A Cooperative House in Berlin Reflects Its Surroundings—Literally

Completed by local firm Sauerbruch Hutton, whose office is just steps away, Haus 6 is clad in silvery steel and is home to a group of 10 clients.

In the leafy, tranquil district of Moabit in central Berlin, local architects Sauerbruch Hutton have completed a reflective cooperative house. Courtesy Jan Bitter

If you walk along a silent side street in Moabit, a central neighborhood of Berlin, you might have a strange experience. Briefly, there seems to be a large motion in the corner of your eye—but when you turn, there is no one around. The movement is gone, and all is silent. You resume walking, but there it is again. What the —— ?

It takes a moment to realize that your movements are being duplicated by a remarkable building clad from roof to ground in large, reflective stainless steel panels. This is the latest housing project by Berlin-based architects Louisa Hutton and Matthias Sauerbruch.

Their firm, Sauerbruch Hutton, is actually a neighbor: its office sits in a historic, red-brick building just behind the silvery house. This entire area used to be a much larger walled complex built in the 19th century for the Prussian military. After World War II, however, the area lay derelict, before a rejuvenating influx of West Berlin artists, artisans, and architects in the Cold War era. About 20 years ago, the local creative community bought parts of the area and constructed new buildings for living and working. The silver house is the fourth structure built in between the historic barracks—and already the third here by Sauerbruch Hutton, but the first with such a striking facade.

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Generous balconies wrap the structure, providing ample outdoor space and access to individual units.  Courtesy Jan Bitter

Outside, the building had to adhere to planning and preservation requirements that specify a maximum size and a roof form relative to the historic buildings. So the simple, rectilinear building stolidly conforms to the orthogonal (and very Prussian!) order of the area. But it also breaks this order, as Sauerbruch points out: “These rectangular lines are virtually dissolved by the subtly wavy cladding of the stainless steel, which reflects the surroundings irregularly and thereby lends the facade a fluid character.”

The house was built for a group of ten clients from the “creative” fields; it includes architects, designers, photographers, a sociologist, a musician, a journalist, and a curator—all with partners and families. “What they all had in common was a desire for maximum flexibility and freedom in the division and use of the spaces, also in the long term,” Sauerbruch remembers.

A central lobby with stairs and an elevator divides the 154-by-133-foot building in half. All vertical service shafts are placed within the facade, and the ceilings are made of prestressed concrete, so no internal columns or load-bearing walls were necessary. And since access points to all units run along a 6.5-foot-wide balcony, doorways can be freely distributed along the length of the building; any floor can hold up to to eight separate units. The extra-wide balcony also functions as private or shared outdoor space, depending on the number of apartments and the orientation of their entrances. At the time of writing, there were 14 units in the building ranging from 516 to 2,152 square feet, seven of which are currently inhabited by members of the original building coop.

It seems the facade abstractly reflects the surfaces of its surroundings, but also mirrors the fluid, changing character of the group living and working inside.

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