Berlin and architecture is a love and, sometimes, hate affair. Just a stroll around the city proves the point. Cranes and pipes are almost everywhere, showing that Berlin is still “under construction”. After being defeated in two World Wars and divided by a wall, open spaces are now occupied by new and modern constructions. Many of them are restorations of damaged and destroyed historical sites.
There’s even a famous saying: “Paris is always Paris, and Berlin is never Berlin”. For better or worse, we still think Berlin has a lot to offer on the architectural front. And fortunately, many areas and their buildings were relatively spared from bombs. Among them are some of the most important urbanism projects from the 1920s, during the progressive years of the Weimar Republic. This era remains a model for contemporary housing projects around the world.
Known as Siedlungen der Berliner Moderne (Berlin Modernism Housing Estates) and now recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, these housing estates are examples of a building reform movement that contributed to improving housing and living conditions for people with low income. Four out of six of them had the touch of the utopian German architect and urban planner Bruno Taut. Combining new approaches to planning, style and garden design, today they are some of the city’s most recognizable examples of modernist social housing.
Taut is considered as a pioneer of the modern architecture. He frequently used futuristic ideals, techniques and materials of the avant-garde, like glass and steel. His works were a mockery of some of his contemporary counterparts. Especially because of his expressionist use of colors, which he considered to be an inexpensive way to put some joy into grey and poor neighborhoods. The Swiss architect Le Corbusier is reported to have said: “My God, Taut is color-blind!”
“Why give such good conditions to working class people?”, some of his critics asked. Nevertheless, his projects were a revolution at the time: all the apartments and houses had bathroom and kitchen and amenities like gas and electric light.
Gartenstadt Falkenberg (1913–1916) is the first of his housing estate projects in Berlin. Also know as the “Paint Box Estate” (Tuschkastensiedlung), named after the vivid colors of their façades. It can be considered as an essay for what would come next. Initiated just before the First Word War, this complex of single houses is linked to the Garden city movement, aiming to find an equilibrium between urban and rural landscapes. The buildings from the first construction phase are arranged around the intimate “Akazienhof” (Acacia courtyard). The second phase constructions have different sizes and shapes and are located alongside Gartenstadtweg and Am Falkenberg. This house complex can be easily reached on food – a 10 minute-walk from the S-Bahnhof Grunau. *Note added by one of our Facebook followers (Erik Kenny): Apparently he first part of the Falkenberg Siedlung (Tuschkastensiedlung) was designed by Heinrich Tessenow (years before Taut). Tessenow’s designs were more traditional, but still beautiful.
Siedlung Schillerpark (1924–1930) is located on the Englisch Viertel, in Wedding, right in front of the park. The façades are covered with baked red bricks, very common in Netherlands. The subway stations U-Bahn Rehberge and Seestrasse are just a few meters away from the main row of buildings on Edinburger Strasse.
Hufeisensiedlung (1925–1930) or “Horseshoe Estate” is definitely one of his most impressive projects in Berlin. Its geographical site, around a pond, is stunning. The estate is named after the pond’s format. However, the iconic and colorful front doors are high point. Located in the southern neighborhood of Britz, the houses just behind the complex are also worth a visit. The estate can be reached from the U-Bahn Blaschkoallee or Parchimer Allee.
Wohnstadt Carl Legien (1928–1930), with their “U shaped building corners”, really bring out real Bauhaus vibes. Located on the northern section of Prenzlauerberg, the houses were completely restored during the 2000’s and now individual flats, with up to four rooms and large balconies, are considered luxury real estate. The contrast between the yellow-ish façades and the color of the doors/window frames is stunning! Get there from S-Bahn Prenzlauer Allee Station.
Onkel Toms Hütte (1926) is unfortunately not included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. But it surely merits a visit. This treasure of Berlin architecture is also called Waldsiedelung Zehlendorf. It is located next to the Grunewald forest and alongside Argentinische Allee. The green and yellow façades, with red and blue touches, were the reason why the Nazis named it “Papageiensiedlung” (Parrot Setlement), which they considered as an example of degenerate art. The closest metro station is the U-Bahn Onkel Toms Hütte.
If you are an architecture lover, we recommend you pay a visit to one (or more) of Bruno Taut’s estates in Berlin. You will agree that he’s the master of color schemes – and we love it! For more ideas on what to explore in Berlin Architecture, check out our FUN ATTRACTIONS section.
*Article by Domingos Lepores. Edited by Tulio Edreira.