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    Berlin's Alternative Modes of Practice

    Jeffrey Dunn
    Mar 31, '12 1:58 PM EST

    Our graduate architecture studio traveled to Berlin recently with a specific agenda: to understand modes of architectural agency which fall outside of the traditional role of architecture as a practice. Often architects wait for work to come to them, staying out of the research,  financing and management realms of development.  It seems that after the economic collapse, architects are more intrigued by alternative ways of engaging in their work, and in Berlin they have been exploring these ideas for a long time.

    One such group is Zanderroth Architekten. They have created a highly-articulated collection of living units in Prenzlauer Berg with a surprising relationship between quiet family enclave and strong urban presence along the street. Each unit is narrow, but 4-stories in height, and has a rooftop garden looking down over the street. At the base of each unit there is a room which appears like a storefront, one of the more curious elements of the building. One of the architects mentioned that it was a purposefully in-between space, half public and half private.

    (Photo from Zanderroth website:

    According to the architects, this level of complexity and interest in urban space was only acheivable because there was no one telling them that the units wouldn't sell. The problem with the speculative development model is that they aim for the middle in an effort not to alienate anyone. The results, as we know, are often mediocre and underwhelming.

    BAR Architekten, also in Berlin, followed a similar route. They bought a small urban lot and designed a tall but narrow building (10 stories of interlocking boxes). It is a purposeful combination of retail, living, and office space which is then divided into half owned and half rented units. Their commitment to urban life was a driving force.  The project is spoken of in terms of its "internal urbanism which actively contributes to the continuing evolution of the city as meeting place."

    These projects are impressive, but they also took long periods of time and a group of clients that were also highly invested in the same social and urban mission that the architects explain. In the end however, the results are impressive. It makes me curious if there are similar models happening in the US. If you have heard of this type of practice occuring in the US, please comment below or send me a message.



    • c

      interesting to compare w. SHoP in nyc. there seems to be limited info on he german group's investment structure -

      nice to see the posting though, makes me wonder:

      were they an equity partner?

      did they alter their fee structure ?

      are their any key aspects/opportunities to the project that were unique to german development context?


      Apr 1, 12 8:17 pm  · 
      o d b

      i'm slightly confused, did Zanderroth act as architect and developer for the project? if so, very interesting.  wasn't sure if that is the case though...

      Apr 3, 12 12:54 pm  · 


      From what I understand, the answer is yes. This was what struck me as very interesting and exciting. They noted that this obviously involves a lot more work on their end, but they are compensated for that end of the work as well. I think they actually had to start a small development company within their architecture practice in order to make it work. 



      One difference in the development context (there are probably many others) was that the clients who bought these units had a very long-term and urban/social mindset. They supported the architects' vision with up-front investment which they didn't actually see a return on for a while. It seems that people in Berlin value an urbane existence and are willing to commit to these sorts of projects.

      Apr 3, 12 2:31 pm  · 

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This blog will document areas of discourse and architecture/urban achievements occurring in the master's program at Cornell's AAP in Ithaca, NY. While it will feature many students' work, I would like for it to maintain a discursive focus, illucidating the theoretical objectives of the work occuring here.

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