Stadt & Haus: New Berlin Architecture in the 21st Century


I recently had a copy of  “Stadt und Haus: New Berlin Architecture in the 21st Century” sent to me by Dom publishers – it’s taken me a couple of weeks I’m afraid, due in part to the (ongoing) ‘Hejduk Tower’ campaign.  These two things are related in a roundabout way, which I might mention later.

Anyway, I should firstly mention that the book itself is a thing of beauty – ‘lavishly illustrated’ as they say.  A detailed introduction gives an overview of Berlin’s development, with plenty of maps and images, and each of the twenty or so projects covered feature good photography and include sections and floor plans.

The book’s title, Stadt & Haus*, sets the theme; it aims to present the continuity of urban planning in the capital, highlighting a new style of specifically Berlin architecture which respects the past but is essentially modern.  The projects selected are hotels, offices, apartment blocks and an (apparently) new Berlin typology, the townhouse.  Public buildings, stations, museums, schools and the like are not covered here, which is fair enough – there seems to be an intent here not to create another guidebook featuring yet more photos of the Neues Museum.

The problem with such a selection though is that after a while you start to feel that you’re reading a brochure aimed at enticing people with a lot of money to move here.  The hotels are very expensive, the apartment blocks exclusive, and the townhouses colossal – presumably aimed at ambassadors of richer nations and the independently very wealthy.  The Berlin senate has made no secret of its desire to replace the city’s ‘poor but sexy’ image with that of a cool hangout for those with money;  I’d always dismissed this as hopelessly optimistic (from the senate’s point of view) but flicking through the projects here, you begin to think that perhaps it’s all running to plan.  I often wonder what could possibly be fuelling Berlin’s seemingly neverending gentrification, without the city having any apparent generator of wealth. The case remains open as far as I’m concerned, but this book provides some clues.

Perhaps Stadt & Haus is intended as an antidote to the ‘Architecture Now!’-style publications that cherry pick the best (or at least the most photogenic) new buildings from a city’s output, no matter how unrepresentative.  Maybe the buildings covered here present a more accurate picture of new architecture in Berlin?  It’s not the Berlin I recognise or am drawn to; to be fair the projects are mainly located in that ‘other’ Berlin that feels far from graffiti-tagged Kreuzberg; these designs are corporate Mitte to the core.  Even so, there is much that could have been included here, a selection of new apartments from Prenzlauer Berg perhaps, but which this book seems to be suggesting are not in the spirit of the ‘real’ Berlin, favouring projects like the ones below are:

Above: the Marriott Hotel on Inge-Beisheim Platz by Bernd Albers

Below: interior of the Concorde Hotel in Augsburger Str, by Kleihues & Kleihues

There are some interesting buildings – Chipperfield’s slightly scary apartment block at Potsdamerplatz (deconstructed Speer?), the ‘Slender-Bender‘ house by DEADLINE, cool late modernism by nps tchoban voss in Reinhardtstrasse (I refuse to link to them, as they have a Flash site) and the new terrace of townhouses on Kurstrasse:

These townhouses, by the way, are six to seven storeys, with lifts, and dining rooms that seat up to 30. To me, this is approaching a concept of ‘too much money’, in a city that’s basically broke, but what do I know.

Other areas of the city, and other building types are touched on, but as someone who lives here, I wanted to be told more. There’s a terrace of houses from the new Rummelsburger Bucht district of the city out to the east, where there are some interesting things going on.  Though in the project selected there’s still something slightly timid about its modern take on the Dutch Gable style, which could do with a bit of FATtening up, in my view. (The image below is at Rummelsburg, but not from the book, it’s just that I like it more…)

