Baroque Berlin & Brandenburg: Schloss Charlottenburg & Schloss Sanssouci

When one thinks of baroque landscape architecture, one thinks of the castle gardens of Versailles, and of the prominent French landscape architect Andre Le Notre. As I learned last week, the greater Berlin area has two fine examples of the baroque castle garden itself.

Andre Le Notre, once called the “father of landscape architecture” by one of my old University of Florida professors, had clearly inspired Siméon Godeau when he designed the castle gardens of Schloss Charlottenburg. He proceeded to construct his garden from 1697 onwards, commissioned by Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Frederick III of Brandenburg (Frederick III would later crown himself as King Frederick I). The garden is characterized by a formal design, featuring geometric shapes and visual axes, and is often referred to as the “Versailles of Germany”.

Main axis of the castle garden of Schloss Charlottenburg

Main axis of the castle garden of Schloss Charlottenburg from across the carp pond

Baroque landscape architecture: Ornamental gardens of Schloss Charlottenburg

The second ruler after King Frederick I- Frederick II, the first king of Prussia, also known as Frederick the Great- would then transform the garden at the end of the 18th century, to more closely resemble the English Garden-style gardens at Worlitz he admired so much. This is hardly surprising, given the fact that English Garden landscape design was widely popular at the end of the 18th century. It was only after the second world war that the original designs were appreciated again, perhaps due to the fact that by that time there weren’t any baroque gardens left in Berlin. So in 1950, finally, the gardens were restored back to their original state.

A typical feature of Baroque gardens: flowers and trees planted along axes with mathematical precision

Another rival of Versailles is Potsdam’s Schloss Sans Souci, not coincidentally build by Frederick the Great as a summer palace where he could escape Berlin. The terraced vineyards were constructed first; only when Frederick the Great learned that the view from atop the terraces was so stunning, he ordered his summer residence to be built there, about a year after the construction of the terraced vineyard. Below the terraced vineyard lie the typical baroque ornamental gardens. Contrary to the Schloss Charlottenburg, Schloss Sanssouci itself was designed more in rococo-style, rather than baroque.

Frederick The Great's summer residence, "mein Weinberghäuschen" (my little vineyard home); Schloss Sanssouci, sitting atop the terraced vineyard

After the terraced vineyard and the summer residence, the larger park was realized.  Sanssouci Park features an impressive, 2.5 kilometer axis, running from the obelisk at its east end to the New Palace on the west end.

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The 2.5 kilometer axis in Park Sanssouci

The New Palace was added 20 years after the construction of the summer retreat. Contrary to the humble Schloss Sanssouci, this palace was built purely to show off.

The Baroque-style Neues Palais (New Palace) at the western end of the 2.5 kilometer axis was meant to symbolise the strenght of Prussia, even after its defeat during the seven years' war. It is Potsdam's interpretation of France's Versailles palace.

In the era of Frederick the Great’s successors, the baroque garden was no longer in fashion. The (English-garden type of) landscaped garden gained in popularity. However, even Frederick the Great himself deviated from the typical, aesthetically-shaped baroque garden, himself combining beauty with utility when shaping the larger grounds of Park Sanssouci. This demonstrates his belief that nature and art can be united.

A follie in the landscape- the rococo-style Chinese teahouse

Both gardens are the Prussians’ own interpretation of French formalism, featuring typical baroque landscape design elements. They also show a progression from the formal French baroque castle garden towards English-garden style landscape design, as initiated by Frederick the Great. Though they are to be appreciated in their own right, they are but one historical layer of Berlin, the city whose built environment is much like a history book covering the full spectrum of the last 3 centuries.

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Bike Berlin

As soon as I got here, I went looking for a cheap, decent, second-hand bike.
I use my bike to get around New York (in addition to the occasional subway ride), and prior to that, I cycled everywhere when I lived in The Netherlands. The contrast between the two is quite striking: in the NL, cycling is commonplace, having a 27% modeshare. In The US, 1% of all local trips are conducted by bike.

Germany takes an intermediate position: 9% of all local trips are conducted by bike here (for the city of Berlin, this number is 10%). The average German cycles 1 kilometer per day, versus 2.5 in the NL and a disappointing .1 kilometer in the US.

