25 March 2009

Snake + Highway = Autobahnüberbauung

Images: Georg Heinrich's Autobahnüberbauung in Wilmersdorf, Berlin
I visited some days ago one of these buildings which carry a sort of heroism in their aesthetics and design: it holds a very strong and, almost, paranoiac Zeitgeist.

The “Autobahnüberbauung” (building over the highway), called also “Schlange” (snake) was designed by Georg Heinrichs (born 1926) from 1971 on, and built between 1976 and 1982: the name is no cheat, it is really an extruded pyramidal structure of 570 meters in length housing around 5.000 people built over the existing highway in Berlin’s Wilmersdorf district. Heinrichs (who was raised in an apartment by Bruno Taut and learned the profession with Alvar Aalto) under the influence of megastructural thinking was able to design (and build, even after strong citizen’s opposition) something that I consider totally heroic: the building does not seem out of human scale, mainly due to the terraces growing gradually, and the Snake, compared with the surrounding is not so strident as one could think.

It is surprising the difference between the lateral, greenly side of the building and its impact from the highway: no signal of cars trespassing the structure, nothing that could suggest a high speed, noisy connection when one walks along the pedestrian ways. With such a scale and idea the risk of building an enormous monster was very high, and very easy to achieve this result. The Autobahnüberbauung holds the kind of complexity that prevents boredom but is still easily understandable: considered as it is, 1980’s social housing built over a highway, the result is somehow great. I did not have the opportunity to visit an apartment, but as far as I know as I’ve read people is quite satisfied about their “accommodation” and the investor considered the Snake a commercial success.


Heinrichs was also eventually supposed to design another similar structure in Berlin-Wedding, and this time he tried lightweight construction: anyway this second project did not have so much fortune.

All this reminds me the project Fiber City, Tokyio 2050 by Hidetoshi Ohno, connected with the Shrinking Cities research, in which basically infrastructure and structure are concentrated along communication ways (in this case mainly railways), and of course Le Corbu’s 1930 plan for Algiers.

Some more pics of the Snake here.

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