5 a.m. Magazine
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5 a.m. Magazine

ARCHITECTURE

Lviv vs. Berlin: Interwar Modernism

Remarkable Modernist buildings in Germany’s capital and the top tourist city of Ukraine

© All photos and illustrations by Slava Shestopalov
  • Functionalism prioritized the purpose of the building and tried to marry convenience with aesthetics. It was popular in Denmark, Poland, Finland, and former Czechoslovakia. Lviv was part of the Second Polish Republic at that time.
  • Expressionism was an approach that embraced hybrid solutions and emotional effects. It tended towards Gothic (towers, vertical lines) and Romanticism (themes of caves, rocks, and crystals). Brick Expressionism was especially popular in Germany.
  • International Style abandoned decoration in favor of rectangles, light, volume, and weightless spaces. This style grew out of the work of Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Germany (the famous Bauhaus school) and Le Corbusier in France.
Characteristic elements of Functionalism (left) and Expressionism (right).
Typical features of the International Style (Bauhaus).

Chapter 1. Administrative buildings

🇩🇪 Berlin: Lenzhaus (1928–1929)

Honestly, after I had taken photos of this gorgeous building, I struggled to fit it into this article because Lenzhaus belongs to… Art Deco. As an architecture newbie, I always thought it was quite modernist-ish. But no worries! Art Deco was Modernism’s predecessor and looked much more minimalistic than previous architectural styles. At the end of the 1930s, Art Deco was nearing its decay, and more strictly functional styles of modern architecture took its place.

Lenzhaus reflected in a large puddle after a summer rain.
The corner sculpture of the Lenzhaus.

🇺🇦 Lviv: Sprecher’s Office Building (1929–1931)

Just like Lenzhaus in Berlin, Sprecher’s Building used to be the tallest high-rise in Lviv. It was designed by Ferdinand Kassler for millionaire Jonah Sprecher who also owned another (lavishly decorated) high-rise in a 5-minute walk from here.

Sprecher’s Office Building in the evening. The large yellow text says, “Association of Trade Unions.”
Sprecher’s Office Building: the sunlit side facade and main entrance.

🇩🇪 Berlin: Haus des Deutschen Metallarbeiterverbandes (1928–1930)

The House of the German Metalworkers’ Association (a.k.a. IG-Metall-Haus) was designed by Erich Mendelsohn and built when the Association decided to move its headquarters from Stuttgart to Berlin.

IG-Metall-Haus on a cloudy day.

🇺🇦 Lviv: Building of Municipal Electrical Institutions (1935–1936)

This four-story building was initially built for the Administration of Municipal Electrical Institutions. But after the Soviets occupied Ukraine, it housed the local branch of the NKVD (secret police, prisons, and labor camps agency). And during the Second World War, the Gestapo (German equivalent of NKVD) was based here.

The last ray of the setting sun lights the top of the building.
The main entrance of the former building of Municipal Electrical Institutions.

Chapter 2. Blocks of flats

🇩🇪 Berlin: Siedlung Zeppelinstraße (1926–1927)

But let’s switch to something different. Here is a stunning example of Expressionism. This residential complex stands at the intersection of Zeppelinstraße and Falkenseer Chaussee, quite far from any touristic place in Berlin, a couple of kilometers from the city border.

The intersection where the Zeppelinstraße Settlement is located.
A brief sunny moment before the rain.
One of the street-facing facades and the example of an accentuated door.
One of the four “crowned” towers of the Zeppelinstraße Settlement.

🇩🇪 Berlin: Appartementhaus Hohenzollerndamm 35–36 (1929–1930)

Hard to believe that the elaborate, colorful houses above were built in the same decade as the minimalistic snow-white apartment complex I’ll show you next. The house on Hohenzollerndamm was designed by the famous architect Hans Scharoun, the author of the Berlin Philharmonic and “Armored cruiser” house in the Siemensstadt district (part of the UNESCO World Heritage).

The curved balconies and general view of the house from Hohenzollerndamm.
Scharoun created rhythm through alternating small and large windows on the facade.