Overall though, the usual suspects dominate: Kollhoff, Kleihues & Kleihues, Hilmer & Sattler and co glorying in repetitive glazing and those big stonework Prussian facades, which, whatever your architectural taste, seem well made but just not very inspired.  Which leads to my only-slightly-forced link with the Heduk campaign and the IBA.  The introduction to Stadt & Haus suggests a strong continuity between the IBA planning of the 1980s – with its theme of reinstating the 19th Century urban grain – and the post-Wall policy of Critical Reconstruction which has apparently led to many of the projects set out here.  Yet it’s a connection I’m increasingly dubious about.  In West Berlin, the 1980s were a period of great experimentalism in housing; through the IBA, a huge range of approaches, styles and types were tried out by an equally varied range of architects from around the world.  Not all of these buildings were successful, some were not good, some were just bizarre, but the decade left behind a legacy that has still to be fully explored.  Berlin’s post-Wall period however, seems to be increasingly represented by highly competent buildings, efficient in design and professional in construction, but fundamentally dull. 

Stadt & Haus is arguably a more representative sample of Berlin’s current architecture than the highly selective choices of ‘archiporn’ that too often dominate the architectural press.  I guess that I’m just not a fan of this reality.

Stadt & Haus: New Berlin Architecture in the 21st Century, by Philip Meuser, DOM publishers, 2010.

*Stadt & Haus has been translated on the Dom site as “City & House” although it’s worth noting that the German ‘Haus’ has a broader meaning, referring to a block of apartments or other substantial single building.

Berlin Babylon, Stammtisch and other things


Some forthcoming things not to be missed:

On monday night (1st February) a showing of Berlin Babylon – Hubertus Siegert’s seminal documentary film about the reconstruction of prominent parts of Berlin in the 1990s, following many of the key players.  Showing as part of the Berlinsiche Galerie’s Berlin 89/09 season.  I’m working for him at the moment, so am possibly biased, but it’s worth seeing for lots of reasons, not least footage following the late Gunter Behnisch as he walks around the (at the time) semi-ruined Akademie der Kunst, Renzo Piano arguing about glazing details, and Helmut Jahn wearing a silly hat.

Also, if your partner doesn’t mind on Valentine’s Day, there’s the Berlinale Keynotes, with speakers including Norman Foster, Wolf D. Prix and Heinz Emigholz.

A couple of linked events on architecture and urbanism at the forthcoming Transmediale as part of the ‘Futurity Now’ programme: Topology of a Future City and Invisible Cities.

Plus of course ‘my’ regular Stammtisch, which will be on Tuesday 9th Feb (then back to the first Tuesday of each month thereafter) – at Kim – Brunnenstrasse 10, Berlin 10119 – from 8pm.

Disappointingly, I was hoping to arrange a group visit to the Dutch Embassy in February, but access/tours only available monday – thursday, so the planned saturday is not possible.  More on this once I’ve fixed a weekday date.

In summary, worth putting on your snow-wear for.

BERLIM: Reconstrução Crítica


Just back from a very rewarding conference in Porto on “Berlin: Critical Reconstruction“, an event covering, well, just about everything I’m interested in here Berlin.

Speakers included Alvaro Siza Viera, together with other architects who have built, or competed to build, in Berlin, as well as film makers, planners and commentators.

A big question was whether ‘Critical Reconstruction’, i.e. the carefully planned and controlled reconstruction of post-wall Berlin established largely by J P Kleihues through the International Building Exhibition of the 1980s, is now dead.  Strong arguments were put that this was the case – that Critical Reconstruction as a policy had worked when money was pouring into Berlin in the 1990s, with investors and architects having to bend to the will of the city authorities, but is now failing, due to the city’s current desperation to attract any construction investment, however gaudy the proposals.  Understandably, this theory was rejected by those representing Berlin’s planning authority.

It was interesting to hear Siza refer to ‘rich IBA’ and ‘poor IBA’ rather than the official ‘Neubau’ and ‘Altbau’ labels, referring, I guess, to the fact that much of the Altbau work was in the much poorer district of Kreuzberg, as opposed to the Neubau townhouses across in Tiergarten. (For examples compare Siza’s own Bonjour Tristesse block with the buildings at Rauchstrasse.)

I could write for hours on the whole thing, but will resist doing so as I don’t want to deter any readers not passionate about architectural theory.  Instead, will just mention what a beautiful city Porto is, and that in the short period I was there I just had time to see Rem Koolhaas’s spectacular Case da Musica, as well as the finely crafted new metro stations (by Siza’s partner Eduardo Souto de Moura).

