Berlin looks to Communist-era “slab buildings” to alleviate a housing shortage.


If I seem to be a tad fascinated by the topic of post-WWII communist times in eastern/central Europe, it’s because I’ve never been able to shake the impressions left by traveling there in the late 1980s.

It’s a kinky urbanist streak in my character, but here are a handful of links to past posts tangentially related to housing in these places.

History & photography: “What East Germany Was Really Like.”

Khrushchyovka! The rise and fall of typical Soviet-era housing in Russia.

ON THE AVENUES: Two books about truth and housing.

Estonia Spring Break 2016: Day Five (2 of 2), featuring a bus ride to the ‘burbs and two Old Town pubs.

“Life Behind the Berlin Wall” and other documentaries about East Germany, all of them ideal for history obsessives like me.

This latest amazing revelation includes a useful reminder, in that when these structures first were raised, they were regarded as luxurious examples of modern housing in the context of previous domiciles.

This doesn’t excuse Soviet colonial rule or domestic repression. It just helps explain a few things.

A Second Life For Berlin’s Plattenblau, by Feargus O’Sullivan (CityLab)

The city is looking to the ubiquitous building type from its Communist past to help solve a housing crunch.

Yesterday, Berlin’s Senate announced a project to add more units on top of already existing buildings in the city’s east, with a possible capacity of up to 50,000 new homes. The plan to add floors isn’t novel in itself, of course, even in Berlin. What’s striking is the specific type of building chosen for the experiment: East Berlin’s Plattenbau. These mass produced, partly prefabricated modernist apartment complexes (the name translates as “slab buildings” in reference to the concrete panels that form their walls) were put up in huge numbers during the Communist era. When a German thinks of a Communist-era building, a Plattenbau likely springs to mind.

After reunification, however, Plattenbau were heavily derided as dreary, meretricious, and frequently remodeled, demolished, or reduced in size. Now, it seems these buildings are set for another reversal, rising high again as their role in providing decent housing is reassessed …