“Atriumhaus” Bremen-Tenever, Germany

The project in Bremen was the result of the invited competition“ungewöhnlich wohnen” (unusual living), that asked for new innovative concepts for social housing that could deliver a vital contribution to the production of the contemporary city and its changing social and demographic demands.

                                                                                                                                             Photography: © Ulrich Schwarz, Berlin

The competition was organised in 2011 by the Bremen-based social housing cooperation GEWOBA and stimulated by the former city architect Senatsbaudirektor Franz-Josef Höing. For Atelier Kempe Thill the project has been an intensive experiment in trying to adapt their know-how in the field of social and collective housing to the conditions of Germany’s heavily regulated market with high standards, yet with low budgets in comparison to neighbouring European countries.

Micro-settlement in Tenever

The new project has been realised in the 1970s “grand ensemble” Tenever known for its massive social housing blocks of up to 18 floors. In order to offer a refreshing contrast and to promote alternative forms of living in Tenever, the housing cooperation GEWOBA decided to build a new, compact micro-settlement next to the late-modernist housing blocks. This new community is based on a master plan by the Hamburg-based planning firm Spengler Wiescholek, has only three-story high housing units and consists of a mix of several smaller urban villas and one bigger apartment building designed by Atelier Kempe Thill. The entire settlement is designed as a car-free, green and garden city-like neighbourhood with wooden facades and a very fluent relation to an existing, nearby park with old trees. The design for the whole estate is focused on various aspects of sustainability and human well-being and will be certificated with the German eco-label “Nawoh-Siegel”.

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Two Staircases, One Elevator

The project by Atelier Kempe Thill started with the ambition to optimise all cost factors on an organisational level in order to realise a better spatial quality and more pleasant facades than would generally be the case in social housing. Therefore, the building is organised as a very compact, three-story-high block with a depth of over 25 meters. During the design process, Atelier Kempe Thill used their previous experiences with compact design projects for the health-care sector, like the “Junky Hotel” in Amsterdam, or housing for the elderly in the Belgian town of Heist-op-den-Berg as a direct reference model for social housing. The ground floor of the building is designed for a nursery school and a city quarter office, with the different functional zones accessed directly from the outside. A very cost-efficient social housing typology occupies the first and second floors. All twenty-eight units are accessed by one single open main staircase. On the south side of the block, an additional escape staircase has been realised. This typology is quite exceptional for Germany, where typically one staircase serves only two to four apartments per floor. The completed structure is designed as a repetitive building system with the same grid-line dimensions, facade elements and interior components, thus keeping the cost of the individual building elements at a minimum due to repetition.

Compact kindergarten

On the north side of the ground floor, one can find the apartments central entrance hall and a small neighbourhood centre. A kindergarten occupies the most substantial part of the ground floor and has its own entrance hall on the east side. All of the group rooms of the kindergarten are organised along the facade. The spaces have big panoramic windows that create a fluent visual relation between interior and park. A significant event room is placed in the middle of the kindergarten. This space is up to 11m high, has a view towards the sky and is fully glazed towards the corridors. Despite the fact that the kindergarten is very deep, there is a lot of daylight inside the house and one has from almost every room a view towards the surrounding green landscape.

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Residenz Eisenerz


The main spatial quality of the social housing project is the collective atrium space inside the block. This atrium is used as a laid-back and surprising entrance and access zone with an open staircase for the individual homes. The area enjoys a lot of daylight from above. It offers a shared space with collective facilities for future inhabitants that was previously unseen in contemporary German social housing. The rather small, housing units are organised around the central atrium and are composed of compact and very convenient mono-orientated, one-bedroom apartments on the west -and east sides of approx. 45–50 m2. To offer a maximum amount of daylight and a fluent relation between interior and exterior, all the apartments have two substantial windows with double doors. On the corners, larger housing units for families are designed which offer a double-sided orientation with panoramic living rooms on the edges of the building. To encourage an intense relationship between the apartments and the green surroundings that include an historic park with old trees, Atelier Kempe Thill decided to provide the housing units with exceptionally large outside terraces designed as a direct spatial extension of the rather small interiors. As a result, the entire block is wrapped with an extra layer of balconies around the facades, offering the inhabitants the unexpected luxury of pleasant spaces for relaxed outside living within the city. All the terraces are cladded with horizontal larch wood lamella that add a natural, light-gray expression to the building, fitting to its suburban setting next to the large park. The balcony balustrades form an additional continuous facade that covers the entire white plastered block and provide the building with a quiet, laid-back and horizontal character. The wooden facade is subtly combined with the large, very dark-coated aluminium windows of the nursery school on the ground floor and aluminium frames around the balcony openings.

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Escenario TODOROKI

A new prototype

The project in Bremen can be seen as a new prototype for compact urban housing. The project provides a possible answer to the question of demographic change that demands more and more smaller housing units for singles and couples. The new prototype is a very compact and economic model but also stimulates more collective forms of communal living. Furthermore, the project demonstrates that even with limited budgets, moments of luxury are evidently possible within German social housing.

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