The venue for the conference, by the way, was Siza’s own building for the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art.

Need to upload the images I took shortly, in the meantime have stolen a couple from z.z on Flickr.  Actually, well worth a browse:

One of the Metro stations, Casa da Musica, Serralves Museum:

I went on a tour of Rem’s Dutch embassy here in Berlin last week, by the way, so a post on that forthcoming, with lots of comparisons with his Porto building.

Architecture in Berlin (and Porto)


The Iberian peninsula has been at the cutting edge of all things architectural for a while now, but despite this, it also seems to be cornering the market in debating architecture elsewhere.

“Berlin: Critical Reconstruction” is a conference being held 4th – 8th November in Porto, Portugal (if only there was this level of interest here in Berlin…).  It describes itself as

“…providing a forum for debate on the history of architecture and urbanism in the 20th century, by means of a critical reflection on the mythical urban experience of Berlin. The event’s subtitle, ‘Critical Reconstruction’ allows for two interpretations – a direct allusion to the urban planning method developed by the architect Josef Paul Kleihues in the eighties, during the Internationale Bauausstellung – IBA; and the desire to critically reconstruct Berlin, to return to its history, its dilemmas, its controversies, reassessing and debating the results of this method.”

The ‘big day’ is saturday 8th, when speakers will include Álvaro Siza Vieira himself, recent RIBA gold medal winner (not to mention the Pritzker a while back) and a man with previous form here in Berlin of course.

So highly recommended if you’re in Porto/Portugal, or are one of those glamorous people able to shoot off to conferences around the world as the mood takes you.


The IBA 1987, Neubau


So here’s my plan. I’ve so far taken a slightly haphazard approach to logging IBA projects (see original IBA post here), but have now begun the legwork of getting as many books as I could carry from the Berlin TU library and collating a sort of rough database.

‘Why bother at all?’ you might ask. Simply because

a) when I was looking for this information on the web, it wasn’t there, and

b) I’m a nerd, and us nerds are only ever happy when we have a vast list-based project to be getting on with.

The list will have little on it to begin with, but do email me, jim_hudson33 (at), if you’re looking for specific material – I’m probably planning to go there with a camera if I haven’t already…

I’ve also started a Flickr group here, should anyone want to add images.

By way of overview, the International Bauaustelling (IBA) 1987 was divided into Neubau (new building) under Josef Paul Kleihues and Altbau (yes, old building) under Hardt-Waltherr Hämer. The nomenclature is not strict however; ‘Altbau’ projects, mainly in the eastern Kreuzberg district known as SO36, have many elements of newbuild, but usually integrated into existing street blocks. ‘Neubau’ generally applies to the larger scale freestanding construction. The Neubau projects were in four geographical areas; Southern Tiergarten/South Friedrichstadt (the vast majority), Prager Platz, and Tegel Harbour. I’ve listed the projects firstly by their ‘Block number’, which I assume was an allocation system of the IBA’s.

The list below is now a ‘flavour’, with a few links to the full post where relevant.  If you look down the right hand links column of this site, there should be an up-to-date list of everything I’ve done on the subject. It seemed worth putting up, as it’s become a bit of a theme of the blog (some say a nerdy obsession, but hey, we all need a hobby).

Block 1, between Kothener strasse, Bernberger Strasse and Dessauer Strasse. Perhaps its most notable building is O M Ungers contribution.

The block also includes designs by Hans C Müller and Moritz Müller, also on Dessauer Strasse.

Block 2, on Dessauer Srasse 34-40, Stresemannstrasse 105-109, Bernberger Strasse 6-9. Most notable for Zaha Hadid’s residential building on Dessauer Strasse.

Block 3, on Wilhelmstrasse. This is actually the ‘Topography of Terror‘ site, and must have become part of the IBA simply because its design competition was concurrent. The competition scheme in question was not the current one, or even its aborted-during-construction Peter Zumthor predecessor, but a ‘grid of trees’ design by Wenzel, Lang.