Berlin has 860 kilometers of completely bike paths, 60 kilometers of bike lanes on streets, 70 kilometers of combined bike/bus lanes on streets (yes, you may cycle in the buslane!), in addition to 100 kilometer of combined pedestrian/bike paths (often in city parks). As if that weren’t enough, 3.800 kilometers of the city’s streets are traffic-calmed, featuring planters on the road and allowing a maximum speed of 30km/h. This creates a very safe streetscape, where you won’t even need a special bike path in order to cycle safely: in these so-called “shared streets”, the cyclists use the street alongside with (pedestrians and) cars. Indeed, except for the major thoroughfares, I’ve experienced Berlin to be a safe city to cycle in, though there remains much room for improvement. Even though most drivers are aware of cyclists and act accordingly, I still have been cut-off a number of times by rushed drivers. More driver’s education could help prevent such occurrences in the future.

Cyclists at an intersection along Karl-Marx Allee

Seperated bike lane in Berlin: because of the physical seperation from vehicular traffic, the risk of a collision is minimized.

Seperated bike lane in Berlin: because of the physical seperation from vehicular traffic, the risk of a collision is minimized.

An on-street bike lane.

A shared street in Berlin-Mitte

Certain on-street bike lanes are so narrow that they force cyclists onto the side-walk during rush hour.

At certain heavily-frequented public spaces, such as here at Hackescher Markt, there isn't nearly enough supply of bike parking.

Cyclists at the popular plaza, Hackescher Markt

It’s well-known that compact, medium-sized cities work best for biking; this is why the mid-sized cities of Utrecht and Groningen have a higher bicycle mode share than Amsterdam, for instance. In Germany, Muenster has a much higher mode share: 35% of all local trips there are conducted on a bike. The typically longer distances in major cities work against the attractiveness of the bike. Even so, with a little effort and focused investments in safer bicycle infrastructure, Berlin has the potential to join the upper ranks of cycle-friendly cities. I know it can already be an inspiration for, say, New York for instance.

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Dutch investor develops neighborhood along the Spree

Where we are busy making concepts for the development of our site, development has already occurred on a site that’s located just to the south of our study area: the Rummelsburger Bucht, an area around an inlet. Some of us visited this newly developed neighborhood last friday (though, half of students participating in this summer academy went to Amsterdam for the weekend and didn’t make it). With our concepts for our own sites being a little far-fetched at times (arguably, us city planners and architects are a tad bit too ideological), it was refreshing to see how an investor had pulled off the development of 130 hectares of land. It provides us with a realistic sense of what-can-be-done.

The Bouwfonds, one of the Netherlands’ largest real estate developers (with offices across Europe), built 2.600 residential units, 60.000 square meters of office space, 16 hectares of open space, 5.5 km of riverside trails, 2 day-care centers, 1 primary school and after school care facility, 2 youth recreational facilities and 3 sports facilities. However, initially (in 1992), 4.200 residential units and 300.000 square meters of office space were planned. The dramatic decrease in units built is due to the disappointing growth Berlin experienced in the 1990s: not only did wealth leave the city for the suburbs; the residential real estate market in Berlin relaxed, and the first (new) office buildings in the city were sitting empty. To cope with this, the area was subdivided into different neighborhoods (much like in Hamburg’s Hafen City), which would be developed in turn. The neighbordhoods of Rummelsburg (north of the inlet) and Stralau-City (south of the inlet) were to be developed first. Subsequently, Stralau-Village (south of the inlet), An Der Mole (west of the inlet) and more of Rummersburg would be developed, as well as the Berlin Campus (more about it later) and an industrial park. Finally, Ostkreuz and Marktgrafendamm are still waiting to be completed. The developments on the southern banks of the inlet were designed by Amsterdam-based architect Herman Hertzberger; the area of Rummelsburg was planned for by the German architect/urban designer Klaus Theo Brenner. For the design of the industrial park along the northern shores of the inlet, Barcelona-based architect David McKay was selected.

The development and planning of the Rummelsburger Bucht urban redevelopment area occurred at a time when Berlin’s Senate for Urban Development experienced a paradigm-shift: owner-occupied housing was to be preferred for the site, to be able to compete with the suburbs for those residents who chose to own their homes. Thus, the area is characterized by owner-occupied residences.

Phased urban development: the Rummelsburger Bucht

Our guided tour (by Bouwfonds’ Han Joosten) led through the northern sections of the area: the Rummelsburg 1 and 2 areas on the map above, as well as the Berlin Campus. Below are some impressions of Rummelsburg 1; the area that was the first to be developed on the northern shore of the inlet. Because lead-architect Theo Brenner didn’t appreciate any deviations from his monotonous scheme,  we see a sequence of apartment blocks that all look the same.

