Brunnenstrasse - Berlin - Germany
Building a house into a gap – and onto a half-finished, flooded basement? The new structure is distilled out of the existing context’s terms and conditions. It seems as if the building grew organically from the gap in the cityscape, like an unruly urban plant coming through the cracks.
When Arno Brandlhuber purchased the site in the Berlin neighborhood of Mitte in 2006, it had already been abandoned for more than ten years, yet another relic of the numerous failed investments in Berlin.
In 1994, its owner had run out of money, leaving an empty lot with a half-finished basement, whose development depended on the fulfillment of several requirements.
In response to this, along with their own wish for a flexible use building, the architects designed a structure based on the unfinished, raw, and provisional, continuing, in the new building, the rugged charm and constant change of the surrounding neighborhood.
The building, which is home to the architects, along with a small publishing house and the gallery KOW, also incorporates its environment spatially: the big gate on the ground floor opens inward, opening up the gallery directly to the street. The architects describe the building as the product of the given zoning regulations and social, financial, and structural conditions. The pre-existing elevator shaft was continued and serve as the building’s only solid core, containing all vertical pipes and plumbings. The accessible roof is angled so that even in the winter the sun shines into the first floor of the back building - one of the project’s prerequisites. Visible on the façade is the building’s connection of the different ceiling heights of the two adjacent buildings, which creates a terraced effect for the otherwise open floors inside the individual studio units.
At the back of the building, some of the resulting platforms are extended to serve as the supporting structure for the open staircase, which is not only an exit but also a place of communication.
The original basement was only pumped out and cleaned. Its partially missing ceiling allowed for the realization of a two-story gallery space; starter bars are present if a later tenant should ever want to close off the ceiling.
The back yard was designed so that the firefighters can reach most of the apartments units with their standard-size ladders.
The most relevant requirement of the building project, however, was the low rent user structure and the resulting budgetary framework. Usual standards of comfort were questioned or deliberately ignored in favor of room size, and replaced by joint arrangements. The heating pipes connect the floors without insulation - heating costs are generally calculated by the square meter. Ceilings serve as the floor for the next level up: the lack of between floor insulation means that if the upstair neighbor is too loud, the only solution is to talk out.
Outdoor traffic passes by with a rush; the façade is composed primarily of polycarbonate sheets whose diffusion of daylight is ideal for art studio use and which provide high thermal insulation but poor sound insulation. Tenants bothered by the noise can later augment the modular façade with interior glazing. The building is a treasure trove of idiosyncratic as well as pragmatic details and solutions. The Brunnenstrasse lot was filled with a rough diamond that is open to transformation and adaptation - much like the city of Berlin itself.