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Checkpoint Charlie Apartments

Berlin, Germany
1 of 19

The Checkpoint Charlie apartments was a project for the International Bauausstellung IBA Berlin 1987, it was to house the customs officials and allied forces. The building is located across the road from Peter Eisenman's Checkpoint Charlie Museum, another IBA building located in central Berlin. The Checkpoint Charlie apartments were designed by Rem Koolhaas of OMA and Matthias Sauerbruch of Sauerbruch Hutton.

The structure defines the eastern side of the block, located on Friedrichstrasse, the design revisits the historical structure of the city plan as a typical perimeter block, and reintroduces a mixed use site of working and living in the inner city.

The immediate surroundings of the plot on Friedrichstrasse 207/208 were marked out by the IBA prior to construction and influenced the resulting layout.

The objectives for the apartment block were formulated by the IBA from the competition. Main factors that were relevant to the project included the restoration of the traditional street space, urban and architectural restoration of a ruined block to the wall, development of special use and layout concepts for urban housing to busy roads.

In the course of planning, these objectives were expanded to the development of different types of housing as an offer for "the different concepts of quality of urban life", taking into account any ecological requirements and the special situation of the border crossing "Checkpoint Charlie".


The building is 7 stories with 31 apartments and one (no longer existing) space for the equipment from the border inspection post "Checkpoint Charlie" on the ground floor. The skeleton of the structure is elevated from the block edge between two existing buildings.

For the structural complexity associated with the significant elevation of the residential platform above the two-storey terminal building which housed the international allied forces, the well-known civil engineer Stefan Polonyi (Polonyi & Fink) was consulted.

The ground floor was designed as a two-storey hall for functions of the Allied forces and customs control. In the entrance hall, differently designed pavilions took on the function of customs.

The residential function is placed on an over-hanging roof panel with courtyard-oriented home gardens to prevent harassment of the residents. It also becomes a structural solution in terms of the intended function and mix of housing on a busy road.

The three offered Western-oriented residential types are divided into three horizontal zones. The 1 and 2 are connected to a floor maisonette. In 3, 4 and 5 are single-storey apartments with portico's. On the 6th floor there are the 'penthouses' with access from a separate deck.

The roadside facade is a curtain wall with running ribbon windows. The indented camouflaging portico's on the 4th and 5th floors are highlighted by a double storey facade opening with a curtain, passing through a glass louvre construction.

The plaster facade facing the courtyard is characterized by the residential use. Basement window openings arranged in different ways, the projecting stair runs of each storey by storey maisonettes and staggered balconies are evidence of the different types of living. The structure shows the appearance of aesthetic functionalism.

Planning history

The Office for Metropolitan Architecture is (OMA), led by Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis were invited to participate in International limited competition for the IBA 84.

The aim of the competition was the development of zoning and open space concepts for the four blocks bounded by roads, Puttkamer Street, Charlotte Street and William Street. For this purpose, OMA developed a concept of additions to the existing buildings by building types of classical modernism: the courtyard houses of Mies van der Rohe (for Carpet structures grouped) and the row houses of Louis Hilberseimer. By the inserted blocks in the new structures both block and street space should be restored, but the buildings should show the possibilities of modern building types such as lines and carpet structures, which can be used in this context of urban reconstruction.

OMA won, being awarded the redesign along Friedrichstrasse. The urban concept of the competition entry for the project was continued and maintained by OMA to building completion.

OMA founder Elia Zenghelis takes in collaboration with Mathias Sauerbruch for the planning of the building, as Rem Koolhaas refuses to continue working for the IBA and the urban and architectural aim of the IBA development.. In December 1982, the first study "Study Proposals for Residential Development at Checkpoint Charlie" is created.

An undated plan shows a material for the construction preliminary draft with volumetrics and facade, but in an oblique position of the facade to the street alignment, to achieve coverage of the fire wall of the neighboring Baroque house. The most important feature of the customs office here is a projecting canopy over the EC, which is to protect the equipment and premises for residential use.

Current Use

The building is preserved with its building structure and appearance having had only minor changes. According to the planning strategy, in response to the abolition of border control at Checkpoint Charlie, the control facilities were redesigned, but the major components of the design were maintained.

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  1. Andreas Salgo (German)
thms, June 28th, 2020
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