Peter Eisenmann, Rem Koolhaas/OMA – Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie

Actually two separate, unrelated buildings, but both done for the Berlin IBA 1987.

Both are at tourist ground zero in Berlin, and have understandably suffered from the grime and commercial signage of the area, but Eisenmann’s building in particular hasn’t weathered well.

Disappointing though are the rear communal spaces. In OMA’s case there was clearly very little room available on the tight site, and the balcony arrangement makes the best of a bad situation.

The Eisenmann building does have some space, but seems to have forgotten about it – compare this with the communal spaces of some of the other IBA buildings and it seems like a lost opportunity. Admittedly it has to suffer the messy rear access areas of shops at ground level, but even so…

Worth wandering around the back though to see a sculpture made from a section of wall.

What is really interesting about the Eisenmann block is not what was built, but what wasn’t. The original competition was for the entire block, retaining only a handful of existing buildings. Eisenmann proposed a complex series of off-set grids, forming a public garden, to create “a monumental and symbolic area […]” which would be “…sufficiently profound to excavate all its cultural meanings.” If this sounds a bit pompous, it should be borne in mind that at the time the site stood in the shadow of a still very real Berlin wall. I don’t know whether the fall of the wall killed the scheme, or some other factor(s). Interesting to compare this with Eisenmann’s now built Holocaust Memorial.

Funnily, the red and grey grid of this dead scheme (only visible from the air, presumably) was transferred into the facades of the building  actually built (see below).  The design though is more complex than may be  apparent – the floor plan retains the idea of two slightly offset grids, which continues through to the planes of the eternal walls.

The OMA block, main street elevation

…and the rear

Witterings on a second visit can be found here.

The Eisenmann block, across the road.  Note different planes of most of the facade against the two upper corner stories.

And the rear

A nod towards the residents’ facilities (a sandpit, basically) although the grid motif is carried through to small scale.

A bit of the wall

8 thoughts on “Peter Eisenmann, Rem Koolhaas/OMA – Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie

  1. The oma building originally had no shops at ground level.Instead the apartments spanned over a car park space where vehicles could also turn around before the checkpoint which was immediatley ajacent and still operating when the building was completed. The kiosk and look out point that formed part of the car park area where expressed in a ‘check-point’ architectural language making the building more oddly disjunctive, but of its site, than it appears today.

  2. Thanks Charles – another useful comment which will send me scurrying back to look at the building anew.

    I note from more recent reading on the Eisenmann block that there was an ‘intermediate’ version with a smaller grid-based memorial, but including the building now standing.


    PS tried to look at your blog but just leads to a WordPress ads page.

  3. Jim,

    Ha! I think its meant to be blogspot NOT bogspot as I wrote before! How embarrassing. It’s been corrected now.

    I lived in Berlin in the mid ’90’s and remember all those IBA buildings well, so I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog. Makes me miss it though. Don’t know about the intermediate Eisenman scheme although I recall seeing a drawing of the projected red grid somewhere.

    Look forward to reading more.

  4. Jim
    Hello, I find verry intresting these comparison, actually I am studing Arquitecture in Mexico and I have a case study on the Eisenman building and I cant find any ralated info fron the iner distrebution, and the design plans, I have checked many books and in his oficial webpage, do you know where can I find them?

    1. True. Although the surroundings are themselves pretty strange – the Eisenmann building opposite, Kleihues’ to the north, and still a partial wasteland from the time of the wall and the war… I have to admit though, it’s not a building that I have strong feelings for.

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