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Matthias Sauerbruch and Ellas Zenghells (OMA) APARTMENT HOUSE AT CHECKPOINT CHARLIE

(Berlin, Germany) 1983-90

Checkpoint Charlie Housing in Berlin is located on what used to be the American-Sector side of the border-crossing between East and West Europe on Friedrichstrasse, an important section of historical Berlin, which was torn apart by the building of the Wall in 1961. The consequences of the Wall for this location were, on the one hand, an urbanistic trauma and a mutilated city anatomy, and, on the other, a deeper functional pathology: that of a way of life involving Berlin's very special 'border activity' - separations, escapes, shoot ings, the trading of secrets, blackmailing and, last but not least, authoritarian policing, customs and debriefing. This project was intended to facilitate such bureaucratic functions. Historians one day will give an account of to what extent other types of 'border activities' went on in the building itself.

Zenghelis believes that 'the programme is the generator of architecture', it 'provides architecture with its visual aesthetic .. . , the action of its plan and section . . . and subsequently with the sensuous materiality of its finish.' Thus, in the midst of a void' in a 'landscape of hoardings, sheds, viewing towers, car movement and manning posts'. Zenghelis, with the single-mindedness and diligence of a cool dirty realist, designed 'an anti-monumental border facility' with no inten tion of beautifying or displaying any moralistic message. The whole 'frontier' universe is on ground level: a tarmac, bus concourse, control booth, with all the backstage paraphernalia.

Once above the first level of the complex, the drama and the special services of the building

(Opposite, left) The elevation on Frledrichstrasse

(Opposite, right) Interior view of the ground floor

In an ironic vein, Zenghelis conceived that once the cold war ended, 'when the city is no longer divided and the wall is replaced by a leisure zone', the facility would become a supermarket, the memory of the site and its history dissolved and reabsorbed into the market-driven vigour of the new life.

(Opposite, left) The elevation on Frledrichstrasse

(Opposite, right) Interior view of the ground floor

(Above) Rear elevation with gardens (Right) Typical unit plan (Far right) Ground floor plan (Below right) Section are over. The rest of the project accommodates normal life': housing of mixed type in accordance with the city's range of urban dwelling standards. This residential part grows vertically above Checkpoint Charlie, set back from the street and away from the view of the Wall, forming a kind of roof above and beyond its policing functions.

The iconography of the project at ground level transfers American-born, 'Truman-era' roadside structures to an urban setting and reflects the fact that the bare function of the facility, stripped of its political and social connotations, is ultimately to channel vehicles in and out. Given this fact, the choice of image was easy: 'U.S. Route 1\ the only original iconography of highway architecture, which, thanks to Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, is properly codified, at least among architects. It is expressed here in the neon-art 'synthetic night sky' and the arrows pointing to the route to be followed by vehicles, the corrugated aluminium stand and the hovering metal roof clad in polished alloy.

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