A single-family home in the centre of the city? While for many years, this seemed to be a contradiction in terms, today it has become the reality in many places. Berlin city center in particular is seeing more and more new builds in the form of terraced housing - and demand is high. Young families especially love the modern town house aesthetic: two to five floors provide ample living space, as well as office space, if required. Large windows make for light-flooded rooms, while petite gardens provide an oasis of green within the city center.
While the term "town house" may sound modern, this form of home actually has a long history.
When we think of town houses, we think of the narrow townhouses, with plain or elaborately decorated fronts and a small garden, in Amsterdam, London or San Francisco. Initially, they were occupied primarily by affluent merchants, who purchased the narrow city residences as an addition to their country homes. In many cities, like New York, they continue to enjoy cult status to the present day and are now home to film stars like Sarah Jessica Parker, Sofia Coppola and Uma Thurman, all of whom call terraced houses in Manhattan home. However, there are also examples from social housing: between 1925 and 1933, in response to the shortage of housing in Berlin, architect and urban planner Bruno Taut created the "Hufeisensiedlung" (lit. "Horseshoe Estate") in the Neukölln neighborhood of Britz, on the site of what was once a feudal estate. It comprises more than 600 single-family houses, many situated around the horseshoe-shaped central garden area.
Contemporary Berlin urban development planners had Amsterdam's townhouses in mind when, in 2005, as part of an urban planning ‘masterplan', they gave the go-ahead for construction on the formerly undeveloped area between Kurstraße and Hausvogteiplatz in Mitte, known as the ‘Friedrichswerder'. Forty-seven townhouses were built here, just a short distance from the Federal Foreign Office. What is so special about these town houses is that, apart from requirements as to the width - not to exceed 6.50 meters - the developers and architects enjoyed a great deal of freedom in the design of the houses. The result: ultra-modern, sleek fronts stand side-by-side with clinker brick façades or charming turn-of-the-century-style porches. This mix does not appeal to everyone - an architectural critic in the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" described it as a "lookalike contest for architectural parodies".
In contrast, other projects appear considerably more uniform: the site of the former Weißbier (lit. wheat beer) brewery "Schneider" in Prenzlauer Berg has been home to a beer garden and café since 1867 and in its heyday boasted 10,000 seats. After the Second World War, the grounds were left derelict. Not until half a century later was the site awakened from its slumber, when townhouses, modeled on the English style, were built here. With their pedestrian-only pathways, the "Prenzlauer Gärten" are now a dream for families who want to live in town, but nevertheless love peace and quiet. Surrounded by the family-friendly infrastructure in Prenzlauer Berg and with the Volkspark Friedrichshain just a short walk away, these properties combine all the advantages of urban living with the peaceful environment of a single-family house.
Living, working and creativity - this was the guiding principle behind the architecture of the ‘Artist Village' by the Rummelsburg Lake.
The monochrome black and white cube-shaped structures can be seen from far away, both to the north, in the Rummelsburg neighborhood, and to the south on the peninsula of Stralau. "The aim was to create a place where freelance artists, musicians, graphic designers and architects could combine family life with focused creative work, in a space specially designed to accommodate these functions at an inspiring location, close to the city", say architects Beyer-Schubert, who realized this concept for a group of buildings. The open floor plans are reminiscent of artists' lofts, but with lots of stairways: on the ground level is a spacious dining-kitchen with a garden terrace; office space, children's bedrooms or guest bedrooms are on the second floor, while the third floor is home to the atelier or living room with its large window front and ceiling heights of 3.75 to 5.50 meters. From here, residents can access the roof terrace.
Also by the water, but in a more central location, is the Hafenquartier Mitte development. Situated on the boundary with Wedding, constructor and project developer Agromex has built eleven luxury townhouses with ceiling heights of up to 5.50 meters along the Spandau canal. Each house has an area of around 380 square meters from the basement to the roof terrace. A sauna, wine cellar, fireplace and a central vacuuming system come as standard. While these smart terraced houses with their large windows still look somewhat out of place, the entire neighborhood around Hamburger Bahnhof is undergoing a process of radical change and is set to develop further over the next few years. Construction cranes stretch skywards at the major building site ‘Europacity', marking the arrival of a new quarter with apartments, offices, retail units and galleries.
To the west of Europacity is the Moabit Poststadion (stadium). The surrounding area here is changing too; the German Alpine Club's new climbing centre, with its external wooden cladding, was recently completed by architects Stahl Lehrmann of Würzburg. The site of what was once an outdoor swimming pool is now home to the spacious, Balinese-style Vabali Spa. In the next block, the first new tenants began moving into their tasteful townhouses a couple of years ago. The main body of the building looks as if it were made from two oblong blocks, one slotted into the other. A skilful mix of wood and white rendering emphasizes the effect. Spacious terraces on the second floor lead via staircases to small gardens, giving residents what they had long been searching for: a real alternative to a house in the country.
Photos and photo credits:
Cover: Bruno Taut Estate (photo credit: Prenzlauer Gärten Grundbesitz AG, Berlin)
01 Townhouses in London (photo credit: Prenzlauer Gärten Grundbesitz AG, Berlin
02 Townhouses near the Federal Foreign Office (photo credit: Judith Jenner)
03 Prenzlauer Gärten near Volkspark Friedrichshain (photo credit: Prenzlauer Gärten Grundbesitz AG, Berlin)
04 Artist Village (photo credit: Andreas Muhs, Berlin)
05 Townhouses along the Spandau canal (photo credit: Judith Jenner)
06 Townhouses in Moabit (photo credit: Judith Jenner)