16 March 2010

Hejduk – Living In The Cat


Activism ∕ Interiors ∕ Sick Buildings

My first story covering the defilement of John Hejduk’s Kreuzberg building has attracted quite a bit of discussion. Nine comments so far, including my own, which is a record for this exceedingly modest journal. The last person to comment was architect Robert Slinger, of Kapok here in Berlin.

Robert has been very active over the last few of days in getting this story out into the world, and has something to offer to the discussion which few of us can match: he lived in the tower with his partner and children for several years. Rather than have his comment fester in the cellar, I’ve decided to post it here:

A former resident speaks.

I lived in the 8th/9th floor of the tower for 8 years. It was extraordinary. The light is absolutely fantastic (maybe not so in the first floor of the wings, but those flats have other qualities too, such as gardens). The plan of the tower is not your standard plan, but they were designed as artist’s studios and transferrred into social housing post facto when the DAAD programme which they were supposed to facilitate was stopped.

It’s a plan that makes 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. Where else do you pay for 80 m2 and get two 36m2 rooms with light from four sides? This is difficult to understand from the severe exterior – but anyone who tells you these flats are dingy has just never been inside.
The fact that the previous owners went bankrupt had nothing to do with the building. I lived through their death rattles whilst there, and it was horrific. The rest of the time, they were merely dreadful.

Our Vormieter’s [previous tennant – Ed.] last words to me were, “Join the Mieterverien [a Berlin tenant’s organisation] – you’ll need it; and always refuse to pay the Betriebskostennachzahlung [suplimentary payments on running costs], as they will systematically try to rip you off”. Good advice. Had them in court once, and permanent trouble the rest of the time. You do not want to know the gory details, but we were not alone. They never did anything to maintain the property at all.

The owners were a nightmare all by themselves, and managed to devalue their entire portfolio without any help from the architecture – so don’t blame the building – it only suffered from long years of neglect.