In 2016, we were fortunate enough to have a private tour of the Corbusierhaus in Berlin. Designed by Le Corbusier according to his principles of Unité d'Habitation, this structure has a fascinating history. It's also one of the few Corbusier structures that you can tour, despite the fact that it remains a residential property.
Following World War II, Berlin's citizens were in desperate need of accommodation. The Interbau International Building Exhibition was one way to deal with the housing shortage, and the likes of Oscar Niemeyer, Arne Jakobsen, Alvar Aalto, Pierre Vago and Walter Gropius participated in the project. Another participant was Le Corbusier, who had recently found success with his unités d’habitation in Marseilles, France.
Between 1956 and 1958, the Corbusierhaus was constructed. When completed, it contained 530 separate apartments. Each contained anywhere from one to five rooms.
From the exterior, the colorful design is a whimsical approach to international style. It looked especially beautiful just after sunrise, when we were taking photographs.
Inside, it is easy to compare the structure to a ship. The hallways feel like the corridors of a ship, with little natural light coming in. Fortunately, each of the apartments was well lit thanks to lots of glass. Each floor of the building is called a "Strasse" or street, aiming to encourage the community spirit of the structure. Each of these streets also has its own color scheme.
Corbusier is known for his concept of the Modular Man, the dimensions which are modeled beautifully here:
All of the dimension of the rooms and the ceilings are based off this fictional Modular Man.
The concept of the structure was that the working-class men and women who resided there would have all of their immediate needs met without leaving the property. There was supposed to be a grocery store on the premises as well as recreational and community facilities throughout. Unfortunately, building codes and budgets prevented some of these ideas from becoming a reality. Even today, however, there is a small shop in the lobby of the building that residents frequently use.
The overwhelming majority of the apartments are now privately owned and not available to the public. Unfortunately, many of these apartments have received a full remodel, and few retain their original features.
If you're spending some time in Berlin and you want to check it out, we'd strongly encourage it! It is possible to arrange a private tour, which is organized by the Förderverein Corbusierhaus Berlin. This is a fantastic organization dedicated to preserving the history of the building. Collectively, the group has purchased one unit within the building. When you book a tour, you're invited to take a look around the unit and browse some of their publications and original photos. Like most of the apartments, this unit has been redone. It is set up for groups and lectures, but it is still absolutely worth seeing in person.
Here is a period photo showing the interior of an apartment in the late 1950s:
If you are in the area, you can just swing by the Corbusierhaus and check out the exterior of the property on your own. It is a residential property, so be respectful of the people who live there. To get to Corbusierhaus, take the S-Bahn (S5/75) toward Spandau and disembark at Olympiastadion Station. From there, it's less than two minutes to walk to the address: Flatowallee 16, 14055 Berlin. You'll see a sign for Corbusierhaus, but you should also have no trouble spotting the tall building itself.
If you would rather peek around inside, walk the hallways and get a history lesson about the architecture and Corbusier himself, we'd strongly recommend the tour. Technically, it is €5 per person, and a minimum of 10 people. Since there were only two of us, we approached them asking about a €50 tour - and they were more than happy to accommodate us. So we essentially got a private tour of the structure for €50 - not a bad deal! Also, FYI - the tour can absolutely be arranged in English.
You can learn a little more about the property, the Förderverein Corbusierhaus Berlin and arranging tours HERE. It is entirely in German! If your German is rusty (or nonexistent), you can also email firstname.lastname@example.org and specificy your desired tour date, time, language and the number of participants. They will email you back to confirm your choices. Bring Euros with you to pay for the tour, and a few extra in case you want to buy any of the books, posters or postcards they have available for sale.