Berlin is a burgeoning modern city with a compelling history, a diverse culture, abundant art, and distinctive architecture that rivals the likes of Paris, London and New York. But if there is one thing that can set the city apart from its pricey peers, it’s the unbelievably inexpensive property. Not unlike many of the uber-creative expatriates that have taken up residence there, two enterprising artists, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, decided it was time to purchase and renovate a place of their own. So what can $700,000 get you in a city like Berlin? An apartment? A loft? Maybe a small house? How about a massive water pumping station!
The former water pumping station is located in Neukölln, a suburb just a little more than three miles out of Berlin’s city center. Set within a network of residential buildings and surrounded by chestnut trees, the station had remained completely unused since the early 1990s due its impractical non-industrial location. It wasn’t until Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset purchased the property and enlisted the help of architects Nils Wenk and Jan Wiese that the old station was infused with a new life that would host both a home and studio work space.
The renovation, which took about a year, was approached by the pair as an art project. The two capitalized on the building’s exisiting fixtures and unique finishes, playing up the prevailing character while keeping the historic nature of the structure in tact. For example several of the old, large vents on the upper floor that once used to ventilate the building were transformed into a fireplace, a table, a guest bed and even an embedded bathtub. Even the platforms once used to supervise the plant machinery from above were designated to be used as mezzanine office space.
Given that the building was in good condition, few structural changes were made. The abundant square footage provided lots of room for experimentation in terms of space and flow, particularly between the work and living spaces which can often prove to be a major challenge for designers.
“We deliberately made the borders between the work and living spaces fleeting,” Ingar Dragset said. “The combination of vast floor space and the small, quirky nooks means you can be very hidden here, or very exposed depending on your moods or needs.” In fact, many of the main space walls were knocked out, and the farther up and back one goes, the more private the space becomes. The building spans five lives, and the back includes two private areas for the artists, a kitchen, an attic living room, and four bathrooms. As dark as that may sound, overall the spaces stick to a light minimalist aesthetic and an abundance of daylight washes across the finely sanded asphalt floors.