Along the northern shore of the inlet: the area boasts a 5.5 km trail along the waterfront

Apartments in Rummelsburg: there isn't too much variation in their architectural designs. There's a lot of vacancy, as well.

Signs with arrows aid the wayfinding process in an area where all flats are identical.

One of Rummelsburger Bucht's perks: it is located at twenty minutes cycling distance from the heart of Berlin.

Social infrastructure: a school and a playground in Rummelsburger Bucht

The City of Berlin's answer to a fiscal crisis: privatizing streets

The area of Rummelsburg 2 has been completed more recently (in fact, parts of it are still under construction). It offers its residents more flexibility, as the apartment-block scheme of Brenner doesn’t apply here any longer. We see the abandonment of Brenner’s apartment-block scheme reflected in the increased architectural diversity of the housing stock in this area. Below are some more observations.

Housing in Rummelsburger Bucht 2

Compared to Rummelsburger Bucht 1, section 2 offers a lower density that allows for private backyards that section 1's apartment blocks don't offer.

Dutch developer, Dutch design: façades that are remniscent of Dutch rowhousing

Some of the housing in Rummelsburger Bucht 2 has been developed in Bauhaus-style. These homes feature small structures in the backyards that create an additional streetwall on the south of the parcel. In these structures, some residents have opened up coffee shops, others use it as storage space.

Architecture of the "Amsterdam School" style.

Recently completed housing in Rummelsburger Bucht 2

The swales along the road in Rummelsburger Bucht 2 collect stormwater runoff

The last ‘neighborhood’ of the Rummelsburger Bucht redevelopment we visited was the Berlin Campus. This neighborhood has a long history. An orphanage was built here in the 1850s. From 1877 to 1879, a workhouse was constructed on the site, making the neighborhood look like a pavilion. The community at that time offered shelter to 1.000 persons. A water tower was also constructed at that time.

The old watertower of the Berlin Campus

In the days of the German Democratic Republic, the site was used as a detention center (since 1951). The ‘prison campus’ was finally closed in 1990. Because it is a protected heritage site, the former detention center has been converted to, mostly, lofts.

Lofts on the Berlin Campus

Vista- looking towards the former detention center's hospital

Central plaza in the Berlin Campus (formerly the detention center's courtyard, where a headcount of all prisoners was held every morning)

Lofts on the Berlin Campus

Finally, the overall design philosophy of the redevelopment of the Rummelsburger Bucht was that of creating an ‘urban landscape’, the aim was to insert the city into the landscape and to bring lush landscaping to the city. That way, this residential quarter in the city of Berlin proper might be able to compete with its lush suburbs for the region’s home-buying citizens. This has led to a nice mixture of green open space and residences. Sure, the area is quite dense (much denser than its suburbs across Berlin’s boundary)– but you don’t experience it to be quite as dense as it is because all the condos and townhouses are tucked away in the greenery.

The urban landscape of Rummelsburger Bucht

The urban landscape of Rummelsburger Bucht

Rummelsburger Bucht's "Artist Village": €600.000 Bauhaus-style townhouses tucked away in the greenery

Overall, Rummelsburger Bucht is an impressive redevelopment of a large area at the fringes of Berlin. It boasts a diversity of architectural styles. It has a significant amount of publicly accessible open spaces. However, as a reflection of the ownership status of (nearly) all residences, it remains quite exclusive. It has some social housing, but is mostly a middle-class mortgage-taking suburb. It has a decent amount of upper-class housing, too. It is, for instance, home to Germany’s only gated community (which is situated across the inlet in Stralau). Socially, you could conclude that it’s just like the more outlying suburbs; though architecturally you are for sure in the City.

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English Garden Landscape Design: the case of the Wörlitzer Park

Last thursday, we visited Dessau (which is located just beyond Berlin’s commuter belt). Amongst other things, we visited one of the finer English gardens of Europe: the Wörlitzer Park.

The English poet and essayist Alexander Pope (1688-1744) had a significant influence on the design of landscapes. More specifically, his ideas layed the foundation for the English garden-style of landscape design. In a 1713 essay in the Guardian,  he praised the “amiable simplicity of unadorned nature” in place of the formal garden; and he proclaimed, “In all, let nature never be forgot . . . Consult the genius of the place.” This mantra continues to influence the practice of landscape architecture even today. The visual look of the English gardens was inspired by paintings of European landscapes of romanticized rural areas.

