The Hügelhäuser of Marl, Germany


Within a quiet town in Nordrhein Westphalen, Germany sits a complex of experimental and curious looking buildings. During the 1960s the council in Marl, Germany decided that they wanted some interesting and innovative buildings to start to contrast the downturn in industry of the previous decades. They enlisted the help of architects Roland Frey and Hermann Schröder to build very modern and adventurous houses that would change the frame of mind in the community. The photographs you are seeing are of their first construction in the Hügelhäuser complex, of which all four buildings look different but with the same creative values.


Although the design from Frey and Schröder are completely new and not had not been seen anywhere else, besides the pyramids of Egypt, they still reflected the industrial landscape of the area. The area north of Dortmund and Bochum is known for its high levels of industry and particularly coal mining. The remains of this industry are still seen today in massive hills made from earth dug up to get to the precious coal underneath. You can find out more about what these hills are now used by through my post on Tiger & Turtle - Duisburg. The ‘hill houses’, as they are directly translated, mimic the incredibly steep coal hills and giving a message of accepting previous culture, building upon it and learning from it.


All the buildings were built roughly in succession between the 1960s and 1980s after a good reaction from both the local council and general public. The buildings were designed to maximise floor space in comparison with quality of life, such as having a modest amount of area in each flat for their price but also features that would be more appropriate in luxury housing through balconies and underground car parking. All bar the top floor the flats are ‘L’ shaped and all flats feature a balcony that is not looked on by neighbours higher up or across the building. Despite this cut off between flats there is still a sense of community through the connecting stairways and communal gardens around the complex.


Unfortunately this design was not widely adopted after the developments in Marl. Despite the design being very affordable to construct through little need for scaffolding and less labour costs, high rise buildings were preferred as they maximised the amount of ground space with amount of occupants. After all, the Hügelhäuser design had a lot of wasted air space and in developing cities, every portion must be maximised when it can.


Regardless of maximising margins meaning that the style was not fully adopted throughout the world, the council’s plan and hopes of rejuvenating the town were fulfilled. Not only were the Hügelhäuser a success in the community’s eyes, but other developments such as the Marler Stern and their own council buildings were built at a similar time (my post next week will show these in a bit more detail) and have since provided the town with a creative touch that has only grown with time.


I found the hill house complex to be something completely out of this world, many mysterious views around the buildings with many angles and shapes that would be more at home in a sci-fi film set out in space. The material use of off-white concrete and very pale zinc panels accentuates the perpendicular and 45 degree angles used on the sides of the buildings and also the almost comical towers at the top of each stairway. Besides being a pleasure to photograph, there was a real want within me to live in these buildings at some point, a sense of grandeur in a very creative and homely town.


If you enjoyed any of the photographs here today, you can peruse a selection of them below.