Block 4, bounded by Kochstrasse, Wilhelmstrasse, Zimmerstrasse and Friedrichstrasse. It includes Rem Koolhaas/OMA’s block on Friedrichstrasse and, in my opinion, the most impressive enclosed courtyard of the Neubau, with planning and several buildings by by Catalan architects MBM.  I met David Mackay (the second ‘M’ in MBM a while back, who told me some interesting things about his IBA project here, to do with Allied tanks.

Block 5 – a corner block on Kochstrasse 59 / Charlottenstrasse 83, by Hans Kammerer and Walter Kucher.

Block 6, bounded by Dessauer Strasse and Bernberger Strasse. Notable because of its unusual biological water waste disposal system.

Block 9, on Wilhelmstrasse, notable for two quite prominent residential towers.  Don’t get too excited though.  They’re not that impressive really.  (Actually, have just looked again while updating this page, and actually they seem more interesting now, will have to take a second look).

Block 10 – Kochstrasse 1-5, Wilhemstrasse 39.  Includes the prominent corner block by Aldo Rossi, with Jay Johnson, Gianni Braghieri, Christpher Stead.  I don’t seem to have posted on this, just an image on my general IBA 87 post, so here it is again:

Block 11 – Charlottenstrasse 96-98, by John Hejduk.  A tower and two separate wings, oft photographed as one of Berlin’s oddities.

Block 24, including the “Alte Feuerwache” (”Old Firestation”) – a complex of buildings including a youth centre.  By Heinz-Jürgen Drews, in association with Architekturbüro Durchbruch and Ing-Gruppe Ökotec (power-heated-energy system).

Blocks 28 & 31, known as ‘Ritterstrasse North’.  Planned by, and including buildings by, Rob Krier.  Post here, in which I may have confused things by indicating that ‘Ritterstrasse South’ is something separate from Block 33 (see below).  Am now not sure, but it doesn’t really matter – have a wander round the whole area, as it’s interesting, and also you could make a field trip of the whole area, taking in the Jewish Museum itself, as well as Hermann Hertzberger’s Block 30 on the other side of Lindenstrasse, and Erich Mendelsohn’s I G Metall (Metalworkers union building) to the south.

Block 33  – Residential Park ‘Am Berlin Museum’.  This is the southern end of a complex next to the Jewish Museum, between Lindenstrasse (15-19) and Alte Jakobstrasse (129-136).

Block 189 – Known as ‘Rauchstrasse’, bounded by Thomas-Dehler-Strasse, Drakestrasse, Stulerstrsse and Rauchstrasse. Masterplan of whole block by Rob Krier.

  • Thomas Dehler Str. 47, Aldo Rossi
  • Thomas Dehler Str. 46, Henry Nielebock & Partner
  • Thomas Dehler Str. 44, Giorgio Grassi
  • Thomas Dehler Str. 39 / Rauchstrasse 14, Rob Krier (this is the ‘master block’, facing onto Stulerstr)
  • Rauchstrasse 6, Hubert Herrmann
  • Rauchstrasse 8, Hans Hollein
  • Rauchstrasse 10, Rob Krier
  • Rauchstraase 11 – Refurbishmnent of the old Norweigen Embassy, architects: Freie Planungsgruppe Berlin GmbH / R.Weichmayr
  • Landscape architecture, Cornelia Muller, Jan Wehberg, Elmar Knippschild

Block 192 – Rauchstrasse 21 and Corneliusstrasse 11/12 A less written-about IBA project comprising three ‘eco-houses’, by teams led by Frei Otto. Essentially open concrete frames where elements could be added, including gardens, at different floor levels.  At least this was the design idea in the catalogue at the time – the realised buildings appear more substantial. Some related material here.

Blocks 197 & 198 – The Japanese & Italian Embassies During the Cold War years, the Embassy district lay largely abandoned, falling as it did in West Berlin, which was no longer the capital city.  The Italian Embassy was reworked as a cultural centre by Paolo Portoghesi.  Nowadays of course, it’s the Italian Embassy again.

