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Onkel Toms Hutte

Berlin, Germany
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One of the housing blocks, 2012

In 1926, Taut worked with architect Hugo Haring and Otto Rudolph Salvisberg to design and build Onkel Toms Hutte. Financed by the GEHAG (Gemeinnutzige Heimstatten-, Spar- und Bau-Aktiengesellschaft - Housing Cooperative for Savings and Construction) and heavily influenced by Taut's previous partnership with Wagner. Taut visualised a Utopian society - classless and at one with nature.

History

Onkel Toms Hutte was named after Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1853 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, the district apparently acquired its label in around 1885, after a local pub-restaurant (Gaststatte) landlord called Thomas installed cabins in his beer garden, which came to be known as 'Tom's Cabins'. Situated on the edge of the Grunewald forest, bounded from the west on Riemeisterstrasse and from the east on Holzungsweg, the estate's trunk access road is Argentinische Allee. Perpendicular to this is Onkel-Tom-Strasse, and the aforementioned Gaststatte, which is sadly no more, was located near the junction with Riemeisterstrasse.

Design

The housing estate that Taut created was created on a 12-hectare site. There are 1100 multi-family homes divided up in to three storeys and detached into two types. Today, the multi-storey buildings include the German residential housing companies, the row houses are privately owned.

Rationalist in influence but human in style, the accommodations are somehow conformist but not monotonous. Back in the twenties, Taut anticipated his buildings' degradation over time and allowed for this in his design so that, unlike most other ageing housing estates, they look as modern, warm and comfortable now as they must have when first erected.

The buildings are modernist and practical. Taut avoided monotony by including diversity within their homogeneity. Various sections of the sprawling estate look different to each other in terms of colour, shape and size.

Space is as important as what fills it, with housing blocks broken up at intervals with unpredictable paths, roads, woods and parks. The mechanical lines of the buildings are also softened by homely details such as asymmetric windows and invitingly individual doors.

Nature features heavily in this space. Towering trees are ubiquitous, and wildlife is all around. Bird-life is pleasantly apparent, actively encouraged by the numerous feeders and nesting boxes. In keeping with the architects' intention to bring inhabitants closer to nature, the vegetation itself is important in the estate's overall effect. The low-rise constructions are dwarfed by arboreal monoliths that cast dramatic shadows, providing an external wallpaper of dynamic, interrupted light.

Masterplan

The estate went beyond just the design of the residences. It also included the U-Bahn station and the Shopping street Onkel Toms Hutte which supplied provisions to the local residents.

In 1995 the settlement was declared a National Monument.