Finding Beauty in Berlin’s Ugliest Buildings - Berlin Brutalism Guide

It doesn't necessarily sound like a pleasant term, but it's the kind of architecture we love to hate. Brutalism is in abundance in Berlin, so let's join Hannah as she takes us on a tour through Berlin's brutalist heritage.

Published by Guest on 10/12/2017

“Human nature is not black and white, but black and grey.” Might these words by writer Graham Greene explain the human urge to reply to social changes by constructing hideous buildings? Brutalism, the prosaic play of concrete and symmetry, is perhaps the most controversial architectural style after the Second World War. If you dare to love it, you’re either an architect or curious to find some soul in buildings offside Baroque Palaces. Berlin is full of said béton brut, naked concrete.

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The desire for a standardized society trickled into the architecture of the 1960s. Soon, gargantuan houses, churches and offices marked the cities landscape. Most of these buildings are about to vanish. If today’s common understanding is not enough to kill those gentle giants, asbestos will eventually take its toll. The time has come to pay our last respects to these machines for living in. Or, if this is too much of a romantic approach for you: Brutalistic buildings offer great opportunities for photo shootings. Sharp edges, miles of grey restraint. You might not celebrate them, but they certainly celebrate you.

Kreuzberg : St. Agnes Church / König Gallery 

This monumental church was completed in 1966 and repurposed as an art gallery in May 2015. The play of light on the bare wooden staircases enriches the strangely peaceful atmosphere of the large halls. Its bareness enables you to get lost in the galleries artwork for a few hours. For many, it’s a block of stone, for some a rare symbiosis of functionality and heedlessness.

Alexandrinenstraße 118, 10969 Berlin

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Charlottenburg: Unité d’Habitation 

The apartment unit, designed by the well-known architect Le Coeurbusier, was constructed for the international Architecture Exhibition in 1957. He described it as a vertical city with corridors as streets and integrated shops, restaurants and pharmacies. The uniform structure of the complex was supposed to decrease the city’s housing shortage and later graced with the rather gruff title “Plattenbau."

Flatowallee 16, 14055 Berlin

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Mitte: Czech Embassy

The materials used in this building are different opposed most Brutalist buildings: Liberec granite and glass, combined with expressive horizontal arrangements on the inside. Entering this building almost feels entering an object from outer space. Its days are numbered: The size and need for renovation has sparked discussions of a soon demolishing and the Czech government hesitates to award it a status of a heritage-protected monument. 

Wilhelmstraße 44, 10117 Berlin

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Schöneberg: St. Norbert Church

A church’s purpose should not be to terrify at first glance. And surely the religious community offers a warm welcome into its sacred halls. Still, St. Norbert Church is an intimidating, sharply cut concrete puzzle of basic geometric shapes. If you need to put your eyes at ease after this truly confusing sight, Volkspark Wilmersdorf-Schöneberg is just around the corner.

Dominicusstraße 19B, 10823 Berlin

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Tiergarten: The Academy of the Arts

Werner Düttmann, the same architect who designed St. Agnes Church, nicknamed his creation “a sharp, unpretentious box.” The complex, which is frequented by art students from all over the world, is surprisingly narrow. Shrouded in trees, the complex of three buildings was designed to create a sentiment of privacy within a public space. The Academy of the Arts exhibits its student’s works on a regular basis, and the integrated café offers warm cheesecake and an opportunity to contemplate and rest after a long day of visiting nonviolent yet brutal sites.

Pariser Platz 4, 10117 Berlin

Written by Hannah Nieswand

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