Solveig Steinhardt spoke with Le Corbusier expert Bärbel Högner to learn the secrets of Berlin's Corbusierhaus.
An inside peek into Le Corbusier Haus, one of the city's most important architectural projects.
After WWII, the need for social housing in Berlin brought many architects to town for the development of the Interbau 57 project in the bombed Hansaviertel. One of them was French architect Le Corbusier, who readapted the design of his Unité d'Habitation building in Marseille to the city's needs. His project turned out to be too big for the Hansaviertel, so it was built near Olympiastadion instead. We asked photographer and anthrolopologist Bärbel
Högner, who lives in the building, to tell us more about this interesting building.
What is the concept behind the Corbusierhaus?
The basic idea was to keep the ground for open spaces and go vertical in housing, creating a sort of "vertical village." Most of the flats here are maisonettes, so it's like living in a small house inside a big building. Le Corbusier also imagined a completely autonomous social structure, with an internal shopping area and even a swimming pool on the rooftop. Unfortunately, financial restrictions and the urgent need for flats in the 1950s did not allow for such luxury in Berlin.
As a resident, do you think the building still has the advantages it was planned to have?
Some of Le Corbusier's ideas work very well. The apartments are sunny and well-lit thanks to the east-west orientation and the long windows. Also, the organization is extremely efficient, both technically and financially: you share services and expenses with more than 500 other units. It's also socially interesting. Some residents live in complete anonymity , others create strong neighbourhood relations. And there's another intersting aspect: Apparently, this is not the biggest building unit in Berlin, but it is the biggest with just one entrance. It's a small but psychologically important detail: everybody has to walk through the same door.
What is the most unusual thing about it?
Visitors are usually shocked when they see the long corridors that recall a hospital, or a prison. But actually the interior was inspired by an ocean liner. Personally, I think that the weirdest thing is the building's structural dimension. Imagine: 530 apartments in one block standing on pillars! And it's amazing how diverse life is behind theses masses of concrete.
Are there any other interesting architectural spots that you would recommend in Berlin?
If one is interested in the 1950s, it makes sense to walk around the Hansa-Viertel. But I also suggest a visit to the “other” modernity on Karl-Marx-Allee, where you can see the socialist version of post-war housing. A comparison of these places in former East and West Berlin reveals the political dimensions of architecture. At Karl-Marx-Allee, I would end my tour with a movie at the GDR-era Kino International.