Beyond Façades:

The Berlin Block and the Housing Issue at IBA 1987

by

Ilaria Maria Zedda

Keywords

  • urban block
  • urban villa
  • tower
  • critical reconstruction
  • building exhibitions
  • 20 th century housing

Thirty years after Interbau 1957, another international building exhibition, named IBA 1987, opened to the public in Berlin. Whereas the Interbau promoted modernist urban models and housing typologies, the IBA relied instead on the traditional elements of urban design: street, square, and block. After decades of modernist models and standards (and of denial of the urban block), the IBA had to find compromises between traditional housing typologies and the new needs of the 1980s.

To do this, it conceived experimental housing solutions where the Berlin block mixed with other typologies, such as urban villas or towers. Although both exhibitions focused on housing, the way they approached this topic – and especially how the public experienced it – was markedly different. The focus of Interbau 1957 was mainly on its apartments, some of which were even open for visits. In the case of IBA 1987, instead, the focus was less on disseminating knowledge about the apartments, or about the relationships among different houses in the blocks. Thus, knowledge (and judgments) of the IBA projects is often limited to their façades.

Starting from these remarks, this article seeks a deeper understanding of the housing issue proposed by the IBA, considering both its theoretical premises and its built outcomes. The analysis of selected case studies will illustrate the complexity of the solutions that the IBA implemented in its urban blocks. Thereby, this article sheds light on the housing issue in a remarkable phase of Berlin’s modern architecture, still meaningful for the complexity of the contemporary city.