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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.