Destruction on Charlottenstrasse (March 11, 2010)

I’ve had an email from Renata Hejduk, an architectural historian and daughter of the late John Hejduk, regarding the ‘refurbishment’ of John Hejduk’s IBA building on Charlottenstrasse, a building which I wrote about a while back.  This insensitive alteration work, currently on site, is particularly upsetting since the building’s new owners apparently feel that their external alterations are an improvement on Hejduk’s original design, sending a surprisingly obnoxious response to Professor Hejduk when she protested to them about the changes.

As is so often the case now in Berlin, it’s all about the money (see this article). Doubtless a  number of IBA housing projects are in the firing line of rent rises and ‘upwardly mobile improvements’, forming as they did a huge programme of social housing in the 1980s across now-fashionable Kreuzberg.  Ironically, this set the scene for the gentrification process now ongoing.

If you too feel that architecture is of more value than just real estate, do get in touch with the owners, whose oddly empty site is here.

A couple of recent shots (not mine – thanks to Aida).

And how it looked a couple of summers ago when I photographed it (badly, I admit)…

I notice, as I re-read my old post, that I was underwhelmed at the time. It probably didn’t help that the development wasn’t particularly well cared for, with any trace of landscaping around it long gone, with a large vacant lot immediately to the south where further IBA projects had been planned but never built.  But since then I’ve come to think of this as a familiar landmark, and an important architectural element of the IBA, not to mention an important piece of architecture from a period not yet recognized as of real value.  Recognition will come, I am certain, but too late for many of these buildings.  See also a previous post about the fate of another IBA building, by O M Ungers.

Have also just recalled that I visited and photographed one of three other Hejduk buildings in Berlin, at Tegel harbour, known by their architect as The House for Two Brothers, in what I’m beginning to understand as John Hejduk’s strangely mythic/mystical way of translating architectural forms.

More on this issue, I hope, soon.  Will go by and photograph the state of the alterations as soon as possible, but if you’re in the area of Charlottenstraße 97a over the next few days and weeks, do please record this.

SLAB Mag are similarly concerned.

Update 1, 15 March: some photos at Flickr by Nichtwinken.

Update 2, 15 March: thanks to Ian at SLAB for these links to two of the apartments for rent, via the development company.  The first, inexplicably, describing the design as ‘Bauhaus Style’.  Hmmm.

These links are now dead (the developer has taken them off their own site – one still up here.

There’s a debate in SLAB’s comments section about the relative merits of trying to preserve such a building in its original form, when that original design was flawed in many ways. Many of the apartments were tiny, especially in the tower itself, and the south facing windows too small to let much ligh tin. Similarly the south facing balconies were too small to sit out on properly.  My view (to quote from my own comment there) is that…

The alterations are pretty minor in structural terms, so are not going to make the building something which it isn’t, i.e. fully functioning modern apartments.

Berlin is a city that’s excelled only in blandless since the fall of the wall – so yes, perhaps it is a tragedy that the varied and experimental buildings of that immediately preceded the ‘New Prussian Stone Age’ are treated with such contempt (have just read the response from BerlinHaus to Renata Hejduk, not sure if we’re able to publish this, but it’s pretty dismissive at best). There’s almost always an inventive solution if someone cares to find this – I say this not as an archi-fan but as someone who worked adapting listed buildings in London for 15 years.

Lucas’s comment that there was little commercial interest in the building as it was is true, but I’m not sure that in itself is a justification for alteration without knowledge of or respect for the original architecture. Buildings are given Denkmal/Listed status for precisely the reason that they are no longer ‘fit for purpose’ but are worth retaining (an argument not accepted by thye current UK environment minister).

Ian at SLAB has also set up a Facebook group, if that’s your thing.  It has it’s own logo, which is nice (although may not have a working link here if you’re not logged in to Facebook)


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