by Maxime Boutaghou Courtemanche
The Neues Kreuzberger Zentrum (NKZ), covering half of Kottbusser Tor’s roundabout, is anything but discreet. Anyone who has passed by the U-bahn station or any of the streets leading to Kottbusser Tor is forced to confront this massive project. The edifice, built from 1969 to 1974, was meant to be a multi-function renewal project. Its first floors were thus designed to host shops while the higher levels would be residential spaces. It’s facade facing the U-bahn station would feature some individual balconies while it’s back would only feature small windows. The building was built that way because a major highway project was planned at the back of the NKZ. The project would have destroyed multiple 19th century buildings in the Kreuzberg area. Even if the highway was never realized, the NKZ architecture still bears the marks of a planned urban rupture. It is then no surprise that it also creates a certain separation in the neighborhood, both because of its circular shape and because of its size. But the Neues Kreuzberger Zentrum also acts as a focal point in the area, an urban form that, for better or for worse, catches the eye by contrasting with its surroundings.
The building in itself is typical of 1970’s modernism, as its facade would appear quite blank if it was not for the touches of yellow, orange and grey on its balcony and the purple painted wall on the first floor. Even if the NKZ’s walls have become dirty and tagged throughout the years, the buildings still look vibrant with its popping white and colors on a sunny day. By night, the lights of the shops and the lighting seem to offer an intimate feeling that still offers the chance for passers or users of the building to do some people watching.
One of the Neues Kreuzberger Zentrum’s most interesting visual aspects was probably not planned by Johannes Uhl, the architect in charge of the project. That is the television satellites that have taken over huge segments of the facade. These satellites represent a part of the building’s identity, as they mostly identify the flats that are occupied by people with a Turkish background. As ugly as satellites can be, their round and futuristic form goes well with the modernist architecture. The lack of uniformity in how they are installed on the balconies also changes the symmetry inherent to the building to give it a more organic and inhabited look.
Was the Neues Kreuzberger Zentrum ultimately a good investment for the development companies? No, as the owners of the public-private project are still paying off the initial debt. The building was also not useful for the city or the neighborhood’s administrations in terms of taxes or district renewal. But if one set’s aside the rentability of the project and the often pejorative vision of poorer populations, the project can be seen as a success. Indeed, it represents an important socialization hub in the neighborhood as locals and visitors alike use its inner yards and hallways to meet-up and hang around. The NKZ boast a wide offer of products and services from artist centers, coffee shops, bars, and pharmacy to Turkish fast food. It is this variety on offer that keeps the building lively during both day and night, and prevents it from becoming a grey or dark area of the neighborhood. Yes, it may be dirty, a hub of poverty and somewhat foreign with it’s surroundings. But it is also a landmark, an inhabited and functional public and private space that has a unique charm. So, the Neues Kreuzberger Zentrum may not fulfill its initial goal of renewing a part of the district, but it is far from being a failed or desolated area of Kreuzberg.