Step inside Philipp Mohr’s loving restoration of a Le Corbusier apartment in Berlin
Architect Philipp Mohr, who was raised in West Germany, was always drawn to the Bauhaus aesthetic even when in the late 1990s many of these modernist buildings were in decay. ‘At that time, I felt like an archeologist, discovering true modernism for the first time,’ says Mohr, who shares his time between his practices in Brooklyn, New York, and Berlin.
When Mohr, who fortuitously studied at the Bauhaus School in Germany’s Weimar, was looking to buy an apartment in Berlin, he discovered one of the Le Corbusier apartments in the Unite d’Habitation building. ‘I visited this building for the first time in 1989 as a teenager,’ he says. A stone’s throw from the 1936 Olympic stadium and adjacent to the Grunewald forest reserve, Mohr was delighted to see what was then a dilapidated apartment block, a now much improved, Le Corbusier design, at least in terms of the exterior and the public foyer.
‘To my knowledge, none of the apartment interiors had ever been realised by Le Corbusier himself. But I always had a strong urge to see one of these important interiors created as Le Corbusier would have done,’ says Mohr, who purchased one of the modest two-level units.
Unite d’Habitation in Berlin was designed by Le Corbusier in 1957. Photography: Didier Gaillard-Hohlweg
‘There was literally nothing in the apartment that had Le Corbusier’s hallmarks. It resembled many other generic low-cost modern apartments you can find in Berlin,’ he adds. ‘Le Corbusier hit a wall with planning authorities and local architects completed this project,’ he adds.
Mohr’s research led him to France, renting an apartment in the Unite d’Habitation in Marseille, taking guided tours and visiting as many of the neighbouring apartments as possible. Visits with specialists, including historians and art and furniture dealers working with Le Corbusier’s legacy, followed.
When the architect returned to Berlin, after reading on almost everything written on Le Corbusier, the physical work started on his newly acquired abode. On the internet, he came across two original pieces from the Marseille building, a kitchen counter and a portion of a staircase. Lamps, chairs, tables (re-edition by Cassina) followed suit, as the intention was to recreate what would have been in Le Corbusier’s mind.
The building was constructed in the great architect’s signature béton brut. Photography: Didier Gaillard-Hohlweg
Those fortunate to see this remarkable transformation, including this writer (when I took a group of Australians to visit this apartment as part of a tour), walked away speechless. Although modest in size, the joy of seeing what could have been realised by Le Corbusier in the 1950s has now come to fruition. Like stepping back in time, the Berlin apartment includes an original Le Corbusier-designed kitchen (albeit from Marseille), a sumptuous colour palette and details that set the master apart, and a delightful sculptural ‘chaise’ carved into the side of a bathtub.
‘I rebuilt the staircase using the original plans that were never realised,’ says Mohr, who sold this apartment, fortunately to a Le Corbusier connoisseur, who even purchased every stick of furniture. ‘Le Corbusier used simple and inexpensive means to create a very high and democratic standard of living for all. I feel fortunate to have been part of this process,’ adds Mohr. §