After World War II, which laid waste to major areas of Germany – especially in its capital Berlin – architecture found fertile ground for the implementation of new concepts and techniques, and the use of new materials in attempts to predict the future.
Architects, especially in the former West Germany, debated whether they should rebuild the old buildings as they existed before they were destroyed, or construct totally new ones according to the precepts of contemporary architecture, which was then earning more and more followers around the world.
Part of the International Building Exhibition, Interbau 1957 was a housing development that provided the reconstruction of the Hansaviertel district, located next to the Tiergarten. The “work in progress” exhibition featured such big names as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Arne Jacobsen and Oscar Niemeyer, among over 50 world-renowned architects and urban planners.
In this context of functionality, low cost and innovative aesthetics, which represented the needs of society of that time, concrete was widely employed in new structures due to its economic and technical qualities, with its incredible malleability and capacity to give shape to the most diverse forms.
And it is precisely concrete, with its semblance of unfinished work, that is responsible for naming the Brutalist movement. It refers to Le Corbusier and his preference for béton brut, French for exposed, reinforced concrete.
In war-ravaged Europe, this style of architecture was heavily employed as a solution for low-cost residential, commercial and government buildings, as opposed to what was then considered the frivolous architecture of the 1930s and the ’40s, leaving buildings with natural, anti-bourgeois exteriors.
After the division of Germany, West Berlin was an island surrounded by the socialist East Germany and it became a great showcase of the best of what the Western capitalist way of life had to offer. And architecture was one of the tactics used to promote the power and supremacy of the West, by reflecting its contemporary lifestyle.
For this reason, most of the Brutalist buildings in the German capital are located in the western part of the city.
So let’s get started exploring Berlin’s main Brutalist buildings:
This is without a doubt the most impressive example of Brutalism in the city. Constructed in the 1970s, the building was designed to house the research center for experimental medicine at the Free University of Berlin. It was nicknamed the “mouse bunker” due to the more than 80,000 mice that have been used in experiments there!
Located in the southwestern outskirts of the city, in the pleasant district of Lichterfelde, and by the banks of the Teltow Canal, the building looks like a spaceship. Its tiny triangular windows allowed for complete control of the incidence of natural light and, combined with the blue ventilation pipes that contrast with the omnipresent grey of the concrete façade, they look like cannons on an imaginary spacecraft. A real treat for fans of retro-futurism!
Next door to the Research Institute of Experimental Medicine, the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine is housed inside a massive concrete structure, with glass and metal details, which resembles a steamboat sailing on the Mississippi River…
Shaped like a three-story observation tower, this building is located just above the Schlossstrasse subway station, in the center of the Steglitz district. Originally a bar-restaurant, Bierpinsel literally means “beer brush” in German.
Closed for over a decade now, the building has been covered in colorful Pop Art by graffiti artists, counterbalancing the grey concrete as it awaits renovation after being put up for sale…
Located on Pallasstrasse in the Schöneberg district, and built atop an old WWII bunker in the 1970s, it was once a sort of vertical tenement where police cars remained parked day and night in front of some of its entrances…
Designed by architect Werner Düttmann and located in a residential area of the Kreuzberg district amidst prefabricated concrete buildings and lots of green space, this former church is now home to the König contemporary art gallery.
The former facilities of the Rotaprint printing press manufacturer in the Wedding district are today occupied by a nonprofit organization that promotes events and cultural and social activities for all community groups.
Situated in the Mitte district, this is one of the few examples of a Brutalist building in the area belonging to the former East Berlin. It was conceived and built in the late 1970s by husband and wife architects Vera and Vladimir Manchonin.
Located in the far-western neighborhood of Pichelsdorf and overlooking an idyllic bay of the Havel River, Haus Plettner is a rare example of a Brutalist private residence in Berlin. It was designed by Jan and Rolf Rave in 1970 and commissioned by real estate agent Hans-Petter Plettner.
For more architecture highlights, check out this post we wrote about Bruno Taut’s work in Berlin.