The English Garden design style is one of the most prominent design philosophies in the history of landscape architecture. Its signature features are gracious curves, lush green lawns,  fragrant and colorful blooms, secluded seating areas, and meandering walkways  beneath majestic trees. Not to mention, follies. These gardens are remniscent of the traditional, tranquil (and somewhat romanticized) English countryside.

A follie in the landscape in the Wörlitzer park

The Wörlitzer Park (or Das Gartenreich Dessau-Wörlitzer in German) is the perfect example of English garden landscape design. Indeed, it is one of the first (and one of the largest) English landscape gardens in continental Europe. It is on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites.

Winding, shaded paths, flowers, a body of water and follies in the distance: Wörlitzer Park is a typical English Garden

The Wörlitzer Park was created in the 18th century by duke Leopold III of Saxony. Its landscape architect was Johann Friedrich Eyserbeck. The garden was designed on the principles of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who considered the agriculture to be the foundation of daily life and pointed out the educational role of the natural landscape. This reflects the ‘zeitgeist’ of the era of Enlightenment. The garden honors this philosophy with “Rousseau island”, which is a copy of the island of Ermenonville in France’s Picardy region, where Jean-Jacques Rousseau is burried.

Rousseau Island

Agriculture as a basis for daily life: the Wörlitzer Park is surrounded by farm land

The most important feature of the Wörlitzer Park, to me, is its accessibility; it has always been accessible to the general public (which was not too common for extensive gardens in the 18th century). This makes it an admirable, historical example of public open space.

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Reinventing Port Cities: the case of Hamburg

Last week, we made a trip to Hamburg. Local city planners and architects gave us an extensive update on the status of city building in Hamburg.

Across Northwestern Europe, port cities are reinventing themselves. As the requirements of the shipping industry changed, old inner-city seaports were no longer functional. As new docks and harbors were constructed just outside of the city that could accommodate container trade, older ports became obsolete in the port cities of Rotterdam,  Amsterdam, London, Birmingham, Hamburg and Antwerp. Thus, city planners in these cities had the exciting opportunity to redevelop these former port areas that are, for the most part, immediately adjacent to city centers. Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands is a renowned example, and so is Rotterdam’s Kop van Zuid redevelopment (which includes the recently completed Meusetower or Maastoren, the new tallest building of the BeNeLux).

Rotterdam's Maastoren, the new tallest structure in the BeNeLux

However, Hamburg’s redevelopment, titled Hafen City (Harbor City) is one of the largest ones in scope and in size. Being situated immediately adjacent to the current city center, this redevelopment project is going to increase the total size of the city center by 40%. It is one of the largest rebuilding projects in Europe. Because of its sheer size, it was impossible to plan for every detail of every parcel right from the start. Rather than pursuing a rigid form of “blueprint planning” for a final, fixed situation, a general development concept was adopted which gave direction to the redevelopment of the area. The plan divided the area up into ten quarters which were then designed in more detail. Each of these quarters is being developed independently, which allows for the flexibility to adapt the pace of the overall development to recent developments in the financial markets. This bit-by-bit type of development also leads to more architectural diversity.

Site model of Hafen City

Hamburg is susceptible to a strongly changing tide, the water-level changes by as much as 6 to 7 meters between low and high-tide. Then there’s the ever-present risk of flooding, which will only increase in the future with rising sea levels. To deal with this risk, all buildings have been built on elevated, (7.5 to 8 meters high) flood-secure plinths. There are elevated walkways that connect these plinths, providing (pedestrian-only) access to the elevated buildings in case the streets are flooded. In the absence of a flood, the spaces below the walkways provide additional open spaces.

The buildings in the new Hafen City, sitting on flood-secure, elevated plinths.

Elevated walkways in Hafen City

A social gathering space below Hafen City's elevated walkways

At this point, just a fraction of Hafen City has been completed. Along two docks, new buildings have emerged that showcase a strong piece of contemporary architecture. It is mixed use. Though the buildings contain mostly apartments, there are restaurants, shops, bars and the like on the first floor. There also are some office buildings, including a few high-profile corporations. Particularly impressive is the new Unilever building.

Apartments in Hafen City

The new Unilever building

Public space takes up 40% of the total surface area in the new Hafen City. Half of this is publicly owned; the other half is in private hands. However, the privately-owned open spaces essentially function as public ones: any use is allowed, even uses that are often banned in privately owned open spaces (such as journalistic and political activities or even begging). In part because of private investments, the open space is highly crafted. Though the developed part of Hafen City is very young, it has already attracted a ton of people when I visited it on a recent, sunny Sunday afternoon, when one particular open space was the stage for a host of tango-dancers. Lastly, the open spaces are just as diverse as they are plentiful.

