This twin project by the young German-Canadian office deadline is more than just a residential building on an infill site.

Slender/Bender is an example of architecture according to the Berlin dogma, a symptom of the vitality of a young scene beyond the strict neo-Prussian architectural regime in the German capital. Slender/Bender is about resourceful planners helping themselves in hard times. Slender/Bender is an attempt to reconcile conservative urban planning with contemporary architecture. Slender/Bender is a symbol of Berlin’s reintegration into international architectural developments.

The location in the central Berlin district of Mitte could hardly have been more suitable for a brilliant debut. A bend in the busy Hessische Strasse and the driveway to the courtyard of the neighbouring house mean that the structure appears almost freestanding. According to official guidelines, no full-sized building was permitted here: architectural heritage regulations and the district council’s construction plan prescribed a maximum of two storeys. Moreover, the aesthetic dictates of Berlin’s notorious Planwerk Innenstadt (Inner City Masterplan) called for a building clad in stone, with a classical three-part facade structure. But deadline used the tension between this Kafkaesque bureaucratic jungle and their own objectives to develop the subversive potential of creative single-mindedness: four years of planning were followed by one year of construction, resulting in a building whose spaces embody its creators’ ambitions.

The proud six-storey structure with its gently curved exterior is wrapped in stainless steel bands, dividing it into a three-part architectural sculpture. The broad facade, attached to the building like an outsized bay window, opens up with what for Berlin are unusually large windows. The crosspieces and panels are made of gold anodized aluminium. This reflects the pleasure in materials of late post-war modernism which currently seems to be establishing itself (beyond the Berlin retro look) as the period of reference. The slight offsetting of the polished slices of Bender resulted from the first phase of the double project which was completed two years earl­ier: the renovation of an existing fragment reaching far back from the road. A bend in the side wing supplied the angle for the shifts in the new structure.

As well as renovating what remained of this house, deadline also added new storeys. This part of the project turned the architects into contractors, offering an opportunity for unbridled experimentation with their own formal vocabulary. The three-storey apartment of deadline cofounders Britta Jürgens and Matthew Griffin was given a separate project name, Slender, focusing attention on the elongated form of the apartment on the roof of the original structure. Everything is drawn out lengthways, rooms and open spaces are lined up like a long chain, visitors are kept constantly in motion, exploring the depths of the house, climbing the stretched stairway to the upper floors, the miniature roof garden, a suspended platform in the two-storey bedroom, a protruding balcony.

Next came the idea of buying the parcel of land at the front for a building where these motifs could be used and expanded in a separate, new building. Having become contractors, the architects now became investors, initially considering the development of an office block. But when market analysis showed that the current situation in Berlin called for no further commercial property, deadline changed its plans and transformed Bender into a residential building. While construction was still in progress, the team had the idea of marketing the eight 40-50m2 apartments themselves as ‘mini-lofts’. Now the investors became hoteliers. The furnishing of the rooms (whose generous 3.80m ceilings mirror the proportions of the older building) follows simple fashionable patterns. The inserted bathroom units, the furniture from Ikea and other suppliers always underlines the practical, unpretentious coolness suggested by the cement floors, the wire mesh window grilles, and the walls, uprights and ceilings in exposed concrete or clay plaster.

If Slender/Bender is about flowing spaces, dynamic outlines and wrapping in steel bands, then the form of the building also seems to reflect deadline’s creative ethos that owes more than a little to the influence of the AA in London. The dynamism of the building matches that in the minds of the planners, who became so involved in the project that it carried them off the beaten track of their own profession. But this is no permanent departure, witness the decision by the ‘office for architectural services’ to occupy the top two floors of Slender itself.

Slender/Bender, Berlin, Christian Welzbacher, photographer: Klemens Ortmeyer, published in A10, issue #1, December/January 2004/05 (pp. 36–38)

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