Urban Archipelago

A systematic study into the possibilities for densification for the center of Berlin

In 1977 Oswald Mathias Ungers and Rem Koolhaas published “Berlin: A Green Archipelago” a study that proclaimed Berlin to be an ‘empty city’ in the same way as an archipelago is little land that looks like it is more.

Berlin grows with 20.000 inhabitants per year.

For a long time, Berlin there was little development dynamism in Berlin and in fact was that urban archipelago. That has radically changed. Today, Berlin is a popular place, that is struggling to meet the needs of its present population and the 20.000 new residents a year that move to the city.[i] This leads to a shortage in the provision of housing and price hikes in apartment prices for both, rental and ‘to buy’ space. There are several reasons why Berlin is struggling to cope with this newly found thrive.

The current local government seeks to stop this development by limiting rents.[ii] While this policy might put a hold on increasing housing costs, it does not solve the structural shortage of apartments and other residential types. The only solution to this problem is to build more. The question is: Where?

Current regeneration focuses on brown field sites.

Current approaches use brownfield sites for redevelopment: former rail yards, former factories and left over spaces from the times the Berlin wall was still existing. Often these initiatives face fierce protest from local stakeholders since they often are not what they seem: unused space. In the contrary. Often local initiatives, clubs or informal groups have been appropriating these spaces for a wide and wild variety of uses – from informal sports field to guerrilla gardening or informal housing.

Densification on top of existing housing stock – possible with sustainable lightweight timber panel systems

We believe that is it wise to allocate additional housing in areas that already exist rather than building in the green field or areas which have turned green over time. Existing informal uses, climate change mitigation, the change in energy production, the changed recreational activities, the preservation of eco systems all are reasons not to touch them and to keep them as strategic reserve for the future or as a natural reserve.

We propose an approach that inverts Ungers’and Koolhaas’ ‘green archipelago’ and defines a a ‘URBAN ARCHIPELAGO’. What is green is protected. Development and densification are realized in, around and on existing buildings.

Topping up of an existing one story corner as they can be found everywhere in Berlin – improving the urban situation and creating living space

Our study systematically investigates densification potential for the most common typological types that can be found in inner city locations of Berlin. For each one of them, we propose measures that increase density in a moderate way and without significantly changing the footprint of buildings. In detailed studies, we propose, how adding floors is possible, how empty office buildings can turn into housing and how under utilized sites can develop a new identity.

Systematic investigation of the densification potential

We also show the opportunities such an approach can create to improve the urban fabric. How important corners can be marked, how the architectural image can be updated and how more diversity can be achieved, especially in the more uniform neighbourhoods built in the 1960s, 70s and 80s of the last century. 

Berlin has ample densification potential without building in the green – the Berlin way!

The research shows, that Berlin can develop its own way of densification that strongly differs from common practice elsewhere. Like all great cities, it can do things in its own, original way – in a way that reflects its character. Regeneration truly Berlin!

Transformation of an office building into a residential tower at Metro Station Möckernbrücke 

We see our research as an impulse to steer the discussion in Berlin into new directions to unlock the impasse that hinders any improvement of the city and the resolution of the housing shortage. Therefore – if you have ideas, sites or projects, you want us to look at – please get in touch!

You can read the full report here (in German).

Ungers, Oswald Matthias & Koolhaas, Rem: The City in the City: Berlin: A Green Archipelago
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MLA+ Urban Archipelago Densification Study (in German)

Location: Berlin, Germany
Client: confidential

Programme: Densification study for Berlin

2019 Study

MLA+: Ola Gordowy, Christoph Michael, Maximilian Müller, Mateusz Zielinski