A plattenbau is a German apartment building made from panels of prefabricated concrete. Panel construction of this nature became very popular worldwide in the 1960s and was heavily used in war-torn nations after the Second World War to quickly provide housing for refugees, as well as community members in need of homes. This type of construction is still used in some regions of the world and a number of regional and slang terms are used to refer to such structures; in the case of a plattenbau, the word literally means “panel building.”
The use of prefabricated concrete slabs appears to have been developed in Northern Europe, using technology and ideas brought from the United States after the Second World War. Numerous cities across Europe experienced substantial bomb damage in the war and needed affordable housing that could be built rapidly to meet the housing shortage after the war. In Germany, as in many other nations, the solution was the plattenbau, a building that could be quickly and easily built in a variety of climates by construction crews familiar with the technique.
Such buildings vary in height. Older structures tend to be two to three stories. As the technology improved, the buildings got much larger. The plattenbau is especially closely associated with East Germany, where many structures were hot commodities for residents trying to get out of bomb-damaged homes and cramped living conditions. West Germany also used such construction from the 1940s through the 1980s, and this style of architecture can be seen throughout Europe as well.
Such buildings tend to be blocky and unimaginative in design. Some companies add elements like colored panels or unusual shapes to make them visually interesting, but since cost and ease of construction are the primary concerns, many structures are left unadorned. In Germany, these structures were often erected on the fringes of cities, and a few cities planned them into their rebuilt designs after the war.
As European economies recovered and design tastes changed, and especially after reunification, the plattenbau became less common. Vacancy rates in many structures are very high as Germans gravitate towards more recent construction, including structures with modern amenities, more interesting visual appearance, and larger interior spaces. Even as historic buildings were once torn down to make room for plattenbau construction, these buildings are being demolished in many parts of Germany for replacement with newer structures, and new plattenbau construction is relatively rare.