Corbusierhaus, West Berlin

This weekend I got a tour of Le Corbusier's famous apartment block. I'll tell you what I learned:

Four identical buildings were built, two in Germany and two in France. Each is slightly adapted to its setting.

The French apartments, for example, have slightly lower ceilings since French people are shorter than Germans. Corbusier wanted the ceilings low enough so that residents could paint them without standing on a ladder.

I know it sounds like I'm making that up, but it's true. Architects are weird little dictators sometimes.

The Berlin apartments were built in 1957, as ammunition in a war of aesthetics between East and West Berlin.

Corbusier is often blamed—fairly or unfairly, what the hell do I know?—for the trend of up-built project blocks surrounded by empty green space.

In spite of all the criticism that idea receives, our guide insisted that this particular model was successful. The apartments are all occupied, there's a long waiting list.

Almost all of the apartments span two floors. Most of them consist of a narrow kitchen and living room above (or below, depending on which floor they're on) a big-ass bedroom.

The trim pattern is standard across all four Corbusier buildings, but the colors are customized to the location. These are apparently meant to evoke Northern Germany.

Indeed, staring at these you can almost smell a currywurst rotating.

All of the railings are specifically designed to be at chest-height of the average German.

The building is designed to face precisely north-south, to maximize the amount of sunlight that comes in.

The font is Corbusier's; the doodle, not.

The hallways have special corrugated roofs to reduce the echo effect you find in every other apartment hallway ever.

The walls between the apartments are thicker on the lower floors, since they're supporting more weight.

The apartments were built to isolate noise, but apparently Corbusier forgot about smells, and residents routinely complain about experiencing each others' dinners.

The laundry room was deliberately built too large for its purpose, so residents have to mingle with one another.

So the main thing I learned? If architects ran the world, our lives would be different in a number of ways. But mostly our laundry, our ceilings and our smells.

3 Comments

Filed under Berlin, Germany, Pictures

3 responses to “Corbusierhaus, West Berlin

  1. I went inside a flat in the Marseilles version (I didn’t know the original had been replicated anywhere else) and found the ceilings a bit too low, but then I am taller than average. He had a lot of great ideas for these ‘machines for living in’, but all the imitators left out the expensive features so his vision has been tainted by the poor copies.

  2. In 1976, I took a break from architecture school to spend a semester in France. I visited Corbu’s apartment block built in Nantes but I didn’t get an interior tour. Tant pit! The design decisions he made seem so contrary to much of today’s thinking and yet you say the building is popular. And it looks really well-maintained after so many years.

  3. loclem

    I love the color in the balconies. Very pretty!

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