Architecture, Travel

For the love of bricks


[Ian Macready]
The prow at the eastern end of the Chile Haus

Blimey, they love their bricks in Hamburg. And these are not just ordinary bricks – these are dark Oldenburg bricks that apparently absorb the light and give the respective building a glow. Although this was not so noticeable on a grey and rainy day last week. However walking around the Kontor Haus (office building) district of Hamburg, these bricks seriously impress. The neighbourhood came about as part of a commercial redevelopment of the city in the 1920s importing ideas from Chicago and England and was the first purely commercial district of any European city. The buildings made full use of the available land and the upper storeys were stepped back in order to maximise the permitted height. One of the first and the most impressive is the Chile Haus built from 1922 – 24 by Fritz Höger for the British-born shipping magnate Henry B. Sloman who had made a fortune in saltpetre mines in Chile and at that time was the richest man in Hamburg. Of course nowadays he would probably find that position challenged with Hamburg having the highest density of millionaires. Fritz had his work cut out for him with two irregularly shaped plots to combine with a narrow street running between the plots over which the new building would span. The building has a reinforced concrete structure with the outer walls covered in the defining dark red bricks. The building runs from west to east and ending in the sharply pointed ship’s prow with it’s proud eagle. This of course creates its most spectacular and unique view as the left side of the building curves out along Pompen Strasse and the right side runs straight. Along the street level runs a series of arches, high above are cantilevered terraces and along the facade run tightly positioned brick piers. In all 4.8 million bricks were used and there are more than 2800 windows. You can step inside one of the entrance halls and check out the glazed ceramic hallway and staircase.

Just to the north and built a few years later is the Sprinkenhof – the biggest of them all. It covers two complete city blocks and in the original design, by Höger (yep, the same one)  and Hans and Oscar Gerson,  included small shops, workshops and 122 apartments that could be easily converted into offices. The brick work here is even more richly decorated with ceramic decorations (strange knob like features) and windows by Ludwig Kunstmann. The pillars are even made to appear as if they are buckling under the weight of all those bricks.

The neighbourhood, currently under consideration as a Unesco World Heritage Site,  is a startling display of brick expressionism and has been carefully restored after some war damage and maintained beautifully. Next stop for Viewport in Hamburg is the amazing warehouse district.

The Chile Haus with the curved facade along Pompen Strasse
The impressive courtyard in the Chile Haus
One of the exterior sculptures by Richard Kuöhl
A doorway
The classic view
The staircase inside the Chile Haus
The ceramic walls and staircase
a bit of wood carving on your staircase
That's a lot of windows and bricks, and a view of the recessed upper storeys
The biggest of them all - the Sprinkenhof Building
A courtyard facade of the Sprinkenhof
The brickwork inside the courtyards
A detail of those buckling pillars
The ceramic knobs added by Ludwig Kunstmann
Another brick building
A doorway