🇺🇦 Lviv: House on Kalicha Hora 22 (the 1930s)

This 4-story residential building is a great example of Lviv Functionalism. Beata Obertynska, the daughter of Polish poet Marila Wolska and oil producer Vaclav Wolski, commissioned it for rent; her family lived in a villa right next to this house.

House on Kalicha Hora Street: the entrance with columns and rounded balconies. A row of portholes on the side are bathroom windows.

🇺🇦 Lviv: Houses on Doroshenka Street 47–59 (1935–1936)

This residential complex was built for Polish and Jewish investors and consisted of two parts — one facing the street and the other facing the garden. These houses were considered one of the most prestigious residential projects in Lviv at that time.

Houses on Doroshenka Street: the risalite containing staircase and balconies and an example of plaster texture.
The entrance of a house #47 facing Doroshenka Street.
Houses on Doroshenka Street: examples of railing and door patterns.

🇩🇪 Berlin: Bülowplatz residential complex with the “Babylon” cinema (1927–1929)

This building is the only fully survived part of an eight-block perimeter ensemble around former Bülowplatz (now Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz). It’s an exemplary work by Hans Poelzig in the style of New Objectivity — the 1920s German art movement against Expressionism.

The evening view of the building corner with the “Babylon” cinema entrance.
The facade is plastered in ocher color with the bands in a lighter shade of yellow.

🇺🇦 Lviv: House of Notaries (1939)

This prestigious Functionalist masterpiece was commissioned by the association of the city’s richest lawyers, Notary Chamber, hence the building name. It was supposed to house law offices as well as lawyers’ private residences on the upper floors.

Early spring. The House of Notaries in the rays of the afternoon sun. On the left, you can see another Functionalist residential building with pointed balconies and an ornate eave.
The curved main facade of the House of Notaries.
The facade section with the staircase during a calm March evening.

🇩🇪 Berlin: Salzbrunn House (1928–1929)

This elegant apartment building was designed by Harry Rosenthal, known as the architect of lavish villas at that time. This is Rosenthal’s only surviving multi-story building and a real example of generosity. Although the street-facing facade doesn’t impress, the inner facade gives clues to how large and comfortable the flats really are; it features humongous windows and beautiful loggias.

Salzbrunn House in the evening when the street lights turned on.
The snow-white facade with curved balconies and rounded staircases.

Chapter 3. Wonderful churches

🇩🇪 Berlin: Kreuzkirche Schmargendorf (1927–1929)

When I learned about this church several years ago during a business trip, I couldn’t even think that someday I would live within a 15-minute walk from it. The Cross Church is quite a rare example of an Expressionist-style sacred building.

The Cross Church at night on a busy working day.
The decorated door of the auxiliary annex to the left from the tower and the bell tower during the rain.
The decorated main entrance of the Cross Church.

🇺🇦 Lviv: Church of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin (1931–1938)

The Intercession Church that dominates the eastern part of Lviv is an original mixture of the neo-Romanesque and Modernist styles. The church has the form of a basilica with an unusually tall free-standing tower that looks like an Italian campanile.

The tower is really massive compared to the surrounding buildings.
Church of the Intercession during the sunset in winter.
Church of the Intercession before the sunset.

Chapter 4. Elegant villas

🇺🇦 Lviv: Villa Finkelstein (end of the 1930s)

Initially owned by Adolf Finkelstein, this beautiful villa is a vivid example of luxurious Modernist estates in Lviv. It is located on a hill at the crossroad of two streets and perfectly fits the landscape. The house faces the upper street, and the garage exit is on the lower street.

The sunlit facade of the villa one hour before the sunset.
The original Functionalist fence and entrance portal.
The villa’s rear side with a garage. Night lighting on the roof.

🇩🇪 Berlin: Villa Luckhardt (1929–1930)

This three-story villa in the Westend district of Berlin was designed by brothers Hans and Wassili Luckhardt for factory director Richard Kluge. The house is an absolute masterpiece of premium Modernist housing in Berlin and is open to visitors and events nowadays.

Villa Luckhardt is surrounded by a huge garden.

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