Berlin: Modern Classics

Berlin is a treasure box for those interested in 20th-century architecture. Works of a big number of the most important modern and contemporary architects worldwide can be found here.

My portfolio consists of three parts:

  1. Modernist buildings of the period preceding World War II (Neue Sachlichkeit, Brick Expressionism, Modernist housing estates).
  2. Post-war Modernist buildings.
  3. Some examples of Deconstructivist and contemporary architecture.

The list is in no way complete, but includes a number of very famous buildings.

I took most photos in January 2016. Two photos are from March 2013 and three from April 2016.

You will find the locations of the mentioned buildings on the map below:

 

Part One: Prewar Modernism

 

1. AEG Turbine Factory

Huttenstraße 12-16, Moabit
Peter Behrens, 1908-1910

The Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG) was an important producer of electrical equipment in Germany in the early 20th century. It is known as one of the first major manufacturers to develop a label, to distinguish its products from those its competitors. It was also the first firm to invest in the art of industrial design. The design consultant of the AEG was Peter Behrens, who had been a member of the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony, the director of the Kunstgewerbeschule in Düsseldorf, and a founding member of the Deutscher Werkbund. Behrens was not only responsible for the creation of a corporate image for the AEG and for the industrial design of its products, he also designed the factory that the AEG needed for the production of turbines.

It was common at that time that industrial buildings were masked by Historicist façades. The turbine factory of the AEG was revolutionary in that it consists of a frame of steel columns that separate huge glass panels. Together with the gable ends on the sides, they make one think of Ancient Greek temples. Such a structure had a big influence on the development of industrial architecture in the 20th century. Berhens’ work also had an impact on Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, all of whom belonged to his circle of students and assistants at the time of the construction of this modern Parthenon.

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2. Mossehaus

Schützenstraße 18-25, Mitte
Erich Mendelsohn, 1921-1923

This building dates from two different periods. The sandstone fronts in Gründerzeit style belong to a building designed by Wilhelm Cremer and Richard Wolffenstein in 1900-1903. That building was damaged during the Spartacist uprising in January 1919. In the early 1920s it was renewed by Erich Mendelsohn, whose Einstein Tower, a landmark of Expressionist architecture, had just been completed. Mendelsohn added two extra stories to the old building and renewed its corner, breaking completely with its conventional structure. The corner was seen by Mendelsohn as the focus of movement, at the junction of streets, as opposed to a static entrance in the middle of a façade. The dynamism is also emphasised by long strong horizontal lines, which make it the first streamlined building in architecture. As such it had a big influence on the Streamline Moderne architecture of the 1930s. The building housed the printing press and offices of liberal newspapers (such as Berliner Tageblatt) owned by Rudolf Mosse.

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3. Kreuzkirche

Hohenzollerndamm 130, Schmargendorf
Ernst & Günther Paulus, 1927-1929

The Evangelical Church of the Cross is an important example of Brick Expressionist architecture in Berlin. Its most noteworthy parts are the 54 metres high tower with its pyramidal copper spires, the stonework, the zig-zag frieze and the carved pillars of Oldenburg clinker stone, and the portal canopy made of blue glazed ceramics.

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4. Kino Babylon

Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße 30, Mitte
Hans Poelzig, 1928-1929

In the late-1920s, Hans Poelzig designed eight blocks of buildings at Bülowplatz (today Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz). The block that houses the Babylon Cinema is the only one left of that complex. It is located on a triangular plot of land opposite to the Volksbühne. Entrance to the cinema is on the short front on Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße.

The façade is covered with ochre-coloured plaster and is enlivened by the striped enclosure of window rows in light yellow and by a wide overhanging moulding of the roof plate. Full in the sense of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), the original interior design was characterized by the economic usage of material and the utilisation of colours and forms to create an emotional impact. The goal of the 1999-2001 redevelopment of the building was not to preserve the original state but to show to the visitors the different eras of its construction (so, for example, the foyer is original, whereas the auditorium is from 1948).

