Beautiful brutalism?

St Agnes, a former Catholic Church within the district of Kreuzberg, stands as a brutalist block within the post war western sector rebuilding plans of Berlin.

Once this area was amongst the densest districts of Berlin but due to its location south of the city centre it was pummelled by Allied bombers leaving little of the district left standing. What little did stand have way to green ways and tower blocks.

Architecture in post war Berlin sought to break itself from the heavy overpowering blocks of Albert Speer, Hitler and the Third Reich. However they also sought to rid Germany of its past, anything that might have led Germany to war. Wilhelminian designs, beautiful and floral, were destroyed. The old ordered streets of Berlin were torn up, and meandering treelined roads installed in their place. Apartment blocks, were no longer city blocks of the European style but strange randomly placed rectangles, soulless and bland.

However, when it came to the St Agnes church, the material of the age was used. Concrete was cheap and quick to construct buildings from. Cities across Europe were destroying town centres of medieval character to be replaced with concrete cast in angular forms. But could this quick modern material look pleasant, could brutalism be beautiful?

St Agnes, designed by architect Werner Düttmann was built to be a church and community centre for the newly built apartments of the new locals to the area. However, a falling number of parishioners led to, in 2004, the Catholic Church leasing the building initially to a free church preacher. Then to gallery owner Johann König who initially leased the building for 99 years in 2012 and started a transformation by architects Brandl Huber + Emde, Brilon and Rieger Riewe architekten. Today it is used as truly incredible gallery space and the website of St Agnes should be visited for gallery listings at http://st-agnes.net/en/ .

The space inside makes use of the open space presented by the traditional design of a church. It’s surprisingly light for a building that has little windows to be seen from the street. The space even feels warm. Brutalism can be beautiful, but where so often brutalism fails, is in the lack of care awarded to it. So often buildings of the brutalist style are left to decay, to attract mold or pollen, their once clean exteriors dulling. This is when so often brutalism gets a bad name.

The transformation of St Agnes by Brandl Huber + Emde, Brillion Rieger Riewe architekten has given this brutalism the beauty it deserves once again.

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