Block 204 – the ‘Wissenschaftszentrum’ (Science centre) by James Stirling and Michael Wilford The project greatly extended an existing building on Reichpietschufer.

Block 220 – on the western side of Lützowplatz, by O M Ungers. Take a good look, because shamefully, it’s in the process of being demolished, for no sound reason I can see. Post blog note: as at July 2009, the front block (pictured) remains, only the rear blocks demolished.

Blocks 227 & 228 – Housing “Am Karlsbad”, Potsdamer Strasse 41-49, Bissingzeile 1-3, Am Karlsbad 1.  By Jürgen Sawade, Hilmer & Sattler, and others.  These buildings don’t do much for me, to be honest, and I’ve whinged about them in a post here.  It’s the bit at the end.

Block 234 – a huge area with one side facing onto Lützowplatz. This includes a corner building on Lützowplatz by Mario Botta, with some flats by Peter Cook & Christine Hawley (he of Archigram fame) next door.  Lots to see, including Max & Karl Dudler’s rather fabulous electricity transformer station at Lützowstrasse 18.

(thanks to IsarSteve from whom I’ve linked a Flickr image here).

Block 608 – Family Court Building by O.M. Ungers, Hallesches Ufer 66-62.

Block 622 – The Jewish Museum.  Not sure to what extent the IBA claimed this as under its jurisdiction, as not relly a part of the programme as such, and is an extension of what was originally the Berlin Museum.

Block 647 – on the north side of Lützowstrasse from Block 234.  Includes an interesting child daycare centre and apartments and individual houses arranged in a rare (for Berlin) mews plan.

Tegeler Hafen – There was also a fairly major development out at Tegel, built around the harbour, which I’ve blogged about in the snow.

Aldo Rossi, Quartier Schützenstrasse


I wouldn’t want anyone to think that my recent post on the 87 IBA was a full-blown defence of postmodernism; it was more about the merits of careful urban planning.  I only mention this because I was walking around Aldo Rossi’s Quartier Schützenstrasse in central Berlin the other day, and was having fairly negative views on po-mo as a style.

It was built in the mid 90s, following the ideas of critical reconstruction developed from the IBA, and is instantly recognisable by its multicoloured facades; it seems at first glance to be a series of different buildings on the same block, each a different (mostly primary) colour.

Despite the interesting layout of its internal courtyards, and the inclusion of one pre-existing building, its basically one big speculative development with the potential to remove internal partitions for continuous office space.

The splitting of the facades into apparently separate buildings is therefore entirely false, and deliberately underlined by the inclusion of a copy of the Renaissance Palazzo Farnese (to the left of the first image).  This is architectural humour, apparently.


It’s admittedly a good antidote to some of the frankly horrible featureless corporate blocks which dominate the area, but the real problem, as ever in architecture, is in the detail.

It’s just all too plastic looking, especially the ‘renaissance’ stone detailing, which, although it is actual stone, looks like plastic panels with visible gaps between; the stonework doesn’t meet the floor.

Anyway, enough already with the moaning.  This was the last dying gasp of PoMo as a style in Berlin, and on the whole gave way to a mixture of straight pastiche and  corporate modernism that frankly isn’t much better.

Location: bounded by Schützenstrasse, Charlottenstrasse, Zimmerstrasse and Markgrafenstrasse.

By way of technical accuracy, the design is jointly by Rossi, with M. Kocher, M. Scheurer, Götz Bellmann and Walter Böhm. I’ve the latter two listed as ‘planning partners’ in various guidebooks. I assume this means that they were involved in the overall planning of the scheme but not the detailed design. This would make sense, as Bellmann and Böhm were the designers of ‘New Hackescher Markt’ – a series of buildings and courtyards to the northeast of Museum Insel.


The Berlin IBA 1987


“… the greatest creations of architecture are not so much the product of individual labour, rather the product of social endeavour, they are things simply cobbled together by working people, rather than inspired inventions of the creative genius, they are the traces a nation leaves behind, the strata desposited by the centuries, the lees of successive evaporations of human society, in short they are a kind of geological formation.”   – Victor Hugo

In the UK, the term postmodernism is still a dirty word; it refers to that clunky jokey-neoclassical architecture that was used to design speculative, planning-restriction-free office developments in the Thatcherite years of the 1980s.

