Six Years in the Making, Berlin’s IBeB Cooperative Housing Development Creates a Tight-Knit Community of Residents
Recently shortlisted for the 2019 EU Mies Award, the 66-unit project's lengthy customization process and ample common spaces form a community from the ground up.
It’s impossible to build in Berlin without getting an earful of history, architectural and otherwise, though some sites come with more chatter than others.
Located at one of Berlin’s noisier spots is a cooperative housing project that’s catchily titled Integratives Bauprojekt am ehemaligen Blumengroßmarkt, which roughly translates to “integrative construction project at the former Berlin flower market.” (It’s better known as “IBeB.”) Designed by a partnership of local architects ifau and Heide & Von Beckerath, it directly faces Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum (itself attached to the Baroque former Berlin Museum) and finds itself amid a smattering of Berlin classics: Hejduk’s Kreuzberg Tower, the golden Axel-Springer-Hochhaus, 1970s social housing, 19th-century Gründerzeit blocks, and Sauerbruch Hutton’s GSW headquarters.
While the construction of a large housing development at such a centrally located and historically loaded neighborhood is surprising and inspiring, even more impressive are the politics and design collaboration that made it possible.
“Usually architects are working on projects which come to them, but here it was a little different because the architects were part of the development of the project,” explains Verena von Beckerath, cofounder of the eponymous Berlin firm. Heide & Von Beckerath and ifau had almost completed their jointly designed R50 baugruppen project (also in Berlin) when, in 2012, they approached the well-established Selbstbaugenossenschaft cooperative (which had already developed several housing developments) to help realize the IBeB project.
The cooperative and coalition of architects bid for a spot in an innovative development scheme organized by the city-operated Berlin Property Fund, which was seeking multiple proposals for the 3.46-acre site that would together create a mixed-use neighborhood. For example, aside from the housing component, other projects on the site include an office block for creative companies and another mixed-use building with residential units and offices.
Winning the project was just the first step for the architects and the cooperative. They next had to attract future residents to sign up for apartments in the IBeB. They did this through an open call, personal social connections, and simple word-of-mouth. Once on board, the residents worked with the architects and the cooperative via weekly meetings over six years to design the building. All in all, the project comprises 66 apartments and 17 studios across four stories. There are also three commercial units (one currently occupied by a bike shop) at ground level. In addition, eight of the residential units provide supported-living facilities for people with disabilities; these units are managed by a nonprofit. Communal spaces occupy the rooftop. A quarter of the apartments are rented at a sustainable low rent and managed by the Selbstbaugenossenschaft cooperative, while 70-75 percent are privately owned.
The project footprint occupies an approximately 30,000-square-foot site resembling a rectangle with one chamfered corner on its northeast side, which creates space for a public plaza. The facade, meanwhile, features glazed ceramic tiles and regular intervals of large windows. Inside the residential cores, a material palette of exposed concrete and blackened steel is familiar in a city often fond of raw, if not overly austere, minimalism. The relatively inconspicuous exterior is offset by the remarkable rue intérieure, as von Beckerath describes it—an open passageway characterized by tall, sky-lit voids, benches, and mini courtyards carved out through the center of the building volume. Apartment front doors face onto the passageway, creating a spatial and social core where neighbors meet and kids play soccer, a scenario that seemingly inverts British brutalism’s “streets in the sky.”
Behind the front doors, each apartment was designed for the wants and needs of its particular resident. “It was fantastic to be able to design your own ‘shelf,’” says resident Rosario Talevi, referring to the way the apartments appear to slot into the building’s supporting structure. “You could decide the positions of the walls, position of the kitchens, the colors of your tiles, one or two bathrooms, and so on.” Talevi’s apartment features an internal window that looks onto the rue intérieure as well as a generous balcony on the building’s south side. Here the balustrade begins just beyond the reaches of the balcony walls, creating an open void of almost 12 inches that runs the width of the building’s exterior. It’s one of IBeB’s finer details that highlights the project’s inherent sociability.
More than these physical connectors, the years put into the project’s organization, design, and construction have produced a social infrastructure that binds the disparate residents into a true community. “Even though I came in late, I was able to get to know my neighbors before the building was up,” says Talevi. She also remarks on IBeB’s “digital space,” a Linden Hub group where self-organized committees manage different aspects of the building’s social operation, from internet access to the laundry room.
“We talked a lot about the collective and the individual,” explains von Beckerath. “Of course the balcony is the part of the apartment which is the most exposed to the public space, so in a way we think they are also part of the facade. They are part of the expression of the building to the outside, but also to the inside. We also think it’s nice that if someone is on vacation the neighbor can give water to the plants.” She concludes, “It’s maybe a little reminder to what you own is not only yours, it’s part of a larger thing.”
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