5 December 2011

Ostalgic Horseshoe – Sorry, Crescent, No, Arc – welcomes first residents


Condos ∕ Crisis ∕ Fiction

Yeah, OK, it’s a bit unfair to walk in on a building that hasn’t finished putting its make-up on before the big Cancan, walk up really close to it, and judge it for what you see: wrinkles that haven’t been filled with putty or flattened by Botox, unnatural curvature changes, incision marks, or wobbly suture lines unsoftened by foundation. But I’ll do it anyway.

classical acrylic render detailing

townhouse no 6

According to the developer’s website we have a real good vintage of a building here, with all the potential of an instant classic. Though I’m not sure that the EIFS polystyrene will be around when that happens one day. Some maggots or a woodpecker thinking of a maggot lunch might take a bite out of it. Careful and unbiased research, using a popular search engine, into failures of EIFS led to this insight. On occasion, I repeat this research when I feel I’ve leaned out the window too far proclaiming that fact with too much emphasis and glee. The evidence I spotted on the building itself left me first incredulous and then somewhat elated and hopeful. May I draw your attention to the dark blotch at the top left corner of this image of a townhouse entrance:

nice view into the past

Close-up, the cluster of reddish-black globules on the entrance’s ceiling revealed itself as Prenzlauer Bogen’s first residents: an infestation of ladybugs that had already started to crap all over the acrylic render, perhaps drawn to its relatively mild surface temperature or hooked on its evaporations, a veritable ladybug crack house.


Now, a key to preventing vermin infestations in exterior insulation is to ensure that the facade is properly sealed. Here, I found plenty of access points for insects to a warm, moist, hydrocarbon foam feast.

we reserve the right to reserve service to anyone

But how did I get here, poking my 10x zoom at a lost hole in the acrylic render facade of this uninhabited building’s darkest recesses on a cold and dreary afternoon? I was immediately drawn to it when I first saw it. I was overcome by a reminiscence of the buildings of East Berlin, maybe ten, 20 years ago – paired down belle epoch buildings finished in uniform crude grey stucco that bore their fate with honesty and candor, stripped of all their ornament, either because the Commies thought of it as bourgeois or because they were too skint to repair what hadn’t been shot off in the war, or both. This building looks like that to me, like the former buildings of East Berlin, before they were subjected to the vandalism of sponge effects and pastel hues. It, too, seemed to have lost its ornament through a tragic event in history – only prior to its construction – a financial crisis, or the advent of some sustainability standard.

I was intrigued and studied architect Tobias Nöfer’s concept on the project website, but didn’t like what I read. Normally, developments of this kind aspire to places seemingly higher up the pecking order of cosmopolitan desirability, such as Rome, New York, or Paris. This example of “highest building art” (developer’s usual modest marketing blah) is taking things down a notch. The reference is of pulsating, cosmopolitan, Bath, England. Apparently, what we have here is a fine example of “Old English Crescent” (!?) an architecture style I had never come across prior to studying the project’s website, and of which there had hitherto existed but a single proponent, John Wood’s Royal Crescent in Bath, and now also, the Prenzlauer Bogen. If you find yourself trapped in the city of Berlin, but yearn for the quaint, slow-paced town life of a place like Bath and are a fan of “Old English Crescent”, this is for you.

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The historicist facade stripped of ornament invokes former buildings of East Berlin. Could this be an unintentional proponent of the critical regionalism in the Kenneth Frampton style? But why Bath? Why England? Don’t we have our very own Berlin crescent housing? Nah, that’s a horseshoe. This is a crescent, I mean a sickle, no, an arc (see the development’s concept). Yet, the stripped down historicist style lends this radial structure a penal appearance. By god, it’s a panopticon! At least if must feel that way playing in that sandbox and I wouldn’t worry about having your bike stolen.



5 responses to Ostalgic Horseshoe – Sorry, Crescent, No, Arc – welcomes first residents

  1. fergus_b

    nice one, D.S.
    I often think it would be great to do commercial new build for big money, then I see something like this and think, nein.
    How about tracing development of the townhouse since its appearance maybe 10 yrs ago in Berlin to its “crowning glory” in this project where a townhouse apparently can be topped by an apartment, or a maisonette, or another townhouse or even several stories of townhouse or apartment or whatever? When is a townhouse not a townhouse?
    Love the “Sky houses” on a sublink on the website. What a lark.

  2. D.S.

    Thanks, Fergus, good point about the townhouse, maisonette, penthouse layer cake thing, so true. Everything’s got a concept and nothing just is what it is. Probably somewhere in England or China, their selling ordinary townhouses as Reihenhäuser. This forced exotization of ordinary things by fancy words, it’s just gotta stop. But this reaction itself is already increasingly conceptualized in products like “Bier” bier. Argh, concept fatigue…

  3. ber

    Maybe the architects reference to Bath came up when he saw the Schwimmhalle nearby … just kidding.

  4. O.M.

    Another DS doozie, thanks for picking up the Slab mantle. I’d gone on a little field trip over to the ‘Bogen a couple months back after this thing materialized from out of nowhere. It was all a bit too much for me to deal with, I suppose, and I’m grateful that you weren’t so sheepish.

    The way I saw it there’s something quite ghostly about the ‘Bogen’s whiteness, and for that it’s really different than the unpainted cement plaster of yore. Just imagine how very different it would actually look dressed up in grey-brown commie rough coat. It could be awesome! And if it would probably put the brakes on the building being infested by insects and vermin and being pecked at by birds. I imagine this thing in 30-40 years having something like the bullet-pocked facades of yesteryear, and maybe roughcoat could then come to the rescue again. Now that would be “Critical Regionalism”.

    @fergus_b: what a great idea. Though actually undertaking such a project might cause us all to slit our wrists. Still, it’s a book that most definitely needs to be written. It could be called something like

    Out of Thin Air: Berliner “Townhouses” 1999-2011.

    @D.S.: (@ your comment, that is): One picture I took of the ‘Bogen was of the hoarding they had up with all the project info and hyped out marketing caca. It described the various unit types as “Townhouses, Apartments and Penthouses with unverbaubarem Parkblick”. One looses track of the Fremdwoerter, and the intent to bamboozle prospeective buyers couldn’t be more clear.

  5. fergus_b

    @O.M. the townhouse in its present “dissipated” (diluted? dissolute? devoluted?) incarnation has been with us a long time, though the label is a comparitively recent (all encompassing) phenomenon (like in Dublin where in the 80s even developments in the shadow of the Ballymun towers were allegedly located in Glasnevin, you guessed it a much better area in estate agent terms). The OMA block here beside our office (80s IBA) has what could be termed high level townhouses, now looking down onto the McDonalds 1st floor terrace (2011). Guess the idea that a townhouse can/shoud/must have a front garden (or carport) has been retrospectively (and dissolutely) reappraised.