Dieselpunks present: the Weimar Republic's largest housing project:
During the critical housing shortage that existed in in Germany following WWI, various co-op housing societies and associations, public housing associations and trades unions housing groups were formed to build economical housing in Berlin. One of the largest of these associations,Gehag (public utility homes, savings and construction company), was founded in 1919 to build housing for its members.
Committed to a progressive program of modern housing, Gehag sought collaboration with modern architects and, in 1924, Bruno Taut was appointed chief architect.
Taut had been involved in the development of the Gross-Siedlungen (large residential community) idea as a concept for building large garden city-type housing complexes, and had some experience designing a similar garden city development in Magdeburg in 1912-15. The Chief consultant of the project was Martin Wagner, the founder of VsB (Association for Social Housing Enterprise) and a proponent of Garden City concepts. Since 1925, he served as the chief city planner of Berlin.
Built in an outlying area south of central Berlin, Britz-Hufeisensiedlung - literally "horseshoe" community, so named from the horseshoe shape of the inner group of apartments which are built around a natural pond - was one of the early "large neighborhoods" to be built in Berlin. Along with Taut's "Onkel-Toms Hutte" (Uncle Tom's Cabin), built in 1926, it is one of the best examples of application the ideas of the Garden City Movement (Gartenstadtgesellschaft) by a functionalist architect.
From a book New Housing by Bruno Taut:
There are 1072 dwellings in Hufeisen about equally divided between 3- story row houses and 3-story point access slabs. Unlike most of the later projects typical of German social housing of the late 1920's and 1930's, the slabs here are arranged as partial perimeter blocks defining large interior gardens. In addition, buildings step in plan and vary in height and exterior detail so that, diversity is achieved within the format of a unified organization. This is one of the first examples of flat-roofed housing to be built in Berlin.
This was a very controversial feature in the 1920's, one with political overtones especially when seen in the context of adjacent buildings which had steep pitched roofs and what Taut referred to as a "romantic" ambiance. Even so, some of the slabs had a stepped section, and overhanging eaves which tended to soften the stark profile of flat-roofed buildings. Some of the buildings were also painted red, a further sign of the socialist leaning of Gehag and their architect.
The individual buildings contain quite conventional 2-4 bedroom flats in the typical arrangement of two apartments per floor per stair. The position of the stairs on the street side of the buildings results in a repeating pattern of vertical glazed zones alternating with zones of regular windows.
Balconies opening to the opposite side dominate the garden facades. The small openings at the top floor- a normal feature of housing of this period, light an attic space which was used for washing and storage. Martin Wagner also designed some of the slabs here. The two story row houses feature complete basements, and pitched roofs with small dormer attic windows.
Once built, many city residents complained that the developments were too nice for the working class, and the working class were quite pleased. Over 80 years later, some original residents still remain and GEHAG continues to rent out the UNESCO site apartments.
See also: Karl Marx Hof, Vienna