BRICKS in Berlin Schöneberg revitalizes and converts an historic communications complex into a vibrant mini-village encompassing new commercial, university, gastronomic and residential functions. Located on the Hauptstrasse, the project was managed and realized by globally renowned GRAFT architecture and design firm. The original site formerly housed the post office and other telecommunications functions and comprises a series of buildings dividing the area into several inner courtyards, covering 11,700 sq.m. As part of the revitalization, two new building volumes were added to expand the complex across a 32.000 sq. m area.
The original post office buildings are protected as historical monuments, so a core challenge was how to retain fidelity to the original structure and ensure compliance with building regulations whilst updating the site to respond to new use challenges.
An additional layer to the challenge is that the oldest buildings on the site date to 1901 but others have been added, adapted, and renovated over the course of many decades, leading to a pastiche of enigmatic architectural styles. A core challenge for the design team was how to stay reverent to the range of historical identities within the site whilst uniting these into one cohesive narrative for the project and articulating this theme within the new volumes. GRAFT came up with several innovative solutions and used brick as the anchoring thread uniting the spaces around one core material.
Original buildings such as the gatekeeper’s house, boiler house and counter-teller room have been retained and painstakingly restored to their former grandeur. Conservation specialists identified original 1920s colour schemes for the stairwells and several interior murals were cleaned but not restored, retaining the patina of time without sacrificing authenticity. The post office’s original ornate wrought iron balustrades were kept, but raised to adhere to modern security protocols. Previously unused rooftops were converted for commercial purposes by adding windows yet retaining the original gables, emblematic space and lending a homey character to the interiors. The original courtyards were kept intact but design interventions such as green spaces were added to contrast with the bronze palette of the surrounding buildings. A street art painting in the courtyard tells the story of the site.
Two new residential volumes (Belziger Strasse and Hauptstrasse) are clad in brick to visually blend into the older buildings on the site and feature flexible floorplans from studio apartments to family homes and retail and restaurant opportunities. Parametric design tools were used to inform the design and construction of the new buildings’ organic contours, forms which riffed off the geometry and character of the historic buildings and in doing so also served to structurally preserve the older buildings through both form and identity within the wider Berlin district. Perhaps the most unique facet of the new buildings is in Belziger Strasse, which rests partly on pillars above the site where the former gatekeeper’s house has been re-erected. The original gatekeeper’s house was part of the older site and was trans-located to the new area. It was taken down and each brick indexed and then rebuilt stone for stone on the Belziger Strasse site, with the new building appearing to hover it. This portion of the building currently houses a boutique coffee shop.
The complex is publicly accessible and commercial units are barrier-free, with a wide variety of layouts. Spacious access boulevards from the Hauptstrasse into the internal courtyard area mimic the style of historical courtyard passages. The area surrounding the complex is popular and pedestrian forward, and the newly revitalized and expanded BRICKS multi-use complex modernizes a formerly industrial site to accommodate contemporary functions and a lively live/work mini village, bringing new enterprise and energy into the neighborhood whilst paying homage to both the site-specific industrial and architectural legacy and the wider regional history.