But in Berlin at that time, postmodernism was the style of a different kind of development – carefully planned urban housing and infrastructure projects. In the UK, architects had withdrawn from designing mass housing after the disastrous social experimentation of the 1960s and 1970s. In Germany, they just went back to the drawing board.

In 1979, West Berlin commenced an international competition for reconstructing parts of the city, respecting (or reintroducing) the city’s original urban street plans – the foundation of Critical Reconstruction which was to become the basic principle for rebuilding post-wall Berlin.

Initially, the idea was to have a building exhibition much like the 1957 Interbau (the Hansaviertel) – a one-off presentation of the latest in design at a single site. But the programme was subsequently expanded into an ongoing 10 year research programme of new construction and refurbishment across the city, focusing on areas still completely empty since the war (for new buildings), but also on the ‘SO36′ area of Kreuzberg, which was fast decaying into an urban slum area of squats and low rent, poor quality housing.

The original idea of a ‘building show’ survived, primarily in southern Tiergarten, but for me the integrated refurbishment and rebuilding of the existing grain of Berlin’s Kreuzberg quarter is by far the more interesting part.

IBA stands for Internationale Bauaustellung, by the way. Initially known as ‘the IBA 1984′, delays led to a renaming as ‘the IBA 1987′, although to declare it as any single year belies the underlying principle that it was a long term project, which also founded a company, S.T.E.R.N. to continue its work.

The programme was divided into ‘IBA Neubau’ (new buildings), under Josef Paul Kleihues, and ‘IBA Altbau’ (mainly the repair and alteration of existing blocks), under Hardt-Waltherr Hämer. Neubau was across Tegel, Prager Platz, southern Tiergarten and southern Friedrichstadt, the Altbau in Kreuzberg only. The Altbau programme included many new buildings, such as Alvaro Siza’s Bonjour Tristesse (see below) but the tag was given to signify that such buildings were integrated into existing street blocks.

The buildings noted below are a sampler list – there should be links in the right-hand column of this site covering everything that I’ve written online on the subject.  There’s also a short piece here that I wrote for Blueprint magazine on the subject.

Also, have started a Flickr group here, should you wish to browse more images, or add your own.
The information I’m gradually compiling on this site is a bit of a work in progress.  So for the time being, please excuse the fact that links on many of the pages go back to my old Wordpress blog, and that for some pages, you lose the right-hand links list, with only a list of ‘Pages’ shown.  If you’re browsing IBA pages, best to go back to the main page then via the links again.

One last thought: it’s quite easy to judge these buildings superficially, by the style of their facades, which often have not suffered well at the hands of the architectural fashion-makers. But what strikes you most as you walk around them is the thought that’s gone into the integration of the buildings, especially the communal spaces in the ‘hofs’ behind. Photos don’t really do these justice, but here’s a sample (images link to the relevant piece).

Kurstrasse. How to oppose the Third Reich?


Cycling into the city centre the other day I thought I’d take a new route, down Kurstrasse. It’s still something of a backstreet, despite being a block away from the site of the still-being-demolished DDR Palast Der Republik, but it seems major things are afoot.

One side of the street is entirely filled with the imposing neoclassical bulk of the Foreign Office. It was built as the Reichsbank, one of the first major buildings to be constructed by the Third Reich, to designs by Heinrich Wolff. In between 1945 and now, it’s been the DDR’s Finance Ministry, then the HQ of the ruling SED communist party (and at the same time the seat of the Politburo). The building was extended in the 1990s (Berlin’s main info website understandably downplays the presence of the older, National Socialist, part of the building).

Anyway, everything on the other side of the street is brand new, or still under construction. The new work appears at first glance to be a terrace of tall narrow townhouses, in a range of styles and materials, with generally modernist or half-hearted postmodern frontages.

