Prefab is All the Rage

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This article is part of our weekly series “Plattenbau stories”, introducing the topic of plattenbau districts in Europe and the world. ONE ARCHITECTURE WEEK 2016 will be held in Trakiya, a plattenbau districts in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, from September 30th until October 9th. The main focus of the festival is the topic of“citizen participation in the creation of the urban environment”.

An article from Central Berlin, for the full version click here.

An interesting phenomenon resides in central Berlin. Along with the neoclassical buildings there are blocks from prefabricated concrete panels, known as “plattenbau” in Germany, that frame the space between Alexanderplatz and Strausberger Platz. But can we  really put such a place under the typical plattenbau stigma of a poor and unkempt place?

During the socialist period in East Germany plattenbau was a an innovative solution to the housing crisis. In 1926 the first such buildings were assembled, and in the 70’s more and more satellite towns sprung around cities like Berlin and Frankfurt an der Oder. Apartments in such buildings were often called “Arbeiterschließfächer” (“lockers for workers”) and “Fernsehhöhlen” (“caves equipped with TV”), but from an architectural point of view  they are examples of classical modernism, influenced by Le Corbusier’s iconic style.

Such building lack ornaments on the facades and have a rather stiff look to them. The only things that resemble a decoration are the balconies. These are the type of buildings between the two squares.

But if you look a this space form above you see a mix of different ages and lifestyles. After the Fall of the Wall the popularity of apartments in prefab buildings was on the wane. But only after a few years it became a hotspot for all types of creative people. The affordable rent prices are not the only thing that attracts people to plattenbau buildings. Today the are all the rage from an aesthetic point of view. Until the 90’s  high stucco ceilings and wooden floorboards were what was popular. Today it’s bare concrete walls with a colorful accent here and there. Another plus is that the inhabitants are allowed to remove interior walls and can model these so called “lockers” into stylish homes.

It seems that a trend in combination with a group of people that shares a focal point can populate a building and make it a special place to live.