On the site of the former post office in Berlin Schöneberg, in the neighbourhood of the Akazienkiez, a new residential and commercial quarter (see Bricks Berlin Schöneberg) is being built as a mix of historical conversions and contemporary insertions.
The ensemble between Hauptstrasse and Belziger Strasse consists of three different publicly-accessible courtyards that link up with the vibrant urban surroundings of Schöneberg. Between the first and second courtyards on the site of the listed former post office, designed by Otto Spalding and Luis Ratzeburg in 1901/02, lies a richly decorated brick building that was built a little later and placed to one side. Its spectacular 7.5-metre-high hall on the third floor served originally as a telegraph exchange and is now the home of the new Kabbalah Centre in Berlin.
Visitors and guests enter the Kabbalah Centre through a spacious foyer from which one can already admire the historic coffered ceiling. The tall space with its rhythmic succession of round arches has been freed of all past insertions to restore its original character as a hall. The coffered ceiling, likewise, has been uncovered and restored to reveal the full extent of the vast space.
The intention of the new architectural intervention is to provide the necessary smaller and more intimate spaces while allowing the sumptuous space to be experienced in its entirety from as many directions as possible. To this end, a second floor has been inserted that appears to float freely inside the hall, reached via generous stairs at each end. Visitors arrive at this level and gain an unexpectedly good view of the ceiling while also registering visual connections to the spaces below. The experience of the full-height of the room is therefore maintained in the lecture hall and in the entrance area to the Kabbalah Centre.
From the entrance, with its generous winding staircase, the ‘path’ leads past teaching and office spaces directly towards the large lecture hall, that appears at first to be the final destination. Inside, a vast mirror on the back wall visually extends the space to twice its length, continuing the rhythm of the arches. Here in the lecture hall, a second broad stair leads up to the and gallery for entertaining large gatherings and dinner events. The kitchen and gallery can cater for up to 100 dinner guests who are rewarded with a view of the adjacent courtyards and Otto Spalding’s building through the large historical windows.
The architectural concept translates one of the central ideas of the teachings of Kabbalah: gradual perception as the unfolding of space along a path. The scenography of the succession of spaces is designed accordingly, with spaces of differing quality and character to cater for both large-scale public events and small-scale focused activities. As such it is a space constantly in motion. The reception area and lecture hall are tall spaces of great decorum while festive events and the moment of communal dining enjoy a sense of elevated lightness and expansive freedom.
All the spaces are interconnected, and the size of the teaching spaces and lecture hall can be varied flexibly. Room-high curtains can be withdrawn to link the teaching areas to the lecture hall, and on the upper level, curtains can be used to subdivide the smaller rooms for more private occasions.