Architect JÖRG EBERS‘s tricky building in Berlin.
This building is a surprise. It can be found on Auguststrasse in Berlin, where this capital is how one imagines the city when they are not in it – pubs, galleries, and old façades behind which people with done-up hair do things we call creative – and here, in the heart of the so-called “Neue Mitte,” the building stands looking out onto the city with its large windows. Infamously, since German reunification, there has been little room for architectonic experimentation in Berlin and, for the many idiosyncratic young architects in the city – who one forgets pretty quickly in the near omnipresence of older master builders and their all too accommodating students – space has been more than scarce. But now there is this building by Jörg Ebers, born in 1969; maybe this construction, though not particularly big or spectacular, is a signal to a new generation of Berlin architects, and is a new, vivacious way of thinking about city living.
“One wanders through the floors as if wandering through the twisted alleys of a southern Italian village.”
The most astounding aspect of Ebers’s narrow city apartment building is not its unobtrusively unusual facade set off by expansive windows, a faintly futuristic door with small round windows, and glistening green mosaic stones made of a hardened brew of sandstone building materials and boxy punch windows. It is most astounding that the building is here at all – because actually, nothing was supposed to have been built here. The modest gap in the block, a mere eight meters wide and twenty meters deep, had been declared off limits to builders by the authorities. Ebers still bought the property, and at a very good price; and his successful attempts to erect a building kept no fewer than fifteen Berlin officials busy with his inquiries.
Permission to build came by way of a trick: Ebers kept within the bounds of the Berlin Building Authority for “apartment buildings with no more than two apartments,” a regulation that exempts duplexes on open fields from needing a separate staircase with smoke-repellent doors. This regulation does not specify the arrangement of the living units. So not only can one set them next to each other, side by side; one can also stack them. Which is what Ebers did on his tiny property. He more or less turned the regulation around 90 degrees, and scored himself an admirable little construction that opens up new perspectives for building city apartments in space-saving ways.
The building Ebers raised on his property – more or less winging it with thrown-together funds and no builder – consists of a store, a separate apartment, and a larger apartment on top in which rooms lead into one another over five different levels.
Ebers’s building is like the city around it, thriving on the principle of compression. Within its tight space, it sets impressions of rooms together you would not see in villas four times its size. The narrowness radicalizes the space – in one corner, the building gives the impression of a modernized cottage, while, with the very next step, one practically falls through the glassed panoramic view into the city. One wanders through the floors as if wandering through the twisted alleys of a southern Italian village. It is no more expensive than a new, run-of-the-mill apartment building and, by comparison, it is more open to experimentation and fresh ideas. It impressively demonstrates that a small foundation can be an opportunity, not a disadvantage. If there were more buildings like these, the commuters still hoping to find happiness in the resource-devouring jungle of row houses might be convinced to live in the city after all.