Contemporary Architecture in Berlin

photo: Hans Christian Schink

Berlin is internationally recognized for many things, though contemporary architecture doesn’t seem to be one of them. As the building ground for many notable buildings with a rich history and the Bauhaus theories as prominent architectural influence, explorations in postmodern design didn’t come into play until later on. With postmodernism gaining steam among many architects in the second half of the 20th century, Berlin didn’t see the emergence of structures boasting more aesthetic appeal than its modernist predecessors until the late 80s. By assimilating the order and regulation of classical architecture into new forms and using fragments of the turbulent past to build Berlin’s present structure and identity, our city boasts the unique structures of two competing ideologies. The evolution of this contemporary metropolis has since brought forth the likes of David Chipperfield, Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhaas and many more as anti-vernacular, innovative architects who pushed past boundaries to produce aspirational works. With many building proposals already in the works to be realized in the coming years, it’s time to discover (or revisit) some of the most interesting architecture in Berlin. Leaving out already well-established landmarks like the Jewish Museum and Memorial, the Reichstag, the Philharmonie, and the Neue Nationalgalerie, I’ve compiled a list of attention-grabbing design that just might change the way you see Berlin. Click on to check them out!

Freie Universität Berlin – Philologische Bibliothek

For some, this beautiful library is a daily sight. Designed by Foster + Partners, the Philology Library (also known as the “Berlin Brain”) at the Freie Universität opened its doors in 2005 and now stands as a landmark in the progress of architectural thought. The library combines a massed concrete structure with a light diaphanous envelope. This juxtaposition not only informs the building’s formal character, but is also key to its ecological program. A manifestation of both active and passive energy-saving design, the library uses consumes 35% less energy than a comparably size building by operating mainly through its own natural ventilation.

Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin-Dahlem

photos: Svenwerk

Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders Haus

Stephan Braunfels designed the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders Haus  in Berlin’s Regierungsviertel, inaugurated in 2003. The house contains the Parliamentary Library and Archives for the nearby Reichstag, and it is part of the government Band des Bundes. Standing on the site of the former Berlin Wall, the building’s modernist concrete structure recalls the cold history of Berlin’s socialist past, and the dreary modernist architecture that sprung during that era. It commemorates Socialist politician Marie Elisabeth Lüders, who was monumental in women’s rights in Germany. The modernist language is a vital choice for this national monument, a legacy of concrete that serves as an architectural symbol of German unity.

Schiffbauerdamm, 10117 Berlin-Mitte

photo: Blaine O’Neill

photo: Stefano Corso

Anna Seghers Community School

Behind the ornate brick facade of the Anna Seghers School in Berlin Adlershof lies a modern architectural gem. Designed by Berlin-based AFF-Architekten, common types and shapes have been brought to question and compared with contemporary requirements to create this distinctive new school. The mixture of fine-grain and coarse plaster differentiate this school from the surrounding residential buildings, which was constructed on the site of a former unused garden. Thanks to the varied designs of the class and group rooms and an awareness of interior design, the architectural concept facilitates an optimal learning experience.

Radickestraße 43, 12489 Berlin-Adlershof

photos: Hans Christian Schink

DZ Bank

A prominent symbol of Frank Gehry’s deconstructionalist work, the DZ Bank features a highly sculptural shell which rests on the glass floor in the center oft he atrium, appearing as if it’s floating in the space. The high-volume foyer immediately inside the main entry offers a view into the building’s large interior atrium, which features a light, spider-web-like curving glass ceiling and a curving glass floor. Much of the building is constructed out of wood, with offices and conference spaces organized around the atrium oriented inward to take advantage oft he natural light that floods through the glass ceiling.

Pariser Platz 3, 10117 Berlin-Mitte

photo: Matthew Riley

photo: Steve Jackson

Corbusierhaus (Unité d’Habitation)

The Unité d’Habitation are among the most famous works of influential Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. In 1956 the Berlin Planning Committee received a proposal from Le Corbusier to build one of his Unités in Charlottenburg, with superb views of the city. Le Corbusier’s proposal for Berlin includes 530 apartments distributed in 17 levels. However, they are accessed only through 9 corridors, where residents would supposedly enjoy social interaction. The apartments have internal stairs, and each house also has separate balconies, forming a grid than can be seen from the exterior. This allows light to enter, but protects the inside from excessive solar radiation. Le Corbusier intended to express the individuality of each department through series of colour in the building’s facade. Although the building has lost its original social role for which it was designed and has become a sort of elitist habitat, this situation has allowed the Unités to endure more than 50 years in very good condition.

