Hans Scharoun projected his Siedlung Charlottenburg Nord of 1955 and his Siedlung Siemensstadt of 1929 as a partial realization of his urban vision for a radical restructuring of Berlin after WW2. For Scharoun, “the mechanical decentralization” as he paraphrased the bombing of Germany's cities, presented the opportunity to reconstruct a new spatial and social order. His urban figure of a decentralized urban landscape, organized through three parallel bands of development for work, housing and leisure, all connected by transport infrastructure, prescribed the interrelationships between meticulously defined functions. The residential cell, a grouping of around 5000 inhabitants, Scharoun saw as the basis of the ‘structure’ of the ‘new city’ in its mediation between the subject and the metropolis. For Scharoun, Charlottenburg-Nord exemplified how the Gestalt of the scalar relationship between the dwelling, the cell and the city, describe and inscribe a seemingly natural socio-spatial structure conditioning the social and economic equilibrium of the city.
Scharoun’s status within modernism tends to be classified within an alternative tradition, one whose expressivity and plasticity are read as true functionalism in its response to use and context, and in opposition to the geometric, rational, and classicizing tendencies of Le Corbusier, Gropius and Mies. While this classification, based on formal difference and variation, reveals distinctions and variations in design approaches, it does not offer an understanding of architecture’s contribution to housing beyond its realization of the architectural project.
Conversely, the recent decade has seen a number of publications re-evaluating modernism’s social project as a key part of the process of rationalization and normalization of society throughout the twentieth century. From this perspective, architecture’s contribution is seen as a form of social engineering through its description and inscription of social order; its spatial articulation of the needs and norms of individuals, families and groups within the urban population – thus providing distinct spaces for the social as fields of intervention. In the context of this literature, Scharoun’s Siemensstadt and Charlottenburg-Nord exemplify architecture’s spatial and organizational capacity for supporting the conceptualization and structuring of social relationships. However, this interpretation of architecture in the service of social engineering cannot evaluate the importance of distinctions in design approaches, or the value of design in the evolution of the field.
This paper proposes typology as a mode of spatial reasoning that drives not only architecture’s immanent processes of evolution and experimentation, but also its engagement with its ‘outside’. Architecture’s design process is registered on the surface of the drawing, where it encounters and enfolds a terrain of dispute across disciplines about how to house and group the urban population. This perspective allows a reading of Siemensstadt and Charlottenburg -Nord as instances of typological reasoning specific to architecture and strategic in its operation in the broader discourse of urbanism.
Borsi, K. (2015). Dwelling cells, the city and the autonomy of architecture