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Laboratory for Integrative Architecture 


Design studio, Summer 2015

Grand Paris

In 2008 the French government, on direct initiative of President Nicolas Sarkozy, initiated a research and development project named Grand Paris / Métropole Post-Kyoto. As part of a selection of 10 international research groups, the Laboratory for Integrative Architecture (LIA), the chair of Finn Geipel, along with his architecture firm LIN and its team of consultants were chosen from many initial applicants. The research an design studio "Grand Paris Métropole Douce", carried out with students of LIA and MIT Boston in 2008/09, was a crucial part of the project.
The project is meant to develop a vision for the metropolis of the 21st century in accordance with the demands of the Kyoto Protocol. It is meant to transform European cities, with Grand Paris as a prototype, for future urban development. The project brief contained two distinct areas: the first implied an orientation towards fundamental research about how the metropolises of Europe can be developed further from a general perspective. The second was more suggestive of an applied research approach and involved the development of Grand Paris as a test-site with concrete urban design proposals. Though distinct, both focused on the spatiality of the contemporary metropolis. The first part of the project, the fundamental stage, was completed in 2009. LIA and LIN currently develop the model further in a second, applied stage, along with closely related implementation projects in the context of Grand Paris.

The project Grand Paris – Métropole Douce, proposes to transform the two poles of the dense inner city of Paris and its mostly mono-functional and fragmented banlieues (suburbs) into a heterogeneous and multi-polar urban landscape, in which the usual confrontation between city and landscape is erased. Three concepts, one for urban design, one for mobility and one for landscapes are used. The first and most crucial concept is the "Ville Intense/Ville Légère:" the Ville Intense (Dense City) describes an existing system of poles such as historic centers, parks and forests, infrastructural hubs and office parks, which form the central nodes of the area, whereas the Ville Légère (Light City) describes a system of flexible areas between. Both systems will be intensified with new programs and typologies according to their potentials. The second concept is "Gradual Mobility," which deals with different types of mobility systems: fast and efficient in between high-density areas, short-distance transportation systems like on-demand bikes/cars or segways in low-density areas. The third concept is "Multifunctional Landscapes," which entails the coexistence of nature, leisure, housing, services, water-retention, and food- and energy-production within one site.

Transferability is an important objective of the Grand Paris project, as it deals with central topics concerning the development of many 21st century metropolises: sustainable development according to the Kyoto Protocol, reorganization and renewal of infrastructure and the necessary integration and connection of the suburbs. The models developed in the first fundamental stage of the Grand Paris project were created with the possible ease of adaptation to other cities in mind, as this was a central tenet in the original research and development project initiated by the French government.


The research and design studio "Grand Paris, Grand Berlin" aims at developing a spatial urban vision for the metropolitain area of Berlin based on the approach taken by "Grand Paris – Métropole Douce".
For decades Berlin remained a relative calm collection of coexisting achitectures, neighbourhoods and urban elements, mostly realized and partly destroyed under changing regimes before and after WWII. The ruptures caused by the destructions during WWII, vacant historic and modernist buildings and vast residual spaces generated a heterogeneous urban structure that became the breeding ground for a new subculture after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Low prices, depopulation and an abundance of space led to a high degree of social coexistence in centrally located areas. The freedom that this situation had created inspired inhabitants to appropriate these spaces and to experiment with new programs, initiatives and business models. Despite of a weak economy this social and creative energy became to motor of the city and ultimately unleashed the current population growth.
This growth is manifesting itself by the re-densification of Berlin's central neighbourhoods, by exploding rent and real estate prices and by a severe lack of affordable housing. Consequently Berlin's characteristic voids and the vast open spaces generated by Post-War reconstruction get filled up with mostly generic buildings that homogenize the city structure in rapid pace. The underlying spatial concept is the so-called 'Planwerk Innenstadt', a plan that was adopted in 1999 by the Berlin Senate under former city architect Hans Stimmann as the official planning doctrine for Berlin's central areas. Under the term 'Kritische Rekonstuktion' (critical reconstruction) it was aimed to create spatial and historic continuity by re-constructing Berlin's pre-WWII structure in order to 'heal the wounds' that WWII and Post-War modernism had created. Today, 16 years after its adoption, the plan is close to completion, challenging the spatial heterogeneity of Berlin's central areas. Interestingly, in contrast to Grand Paris Métropole Douce, where the aim is to turn Paris' centralized stucture into a heterogeneuous, multipolar urban landscape, Grand Berlin's current development creates centralization on cost of its heterogeneous urban pattern.

