Bonjour Tristesse is a social housing project designed by Portuguese Architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. Located in Berlin, the project was Siza’s first built work outside of his native country. Siza’s design offers a meaningful precedent in urban densification, demonstrating a delicate balance between contextual awareness, creative freedom, and progressive vision.
Commissioned in 1980, Bonjour Tristesse was one of the many projects designed for the International Building Exhibition Berlin of 1987. Architects such as Peter Eisenman, Aldo Rossi, James Sterling, and Álvaro Siza were invited to contribute to the rebuilding of a post-war Berlin. The projects for the exhibition were to be designed with a focus on gentle urban renewal and critical reconstruction.
Siza’s housing project is situated in the Kreuzberg district, at the corner of a 19th century block. As the original corner building was destroyed in the war, a large void was left between the buildings on each side. Following the war, a series of single-story retail stores was constructed, however this solution did not match the heights of the surrounding buildings and did not provide any residences which were badly needed. In 1980 the retail stores were demolished in order to make way for the new Bonjour Tristesse.
The seven-story structure strongly exhibits the contextual nature of Siza’s work, which is well-known for its sensitivity to surroundings. The most prominent characteristic of the design is its continuous, curving façade that joins the adjacent buildings and effectively completes the corner of the block. This sculptural gesture is echoed at the rear of the building as well by a small concave curve. Another feature of its morphology is the subtle rising of the roofline towards the corner. The grey exterior is penetrated by a dense and regular grid of windows, reflecting the typical order and rhythm of surrounding buildings.
In context, the Bonjour Tristesse social housing project appears visually intriguing and contradictory. While the rigid window pattern is meant to blend in with its surroundings, the curvilinear form is intended to be a reference to German Expressionism, and thus contrasts with its surroundings. It is this juxtaposition that provides the structure with an extremely unique appearance. 
A mixed-use building, Bonjour Tristesse houses commercial functions at ground level and residential on the six floors above. An early design proposal included 24 units and 4 stairs, however, this was revised to 46 units and 2 stairs in order to better meet the urgent need for housing in Kreuzberg.
The project became known as Bonjour Tristesse (“hello sadness”in French) for the graffiti marking that appeared on the uppermost portion of the facade in the late 1980s. Siza, who is not particularly fond of graffiti, had originally wanted it removed but decided to leave it after he realized that painting over the select area would make it more prominent and that painting the entire façade was not financially possible. 
Built during a time when the regeneration of Berlin was necessary, Bonjour Tristesse serves as a subtle yet striking contribution to the city’s post-war identity. The social housing project in Berlin, being his first project outside of Portugal, increased his international recognition and led to an increase of global projects. Siza, who is well-known for his ability to integrate projects in an urban context, later won the 1992 Pritzker Prize.
 Leoni, G. Álvaro Vieira (Milan: Motta, 2009).
 Winant, P. Street Art: Facades – Moving with the Times (Worms, Germany: Renolit SE). <http://www.renolit.com/fileadmin/renolit/corporate/images/Architects/Renolit_2_gb_web.pdf>
LocationSchlesische Straße 8, 10997 Berlin, Germany
Architect in ChargeÁlvaro Siza Vieira