Teacher and secondary student discussing work

An interview with Jo Sollich

Architect of the new building in Granitzstraße

Jo Sollich
For months – if not years – we have been anxious about a new location for the Secondary School. After lots of emotional discussions, countless applications, demonstrations, open letters, meetings, and petition, we have finally found a place where we – and our children – can grow. Jo Sollich is the architect for the new building at Granitzstraße. He explained why we should be excited about this is wonderful building with a history.

Jo, we are glad that you and your office have taken on the task of designing the new home for the Secondary School. What can you tell us about the building?

The building does have a certain relevance. It is a secular building, but we must keep in mind that it was built between 1928 and 1931. This was a time of enormous global economic crisis. Many parents in Berlin did not know how to provide for their children any more, and gave them away to children’s homes. That is what this building was originally built for. And it was designed by a well-known, and in those days modern, architectural office – Mebes & Emmerich – that designed architecture for the working class and which stood for an architectural language whose main focus is light, air, and sun. We think it is a good approach that we can now use this building for the BBS.

On this old postcard one can see that the building is embedded within a housing estate that originated from the same time. Are all these houses still there?

Postcard of Granitzstrasse
Yes, they are surrounding it, all these residential buildings, and they are under historic preservation orders. Though the children’s home was destroyed during the war, and rebuilt in 1947, still as a children’s home. But almost exactly like the original. There were only minor changes, but one can still pretty much see it all. As of now, it houses a kindergarten that moved in during the nineties. Back then, the building was extensively renovated, taking into account the historic preservation requirements. Thus we have very good materials, the original windows, flower windows, beautiful fittings are still there, as well as the original plaster. Though the original garden area sadly has been revised, we do have a garden space of approximately 1,500 square meters that we can use for BBS. We can very well imagine to maybe do a gardening project together with the district office – taking up the concept of light, air, and sun – and to use that for the school garden.

How extensive is the conversion?

We are mainly going to do some floor plan adjustments and, for example, create individual classrooms. And – very important – we are going to convert the basement into a science lab. There is a great science lab in Weißensee, and we believe that we can install a high-quality science lab in the basement at Granitzstraße. We have just submitted the application to the district office, and we can start with the first conversion and expansion works in the basement in April/May. When the kindergarten has moved out of the building, we will unfortunately only have June and July to deal with the rest of the interior fittings. That is quite ambitious – but we will get it done.

Meaning everything is going to be ready at the beginning of the new school year?

Well, maybe the science lab won’t be ready yet when school starts again, but the rest will work out. The bathrooms are children’s bathrooms, they will of course have to be rebuilt, the current kitchen is going to be converted into an art room. And another great project at BBS is the library, which is going to be a classroom that is integrated into a school class whose task it will be to run the library.

What are the special challenges when designing a school building?

In this case I have to say that the particular challenge with BBS… is that this is not a standard school building. We take into consideration using eco-friendly building materials, authentic materials one can hear, smell, and feel. Flexible room size is also important. A class room is always hard to design, it always depends on the teachers. We are furnishing for so-called frontal teaching for a start, but everything can be designed flexibly, and it is very exciting for us that there are many possibilities, and one can also work in open groups. That is so great, to realise such a hybrid architecture in a classroom. For us, frontal teaching is not at all the goal, this is only part of the planning, so that we know how many children we can accommodate well, so that everyone is getting enough light and air. New media are another big topic, and, of course, the room acoustics: It has been observed that pleasant acoustics create a pleasant indoor climate and a much better learning environment. We have a good basis, as there are already excellent soundproof ceilings in the building. But we still want to improve it.

What is for you the most exciting aspect about the conversion?

Moving in, naturally (laughing). Technically it is not critical, the facade that is under historic preservation is hardly being touched. We have to work well with the historic preservation requirements. Due to the wartime damage, there are not many requirements for the interior. The terraces are really great. There are going to be many classrooms with a giant terrace, so that in summer outside teaching will be possible, or simply enjoying breaktimes outside. We also can imagine holding art or specialist classes on the terraces and in the garden area.

How does the building in Granitzstraße differ from other school buildings?

I find it wonderful that it is a rather cosy construction. Completely contorted, and just not a classical Wilheminian school with long central corridors and staircases. It is more of a pavilion structure, openly oriented towards the terraces and the yard area. One can create really exciting private spaces here.

What do remember about the building of your own school days?

In Cologne, I attended a Konrad-Adenauer-School. Where else can you go in Cologne (laughing). That was a typical asbestos bunker from the seventies. A panel building, Cologne architecture – and later specially renovated due to the asbestos damage.

Your favorite subjects?

Physics and Art.

And your worst subject?

Physical education. But we don’t have to design a sports hall for Secondary School, so we cannot go wrong here.