A listed post office emerges from its slumber. By virtue of supplementary wings and lofts that will frame the building, a new six-storey complex is born, with 129 flats, five office and residential lofts, and various commercial spaces.
At the heart of the new design are the historical attributes of the original listed building – attributes that are echoed in the architecture of the extensions.
Built in 1925, post office Berlin W 30 was one of the largest post offices of its day. With its modern form and expressionist decor, the building was widely regarded as being ahead of its time when it was built. Nevertheless, the design satisfied the functional requirements of a contemporary working post office, with an impressive grand hall, ornate public spaces and well-lit staff areas. The southern facade, which looks out onto Geisbergstrasse, was reserved for visitors. The white cast masonry found on the foundations in Welserstrasse extends up to the first floor here. In the post office’s heyday, visitors would enter the grand hall via the main entrance, which is framed by towering concrete arches – with a stone eagle keeping watch above. The officials did their work in the first two floors, where the rooms are bathed in light thanks to spacious windows. Chief postal architect Willy Hoffmann made extensive use of decorative touches in the design of both the interior and exterior. Still visible today, for example, is Der letzte Postillon, a life-size sculpture in white artificial stone on the corner of Welserstrasse and Geisbergstrasse that forms a rich contrast to the various shades of red found within the brickwork of the imposing original structure. Inside, the public areas are characterised by bold, colourful patterns in an expressionist style – and some of the original ceiling paintings can still be found in what used to be the grand hall. Over the years, the original character of the former post office, which is now a listed building, has been able to survive pretty much unscathed. And just like when it was first built, it melds harmoniously into the local architecture of the Bavarian Quarter.
The architects behind the new Geisberg Berlin project, Ortner & Ortner BAUKUNST, are characterised by their keen interest in the history of construction and the role played by architecture within it. Their work includes such timeless landmarks as mumok in Vienna and, most recently, the State Archive of North Rhine-Westphalia in Duisburg. When redesigning the post office, they focused on the historic structure from the outset. The aim was to identify the building’s unique qualities, retain them and transform them into new forms that will stand the test of time. In terms of construction, this means that the new complex will be created by framing the original construction with new wings on all sides, without impinging on its aura. Quite the opposite. The architects are drawing on individual design elements to create a sense of harmony and balance between the old and new buildings. The mix of shell lime (Muschelkalk) and artificial stone used in the foundations of the post office serves as inspiration for the facade design of the additional wings. With phenomenal attention to detail, the planners are harnessing this tried-and-tested technique, which is thousands of years old. It meets high quality standards and is generally only used in the renovation of listed buildings. It almost goes without saying that sustainable construction forms part of the architects’ approach to planning. They utilise air and natural light as design elements and unite them with both modern construction knowledge and contemporary aesthetics, thus creating cultural and commercial value that will last for many years.
Markus Penell and Sebastian Kablau of Ortner & Ortner Baukunst