Today the cinema is one of the venues of the Berlinale.

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5. WOGA-Komplex: Kino Universum

Kurfürstendamm 153, Wilmersdorf
Erich Mendelsohn, 1925-1931

This horseshoe-shaped building at Lehniner Platz was designed for the film company UFA and originally housed the Universum Cinema. It was part of the WOGA Complex, which also included apartment blocks, lawns, a shopping street, a café-restaurant, a cabaret theatre, and a hotel.

The Universum Cinema was one of the first Modernist cinemas in the world. Until then film theatres had been constructed primarily in Moorish, Egyptian, and Baroque styles. Erich Mendelsohn, the architect, is quoted to have said, ‘No Baroque palaces for Buster Keaton!’

The building is also an important example of the Neue Sachlichkeit architecture. Its façade has a massive ventilation tower that towers over the long smooth horizontal lines of the rest of the building like a ship’s keel. Such a design influenced a number of Streamline Moderne cinemas in the 1930s.

The building’s original interior was lost during World War Two. Since 1978-1981 it is home to the acclaimed Schaubühne theatre.

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6. Weiße Stadt

Otto Rudolf Salvisberg, Martin Wagner, Bruno Ahrends, Wilhelm Büning & Ludwig Lesser, 1929-1931

The Weiße Stadt, or the White City, is one of the six Modernist housing estates of Berlin listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was commissioned by Martin Wagner, the head of the city planning and the driving force behind most other social housing projects in Berlin at the time.

The buildings, designed according to the principles of the Neue Sachlicheit movement, are predominantly white. There are altogether 1,286 flats in buildings of three to five storeys. The average surface of a flat is 50 square metres, but this includes a bathroom, a WC, and a loggia. At the time of construction almost all the flats had a central heating.

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One of the most distinctive buildings of the estate is the ‘Brückenhaus’, or the Bridge House, a five-storey building with balconies stretching across the Aroser Allee.

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The estate boasted with a sophisticated infrastructure, which included a thermal power station, two community laundry rooms, a nursery, a medical centre, a pharmacy, and 24 retail stores.

Because of the names of the streets around the complex, the estate is also known as the Swiss Quarter.

 

7. Onkel Toms Hütte

Bruno Taut, Hugo Häring & Otto Rudolf Salvisberg, 1926-1932

Onkel Toms Hütte is a Modernist housing estate in Zehlendorf, Berlin. The area where it is located got its name from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852. In 1885, a local landlord named Thomas opened a pub-restaurant at the southern rim of the Grunewald forest and installed a number of small huts, subsequently known as ‘Tom’s cabins’, in his beer garden to shelter his guests from the rain. Over the years the name came to be used to refer to the whole area.

The housing estate comprises 1,100 multi-family and 800 single-family homes. Taut designed the northern part, Häring the eastern part, and Salvisberg the southern part of the estate. The design of the buildings is, as typical to Neue Sachlichkeit, clear and simple. Monotony is avoided by using variations in colours, shapes, and sizes. The mechanical lines of the buildings are softened by homely details, such as asymmetric windows and individual doors.

The closeness of the nature was also taken into account in the design, and vegetation is important in the estate’s overall effect. Housing blocks are broken up at intervals with unpredictable paths, roads, and parks.

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8. Building of the German Transport Association / Taut-Haus

Engeldamm 70 / Michaelkirchplatz 1-2, Mitte
Max & Bruno Taut, 1927-1932

This office building was originally designed by Bruno Taut. It was according to the plan of his brother Max Taut, however, that the building was constructed. It is made of reinforced concrete and has six floors, the upper floor slightly receding. The façade, characterised by the rhythm based on the repetition of multipartite windows, is in the Neue Sachlicheit style. It was originally made of dark stone. The current light limestone façade dates from the 1949-1951 reconstruction. Like in case of Erich Mendelsohn’s Mossehaus, the emphasis is on the round corner.

Today the building is divided into apartments and has company offices on the ground floor. It is seen as a symbol of social injustice and the negative consequences of gentrification, and is regularly featured in the local news because of the attacks carried out against it by the radical left.

