Mass-Housing, Urban Space, and Identity: 1968 in West Berlin

Laura Bowie
University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

In 1968, a group of architecture students at West Berlin’s Technical University formed Aktion 507 in order to critique post-war planning policies within the city. Following modernist principles, post-war policy makers began separating the city by function, with residential developments relocated to the suburbs. The general belief was that nineteenth century tenements were responsible for the ‘undemocratic spirit in the city’ and not suitable for the new ‘democratic’ Germany. Thus, the action taken was to demolish tenements and replace them with prefabricated satellite housing developments. In reaction, Aktion 507 curated an exhibition, ‘Diagnosis on Building in West Berlin’, focusing on the ‘critical analysis of current construction activities’. The exhibition centred on the Märkisches Viertel, a 17,000 dwelling development jutting the Berlin Wall in the north of the city. Aktion 507 argued that architects, speculators, the senate, and construction companies exerted a ‘totalitarian rule over the city’. The ideology of the student movement in Berlin, I would argue, was in a symbiotic relationship with the post-war cityscape with readings of urban planners, Marxists, sociologists amongst others were translated through the lens of Berlin’s unique character and position in the post-war world. For example, Marcuse’s theory on the repressive mechanisms of society held special significance in a post-fascist era where former National Socialists still held positions of power, and where left-wing intellectuals flocked due to exemption from military service. Likewise, the Märkisches Viertel, with its ‘intolerable defects in social infrastructure’, highlighted the wider social implications of relocating inhabitants from the inner city under the guise of social housing. This paper documents the use of architecture as a vessel through which political, cultural and social conflicts were argued and contested which, through involvement with residents, Aktion 507 irreversibly changed West Berlin, both as a physical and political space.