I’m guessing that the city planners decided that the unforgiving facade of the Foreign Office couldn’t be met by an equivalent monolithic modernist facade across the street – i.e. the type of design which dominates so much of Berlin’s new government district. It might lead to uncomfortable comparisons. I’m also guessing that they then had two choices:

a) A single huge design for the street, but employing a less ’severe’ architectural approach, which broke it down into more humanely scaled elements. Takes a very good architect to pull it off.

b) Breaking the facade up into what appears to be a whole series of separate buildings, each one different, where the quality of architecture in itself is not so prominent – i.e. the option that’s being built.

Post-blog note: an amendment.  As I recently learned at a conference in Porto, these buildings are indeed all separate plots, and in separate ownership, and largely residential townhouses.  The financial model used was quite deliberate, as an attempt to bring new ownership and new residents into this otherwise pretty dead part of town.  In terms of getting things built, this seems to have worked well.  The aspect I’m less sure of is whether the differing height and style of each building seems a little posed.  Despite their longing to appear individual, they’re clearly of the same age, and very similar in all but the most superficial styling.

A more successful attempt at the same idea (at least in terms of architecture) is perhaps in the eastern docks area of Amsterdam.  But that’s the Dutch for you.

Anyway, enough chat, here’s the photos of the street. For safety reasons, I got off the bike before taking them.

Foreign Office, originally Finance Ministry

The Foreign Office/Finance Ministry, built 1933-40. It’s no shrinking violet, is it?

Foreign Office - new extension

The new extension, by Thomas Müller and Ivan Reimann (the entrance is on Werderscher Markt, round the corner).

And then the other side of the road:

Kurstrasse, south side

Kurstrasse, new buildings Kurstrasse 2

Kurstrasse Kurstrasse

Kurstrasse Note the strange stonework, enlarged below:


A Journey to the End of the Strasse


After my rant the other day about how I didn’t think much of Berlin’s big ’set piece’ post-wall architectural planning, I thought I’d try for something a bit more positive.

It’s occurred to me that a lot of the stuff that I really like is in the city’s neighbourhoods, and generally smaller residential projects. The sun made a special guest appearance a few days ago (Berliners stared at it for a while, confused, then continued with their lives) so I took the opportunity to take a few snaps of what’s within a few hundred metres of me, here in Kreuzberg.

Other than the first two, I wouldn’t describe many of these buildings as ‘great’ architecture, just surprisingly good buildings considering that they don’t ‘need’ to be; there are no grand gestures making statements about a reunited Germany, nothing done with postcards in mind. In Britain, there would be much less chance of this kind of thig being done well.

On the opposite corner next to us on the canalside is HH Müller’s Abspannwerk, a huge dark brick building which doesn’t look much at a glance, but is all in the detail. Built in 1924-26 as an electrical transformer station, it’s one of two still surviving which Müller designed; confusingly, part of the building is now occupied by an upmarket restaurant which takes his name.

HH Müller, Abspannwerk

It’s not ‘all that’, you’re thinking, but ooh the detailing…

H H Müller, Abspannwerk 2

H H Müller, Abspannwerk

A few hundred metres further down the canal, but six decades later, is a whole terrace of buildings on Fraenkelufer, built for the 1987 IBA (International Bauausstellung). Thinking had moved on from the Hansa quarter of the ‘57 Interbau (see previous blog on this) – the new blocks are carefully inserted between retained facades of 19th century apartments, with a large landscaped courtyard behind. It’s all unfashionably postmodern – hardline modernists shouldn’t scroll any further – you won’t like it. But at the same time it’s quite genuine architecture. The wonky columns really are supporting the buildings, and it’s a patchwork, quirky development that I can imagine living in.

I’ve read, but not sure if geographically precisely true, that this particular site had already been cleared for a proposed motorway route in the 1970s. The motorway was never built, which was just as well, as it is unclear to me why the hermetically sealed island of West Berlin (as it was at the time) needed a huge orbital motorway at all. Maybe it was so west Germans could drive round and round next to the Wall in their new cars, to create some Ossi envy.