The growth also questions Berlin's established model of social coexistence. Construction boom, exploding rents and an influx of new inhabitants have triggered social homogenization in central neighbourhoods as well as socio-economic displacement processes to the periphery. This pressure so far has caused several public resistance initiatives, such as the successful referendum against the construction of Tempelhof airfield.

Grand Berlin

The reconstruction of Berlin's historic layout, the public resistance towards any kind of new construction despite the lack of affordable housing and the rising pressure on the city's periphery show the need for a new spatial model, that has the capacity to integrate the diverse needs of Berlin's civil society.
The project 'Grand Paris, Grand Berlin' wants to expand the reflection on Berlin's future development beyond its central areas towards its disregarded periphery and elaborate an integrated, spatial vision for the whole metropolitan sphere of the city. Departing from the hypothesis of a heterogeneous Berlin, that favours spatial and social coexistence, it tries to develop a specific vision for the metropolis of Berlin, that looks at the central areas of the city in relation to its periphery. By relating "Grand Berlin" to Grand Paris it wants to approach the general question of a new spatial model for the European metropolis of the 21st century.
The project will conduct urban and architectural research and develop spatial concepts and strategies ranging from the metropolitan to the architectural scale. It will be carried out together with students, researchers, experts and critics from various disciplines over several semesters
and will ultimately result in a publication. Based on the methodology developed in the Grand Paris project each semester will investigate a theme that is characteristic for Berlin's metropolitan spatial structure.


One key element that forms Grand Berlin's spatial structure is its vast and complex network of rivers, channels, creeks and various types of lakes. It is a large-scale element that connects the whole metropolitan area, from the country-side over the periphery until the center. At the same time water is a crucial magnet for urban activity and development. Thus, Berlin's water system is an integrative element inside the metropolitan area and has a strong potential of becoming the backbone of Grand Berlin's spatial model.
Despite its structural importance and its vast surface, counting for 53 km2 of the city area, the water system currently plays little role for the city structure and is hardly visible except for the western and south-eastern periphery. This might change in the future. Several initiatives, such as Spree 2011 or Flußbad Berlin, are investigating possibilities to make swimming in rivers possible (again). Additionally, a reduced ground water consumption has led to a dramatic rise of theground water level. According to recent studies this will have dramatic implications on 33 km2 (10%) of the city's built surface and on ca. 200.000 inhabitants in the near future.
How can Berlin's water system structure a spatial model for Grand Berlin? How will the mentioned developments affect Berlin's water system? What implications and potentials will this generate for architecture and urban design? What kind of architecture and landscape strategies and typologies could emerge? And how could they contribute to the social and spatial heterogeneity of the city?
Each student will be a member of a research as well as of a design team. The task of the research teams will be the development of the "Grand Berlin Atlas", a thematically structured collection of historic and contemporary mappings, analyses, projections, references, texts, data and images. The Atlas will investigate the spatial structure of Grand Berlin and its underlying dynamics. At the same time it will form the collective knowledge pool of the project that will be extended, refined and deepened semester by semester. The task of each design team will be to specify a vision for Grand Berlin's water system through prototypical strategies and typologies based on typical water situations.

The studio will work on different scales, from the metropolitan to the architectural. Research and design will be intertwined in a cyclical process to mutually strenghten one another. Each team will be working interdisciplinarily and consist of architecture and landscape architecture students in collaboration with FG Prof. Weidinger from TU Berlin's Institute for Landscape Architecture.