The SOMA Houses
Lurking deep in the wilds of Spandau, in the pretty little town of Kladow, is an exciting new housing development. Drawing on inspiration from one of Berlin’s most renowned architects, as well as unique contemporary design, this is a semi-detached house the like of which you have never seen before.
A continuation of past architecture
In 1936, famed architect Hans Scharoun designed and developed a housing project in the rural idyll of Kladow. The houses he designed are a subtle exploration of organic architecture, a holistic design approach promoting balance between human habitation and the natural world. The new housing project, named SOMA, take these ideas and continue to develop them, in their own unique way.
Designed by renowned architects
The SOMA houses (the name comes from the Greek word for “body”) were designed by the architectural firm Bruno Fioretti Marquez. With a focus on cultural buildings, particularly in the context of UNESCO World Heritage sites, as well as residential and educational buildings, BFM’s signature is in monolithic constructions and materials. They have received numerous awards, most recently for the renovation of Wittenberg Castle and their reimagining of the Bauhaus Meisterhäuser in Dessau. Bruno Fioretti Marquez’s approach to renovation and reconstruction is somewhat akin to Kintsugi, the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with seams of powdered gold, silver, or platinum. This method celebrates each artefact’s unique history by emphasising its fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them.
An homage to a legacy
The Scharoun Houses are themselves heritage-protected, and the nearby parks and banks of the river Havel have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although SOMA is not a restoration or reconstruction in the same way as BFM’s previous work, it is very much a continuation of the work and legacy of Scharoun, and was approached in a similar way. They were adding to an existing estate, from a renowned architect, with a very strong aesthetic approach and belief. So the design of the SOMA houses adopts the building cubature of the Scharoun houses in form and architectural language. The materiality is also similar, with its exterior made of brick, plaster and wood, and the roofs even quote the Scharoun houses’ “tent”-like protrusions.
A modern spin
Beyond that, however, you won’t find many characteristics of the classic semi-detached house here. One thing that truly sets them apart is their hybrid spatial concept, a unique floor plan in which the lower-ground and ground floors are laid out lengthwise, with the upper floor and attic crosswise. This means that, rather than simply having two rectangular units side by side, each house unit is actually oriented in all four directions and the entire length and width of the house is perceived. Additionally, the houses stretch over four floors, emphasising the vertical orientation as well. The result is an intriguing and appealing contrast that skilfully exploits the range of contemporary architecture and provides an exceptionally spacious feeling of space and light from all four directions.
A nod to nature
Though the exteriors follow the earlier Scharoun houses in dimensions and materiality, on the inside these houses are monolithic in the truest sense of the word, in that they look as though they have each been intricately carved from a single block of stone. Yet where this could have been cold and forbidding, the result is in fact surprisingly warm and comforting. The straight lines and rectilinear angles provide an air of solidity and reassurance, while the wooden flooring and accents blend with the nature spied through the large windows. This serves to blur the lines between interior and exterior, and between architectural and natural, perfectly adhering to Scharoun’s beliefs in organic architecture. These houses elegantly harmonise with their surroundings, not invisible yet not out of place.
With most restorations or expansions, though lip service is paid to honouring the work of those who came before, it is clear this is more of an imitative genuflection. Yet the SOMA houses take the core tenet of Scharoun’s houses, and apply genuinely innovative, contemporary design and theory. What’s old is new.