View on the canal bank:

Buildings on Fraenkelufer, 87 Interbau

Interior courtyard:

Fraenkelufer, interior cortyard, 87 Interbau

For the record, it’s by Hinrich and Inken Baller, 1982-84, as part of the IBA exhibition that culminated in 1987.

Not sure who designed the next few, and of various styles (and qualities), but the point perhaps is their proximity in such a small locality.

Church school and apartments on Lausitzer/Paul-Lincke-Ufer:

Church school and apartments on Lausitzer Strasse

…and its bell:

Church school on Lausitzer/Paul-Lincke-Ufer - bell

129-130 Reichenberger Strasse – an exercise in bright colour:

129-130 Reichenberger Strasse

A church on Plan Ufer:

Church on Plan Ufer

Finally, and you probably won’t like this, a huge concrete hospital which overlooks a quite pretty stretch of the canal at a point where it widens, with grassy banks and pleasure boats. Not a beautiful building perhaps, but the detailed design is very thorough. For some reason it feels Canadian to me – the sort of building featured in early Cronenberg movies, and evoked by Boards of Canada. You’ll have to take my word for this.

Krankenhaus Am Urban

Krankenhaus Am Urban - detail

Note the Rogers-like vent pipes – about the only detail which breaks from the austere concrete.

Am Kupfergraben 10, David Chipperfield


I’m getting loads of hits at the moment from searches for ‘David Chipperfield Berlin’ which I guess are all looking for stuff about the Neues Museum.  Sorry!  The building will open as a museum ‘proper’ in October.   My own brief post and images here.

My original post, on Chipperfield’s slightly older building which is directly opposite the Neues Museum:

Just a quickie, to post a photo of David Chipperfield’s gorgeous new ’townhouse for the arts’ in central Berlin.  It’s actually much bigger in person than it may appear here, as the storey heights are very tall.  (Obviously, it’s hard to do a full scale photo of a building in a blog, unless you’re reading this on a screen the size of a building.  You’re probably not.)

The surrounding area is a building site at the moment (an unavoidable side effect of making buildings, I guess) so the pictures lack that archi-pornographic quality: the absence of people, cars and the general mess of urbanity.

Chipperfield Gallery 2

Chipperfield Gallery 1

Am Kupfergraben 10, David Chipperfield

Am Kupfergraben 10, David Chipperfield

Am Kupfergraben 10, David Chipperfield

Am Kupfergraben 10, David Chipperfield

Chipperfield is rather big with the Germans – he just won Britain’s Stirling Prize for his Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach am Neckar, and his massive project for the re-ordering of Berlin’s Museum Island is currently under construction (across the road from the gallery shown here).

Needless to say that although he’s a British architect, he’s built very little in Britain.  In part this is because

a) he’s not Norman Foster

b) the British have no time for architects who talk about anything but lettable floor area.

The BBC dumped him from the detailed design of their new Glasgow centre, which he claims he won’t step foot in until he gets an apology from the DG.  His most notable UK building prior to this was Henley’s very low-key River & Rowing Museum.

Not that Berlin’s recent architecture is beyond criticism. The designs by various starchitects* which have filled in great swathes of post-Wall wilderness since the early 1990s (Potsdamerplatz in particular) are, shall we say, not their best work.  And since then Berlin seems to be sliding dangerously into a ‘non-critical reconstruction’ of its past, the most notable example being the planned reconstruction of the Royal Palace on the site of the old GDR Palas Der Republik.  Presumably the fact that the Germans have no royal family, and cannot agree on what to put in the building, are issues that can be addressed, well, some other time.

So it’s good to occasionally see a new building which isn’t in thrall to corporate glazing or historicist pastiche.

Chipperfield has an office here in Berlin, by the way.  The most notable other completed project is some apartments he did overlooking a small park area round the back of Potsdamerplatz (behind the Sony Centre).  I’ve borrowed a couple of images here from Exe on Flickr, hope he doesn’t mind.  He’s got a much better one of Am Kupfergraben as well, without clutter.

*I hate this term but it seems increasingly apt these days.