Living on top of a Highway /// European Highways

I came across this unbelievable building complex recently, which is in the Wilmersdorf neighbourhood of Berlin on Schlangenbader Straße:



Looks kind of normal, right? Well, here is the building in cross-section:


Yes, in fact there is a 6-lane highway running right through this center of this building. The cross section shows that the building is built around the highway, with small spaces separating the highway tunnel and the apartments. The designers used the areas below the highway as parking spaces for the people living in the building – a really great way of making use of residual space.

The building complex, like many in Berlin, was a response to the growing housing crisis of West Berlin. Although many new structures had been built, there was still demand for housing, and a need to renew the post-war 19th-century housing stock. Architects and engineers were coming up with new and experimental ideas of how to fit people and infrastructure together. By 1980, the first units were ready for move-in.

However, like many modernist constructions, be it due to context, time or architecture, the complex suffered from increasing crime, dirty surroundings and associated with this, stigma. The complex is operated by degewo, a semi-private social housing company (I say semi-private, as I am still trying unsure how these housing companies work here in Berlin – any explanations are welcome!). As I understand it, the housing company invested money in security, repairs and upkeep, resulting in the quite pristine environment we have today.

With all this in mind, I took a quick tour around the building to check out the infrastructure.

This bridge spans over the residential road and is actually a highway:

photo 1


Parks and open spaces abound:

photo 2


More park space:

photo 3


The building faces east and west, so everyone gets a little bit of sunlight. Helps to have an enormous balcony:

photo 4

If you’re wondering, the whole space is extremely quiet. The only sounds that come from the highway seem to be from the sides, where the highway reemerges out of the building. Otherwise, you would hardly know that there were cars travelling through. No vibrations, no interior noise, seemingly nothing.

The building complex is also a really interesting late-modernist work, with huge balconies, really interesting and complex spaces and several tunnels and pedestrian pathways through the complex. Gardens and playgrounds abound. Below is a fast-looking mailbox system. What a gem.

photo 5


Still, some of the interiors must be frightful to walk through at night, especially some of the public through-ways (like the cover photo at the top of this post).

What really surprises me about this building is the different levels of cooperation that must have gone into creating this. Architects, traffic planners, structural and traffic engineers, housing experts, politicians, planners and landscapers – it’s almost unbelievable that it all came together. I would be curious to know how the planning process proceeded and what pressures the planners and builders were under at this time. I assume that they were in dire straits and needed to, at all costs, build buildings that made efficient use of scarce land.

Check out the original architects’ webpage, with photos from the 70s and 80s:

If you’re curious, the drawings came from a catalogue of modern architecture, the citation is,
Nalbach, G., Nalbach, J. (1989). Berlin Modern Architecture: Exhibition Catalogue. Senatsverwaltung für Bau- und Wohnungswesen: Berlin



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