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The architectural concept carefully bridges old and new

Nobody knows GLINT better than Count and Countess Christopher and Anastasia von Bothmer. The renovation of this Wilhelminian ensemble is currently the greatest — and most beautiful — project the architect couple is working on. In this interview the pair talk about their aspiration to transfer the historical into the modern era and give each apartment its own individual character. The von Bothmer architects are also focusing on the community of future GLINT residents.

GLINT is distinctive not just for its wonderfully central location in the heart of Berlin, but also its historic, listed architecture. What kind of character will the ensemble at the corner of Glinkastraße and Taubenstraße have following the renovation?

Christopher Graf von Bothmer

It’s impossible to understand why the ensemble is a listed building at first glance – the façades are plain and covered in plaster, the roofs were erected as emergency roofs after the war. On closer inspection, however, many details, such as the corner building’s ornate wrought-iron entrance door, reveal that the buildings must have been beautiful in their youth. We want to tease out these details without imitating the original state. The façades will be finely structured in an authentic Wilhelminian style, and the new roofs and eaves will be based on the original, more generous proportions, elegantly completing the building’s exterior. There will still be a carefully balanced tension between old and new, observable most prominently in the roof design and in the interplay between the interior and exterior.

GLINT consists of four buildings – and the individual addresses can be clearly seen in the different façades. As it was, as it is today, and as it will be in the future?

Christopher Graf von Bothmer

Yes, that’s how it will stay. The underlying idea is to work from the inside to unify the existing buildings into a united whole. This will be achieved primarily through the central courtyard. To achieve this, an old, very small part of the building where kitchens and staff quarters used to be will be demolished. This is good not only because of the narrow conditions here, but also because we’re creating a community space in the courtyard – this is central to our vision.

Why is the idea of community so important to you?

Anastasia Gräfin von Bothmer

We anticipate the future residents of GLINT will be of a mix of Germans and other nationalities. Especially as a counterpoint to the anonymity of a big city, we think it is important that neighbours living here interact with one another We are providing the forum for these encounters – the courtyard, the fireplace lounge, and the lobby. It is a place where people will be greeted as they come home – not just by the concierge, but neighbours, too. Simply because you see each other regularly. And because there are places outside your own four walls where you like to spend time. This will ensure these new apartments will quickly feel like home.

Let us continue to reflect on the history for a moment. What is it that makes GLINT an ensemble of such historical importance?

Christopher Graf von Bothmer

The four buildings were built in a relatively short period of time – just 13 years, between 1873 and 1886. Yet they still feature quite different styles: Taubenstraße 53 is typical of classicism with its modest, structured façade. The roof jumps back and the building is barely visible from the street. The two addresses on Glinkastraße are fine buildings, on the small side for the Wilhelminian era in which they were built. A beautiful interplay is created through the equal number of window axes, despite their differing widths and heights – like non-identical twins. The corner building is of course the centrepiece of the ensemble, and we are delighted to have it.

Anastasia Gräfin von Bothmer

There is just one old photo of the corner building as it looked shortly after its completion. The most striking feature is the tower, which has a playful shape and is richly ornamented. None of this remains today, but there is a definite sense that something is missing. So all we have left is this old photo. Reinterpreting this tower is one of our most enjoyable tasks – but also one of the most difficult.

Please tell us about the new tower …

Anastasia Gräfin von Bothmer

We’ve taken inspiration from so many things – you might say we’ve been looking for and finding towers everywhere, and studying them.

Christopher Graf von Bothmer

A tower like this is a very confident symbol for a building to have. It’s almost like a church in a village. This is the scale of the statement we want the new GLINT to make. We are paying particularly close attention to the shapes and materials we use. We are sticking closely to the original proportions and interpreting them in a modern design language. A steel and glass construction will echo the historical form, but the load-bearing structure will be barely visible from the outside – all people will see are glints and refractions of light. This is also where the ensemble got its name: GLINT.

Anastasia Gräfin von Bothmer

The new tower will be accessible via a curved, sculptural staircase and offer an unparalleled 360-degree view across Berlin: the Reichstag dome, the Gendarmenmarkt, and the entire Tiergarten park. This perfect panorama shows how special GLINT’s location really is.

