Aug 22nd 2023

Back from Berlin with Award-Winning Ideas

Cecilia Charney (B.ARCH ’23) wanted to study overseas before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the opportunity, so when an IIT College of Architecture (COA) studio announced it would spend four months of 2022 in Germany, she jumped at the idea of a working trip.

What she didn’t expect was to become an expert on the subject of water as a public space, and how it can transform an apartment complex into a one-of-a-kind design for the heart of Berlin, which is what she proposed in her studio and has garnered her a Schiff Foundation Fellowship—a highly competitive $15,000 award presented to three Chicago-area architecture student projects by the Art Institute of Chicago. Fellow graduates Moid Ali (B.ARCH ’23) and Trae Horne (B.ARCH ’23) received an honorable mention.

“I’m incredibly proud of this project. I think it shows how much energy and excitement I put into it, and I want to thank the jury,” Charney says.

As a culmination of the Berlin Studio, led by COA faculty member Leslie Johnson, Charney was challenged to create a unique collective living space, which she titled Soapsud Scripture.

Public bathhouses dotted across Germany became the core of her design, Charney says. “I was intrigued by those. I’d never seen one, and they are really interesting social spaces. I wanted to poke at the question of what kinds of spaces and activities can be more public than people might think.”

The building design was only one part of Charney’s project, which also includes a detailed and unique website and a narrative tying the great bathhouses of ancient Greece and Rome to the public spaces used today.

“Cecilia’s project impressed the (Schiff Foundation) jury for its ability to expand upon knowledge built from travel and research into a wholly new way to consider collective living. The jury was especially taken with the project’s bold visual language…which projected the distinctive ‘hand and eye’ of (Charney),” Johnson says.

The design’s standout feature is a public bathhouse on the top floor of the apartment building, offering a unique gathering place that is open to the community. “The water that civilizations are built around is used by people in certain intimate moments to cultivate intimacy and trust,” Charney says.

The bathhouse is far from the only dynamic of the design that emphasizes water. Bundled concrete columns move water from a rooftop reservoir throughout the building and support the seven-story structure.

Each apartment unit embraces the idea of wet space, most obviously through the tiled flooring and walls around the bathroom, kitchen, and more public areas, while textile curtains and wood flooring keep the sleeping and reading areas drier and more private.

A bathhouse-apartment mix already was a far departure from the norm for a Berlin apartment, not to mention Chicago, but Charney thinks it can become a unique living experience. “I’m not sure if all people are down for public bathhouses yet, but with iterations, cultures can change. It’s meant to be a neighborhood public space, and I think people can enjoy it anywhere,” Charney says.