Floating public space in a dock

Sunday crowd watching the tango dancers

Local youth playing basketbal in Hafen City's open space

Open space in Hafen City

The volume of the buildings in Hafen City is pretty constant; nearly all buildings are of the same height, around 20-25 meters tall. This mirrors the skyline of the inner city of Hamburg, where buildings are mostly of that same height.  One notable exception is the new concert hall. This is an 8-floor addition that is being built on top of an (already tall) old warehouse, designed by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron. Due to its height, it is the dominant structure of Hafen City. It’s nearly as tall as it could be: In Hamburg, no building can be taller than the spire of the city’s medieval cathedral (much like in Utrecht, where the unspoken rule of development is not to build any taller than the dome).

The design of the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall (middle)

Hafen City's Concert Hall was recently topped-out.

With such a cultural landmark, one begins to wonder whether Hamburg doesn’t just want to compete with Rotterdam or Antwerp, but with Sydney’s Harbor as well. It’s a little bit too much like the Opera House in my opinion, even though the combination of a new structure and an old warehouse is taken to the next level here. It reflects the high ambitions Hamburg has with its newly revived port area. And, even though it is by all means too soon to judge the redevelopment efforts, what I have seen on the site last week was an impressive attempt at large-scale urban redevelopment. It is an example for other port cities in Northwestern Europe, for they too will need to recycle their inner city port areas in one way or another. Finally, much like how Potsdamer Platz is a new archetype for open space in the 21st century, Hafen City offers a model for redevelopment of urban areas in the 21st century. Not just in terms of the planning process, but also in terms of financing. Hafen City has been largely privately financed. In an age of fiscal crisis amongst government agencies at all levels, Hamburg seems to pull this redevelopment off just because of its private financing.

With a few years of construction ahead for Hafen City, this is definitely a place to keep an eye on. I know I’m returning in a few years to see how the overall development turned out.

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Potsdamer Platz: urban open space in the 21st century

This time around, I’ll focus on a public space that has sparked an intense debate amongst urban planners and architects alike: Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz.

Before World War two, Potsdamer Platz was one of the busiest crossings in Europe. With traffic galore (mostly streetcars, double-decker busses and pedestrians at the time), it was a lively public space at the time. But, bombs flattened the site during the war.

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Subsequently, the freshly constructed Berlin Wall would run across the heart of this square, virtually robbing it of any vitality that was left after years of neglect and destruction. When the wall came down, it was nothing more than barren land, a no-man’s land where soldiers used to patrol the border. After the reunification, the redevelopment efforts of the 1990s entailed a massive construction boom that sought to stitch the voids in Berlin’s urban fabric. A competition was held to develop plans for the redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz. The site was devided up into 4 parcels (each was to be developed by a different developer), one of which would be developed by Sony. In this blogpost I’ll focus on the results of this redevelopment.

The Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz is a highly crafted public open space (depicted above in the banner). According to my Berlin-based architecture professor, it is a space that has the “wow-factor”. Visitors (mostly tourists and business travelers) and locals alike are impressed by its contemporary design, on which  prominent architects have collaborated (the most significant contributor was German-American architect Helmut Jahn). The Sony Center is a circle-shaped public space, framed by buildings all around it.

The Sony Center: a circular-shaped pedestrian plaza

Their ground floors (and their higher-up floors as well) help enliven the plaza, there is a constant stream of foot traffic leading in and out of the Sony store for instance. More importantly, the distinction between the individual buildings that frame the plaza and the plaza itself is blurred; the buildings have open façades (which often feature decks with additional, open-air seating). The plaza and the buildings sort of seem to be one entity, but this entity is in turn quite sealed-off from its further surroundings. In that respect, it’s similar to the American suburban shopping mall; this is because of the inward-orientation of the buildings that frame the plaza.

The facade of the IMAX theatre is oriented towards the plaza

Perhaps its most striking feature is its “roof”, a skeleton of steel which supports the glass dome that literally caps the circle-shaped open space below. Embedded in this “hat” are its signature white sails, a feature that was added by a Japanese architect (hence why Berliners came up the nickname “Fujiyama”).

The "hat" of Potsdamer Platz

The parcel bought by Sony once was home to the (nearly-completely destroyed) palace of the emperor of Prussia. This piece of antiquity has been nicely incorporated into the modern developments. Glass protects the palace and keeps it visible at the same time. It’s façade has been covered with a glass coat in a particularly exceptional way. As for the palace as a whole, the architect simply said, “I’ll leave it as it is and just built around it”. So now we have an old palace that is literally surrounded by one modern building on all sides.

