Originally constructed between 1910 and 1933, the modernist estates within Siemensstadt, Berlin, show a form of architect that has seldom seen the test of time. Situated to the north-west of the german capital, it hosts strong transport links to the city centre, making it a useful location for working classes, with lower housing prices mixed with the low transport costs within Germany. The architects of Bruno Taut, Martin Wagner and Walter Gropius have created an estate that has survived around a century.
Constructed over the span of twenty years, each building appears different, however, all with an overriding theme of modernism. All the buildings were built with purpose in mind, in contrast to other structures having a decorative approach behind them. Instead of previous methodologies being around ‘form over function’, modernism follows a ‘form follows function’.
The purpose for the housing estate was to provide a better quality accommodation for the working classes of the city. With tuberculosis running rampant within the city, there was a clear need to firstly, move the breakout out of the city centre, but also to prevent workers that were crucial to Berlin’s rapid industrialisation from being wiped out. Siemensstadt is located around a thirty-minute drive away from the city centre only due to having good transport links, otherwise the workers would face a near three hour walk to get to some places of work around the city.
Alongside being ideally located, the buildings and surrounding areas were built with wellbeing in mind. Bruno Taut, Martin Wagner and Walter Gropius analysed how workers lived in their current residences, to understand how this could be improved. These three architects could be described as some of the founders of modernist architecture, especially in Berlin, while the city was in a highly progressive stage of development. With buildings placed around greenery, visible to all residents, the overwhelming evidence of wellbeing being at the estate’s forefront cannot be denied.
Construction ended as Adolf Hitler rose to power, and with it, the end of an architectural era in modernism and instead a high influx of military and practically minded buildings. Despite the intelligent use of abundant materials within the Siemenstadt Housing Estate, construction moved away from being people-centric and instead to fortification. Großsiedlung Siemensstadt survived the intense Allied bombings of Berlin, and still stands today, mainly due to its location being well out of the city, but also the clever planning of transport links making it an attractive and affordable place for workers and less for businesses or industry.
Still a mostly working class area, the district of Siemenstadt is highly active, alongside the continuation of practically minded design around the town. Green areas are surrounded by houses, shops line the streets with high footfall and much of the traffic is directed to highways leading around the area. The original design back in the earlier 1900s has been so successful that the site has earned a UNESCO World Heritage protection.
When walking through this now, rare showcase of historical design, I felt incredibly at home. The buildings feeling welcoming, whilst also incredibly easy to navigate. The sheer amount of greenery (admittedly at the height of summer) was staggering for a suburb of a capital city. I visited during the working week, meaning many of the residents may have been at work, this still didn’t silence the buzz of the area, many coffee shops were creating a rumble of conversation and many pedestrians wondered through shade enjoying the intense heat while they could.
In complete contrast to what is seen in city centres, with buildings being replaced or changed every few decades, and the same in residential areas around cities, Siemensstadt has certainly stood the test of time, through two world wars at which Berlin was the focus or much bombardment, but also through the last few decades of intense change. The original design shows that people have not changed drastically and our needs can very easily be put down to certain things when grouped. Whatever we build, does truly end up building us.