Little Boxes

Facades are the landscape of cities. They are what we see immediately, they are what we can not escape and they have a profound impact on what we feel in an urban enviroment. They are so important and so ubiquitous that there is a whole genre of photography dedicated to architecture. And facades are next to shape the most prominent feature of architecture.

modern house facade girders and little boxes
Girders and little boxes (2019) Fujifilm X100F Kodacolor VR film recipe

This is a relatively new building in Berlin’s gentrified center. It is ugly and uninviting. Thankfully the weather was equally dreary to match the sadness of this house. I can certainly imagine how this apartment building was designed. I call it pricey cheap. A cheaply constructed building with a few decorative objects to show sophistaction and filled with designer interiors to justify the insane real estate price. Stripping away the metal girders masquerading as decoration and we are left with a pretty standard concrete construction. The facade is of course (this is Germany after all) lined with insulation. The kind of material and color treatment that looks already dirty and weathered after a few years.

The shape is essentially a box with a uniform height (the so-called “Traufhöhe” or eaves height) that is a kind of holy commandment in Berlin. Of course this makes it difficult to erect high buildings or to vary and play with different heights. Much is developed within the traditional block perimeters allowing for little variation or creativity. So the facade is where an architect or designer can implement some ideas. To make this particular grey box somewhat attractive they opted for metal girders.

The only other type of building featuring metal girders of some kind are prisons. Even worse are the small boxes pretending to be balconies. Having balcony I think is almost an essential item for any apartment. It enhances the quality of life immensely. But these boxes halfway recessed into the building not only eat up valuable space inside but they also restrict the light coming into the room. I can only imagine how two people might manage to have breakfast on one of these small concrete outcroppings. The building seems like a post-apocalyptic nightmare were people are housed in small cells. Walking through this street feels oppressive.

Thankfully there is a lot of interesting and much more pleasing architecture around. Maybe the reason why I love this city so much.