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Berlin Style Adaptations | The WYE Art House

From Post Office Building to Art House

A post office building was born in Berlin during the time of 'Talkies', Swing dance and Albert Einstein.

1927 was a time of change and adaptation in the German capital, the city was growing fast and so was the population. In between wars the new post office building was finally finished with new telephone technology and new architecture techniques to serve Berlin's most densely populated district. 

Almost 85 years later the brick walls witness another time of change and adaptation in the district of Kreuzberg, this time it involves a creative-tech wave of international professionals during Berlin's boom of entrepreneurial activity. 

The 5 stories building still houses the "Deutsche Post" (German Post Office) in a section of the ground floor, the rest of the protected building is home to the WYE.

The WYE stands in the intersection of art and technology as a magnet of creative adventurers, and has adapted the former post facilities to suit the changing needs of international ideas (we)men or "creatives" that find in the WYE a place to develop and live from their passions. 

5 points that make it a Berlin style project:

1. Expressionism

Main Facade

Jacob and Fritz Nissle designed the building in 1927 in a brick expressionist style. This style was developed in Germany during the 1920's known for being expressive, dynamic and at the same time being a predecessor of the Bauhaus' "new objectivity".

The use of clinker bricks or tiles as the main material shows the new technical possibilities during the 20's of mass production as well as the design concept of unifying materials to make the building monolithic. The facade ornamentation and particular angular details used in brick expressionism are shown discreetly along the top floor's facade, the building's cornice and around the windows' frames of the ground floor. The main facade pattern is a mix of expressionism and objectivity; it follows fenestration bays and brick vertical high reliefs.

The building is a protected monument and therefore the facade and all the structure was kept intact. The new tenants occupying the space are reinterpreting the German expressionist principles: expression of emotions together with objectivity and functionality. 

2. Location

Service Entrance

The post office building in Skalitzker Strasse is responsible since 1927 for the SO6 section of the Kreuzberg district in Berlin. At the time of its construction, the building belonged to a growing area of the city, mostly with residential blocks for the working class that was moving from in- and outside the country into Berlin. The entire Berliner population was already of 4 million people. The post services needed a large facility to function and constructed more than 20,000 m2 distributed in 5 floors plus 1 underground level.

After the second world war Kreuzberg was the smallest, poorest and most densely developed and populated district of West Berlin. It was the East of the West, a place for "creatives" and "outsiders". The SO36 area, contained on 3 sides by the Berlin wall, became famous for its alternative lifestyle, including the squatters. 

When the Berlin Wall fell, Kreuzberg was suddenly in the middle of the city again. With cheap rents and restored buildings from the 19th century, it became a desirable area to live in for young, international newcomers. Still now, around 30% of the area's inhabitants are international. 

The building's area occupied by the WYE now houses 22 private studios, 4 co-working and event spaces, an art gallery and lounge for more than 150 international members that are mostly regular users. 

Areas occupied by the WYE

3. Building an Industry

During the last decade Berlin has been known for being "poor but sexy". After 10 years the city is every time closer to reaching the city mayor's goal of being "rich and still sexy". However, this transformation could not occur without the savvy entrepreneurs and doers. For the WYE's founders, Leah Stuhltrage and Inkel Bornholdt, being poor but savvy is what made their idea become a reality and still keeps the WYE growing. 

The idea of creating the WYE began with the will of gathering collaborators under one roof. With an art curator background, the founders envisioned a space where people working with art and media could be close to each other and complement themselves professionally. 

What would have been the most expensive part of the renovation, the workforce cost, was covered by community involvement.  Their co-founding and true co-working strategy has been implemented since the establishment of the WYE's space. Gathering support from colleagues and friends who donated expertise, services, resources and time allowed them to rehabilitate the building in a period of 6 months with minimum investment and no public funding. 

4. Re-purposing

Co-working and event space

Artist Paulo Ventura's Private Studio

Around the 60's and 70's Kreuzberg was undergoing an urban repair by the recycling of buildings. The structures that had survived the war were being restored and modernized; open-empty areas were turning into green spaces by their own. The urban conservators and architects maintained the slogan "Save the stucco is not enough - Save the City!"

Half a century later the concept of recycling architecture is still present. The post office building had been abandoned for 5 years when the WYE saved it from disuse, repaired it and rehabilitated it. 

When the founders moved into the building, the installation's capacities seemed adequate for receiving new tenants. Still, rehabilitation work was needed and included:

  • The replacement of a section of the roof
  • Remodeling of some interior walls
  • Painting of floors and walls
  • Plumbing and electrical repair
  • Updating of Internet and security systems.

Moreover, each member keeps transforming his/her private studio, creating individual but communicated spaces. 

During the last 2 years the WYE's member have been growing and the events have been attracting more visitors, consequently more renovation work will happen soon and probably some extensions and more alterations will be done for the interior spaces. 

5. Being part of the Change

The WYE's team together with their design consultant Just Damn Right with Nadine Bruder, are in the look for new ways of making the spaces more flexible and setting up their brand through users' experiences in the building. 

Along with new ideas of working as a promoter and incubator, improvements on work- and event-spaces, some performance measures will have to be part of the future plans for the increasing number of members working at the WYE. These include:

  • Norm-following number of service facilities
  • Vertical circulation capacity

It has been a Utopian concept in different ways throw history: joining people and activities under one roof. Buildings not only determine how we live spaces and the city, they define how we relate to others. Architecture needs to be able to adapt to the way people live, work, behave socially; the Skalitzer post office building will keep on being a work in process as part of the changing city of Berlin.

"Art and people must be united. Art should no longer be for the enjoyment of the few, but for the happiness and life of the masses. The objective is to bring the arts together under the wing of the great art of architecture." 

Labor Council for the Arts' Manifesto by Walter Gropius, Bruno Taut and Adolf Behne. Berlin 1919.

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