In April of 2010 the architecture community gathered to protect one of the many at risk postmodern buildings of the 1980s. The new owners of the Kreuzberg Tower by John Hejduk drew negative attention from notable architects when they began altering the building’s façade. The Kreuzberg Tower’s facade has now been restored, and the attention it received reflects on its postmodern history, and the prominence of its important designer.
Hejduk began his career at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art where he later served as dean from 1972 to 2000. The revered architect and artist built very few buildings, and is most recognized for his written, academic, and theoretical contributions to architecture. He was a member of both the New York Five and The Texas Rangers, and wrote poetry as well as theory. The Kreuzberg Tower is a rare example of his built work and is a part of the IBA Berlin 1987.
The Kreuzberg Tower as part of IBA 87
The Kreuzberg Tower was part of the 1987 International BauAufstellung (IBA) Program. The German program continues to support innovative architecture and design through built and unbuilt projects. In 1987 the IBA invited noted architects and designers to envision new low and middle income housing for West Berlin.
John Hejduk's involvement with IBA can be traced back to his remarkable 1980 'Berlin Masque' entry for the “Wilhelmstrasse” IBA competition. Hejduk placed 28 small structures called "masks" between the block fragments of the destroyed city district. Hejduk’s entry won him a special prize of three building sites of the international building exhibition. One of them was an empty plot — number 11 — between Kochstrasse and Charlottenstrasse (in addition to two other plots, in Tegel and on Friedrichstrasse). The initial brief included two low-level residential blocks that were scaled to the neighbouring historic buildings and a residency for The DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program. The 14-storey studio tower designed by Hejduk was to give the quarter a new urban identity at this point.
Together with Cooper Union graduate Moritz Müller as contact architect in Berlin, Hedjuk worked on the designs between 1984-87. Upon completion, the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program did not move into the tower. Instead, all 55 apartments across the three buildings were given over to social housing, in what was, at the time, a largely Turkish Gastarbeiter demographic in Kreuzberg.
Hejduk’s project is composed of a residential complex with one 14 story tower with two separate 5 story wings. The two east-west-oriented living quarters (wings) have four full floors, a developed attic, and gable roofs. It houses twenty apartments each and was planned for and inhabited by the Turkish guest workers. Wherein, the tower which was initially planned for the artists in the DAAD residency program, consists of a total of seven apartments, each with two floors and twenty windows. The tower comprises a living area on the lower level and a loft-type artist's studio on the upper level. The 1m x 1m balconies encased in gunmetal green painted steel are a striking feature. The requirement to enable different forms of living was taken into account by providing different types and sizes of apartments. This is how maisonette-studio apartments, 1.5-room, 2-room, 3-room, 3.5-room and 4-room apartments were created, with the maisonette-studio apartments and 3-room apartments can be converted and the apartments on the top floor have open floor plans.
Hejduk's fascination with simple geometric anthropomorphic forms, his narrative and poetic approach to buildings such as those of the 13 towers of Cannaregio, the “Berlin-Masque”, and the influences of Rilke's poem and the "The Sky Over Berlin" are all visible in this Kreuzberg project.
People and the Hejduk Tower
According to Derek Fraser, "The Braque inspired palette of grey, black and green... conveys an aura of melancholy." The Wings are recognisable by their anthropomorphic, south-facing façades, which bear a resemblance to simplified faces. Residents of the Kreuzberg Tower have attested to its metaphysical properties. Robert Slinger, who lived on the 8th and 9th floors, wrote;
"After living there for a further eight years, I came to understand how Hejduk’s architecture both flexibly accommodates and yet asserts a presence which resists any attempts to co-opt it. For me, this relationship was never adversarial, but rather more akin to a debate with an old friend, where differences of opinion are thrashed out over a given ground of mutual respect."
Shumon Basar, a british writer and editor who has lived on the 10th and 11th floors, has written;
“Today, luxury living has come to mean expensive finishes, furnishings, bathroom taps, and ‘exclusive views.’ Things to display. This has come at the expense of any kind of original idea on how to live. For Hejduk, the antithesis is the case. All the material finishes in this building are humane but basic, suitable for social housing. Linoleum. Square white tiles. Cheap grout. The luxury Hejduk offers is a radical rethinking of the plan of a house or an apartment. Its received principles of sense. He forces you to inhabit through invention. This is a different kind of luxury. One that may have died in the handover from the twentieth to twenty-first centuries.”
Basar in his blog also references the metallic flowers of Hejduk on the facade of the tower as,"grips for angels to hold onto when they climb the sides of the tower.” inspired by the 1987 film “Wings of Desire" about angels in the sky over Berlin directed by German filmmaker "Wim" Wenders.
Hejduk Tower Today
The 2010 proposed refurbishment by the owners had included changes such as removal of the sun shades and expanding the balconies. The negative attention produced by the architecture community halted the changes and encouraged a reconsideration of the importance of the building. Instead of the initial changes, a full renovation is planned for the Kreuzberg Tower, including the surrounding gardens, which were designed but never realized.
Today the Kreuzberg Tower is protected by the government with a clause stating that plans to alter it must be considered by the city’s building department and appropriate historians, as well as all of the 1987 IBA buildings. This total reversal is thanks to the outspoken architecture community, and the recognition and response by the city for a unique building and its influential pedagogue designer.