Since 2011, dozens of GSD students have entered a popular lottery for the chance to tackle complex design problems for real-world clients. As part of the studio abroad program, students work alongside GSD design critics at their firms, travelling to all corners of the world—Paris, Tokyo, Rotterdam, Basel, and Los Angeles included. This spring, 10 lucky students packed their bags for Berlin, Germany, where they joined Frank Barkow MArch ’90 of Barkow + Leibinger and Arno Brandlhuber of brandlhuber+ for an intriguingly titled studio focused on housing: Poor But Sexy: Berlin, The New Communal.


The Studio

Berlin is a growing metropolis, which in recent years has expanded its commercial and cultural districts greatly. Left aside in the growth has been housing; planners anticipate the city needs about 30,000 new apartments within the next five years to rebalance existing shortfalls. According to local architect Barkow, “There is an urgency for housing in Berlin, from affordable to market price. This is a topic that both my practice and Arno’s have been intensely thinking about. Housing has taken on a new vitality, in relationship to changes in who we are, and how we live and work. Happily, it’s quite cool to do housing again.”

Leveraging this landscape of change, Barkow and Brandlhuber’s studio asked students to consider innovative housing solutions in a historical context, investigating new typologies, and developing proposals for one of four sites. “They faced a climate of speculation and political activity, where planners, architects, and developers proactively propose housing solutions that insert themselves into a historical city, but with no direct precedents or master planning to guide them,” says Barkow. “The proactive climate in Berlin anticipates and provokes new experimental ideas for an immediate and urgent future.”

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Architect and former GSD professor Matthias Sauerbruch listens as a GSD student presents her thoughts on housing.

Accompanying the studio were two seminar courses taught by Niklas Maak and Fritz Neumeyer. Maak’s seminar focused on contemporary housing issues from Europe to Asia, while Neumeyer chose Berlin histories, from Schinkel to 20th century international building exhibitions. Chris SooHoo MArch ’16, one of 10 students in the studio, shares, “The seminars turned out to be a great complement to our work in studio. Having Niklas Maak and Fritz Neumeyer was a great duo of courses that addressed contemporary and historical issues in Berlin. With Niklas we studied and discussed what a dwelling could be, and we took a trip to Paris where we visited innovative historical housing projects such as Villa Savoye and the work of Renee Gailhoustet. With Fritz we learned about the historical evolution of Berlin’s urban condition beginning with Karl Friedrich Shinkel to the city as we see it today.”

Berlin is so incredibly rich in its architectural and urban history that I think our work was really influenced by our experiences living here.
– Dana Wu MArch ’16

The Experience

Studio abroad students have made a tradition of chronicling their experience using the social media platform Tumblr, where they share their thoughts, photos, and stories for the larger GSD audience. The first entry in January was foretelling: “After only a week, we can tell that is going to be a great semester.”

For SooHoo, the decision to participate in the Berlin studio was a no-brainer, and he suspects it will rank among his most memorable moments at the GSD. He reflects that the highlight of the studio was “the life experience of being immersed in a new city with nine friends who share similar passions.” He adds, “Being in Berlin has been a wonderful shift from the Trays of Gund Hall. By both living and working with two leading practitioners in the region, we’ve been able to get real insight into the current culture and change that is happening in the city, and to experience first-hand, a city in the midst of transition.”

final review Berlin

Dea Mohsen Mostafavi sits in on final studio reviews.

Architecture student Dana Wu MArch ’16 appreciated the opportunity to have Berlin “as an inspiring laboratory of sorts” for her GSD work this semester. “I found it a huge privilege to be able to discuss architectural and urban projects in studio or in seminar, and then go see them in person with our professors. Berlin is so incredibly rich in its architectural and urban history that I think our work was really influenced by our experiences living here.”

On April 21, students had their final review, thus wrapping up the semester and their time in Berlin. They presented their projects to an engaging group of critics, which included Regine Leibinger, Niklas Maak, Jürgen Mayer H., Brett Steele, Jo Taillieu, Jan De Vylder, and Dean Mohsen Mostafavi, who made the trip from Cambridge, and received invaluable feedback on their work.

Reflecting back on the semester, SooHoo says participating in studio abroad gave him “a chance to step away from the frenetic pace of Gund Hall and collect my thoughts before entering my final year of thesis.” He also enjoyed being able to spend quality time in a place like Berlin, and most of all, he valued “being able to study abroad with good friends and classmates. This bond undoubtedly contributed to the rich experiences we had in the studio and in our travels in Berlin and Europe.”