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john hejduk, berlin tower, social housing 1988

kreutzberg tower and garden apartments, social housing, IBA, charlottenstrasse, berlin 1988.

architect: john hejduk, 1929-2000.


this photo is from a 2006 trip to berlin.


news of the defacement of hejduk's IBA housing project is hardly news anymore. it has been all over the internet how a new owner has had the facades redesigned . I read it first on lebbeus woods' blog which focused on how the project is no longer social housing and where the project once again provoked negative response. clearly, this is a difficult house to like. my own comment went like this,


"so many words. how many have been to see the house?


I went there years ago. I had studied the project beforehand and I didn’t like it one bit. the postmodernist imagery, the symmetry. it seemed so hostile, formal.


when we arrived after hours of seeing the modernist hits and misses of berlin, we were bowled over by the humanity of scale and the poetry of the place. the courtyard garden was wonderful, if somewhat in need of care. wild rabbits were running around between the buildings. but it is exactly the relaxed atmosphere that makes berlin so much more attractive than other german cities.


it struck me that the apparent formality of the plans represented a kind of precision: the relationship between the two housing wings and the courtyard they flank seemed perfect, it was a true social room for the people living there, not some urban in-between. ground floor flats opening onto it. it was wonderful.


and the tower…it is tiny tiny tiny. just one flat per floor, if I remember the plans. it told the story of a very different but equally valid way of urban life: of isolating yourself from the drama of it, keeping it at arms length, staying aloof. at the same time, it was too small to have the problems of typical tower blocks.


when I returned some years later, it was clear that maintenance was an issue. more rabbits too, but that is hardly the most threatening thing you can come across in european social housing. the poetry of the place was still as striking but with the decay, maybe it became a little clearer that hejduk had drawn on some collective recollection of workers housing for an emotional response. well, it worked for me.


social housing or not social housing, that is a question of politics. use of will always change and then change again and again. but some buildings are worth keeping, including their significant details and surfaces…this was one.


the basic quality of the spaces hejduk created will remain, I think, the scale of the place too – and they represent no small achievement on behalf of the architect, but the poetry is lost."


it seems that the internet debate over the fate of hejduk's tower has since made the owners hesitate and that they are willing to negociate about their destructive refurbishment.


see more here including the new purple balconies...


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Taken on April 10, 2010