Are there other examples of this exciting interplay between past and future?

Christopher Graf von Bothmer

The buildings’ most original features are the entrance areas and the stairwells – the old floor tiles, ceiling ornaments, railings, and cast-iron decorations on the entrance doors and gates have a lot of history to tell. Another beautiful historical detail is the courtyard, with its brick façade, where the patterns are composed of individually laid bricks. Right now it is not a matter of reconstructing everything bit by bit, but it’s also not about going too far in the other direction and creating contrasts at any cost. All supplementary parts to the buildings must be constructed in continuity with the original buildings, and the interplay between them should strengthen both.

Anastasia Gräfin von Bothmer

One of my favourite details is the antique concierge’s post in the stairwell, which stands as a testimony to upper-class life of that period. We might turn this into a parcel delivery point for the community, or perhaps we will make creative use of lighting to highlight this feature.

You speak of upper-class life around 1900. How has the way we live changed since then and what effect does this have on your designs?

Anastasia Gräfin von Bothmer

Kitchens and bathrooms have changed the most, of course in the past 150 years, but also in the last decade. Today there is hardly any talk of separate, small rooms – on the contrary, floor plans are being opened up. Families and communities are becoming more open, and this is also reflected in apartment interiors.

How do you bring these aspects of home life into the existing structures of these buildings?

Christopher Graf von Bothmer

The old idea of a dark hallway, with doors that lead to small, individual rooms, has become a thing of the past. These days it is much more about the merging of space: all the rooms converge and flow into one another. This can be created by means of completely open areas, for example, by having the bathroom as part of the bedroom, or we might create transparency with glass walls and doors. The rooms communicate with each another. Where they have already done so in the past via generous double doors, we will of course retain this.

Anastasia Gräfin von Bothmer

A combined kitchen and living space is the centrepiece of this communication, which we would like to integrate into these Berlin rooms. These rooms are typical for Wilhelminian constructions with side wings and rear buildings. Spacial generosity usually serves this type of floor plan very effectively, which means that historical flair, modern technology, and attractive kitchen designs can come together especially well here. We want to provide each apartment with a character of its own – and this always starts with the layout.

Christopher Graf von Bothmer

Part of the charm here lies in the communication between old and new.

This also applies to the materials you use.

Christopher Graf von Bothmer

The materials which are still in their original state already tell us a story all by themselves – from the tiles to the parquet flooring. Newly installed materials, on the other hand, need to be able to hold their own against that – be it through their sheer value or the quality of workmanship. We like to use natural materials such as wood and slate, and then we also look for companies and craftsmen that are a perfect fit for this project. We will definitely take a closer look at the brickwork in the courtyard. The courtyard defines the whole ensemble, after all – it is not just being redesigned, it is being recomposed. It needs more light, more green, and more character. There will be beautiful perspectives here, with different levels and depths.

Anastasia Gräfin von Bothmer

The courtyard will be a real surprise: a little oasis in the middle of the city, which nobody would expect to find here. To us, this is something of a play area. We have so many ideas for the designs: greenery across multiple levels, artworks in the nooks and niches, perhaps some small watercourses. Garden areas. The courtyard is intended to bring people together, because it is a transition between private and public spaces, between your own apartment and the street.

After all, busy Berlin life is waiting just outside GLINT’s front door …

Anastasia Gräfin von Bothmer

Yes, everything is within walking distance. You will find the best shops on Friedrichstraße just one street away, as well as Gendarmenmarkt. Pariser Platz, home to the Brandenburg Gate, and Tiergarten park right alongside it are also just a few minutes’ walk away. Despite this, the corner of Taubenstraße and Glinkastraße is pretty quiet, removed from the crowds of tourists, promising tranquillity and a place of retreat.

Christopher Graf von Bothmer

Even the building has a certain sense of calm about it. We definitely want to keep it that way. The openness generated by the revitalisation of the ground floor and courtyard is created with the residents in mind. We want them not just to live here, but to feel at home.

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