Flatowallee 16, 14055 Berlin-Charlottenburg

photos: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

Embassy of the Netherlands

Designed by Rem Koolhaas of OMA, the Dutch Embassy is a disciplined cube with equally disciplined irregularities which aims to facilitate a better understanding of Berlin. It explores a combination of obedience (fulfilling the block’s perimeter) and disobedience (building a solitary cube). A continuous trajectory reaching all eight stories of the embassy shapes the building’s internal communication. The site was built along the Spree, with the intention to emulate the typical landscape and canals of Holland. Given the complexity, the building represents a unique architectural and structural challenge. The only structural element that runs the entire height of the embassy is the core of elevators, since the tangent beams in the walls do not reach full height. The use of glass was also prominent, in an effort to reflect the transparency of the Dutch government.

Klosterstraße 50, 10179 Berlin-Mitte

photos: Maurizio Mucciola

GSW Headquarters

Completed in 1999 after the design by Sauerbruch Hutton Architekten, the GSW buildings in Kreuzberg are a response to urban and functional conditions. As an assembly of multiple volumes including an existing tower, a three storey oriented bar and a new tower, with the highly transparent and dynamic facades of the new tower being the most important part of the energy saving concept. Automated shading panels in vibrant shades of pink helps to manage solar heat gain and daylighting. Natural ventilation is brought from the east, through the interior space, across corridor openings and vented into the west, which carries out seasonal and weather control.

Kochstraße 22, 10969 Berlin-Kreuzberg

photo: Gianluca Lavezzo

photo: Thomas Nemeskeri

photo: Clemens Der

Kreuzberg Towers

The Kreuzberg Tower was part of the 1987 International BauAufstellung (IBA) Program which supports innovative architecture and design through built and unbuilt projects. In 1987 the IBA invited architects to envision new low and middle income housing for West Berlin, which is where John Hejduk came in. Hejduk’s postmodern project is composed of a 14 storey tower with two separate 5 storey wings, featuring a neutral tower and green geometric shapes attached to the facades. These extrusions serve as balconies and sun shades for the housing units. Today the Kreuzberg Tower is protected by the government with a clause stating that plans to alter it must be considered by the city’s building department and appropriate historians, as well as all of the 1987 IBA buildings. This total reversal is thanks to the outspoken architecture community, and the recognition and response by the city for a unique building and its influential pedagogue designer.

Charlottenstraße 97a, 10969 Berlin-Kreuzberg

photos: Thomas Nemeskeri

Krematorium Baumschulenweg

A project led by Shultes Frank Architeckten, this crematorium in Treptow is something truly unique. In lending shape to freedom and necessity, the main hall allows for many to gather yet keeps the invidividual shielded. The ceremonial halls, two for 50 and one for 250 people are simply boxes of split stone, set open-fronted into a second, slat-steered casing of glass.  The 29 concrete columns with their capitals of light rise from the ground. Designed on the foundation of smoothness and restraint, the columns are supported only by cantilevered brackets at the tops, as the rough concrete roof seems to hover over this space like a translucent canopy.

Kiefholzstraße 221, 12437 Berlin-Treptow

photo: Robert Ostmann

photo: Aegranda

photo: Kaho Yu

Tchoban Foundation – Museum For Architectural Drawing

Set on the premises of a former brewery, this Prenzlauer Berg wonder is the ideal setting for the architectural drawings it houses. Designed by SPEECH in Moscow and operated by the architects Sergei Tchoban and Sergei Kuznetsov, this new museum building opened its doors for the first time in June of 2013. This unorthodox and minimalist four-storey structure of glass and concrete is an exceptional example of contemporary architecture in its construction, rich in contrast, layers, design and choice of materials. The freedom in its form relates to the conventions of the neighboring historic Berlin buildings while its silhouette is created by a regression and progression of façade elements. Its closed surface is detailed with strong magnified fragments of architectural sketches in relief form. The museum has a floor area of approximately 490 square metres, and contains an entrance area, two exhibition rooms, the museum depository and a conference room.

Christinenstraße 18, 10119 Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg

photos: Patricia Parinejad

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