Berlin, Germany


The Columbushaus (Columbus House) was a nine-storey modernist office and shopping building in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, designed by Erich Mendelsohn and completed in 1932. It was an icon of progressive architecture which passed relatively unscathed through World War II but was gutted by fire in the June 1953 uprising in East Germany. The ruin was subsequently razed in 1957 because it stood in the border strip; the site where the structure once stood was occupied by activists shortly before the fall of the Berlin wall.

The Columbushaus has been described as a "little skyscraper". It was a horizontally detailed steel-frame building, the alternating bands of windows and spandrels on the upper floors prefigured by a conceptual sketch of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (Mendelsohn later claimed that he had to include masonry courses to allow for neon signs, and would otherwise have used only metal and glass.) The client required the façade to curve to follow the line of Friedrich-Ebert-Straße and also specified that the floor plans be flexible to allow for future use as a department store; Erich Mendelsohn's solution was to have the window frames of the outer walls bear much of the load on the upper floors in order to greatly limit the number of internal supports and enable configuration of spaces at will by means of partitions. On the lower floors, with their continuous glazing for retail use, the load was shifted to interior supports using cross girders and cantilever girders. It was the most advanced office building in Europe, and the first building in Germany to have ventilation equipment.

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