O.M. Ungers: Drawing a metaphor

Diogo Lopes and Fanny Noël

Oswald Mathias Ungers and Peter Riemann, Final archipelago drawing for Berlin: A Green Archipelago. Urban Planning Manifesto, 1977. Pen, ink and colour pencil on transparent paper, 675 x 635 mm. UAA Ungers Archiv für Architkturwissenschaft, Köln.

This drawing emerged within the framework of a summer school in Berlin, organized by Oswald Mathias Ungers for his Cornell students in 1977. The project was developed by the German architect together with his assistants, Peter Riemann, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Kolhoff and Arthur Ovaska and it offers a vision for a city undergoing a process of population decline. Ungers, who would later publish the book entitled Morphologie: City Metaphor (1982), depicts an image of a green archipelago, where architectural ensembles would become ‘islands’ and the space between them ‘an ocean of vegetation’. A relatively simple composition, solely consisting of figures and ground. To compose the drawing, the imagery of cartography is invoked. A grid of meridians and parallels defines the ground, similar to what one might find on nautical charts. This element fills the board in its entirety, passing through the boundary of Berlin, represented by a simple line. It ignores the urban fabric of the old streets and avenues and draws a great void. This grid is only interrupted by a series of colourful three-dimensional figures, with no particular anchor—like ships floating in an immense ocean. 

The intention to represent a metaphor of the project rather than the project itself is particularly relevant. Ungers was not interested in defining what the ocean of vegetation was. He knew it was an immense task and that it should include the unpredictability and variety associated with nature. In contrast, the architectural strength of the selected remnants is reinforced. These are transformed into environmental figures and their silhouettes, better defined with colour gradients, help to charge the spaces in-between through their magnetic relationships. Ungers draws a metaphor for the city in a poetic manner that is open enough and still relevant today.[1]

Oswald Mathias Ungers, Map of building structures in Berlin for Berlin: A Green Archipelago. Urban Planning Manifesto, 1977. Ink on transperant paper, 650 x 620 mm. UAA Ungers Archiv für Architkturwissenschaft, Köln.


  1. Rem Koolhaas and Oswald Matthias Ungers, The City in the City. Berlin: A Green Archipelago, ed. by Florian Hertweck and Sébastien Maron (Baden, Switzerland: Lars Müller, 2013).

Fanny Noël and Diogo Lopes are architects and co-founders of CABINET in Geneva, Switzerland. They respectively studied at EAVT Paris-Est and at the University of Coimbra before establishing their joint practice in 2019. Fanny and Diogo combine the office’s activities with cultural and academic contributions, teaching at EPFL Lausanne and AAM Mendrisio, and participating in conferences, exhibitions, and juries at various universities.