Verlagshaus Braun, 2008. Edited by the Deutscher Werkbund Berlin.
Majority of text in german and english, with some of the english texts slightly summarised. Short building descriptions are in german only, but fairly easy to work out.
Bruno Taut is accepted as one of the founding fathers of modern architecture, although his work was apparently mocked at the time by the press as an architect of ‘little people’s happiness’, which in retrospect seems an odd sort of insult. He’s also one of those, like Poelzig or Mies, whose designs spanned the pre-modern to the modern; it often seems to be the case with figures such as these that their early work is left out of the historical account, as it doesn’t fit with the revolutionary narrative of modernism.
Not so here – the book is both a good introduction to Taut’s work, and a well-researched and thorough guide to all of his buildings in Berlin, from 1908 onwards, both destroyed and extant. Each project is set out with example floor plans, contemporary and original images, site location plans and text. But it’s the chronological ordering that’s so effective, as you can clearly see the development of Taut’s ideas from some relatively undistinguished buildings, through to the colourful large scale estates mentioned in the title. This also gives the lie to the ‘hermetically sealed’ historical view of modernism; rather, the architecture develops gradually through what we know as ‘modernist’ design, and you have the feeling that creating a sleek white minimal look was in any case not Taut’s overriding aim. In fact the colour schemes of some of the estates, generally recently restored to their former glory and reproduced in the book, could be described politely as ‘exuberant’.
There are some good essays on Taut’s membership of the Deutscher Werkbund (who are responsible for the publication of the book itself), his work with light and colour, and the preservation of his work in later years. Incredibly, Taut built over 10,000 apartments in Berlin. Of Berlin’s six housing estates recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status, four are by Taut; the book includes an essay on the status and preservation of Taut’s legacy. Since you ask, the four estates are:
- Tuschkastensiedlung Falkenberg, 1913-16
- Wohnstadt Carl Legien in Prenzlauer Berg, 1928-30
- Hufeisensiedlung Britz, 1925-30 (the ‘Horseshoe’ estate)
- Siedlung Schillerpark im Wedding
What was also fascinating was to discover that two of Taut’s earliest buildings are in my immediate neighbourhood, both located on what I had considered to be the architecturally barren street of Kottbusser Damm, south of the canal. Clearly I don’t look up enough when walking down the street (I generally watch the pavement in Neukoln/Kreuzberg, where dog owners take a laissez-faire attitude).
The first is no. 2-3, a block which remained a postwar ruin until the 1980s, until it was rebuilt, bizarrely, by Inken and Hinrich Baller, who are themselves no strangers to this blog. Originally, the block included a cinema in the lower storeys.
It’s all Taut at the front:
but Baller at the back:
Just down the road is a quite different building, but also 1909. What strikes you most is the Arts & Crafts styling, which was never completely lost to Taut in his later work:
The book is packed with the level of detail that I like. I was interested to note that the Haus des Deutschen Verkehrsbundes (the state traffic office) on Engeldamm, originally had its limestone facing painted over in a dark colour, which seems a little contrary to logic, but does emphasize the importance of colour in Taut’s architecture:
(Image by Julien Valle, who has also photographed brother Max Taut’s building just south on Oranienplatz. In fact he’s photographed lots of things that I meant to get round to but haven’t – well worth a look. Anyway, back at the book review…)
In some ways the sub-title ‘Master of Colourful Architecture…’ is a little misleading (as well as being slightly clunky in english) despite the inclusion of an essay on the enormous importance of colour in Taut’s work. I make this not really as a criticism though, because what comes through most from the book is Taut’s dedication to better living conditions for ordinary people, achieved through design, and the strong influence of the english Garden City movement; more Letchworth and lawns, than Mies and modernism.