A new vision for Berlin agglomeration
From the star to the galaxy
Welteninsel Berlin Brandenburg 2070
What can an urban development model for Berlin be today?
If you look at the visions for our cities that have been designed over the past hundred years, you might think that everything can be planned for 50 or 100 years in advance. Axes are created, construction areas identified and filled with perimeter blocks. Settlement stars are defined, and high-rise areas planned. Science clusters are located and new transport systems are anticipated.
It’s all reminiscent of Jules Verne – science fiction. Either existing developments are updated (‘the stony Berlin – the West European city’) or completely new images are created (‘there are no more cars and we fly in drones – we will no longer live in cities …’).
We believe that neither approach does justice to what Berlin will be in 50 or 100 years, nor that they can depict trends in urban development – they are an expression of current fashions. We have therefore made it our task not to think about axes and building sites, but to redefine what a city vision actually is.
As part of the competition for a vision for Berlin-Brandenburg 2070, we have developed an alternative narrative that does not try to plan, but to depict what Berlin and Brandenburg can be in 2070.
left: Hermann Jansen, Greater Berlin Competition 1910: aerial view of proposed development, Tempelhofer Feld (source: Architekturmuseum TU Berlin, Inv. No. 20563) right: Hermann Jansen, Greater Berlin Competition 1910: forest and green belt of Greater Berlin with radial connection (source, Architekturmuseum TU Berlin, Inv. No. 20541)
Welteninsel Berlin Brandenburg: From the star shaped agglomeration to the galaxy
Much is uncertain today. How will we live in 50 years? How will climate change affect our cities? How are cities run? These questions are difficult to define reliably for long periods of time.
Berlin and the surrounding area are both a built – or an unbuilt – reality. But they are also an attitude towards life and a way of thinking. The last 100 years – and Berlin in particular – show that what is built and planned can change radically, almost revolutionarily. Berlin and Brandenburg as mental images – as state of mind – develop evolutionarily. They effortlessly connect Fontane and Berghain, Humboldt and Scharoun or Schinkel and Eberswalde.
What does a future narrative in 2070 have to do for Berlin and the Brandenburg region?
We think: For sure something different from the models of the competition of 1910. It does not have to give precise spatial specifications, but above all generate mental images. These images capture the special Berlin-Brandenburg attitude towards life, strengthen it and expand it where necessary. They positively charge what this region is all about.
That is why our proposal does without detailed plans and replaces them with 6 strategic narratives that together form a large overall picture.
The star is the current model for urban development in Berlin. Its structure does not do justice to the nature of the agglomeration area. Berlin was never a monocentric city and the surrounding area itself has centralities. This cannot be captured with the image of the star.
We are therefore proposing the galaxy of the Welteninsel as a new model.
The Welteninsel is dynamic, leaves room for newly emerging centralities that are not yet foreseeable today and also promotes the strengthening of centers.
The Welteninsel knows mass and emptiness, habitats, constellations, star dust, gravity and orbits. Phenomena that we have translated into Berlin-Brandenburg narratives.
100% city, 100% landscape
The western part of Berlin has long been a city with no hinterland. Open space was a scarce resource that was protected. The island location created extremes: high urban density here, emptiness and landscape beyond the border wall. In the east of Berlin, socialist urban development resulted in similar spatial constellations in many places. Today, Berlin and Brandenburg therefore have a unique relationship that is one of the region’s key qualities. It is not characterized by an endless suburban zone. This is where extremes come together that cannot be found on the edge of any other metropolis: 100% city here – high density, urban flair and spaces dominated by humans – and 100% landscape there – low density and rural natural spaces.
Our suggestion: Unconsciously and unplanned, the Welteninsel has created a development strategy of 100% city, 100% landscape, which can meet future challenges in an ideal manner – from climate change and the energy transition to the preservation of natural habitats. It should not only be used on the edge of the individual settlement centers, but also on the inner periphery. Large open areas should remain free: parks, fallow land, unused industrial and railway sites. Berlin and the cities and villages around Berlin can condense inward – space is available, you just must use it efficiently.
To prevent the outskirts of Berlin from being transformed into a suburban zone, as can be experienced in many other cities, we propose two measures:
The existing edges between city and landscape are formalized and protected. This is done by protecting the landscape, which is being upgraded and naturalized. In addition to agricultural production, which is expanded to include energy generation from clusters of wind turbines, new, richer ecosystems are emerging here, which are not planned by humans, but created by nature itself. The more natural these areas become and the greater the biodiversity, the more protected they become.
Consolidation takes place exclusively in the existing built-up area. Berlin and the cities and villages in Brandenburg have room for internal densification. In many places the land can be used much more efficiently: The eventful history of the region over the past 100 years with a multitude of urban planning concepts has left behind breaks. These ‘system breaks’ are not suitable for standard solutions. Local, specific solutions give these zones their own character. In addition, vertical development with a greater mix of functions leads to new typologies that have the potential to be genuinely native to Berlin-Brandenburg.
