Gil Wilk and Ana Salinas  

Wilk Salinas: Filling Berlin’s lost spaces with realized vision

By David Sokol

“Stupid projects.” The phrase comes up repeatedly in conversation with German-born Gil Wilk and Spaniard Ana Salinas, whose eponymous studio is based in Berlin. “It is something that is fun for us,” Wilk explains, but he adds, “These are projects that everyone says will not work.”

Admiralsbad, Berlin, Germany
Image courtesy Wilk Salinas
Admiralsbad, Berlin, Germany, 2011

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The architects coupled earlier in the decade while both were working at Tenerife, Spain–based AMP Arquitectos, and they hatched eccentric ideas and entered competitions on nights and weekends. During normal business hours Wilk oversaw a seemingly impossible AMP proposal to fruition in Berlin: the Badeschiff, a pool floating in the Spree River comprising a converted barge linked to two pine decks. After a successful launch in summer 2004, the client commissioned Wilk to create a removable cover that would permit the Badeschiff to stay open in winter. “Then Gil phoned me that I had to come to Berlin,” Salinas recalls. “It is an accident that we are here, but a good one.”

To transform the river pool into its cold-weather version, a series of bowed Glulam beams line the long sides of each of the three floating platforms. Two layers of PVC are stretched over that lightweight armature, and iron tubing and cirsscrossing steel cables provide lateral bracing. Each piece, some of which comprise multiple components, can be assembled by hand, and the resulting loaf-shaped volumes  enclose swimming pools as well as a sauna and cafeteria. Whereas working in the orthogonal geometry of the barge would have made patrons feel cramped, the Winterbadeschiff’s elliptical form, Salinas says, “maintains the original relationship with the river.” It began defying the elements in 2005.

Wilk-Salinas officially opened the following year and today the firm employs four. The consortium of retired actors that owns and operates Badeschiff went on to commission Klangkörper, a temporary performance space for Berlin’s Royal Court Opera while its original house underwent restoration. Before the project halted prematurely, the architects had planned to daintily insert a paper-thin stage and cantilevered risers in an industrial-era shed. “Opera is very classical, and I think this would have been a kind of experiment,” Wilk says of providing an unpolished, almost tenuous context for the traditional entertainment. Meanwhile, other clients have approached the architects to design more pools—a crisp addition to a recreational lakeshore in Hamburg, for example, and a fanning, multilevel configuration of indoor pools inspired by the Fellini film La Dolce Vita and inserted into the upper floors of a historic Berlin theater.

The good accident suits Wilk-Salinas’s creative process. “Berlin is full of lost spaces few people see the potential of,” Wilk says of the firm’s local work. Salinas says that, more generally, “We don’t usually start with a form; we will work with an idea or a narrative from the beginning.” In other words, a spirit of stupidity unites much of oeuvre. Indeed, the duo recently won government approval to convert a historic, decommissioned railroad bridge into a hotel. In what may be its biggest what-if project yet, now all Wilk-Salinas has to do is to find a developer to realize it.

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