Faced with a severe housing shortage in the early 1900s, progressive city planners sought the help of forward thinking architects to provide decent housing for the growing working class population. The architects wanted to contribute new approaches to city planning and these estates were built on the outskirts of the rapidly expanding city, although with close connection to transit nodes for easy commuting.
At that time running water and indoor plumbing were a rarity, so the inclusion of such “luxuries” in these flats was truly progressive. Later, upon completion of the projects, more conservative city planners complained that their inclusion was too opulent for “simple people.” Berlin’s progressive mayor Gustav Böss at the time defended them stating: “We want to bring the lower levels of society higher.”
Fans of modernist architecture found reason to celebrate in 2008 when six Berlin housing estates from 1910 – 1930 were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. These estates, representing work from such luminaries as Hans Scharoun, Walter Gropius and Bruno Taut, were chosen primarily for the above mentioned values, but also as they suffered little damage during the war and subsequent renovations.
The estates are spread out over Berlin, around what were then the city edges. Perhaps the most iconic is the Hufeisensiedlung or Horse Shoe Estate, in Neukölln, built around a central garden and pond with ranks of two and three storey flats flanking the central horse shoe.