The blue archipelago
Berlin actually is a city on the water, Brandenburg is a water landscape. Both make too little use of these qualities. There is no strong relationship between the two, because water only connects if the spaces in which the water is embedded can be experienced and allow connections.
Our proposal: water connections between Berlin and the surrounding area are strengthened and expanded. The main arterial roads and axes of Berlin will be modified in such a way that new “Aquamagistralen” will be created. The new and existing watercourses become the gateway to the blue archipelago through accompanying ecosystems and cycling and walking networks. Water and nature permeate Berlin and increase resilience. A public space is emerging in Berlin that not only adds green-blue qualities to the city, but also enables Berliners to access the Brandenburg landscape.
The creation of the blue archipelago is the great strategic planning intervention in Berlin. With the reduction in individual automobile traffic, space has become free on the major axes and major arteries of the city. This is used to create new blue connections. New ‘Aquamagistralen’ are being built along major arterial roads such as Schönhauser Allee, Karl-Marx-Allee or Tempelhofer Damm.
At their ends these new water lines flow into existing waterways and merge into the water landscape.
This network of new watercourses embedded in green areas and criss-crossed by bike and footpaths creates new types of spaces that make the city greener and blue. They help to master the challenges of climate change by expanding the space for water storage through new flood zones. Water and plants reduce the heat in the city and the new linear ecosystem can become space for new flora and fauna. Nature comes to the city and helps to solve its problems. At the same time, it brings many people back to nature – especially in areas of the city less valued due to environmental issues. In addition to their ecological function, these new waterways can become part of an expanded water transport system with which goods and people can be moved through the city.
Berlin wouldn’t be Berlin without Potsdam, Bernau, or Oranienburg. Brandenburg would not be Brandenburg without Berlin in its center. Since the rise of Berlin, this tension has been an important factor in the formation of local identities. A similar charged relationship between districts and neighborhoods can be observed in Berlin itself.
This ‘culture of difference’ is one of the strengths of Berlin and Brandenburg, which not only consists of local patriotism, but also always refers to the local opportunities and develops them further. Especially places in vicinity of Berlin can show strengths here that Berlin itself cannot offer.
Our suggestion: Create clusters of places that focus on one strength: nature with culture, renewable raw materials, or knowledge. They are the core of a new way of life, education and production. Both virtually and spatially connected with local transport, they offer what the big, established stars don’t have. As open systems, they can grow into constellations that not only have regional significance but are also visible symbols on the Welteninsel.
Wood is the renewable raw material with which more and more will be built. This creates new opportunities for the area rich of wood around Berlin. A component economy based on renewable raw materials around Baruth with medium-sized companies will employ thousands of people. The increasing added value helps to gradually reduce dependence on the metal, plastics, and chemical industries.
Research and education
They are key raw materials of the future that can make use of the natural environment of Brandenburg as a locational advantage. Two universities and five technical colleges can arise here. The Fontane University in Neuruppin and the Schinkel Institute in Eberswalde as urban research and development institutions are working on materials and concepts for the post-fossil city. The universities of applied sciences in Prenzlau, Bad Freienwalde, Lübben, Jüterbog and Perleberg develop market-ready products in close cooperation with the timber and other future industries. The new economic activities combined with advancing digitalization lead to new employment models. Combined with a natural living environment, this region offers space for the up-and-coming young and increasingly international society looking for a life away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
The settlement of new future industries e.g. from the area of regional mobility & logistics as well as material-efficient production and the decentralization of research facilities leads to a new bloom of dilapidated properties such as the Gentz family’s country estate from 1861. The villa and the castle in Gentzrode are being renovated in accordance with preservation rules and used by incubators and co-working providers. Founder events like the ‘Summer of Pioneers’ lead to a lively start-up scene between Berlin and Hamburg. With a focus on Wittenberge, Gentzrode and Rathenow, their activities extend to the entire Welteninsel.
New living in rural areas
Residents of Brandenburg do not just want to live in terraced or single-family houses. Not only Berlin is the location of new living concepts, the entire Welteninsel is. Collective living, lifestyle communities, new living on the farm, living in the ground or living on, in or above the water and many other forms of living in harmony with the natural environment strengthen existing places and bring new impulses.
The new sky above Berlin
The change in the global climate is due to fossil fuels, which will eventually run out. Cities must meet their energy and food needs differently – not in distant places, but in the region or in the city itself. No additional square meter should be sealed and as much space as possible should be used multiple times.
Our suggestion: The buildings in the Welteninsel have a fifth facade, the roof, which is hardly used. Those can be activated to produce energy and food. Almost 50% of today’s electricity consumption in Berlin could be covered by solar use. Many of the flat roofs in Berlin could also be used as rooftop farms for growing vegetables. Biogas could be stored in local balloons. Large power plants and markets can be replaced by energy production networks and urban farming cooperatives. The new sky over Berlin is then no longer grey and deserted, but green and full of life.
In the Berlin area, the omnipresent former military bases can be converted into high-density production sites for food and energy. Due to their compactness and the industrial scale, the energy centers of the post-fossil age are created here.
