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Berlin’s Tempelhof airport was among the largest — and the oldest — in the world. After starting operation in 1927, the complex was rapidly expanded under Nazi rule, remaining the city’s primary civilian airport through most of WWII. Then, the site was handed over to American troops as the German capital was divided into four occupied zones in 1945, becoming the nexus of the Berlin airlift three years later. When the airport eventually closed in 2008, however, the erstwhile aviation hub became a massive public park — one where you can walk across the runway. And with the noise, pollution and the traffic of the airport gone, its once industrial and commercial surroundings are gradually transforming into a creative hub. Case in point: HAUS 1.

Aerial view of the BUFA complex, now dubbed Atelier Gardens. PHOTO: Lukas Drobny

Designed by Rotterdam-based architects MVRDV, the project saw an unassuming 1990s office building transformed into a mixed-use gateway to an evolving creative hub. Situated just south of the former airport, the building forms part of the Berliner Union Film Ateliers (BUFA) complex, which remains a key production hub for Germany’s film and television industry. However, the removal of the airport also presented an opportunity to diversify the 23,800-square-metre site’s user base to welcome a wide range of creative industries, with a particular emphasis placed on organizations devoted to climate activism and social justice.

The TON 1 building was the first phase of the master plan to be completed. PHOTO: Yasutaka Kojima
Inside TON 1. PHOTO: Stefan Korte

To oversee the transformation, MVRDV developed an ambitious master plan for the campus — now named Atelier Gardens — focused on preserving and adapting the site’s existing architectural heritage (and embodied carbon) while creating new sociable spaces within a pedestrian-oriented and ecologically restorative landscape. The process kicked off with the 2022 reinvention of the nearly century-old TON 1 building, which saw the former film studio adapted into a flexible event venue — elegantly and simply divided via a mobile curtain rail system — that hosts workshops, debates, meetings and more.

PHOTO: Lukas Drobny

Now, HAUS 1 introduces another vibrant space to the nascent Atelier Gardens campus. Situated near the entrance of the site, the formerly white 1997 structure was painted sunshine yellow, creating a bright, conspicuous and energetic sense of arrival. Framed by new landscaping, the building has also been expanded with a prominent zig-zagging “stairscape” in the same yellow hue.

PHOTO: Schnepp Renou

Integrating a set of stairs with casual seating and small podiums, the dramatic addition leads to an accessible new “living roof” of native plants, which collects rainwater to feed into a on-site water retention plan. Less conspicuously, the building was also subtly extended with a timber addition of cross-laminated prefab modules, and finished with bio-based materials, including as a clay ceiling. And while the 2,575-square-metre building still houses offices, a ground floor bar and restaurant now animates the public realm. And like the offices above, its simple material palette and light-filled interiors are accented by elegantly raw finishes.

PHOTO: Lukas Drobny
PHOTO: Schnepp Renou

According to MVRDV founding partner Jacob van Rijs. “The newly transformed HAUS 1 is more than a gateway to this unique campus devoted to impact. It is a representation of the Atelier Gardens community and their commitment to chart a different vision of society – one that’s optimistic, yet radical and innovative. With this second project in our masterplan, we join them on this mission and invite more people to follow.”

PHOTO: Schnepp Renou
A Berlin Office Building Becomes a Yellow “Stairscape”

As part of an ambitious master plan, MVRDV transforms an unassuming 90s office building with sunshine and stairs.

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