Berlin grew together out of two walled cites that formed a joint government in 1307; it was re-divided after the end of World War II, and reunified with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. From the 1700s onwards, it has continuously been the center of major architectural developments in Germany and Europe. As a bearer of Enlightenment thought and Prussian nationalism, the Unter den Linden boulevard and its canonic neoclassical buildings took shape. With the establishment of the German Empire and Berlin as the imperial capital in 1870–1871, architecture and urbanism were put in the service of nationalism and imperialism while the German nation was usually defined as a superior race. During this time, Berlin was also an industrializing city, engendering not only the construction of urban and infrastructure projects, factory buildings, and the growth of industrial design, but also the uncontrolled urban expansion, overcongested tenement buildings, and housing shortages, which the Garden City movement was seen fit to resolve. Berlin blossomed during the Weimar Republic between 1919 and 1933, becoming the muse of authors theorizing modernity, mass culture, and metropolitan experience. The city also became a platform for European avant-garde movements and proponents of “New Building,” associated with functionalist concerns, rationalization, social responsibility, and integration of new technologies, as well as large transparent surfaces and flat roofs. With the Weimar Constitution endowing every citizen the right to housing and tax revenues, the Garden City movement transformed into the Berlin Siedlungen (housing estates). Following the National Socialist takeover in 1933, Berlin served as Hitler’s governing center as well as the target of his megalomaniac ambitions. The destruction during WWII and the subsequent severe housing shortage necessitated the immediate construction of apartment units in massive numbers, to which architects responded with new and polarized housing models. The Berlin Wall, constructed in 1961, soon became the iconic symbol of the Cold-War, while architecture shaped East and West Berlin’s distinct identities. In the 1970s and 1980s, the growing interest in the historical fabric of European cities made Berlin a microcosm of international debates again, giving way to ideas such as social housing as urban renewal and “critical reconstruction,” while exposing the racialization of guest workers. After the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, an unprecedented planning and construction boom followed for the reunification of divided Berlin and the building of its new architectural symbols. Memory debates called for the reckoning with Nazi violence or the reconstruction of the Prussian Empire’s buildings as symbols of Germany’s past, while racialized Muslim, Asian, and Black populations continued to face discrimination.
General Overviews including Architecture Surveys
Most architectural history surveys cover buildings and architects in Berlin in reference to the Enlightenment, industrialization and urbanization, the avant-garde movements, the evolution of a new building style, and social housing. Middleton and Watkin 1980 and Bergdoll 2000 are concise and comprehensive sources for the 18th and 19th centuries. Frampton 2020 has been the most respected reference for the evolution of modernism throughout the 20th century since its first publication in 1980, and has been reedited four times. Cohen 2012 expanded and updated the previous surveys by adding new themes, buildings, and architects, while James-Chakraborty 2014 is the most expanded survey globally that puts Germany in the context of world history. Ladd 1998 is an accessible and informative account on the city from its earliest settlements to unification. Pehnt 2005 is an inclusive survey of the 20th century. Anthologies on Berlin bring together authors on specialized topics and result in comprehensive accounts, such as Kleihues 1987, Scheer, et al. 2000 and White and Frisby 2012. The multivolume encyclopedic Geschichte des Wohnens 1996–1999 is a basic source for the development of residential architecture and also features housing in Berlin.
Bergdoll, Barry. European Architecture 1750–1890. NY: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Includes passages on Berlin during the Prussian Kingdom and German Empire, and discusses the reflections of Enlightenment and nationalism on architecture, the importance of new public spaces, and new programs. Covers Berlin buildings such as Altes Museum, Bauakademie, State Theater, Reichstag, and the Opera House.
Cohen, Jean-Louis. The Future of Architecture since 1889. Phaidon, 2012.
An expanded and trustworthy survey of modern architecture. Includes passages on Berlin that discuss urbanization; industrial buildings and designs; Berlin-based avant-garde movements and architects such as Expressionism, Bruno Taut and Mies van der Rohe, social housing projects; Nazi developments; destruction during war and reconstruction after war; urban renewal and critical reconstruction projects in the 1980s; and new constructions after Germany’s reunification.
Frampton, Kenneth. Modern Architecture. A Critical History. 5th ed. NY: Thames and Hudson, 2020, first ed 1980.
Most commonly used textbook for introductory surveys. Includes sections on Berlin during the German Empire, Weimar Republic and Cold War, and discusses Deutsche Werkbund, Bauhaus, functionalism and social housing, Mies van der Rohe’s practice in Berlin, and Nazi state architecture.
Geschichte des Wohnens . Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1996–1999.
A comprehensive anthology of residential architecture across all ages.
James-Chakraborty, Kathleen. Architecture Since 1400. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
An accessible survey of global architecture. Includes condensed passages that foreground Berlin’s place in the invention of the avant-garde, industrialization, collective housing, industrial design, authoritarian urbanism, and the postmodern turn.
Kleihues, Josef Paul. 750 Jahre Architektur und Städtebau in Berlin: Die Internationale Bauausstellung im Kontext der Baugeschichte Berlins. Stuttgart: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1987.
A collection of essays on the history of Berlin from 1237 to 1987 published on the occasion of the city’s perceived 750th anniversary. Contributors include influential architectural historians and architect/historians such as Ursula Frohne, Josef Paul Kleihues, Fritz Neumeyer, Jusius Posener, Wolfgang Schäche and Kart-Robert Schütze.
Ladd, Brian. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
An accessible, informative, and critical text on the entire history of Berlin from the old medieval town to its reunification, which tells the story through the city’s most canonic buildings by treating them as changing and disappearing edifices. Includes a chronology of Berlin’s history.
Middleton, Robin, and David Watkin. Neoclassical and 19th Century Architecture. New York: Rizzoli, 1980.
One of the most trusted surveys of 18th and 19th century architecture in Europe. Covers canonic buildings in Berlin such as the Altes Museum, Brandenburg Gate, Royal Guard House, Bauakademie, and State Theater.
Pehnt, Wolfgang. Deutsche Architektur seit 1900. Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2005.
An inclusive and richly illustrated survey of city planning, architecture, and interior design in Germany throughout the 20th century with ample discussions on Berlin. Distinctive for contextualizing architecture in social history and explaining the history of professionalization. Also distinctive in explaining the role of foreign architects in Germany and German architects abroad. Includes a timeline and biographies of almost three hundred architects.
Scheer, Thorsten, Josef Paul Kleihues, Paul Kahlfeldt, eds. The City of Architecture of the City. Berlin: Nicolai, 2000
An authoritative selection in English (translated from Architektur der Stadt, 2000) of academic articles on the architecture of Berlin between 1900–2000. Includes articles on the planning of Berlin throughout the 20th century, industrial architecture and design, Expressionist and New Objectivity movements, social housing projects, Nazi monumentality, bifurcation of architecture during the Cold War, mega-satellite cities in the peripheries, and urban design at the turn of the century.
White, Iain Boyd, and David Frisby, eds. Metropolis Berlin: 1880–1940. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012
A rich collection of the most important texts on Berlin, written between the 1880s and 1940s by notable architects, planners, novelists, literary and art critics, journalists, and philosophers. Organized chronologically and thematically, the collection provides both classical and previously untranslated texts on Wilhelmine, Weimar, and Nazi periods of the city.
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- Adolf Loos
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