Former palace of the Prussian emperor with "glass coat"

Former palace of the Prussian emperor with "glass coat"

Former palace of the Prussian emperor with "glass coat"

"I'll just leave it as it is and built a structure around it"

The Sony Center is at best an entertainment district. Along the edges of the central plaza, one finds movie theaters (including an IMAX), bars, restaurants, and, of course, a Sony store (much like any Apple Store a fancy building that showcases the brand’s latest products). Most outlets are catered towards a high-earning clientele. Even when there are programmed events, such as occasional art exhibitions, visitors are still charged top-dollar (or euro) to frequent these. The plaza’s visitors are mostly tourists (including some families) and a few business people who come here to eat. There are many students (high school as well as college kids) who come here on field trips. The crowd can hardly be viewed as a reflection of Berlin’s population (except maybe for the high school-aged teens at the movie theaters). On a positive note, people of all ages can be found at the square. A lot of them chose to sit down at any of the three bars/restaurants on the plaza, even though the fountain in the middle seems to attract the most people.

the centrally-located fountain at the Sony Center

The Sony Center is very accessible. Pedestrians can enter the centrally situated plaza from four sides (because four detached buildings encircle the plaza). It lies along some of Berlin’s most traveled roadways. There is a subway and railway station situated below the plaza, as well as ample parking. Within the plaza, destinations are easy to find; it is simple to oversee what is going on where here.

Entrance to underground subway & regional rail station at Potsdamer Platz

Even though the plaza is publicly accessible, it is privately owned. Much like, say, the Koopgoot (a downtown pedestrian shopping mall) in Rotterdam or Union Square in New York. Rotterdam’s koopgoot is patrolled by guards to make sure no one disturbs the peace of the local shoppers. Union Square is characterized by control as well, rather than being a place to assemble for all citizens. As a consequence, it always sort of feels like Disney land: no protests, locals, hobo’s, or political activism ever; instead, the Sony Center is a place for tourists to spend their time and money. Staged security by all means.

Everything taken together, Potsdamer Platz is a stunning urban open space that features some of Europe’s most impressive architecture. It is a bustling, lively space that many people from many places flock to. But it isn’t a genuine representation of the city of Berlin by any means; rather, it is a strong piece of top-down, out-of-touch prestige architecture, in true Prussian fashion.

Next time, an escapade to Hamburg.

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First Report: Berlin Mitte

Welcome Urbanists. I made this blog to document my observations and experiences during the 2010 Summer Academy “Architecture | Reurbanization | Sustainability ” at the Beuth Hochschule Fur Technik in Berlin. I participated in this program as an exchange student from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. The focus of the program is the challenge to create ideas for the redevelopment of a large inner-city site along the river Spree. The area had formerly been the site of the Berlin Wall. This has led the two neighborhoods adjacent to the site, Friedrichshain (in former East Berlin) and Kreuzberg (in former West Berlin), to orient themselves away from the river, in a most introvert kind of way. Now that the wall has come down, we face the challenge to re-orient the two areas more towards the river, and indeed to enliven the waterfront after years of neglect. But before we dive into that, first I have some other observations to share with you. During our guided tour, we explored the centrally-located Mitte neighborhood. The area has a building height restriction of 22 meters. Because of this, developers have started to built a number of floors underground to maximize floorspace and profit. Because when you built nine floors above and four floors underground, you kind of have a short (incognito) high-rise. The photo below shows a pedestrian mall that is situated underground. The pedestrian mall runs beneath three buildings and thus effectively connects them underground. It runs from tacky middle-class stores below the first building, to fancy chique French boutiques below the third building, which features a sort of oval-shaped opening in its interior around which a warehouse has been built.

The Galleries Lafayette

The exterior facade of this glass building, however, is disturing the streetwall, which mostly features stone facades. This disturbance has led to further regulations, which now ban glass facades in order to maintain consistency in Mitte’s streetscapes. This type of regulation is Berlin’s equivalent of the Dutch “Welstandscommissie”, a local government body monitoring urban development and enacting regulations to ensure architectural consistency in the local streetscapes. It would suit Brooklyn well to enact similar regulations along the brownstone belt, in order to preserve our beloved tree-lined streets.

Streetscape in Berlin Mitte

More thoughts and observations from Berlin and beyond will follow in the coming days.

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