“Our Housing Machine” – How Kids Reinvent a Housing Block

  • by Geneviève Debien

As a part of the program Stadtraum!Plus, the URBAN NATION the Pallasseum, the Spreewald Elementary School, and the sculptor Thomas Bratzke invited a group of 12 children to understand, reflect and rethink a residential ensemble.

Headquarter of the project week in October 2021 was the Pallasseum in Schöneberg, a listed residential block, completed in 1977 and designed in reference to Le Corbusier’s revolutionary building visions by Berlin architect Jürgen Sawade.

On that unusual school day, the children first set out to discover this gigantic housing machine. With 514 apartments,  about 2,000 people life there. Here they were able to explore what architect Sawade had in mind and whether he was actually able to realize his plans. For this purpose, the artist Bratzke had researched the drafts of the original interior plans. The children were invited to visit inaccessible and publicly accessible spaces of the Pallasseum, to formulate their resulting perceptions, and to think the project through further: Is it possible to tie in with the architect’s vision, to develop his plans further, and even to create their own visions?

In words and pictures, the children formulated their ideas and wishes. And what better place to do this than on the roof of the Pallas Room! There the young team set up camp under the guidance of Thomas Bratzke.

In a kind of self-constructed open-air studio, the children worked above the roofs of Schöneberg on their version of a living machine, a miniature model of the Pallasseum. The wooden model reflects the children’s experiences with the housing complex and provides insights into their dreams and wishes regarding living together there. Everything was allowed to be changed until finally a vivid and surprising vision of “Our Living Machine” emerged. 

“What I like most about this project: Our opinions are asked,” said one student who, together with her friends, planned a sports course for the living machine. Since their elementary school is located right next to the Pallasseum and some of their classmates also live there themselves, they brought expert knowledge with them, knowing fully the qualities and challenges of the building. So each small group took care of one area at a time, which they designed according to their own imagination over several mornings. 

Während die einen ihren Trampolinparcours künstlerisch ausarbeiteten, maßen, sägten, klebten und While some artistically worked out their trampoline course, others measured, sawed, glued and hammered away at gaming rooms, swimming pools and water slides. For the children, working on the model in this unusual place on the roof was a special opportunity to perceive their living environment in a completely different way and to express their own wishes. During a small event with the parents, the model was presented and found a permanent home in the Spreewald Elementary School. When asked what the children took away for themselves from this project, one student clearly answered, “A beautifully designed memory that, yes, may even be translated into reality.”

Photos: Sebastian Kläbsch

Involved Persons