Interbau Apartment House, Berlin by Oscar Niemeyer


Off the beaten tourist track, nestled in the Hansa district of the leafy Tiergarten in Berlin, is a modernist housing dream. This section of the war-ravaged city was selected in the 1950s as the site of the International Building Exhibition to showcase ‘the city of tomorrow’. Over 50 architects from across the world were invited to come up with designs to rival the restored districts of east Berlin. The brief was for loose structures and a gradual transition to the adjacent Tiergarten, instead of the closed block urban planning of the pre-war era. The final masterplan was developed under Otto Bartning, with 36 individual buildings designed by architects including Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto, Walter Gropius, Arne Jacobsen, Paul Schneider-Esleben and Max Taut- the greatest supporters of the modernist movement.

The buildings also include a church by Willy Kreuer, a theatre, library and kindergarten, and an Academy of Arts building by Werner Duttmann.

This housing block is by Brazilian architects Oscar Niemeyer and Soares Filho. The eight storey building rests on concrete V-shaped pillars, with a facade defined by yellow and blue balconies. Underneath the building, six staircases are entered through primary coloured blocks, clad in small mosaics and featuring graphic stencilled numbers. A polka-dot tower stands next to the block with a service and passenger elevator.

Unlike some housing estates from the same time, the concrete has been well treated- even in the ground floor entrance space, which could have been a dark and unwelcoming space, the concrete appears warm and bright with textural board formed markings. From the outside, the apartments also looked light and spacious- my friend even commenting that “there must be a shop up there because it looked so bright”. Parasols and striped awnings made it look like a hotel from the French Riviera, and the bright primary colours broke up the monotony of the facade. On that sunny day in Berlin, we looked up in envy at the residents living the modernist housing dream, sunning themselves on their balcony, content in the knowledge that the building is now more valuable than ever, now Niemeyer has passed away.

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