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9. Shell-Haus

Reichpietschufer 60-62, Tiergarten
Emil Fahrenkamp, 1930-1932

This building housed the headquarters of the mineral oil company Rhenania-Ossag, a Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary. It comprises four wings, situated around a four-sided inner courtyard. Its most noteworthy aspect is the undulating main façade, which jumps forward in six gentle waves while increasing in height. Horizontal windows, which cover most of the façade, wrap themselves gracefully around the corners. This was one of the first curved-glass and steel-framed buildings in Berlin.

The façade was made of autoclaved aerated concrete and clad with Roman travertine tiles from Tivoli. To protect the building’s steel scaffolding from the vibrations caused by traffic, air slots under the passageways around the building were constructed.

The Shell House is considered to be one of the most significant office block designs of the Weimar Republic. Hitler is known to have hated it. Wim Wenders, on the other hand, loved it and featured it in his Summer in the City in 1970.

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10. Hufeisensiedlung

Bruno Taut, Martin Wagner, Leberecht Migge & Ottokar Wagler, 1925-1933

The Hufeisensiedlung, or the Horseshoe Estate, is located in Neukölln. Of the six Modernist housing estates of Berlin that are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it is probably the most important important. It is considered to be one of the most outstanding examples of the innovative German town planning of the 1920s.

The housing estate got its name from an impressively curved 350-meter structure. It consists of 25 housing units that are joined together around a pond dating back to the ice age.

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The estate consists of 1,285 flats in three-storey buildings and of 679 terraced houses, each with a garden and a small terrace. It covers around 29 hectares and is divided to six sections. The seventh section, located south-east of the junction of Fritz-Reuter-Allee and Parchimer Allee, was built without the involvement of Bruno Taut and is not part of the World Heritage Site.

Taut, the chief architect of this as well as three other UNESCO estates in Berlin, was most known as the master of colours. Here the façades of the terraced houses are painted in dark red, yellow ochre, deep blue, and gleaming white. The front and rear façades are often designed in separate colour combinations. Doors, windows and individual building elements of the blocks of flats such as loggias, stairwells, or attic floors are included in this play of colours and are painted to contrast with the façades. Further contrasts are created by the use of bright red and yellow clinker bricks in the areas of the chimneys, the entrances, and the base of the walls.

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The rooms, too, had their carefully chosen colours. Taut even provided suggestions to the inhabitants of the estate regarding the furnishings so as to not cover up or clutter the colours.

All residential units had a bathroom, a kitchen, and a separate bedroom. This was revolutionary at the time and meant that the estate would become very desirable amongst the people of Berlin. However, only a few houses in the sixth section had central heating. Elsewhere, coal ovens with glazed tiles in attractive colours were installed in living rooms and bedrooms.

 

11. Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz

Nassauische Straße 66-67, Wilmersdorf
Fritz Höger & Ossip Klarwein, 1930-1934

The Evangelical Church at Hohenzollernplatz is one of the main pieces of Brick Expressionist architecture in Europe. It rests on a concrete skeleton and is clad with clinker bricks. The green copper roof contrasts with the dark red bricks. At the northeastern corner of the church there is a tall slim tower.

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Entrance to the church is through an ogival portal surrounded by gold. It is an flanked on both sides by the cladding of round staircases. The ogival shape of the portal is repeated in the shape of the thirteen arches of reinforced concrete that make up the interior of the church.

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Calculated dramatic lighting is an important characteristic in the design of the church: the interplay of zones of light and shadows in the interior, and the use of gold stones and joints as decorative additions in the otherwise red brick façade.

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The church was known by the nickname Kraftwerk Gottes (the Powerhouse of God).

 

12. Apartment buildings on Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße 22/28, 25/27 & 31/37 (Hirtenstraße 15, 14 & 7-10)

1935-1936

These late-Modernist buildings across the street from the Babylon Cinema were completed after the rise to power of the Nazis.

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