statue of Liberty in New York, and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro combined. Underneath it are measurement chambers, which go as deep as 60 feet underground. Hitler's architect Albert Speer ordered the cylinder in order to prepare for the construction of a gigantic Triumphal Arch as part of a projected (but largely unrealized) transformation of Berlin into the monumental neoclassical capital of the world: Germania. Designed to trump the canon of classical architecture in terms of size, Germania was supposed to feature the world’s largest (and heaviest) monuments. These plans capitalized on forced labor, deportation, and large-scale demolition and were deeply tied into the network of concentration camps. Shaped by my training in literary studies, I turned my analytical lens towards a brutalist piece of ferroconcrete to translate abstract construction data into a culturally legible language. I argue that the heavy load-bearing cylinder as an engineering blueprint for both fascist imperial fantasies and the modern metropolis was forged in a crucible of progress, ambition, megalomania, and destruction. As such, it is the dialectical emblem of German fascist modernity. To tell this story, I draw upon my findings from fieldwork, spatial ethnographic research, and archival studies, and I examine an extraordinary trove of documents from the disciplines of soil mechanics, architecture, and urban planning through a philosophical and cultural-historical framework, as well as unseen maps, construction plans, geological measurements, correspondences, transactions, experiment reports, photographs, and more.