Save John Hejduk’s Kreuzberg Tower

Living in John Hejduk’s Tower in Kreuzberg, Berlin, was an extraordinary experience. I had an apartment in the eighth/ninth floor for eight years: the light is fantastic, as the flats were originally designed as artists' studios and only subsequently integrated into a social housing programme. Yet now the building is under threat from an insensitive refurbishment. The ‘Tower’ - actually a suite comprising a thin, 14-storey tower set between two 5-storey wings – is one of Hejduk’s most significant built works, and one of three buildings by the architect in Berlin, all social housing schemes realised as part of the IBA 1987 international building exhibition. It has a unique floorplan, by no means standard, that may make demands of you, but gives and gives and gives, too. I lived there as one part of a couple, with one and then two kids, and the plan always adapted to our needs. And where else do you get two 36m2 rooms with light from four sides in an 85 m2 apartment? This is perhaps not so evident from the outside – but anyone who has been inside will testify to the unique quality of the space. The buildings are all the more important for being so rare. Hejduk built very little. He was Dean of the Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture in New York from 1972 until 2000, and is perhaps best remembered by his theoretical and poetic writings, as well as an extraordinary number of unbuilt projects that pushed the boundaries of architecture. His widely published works have influenced a generation of architects, and have been described by Phyllis Lambert, Director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, as having “…rigorously and critically questioned the intellectual climate of their times … showing how architecture may interact with the loftiest and most mundane thoughts and actions." The ensemble is typical of Hejduk’s late work, exhibiting an intense fascination with simple geometric forms, narrative mythologies and anthropomorphic symbolism. Hejduk’s three Berlin schemes bucked the colourful post-modern trends of the time, employing a subdued colour palette of grey and green in the facades, described by the architect as homage to the unique sky and the built fabric of the city (the steel of lampposts and many underground stations from the early 20th century are finished in the same green). The unique character of the urban presence of the buildings comes from the synergy of the monumental architecture together with these restrained, contextual tones. In addition, the facades are characterised by a clear, simplicity, as direct as it is subtle. The green steel balconies with their awnings create spaces that are both outside the façade of the building and at the same time enclosed and intimate – individual in scale and yet exposed to the public space in front of the building. The alterations being undertaken offer little or no significant improvement to the apartments or their surroundings, other than repairing the decay the buildings have suffered. At the same time, they demolish this precise and particular presence of the buildings in their context, replacing the subtle colours with crass pinks, and the minimal triangular awnings with flimsy pergolas. The renovation can of course as easily, and at no significant additional cost, be achieved in a manner consistent with the original character of the scheme. And the building has suffered a great deal over the years. Indeed the current owners picked it up after a foreclosure. Before going bankrupt, the previous owners had managed to devalue their property by doing nothing to maintain it. So the building has suffered from long years of neglect, only now to have its unique qualities attacked by another insensitive owner. It is extraordinary that the present owners don’t understand that by altering the buildings in this manner, they are not only ruining a piece of Berlin’s recent urban heritage, but, by destroying carefully considered architectural details in favour of superficial sparkle, they are in fact devaluing further their newly acquired real estate. John Hejduk’s legacy deserves all the support we can give it. Robert Slinger is an architect living and working in Berlin. He is a partner in the practice KAPOK. Campaign to save the building from defacement: Professor Renata Hejduk, PhD - Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Contact Robert Slinger tel: +49 30 695 33 860 Jim Hudson Link to the online petition: Blogs carrying the story: Managers Berlinhaus: have taken down the renderings of their proposal but they can be seen here: Article in the Berliner Zeitung regarding rent increases (German):

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