Next to supply of raw materials, energy and nutrition have the greatest impact on cities in their immediate and wider surroundings. Climate change and changing mindsets lead to a return to local solutions for local problems. Energy and food will be produced as locally as possible. To solve this problem, we propose two measures:
The roof of the city
Berlin and the Brandenburg centers have a lot of unused space: the roofs. They are part of a complex energy and food production cycle that uses not only solar energy but also biomass, biogas, and CO2. Due to their decentralized character, these systems can be organized on a cooperative basis. Owner associations or residents’ collectives become active together and produce in the city for their own needs and for the market.
Swords to ploughshares and windmills
Around Berlin there is a multitude of fallow land that was formerly used for military purposes. As new bio-factories, they contribute to energy and food production. In order not to waste a square meter, both functions are stacked. In intensive greenhouse farming, fruits and vegetables grow under ideal conditions and with maximum yield. The roofs and the space above these systems are used to generate solar and wind power. Plant residues are processed into bio-based materials or biogas and biofuels.
Large areas of the roof landscape were gray or red – the new sky is colorful!
The city that always is in the making but is never finished
Berlin is a city that will never be finished. That is why Brandenburg also will never be finished – it will never be able to be finished. This applies both spatially and in relation to its residents. They want to have participate and have a say. They want to shape their city and their landscape. Everyone is ‘Kiez’ – a resident of a local neighbourhood he calls home – in Berlin or Brandenburg. The residents can play a more important and even decisive role in urban and regional development.
Our suggestion: City and region are divided into macro and micro zones. The macro-zones are the parts that are indispensable for the functioning of the whole: large natural areas, main road networks, local transport, supply networks insofar as they cannot be organized decentral, and strategic industrial areas. The micro zones are the neighborhoods, and the villages. The local or regional governments are responsible for planning and maintaining the macro zones. The micro zones are controlled by their residents themselves with the help of a professional administration. Modern technology – internet and cellular networks are used to involve every resident in the decision-making process. When each neighborhood becomes autonomous, this creates competition between the neighborhoods. They can choose how they want to be: green and quiet or urban and lively, business-friendly, or more social. From the city to the neighborhoods and the landscape to the villages and small towns, a colorful picture of different gravitational zones for urban human coexistence in the Welteninsel can emerge.
The way the city is administered and how the population participates in the development of the city has hardly changed over the past 100 years. Planning from above, decision-making processes from above and financing from above are the norm. Here and there, citizen participation offers a weak opportunity for the population to get involved. The Welteninsel has a different, less hierarchical structure, which on the one hand involves citizens more and allows them to make decisions, and on the other hand actively uses modern technology.
Based on a separation of macro-city and micro-cities, the urban fabric is divided. The macro-city remains the domain of the city-wide administration; in the micro-cities it only plays a subordinate role. The residents are in charge here. They organize their decision-making processes in meetings and with online participation procedures, supported by a professional local administration subordinate to them. New building projects or other projects are no longer assigned centrally by the approving authorities but building owners and initiatives can apply with their projects in the various micro-cities. This creates a competition in which each micro-city can sharpen its own profile. One will opt for high-rise construction and extreme density, the other for a lot of greenery and scattered buildings. One micro-city will pursue business-friendly politics, while the other will pursue more collective ideals. This creates a much richer treasure of neighbourhood identities – many different stars in the Welteninsel.
Building an energy hungry process. Cement must be burned, steel forged and plastic synthesized. When a building is renovated or demolished, these substances end up in the landfill. Such handling of materials is neither sensible nor sustainable and the scarcity of non-renewable raw materials is already leading to rethinking of material cycles and to a shift towards renewable, plant-based raw materials. This also creates a new relationship between the urban metropolis of Berlin and the surrounding area of Brandenburg.
Our suggestion: Regional raw material and building material cycles should be established. Building materials for Berlin no longer come from distant countries but are produced regionally. In new, high-tech production facilities, local wood becomes the wall of a house. Once produced, these and other components are catalogued in databases. They are no longer thrown away but wait – if they are no longer used – in special component stores for a second, third or fourth use. This creates ‘material cycles’ which – once established – can be kept going with minimal energy and material expenditure.
The material consumption of the Welteninsel can be satisfied almost entirely from local resources. Buildings play a special role as material-intensive products with different life cycles. The continuous transformation of the built environment has led to the industrialization of large parts of the construction industry. More and more component factories are producing building modules from recycled and regionally renewable building materials. The components are designed so that they can be dismantled again without leaving any residue.
All components are registered and stored in a central material database. Capital for buildings and infrastructures is no longer exclusively in real estate, but also created in material accounts. Building materials have a lasting value regardless of the property. After being removed from one building, they are available for installation in another place. The large number of components make it possible to respond to local building culture, dimensions, and historical features of the locations.
All components are reused where possible. Since landfills no longer exist for materials that are difficult to break down, they are processed in recycling plants and reused. Even for the more easily degradable substances reuse as often as possible is envisioned in order to keep the energy balance positive.
We believe that a vision that is caputring a state of mind – Berlinness – is what the city and the region need. A summary of what makes Berlin so exceptional: