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Laboratory for Integrative Architecture 


Design studio, Summer 2017

GBP3 design studio related research seminary


While Paris is currently undertaking huge efforts to decentralize itself by strengthening its entire metropolitan area, Berlin is doing the opposite: Despite its polycentric structure, the key mission since 1999 has been to consolidate its formerly divided central areas.

The comparison of these opposing trends is the starting point for an investigation of Grand Berlin in all its dimensions. In the light of the city's continuous growth, it seems no longer sufficient, if not problematic, to direct investments exclusively into the city's most central areas. Which role can the larger metropolitan area – Grand Berlin – play in the city`s future development?

The research and design project on Grand Berlin is based on the hypothesis that most of Berlin's qualities are fundamentally based on its polycentric structure and its multidimensional heterogeneity. One part of the project is subsequently dedicated to investigate these qualities and conditions in their historical, present and future dimensions. The second part of this project is dedicated to spatial strategies that are able to address current challenges under the premise mentioned above. By comparing Grand Berlin to Grand Paris, the project expects to gain new insights into 'universal' and 'specific' challenges of large European Metropolises in the 21st century.

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. The Laboratory for Integrative Architecture (LIA), the chair of Finn Geipel, along with his architecture firm LIN and a team of consultants have been nominated as part of a selection of 10 international research groups. The research and 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.

Grand Paris / Métropole Post-Kyoto 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 be a lead example in the transformation of European cities, with Grand Paris as a prototype, for future urban development.

LIN's and LIA's proposal Grand Paris – Métropole Douce aims at transforming 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 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 in between. Both systems will be strengthened and 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.

Following the reunification, the ruptures caused by the destructions during WWII, vacant historic and modernist buildings and vast residual spaces generated a spatially, programmatically and socially heterogeneous situation that became the breeding ground for a new subculture. 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.

The growth questions Berlin's established model of social coexistence. Construction boom, exploding rents, real estate prices and an influx of new inhabitants have triggered social homogenization in central neighborhoods as well as socio-economic displacement processes to the outskirts. The pressure has recently erupted in several public resistance initiatives, such as the successful referendum against the construction of the Tempelhof airfield.

Berlin's characteristic voids and vast open spaces get filled up with mostly generic buildings that homogenize the city structure in rapid pace, challenging the spatial heterogeneity of Berlin's central areas. The underlying spatial concept is the so-called 'Planwerk Innenstadt' (later: 'Planwerk Innere Stadt'), 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 layout in order to 'heal the wounds' that WWII and Post-War modernism had created. Today, 18 years after its adoption, the plan is close to completion. In contrast to Grand Paris, which aim is to turn Paris' centralized structure into a heterogeneous, multipolar urban landscape, Berlin's recent development has created centralization at the expense of its polycentric structure and its multidimensional heterogeneity.

Grand Berlin
Rising pressure on central areas, an almost completed 'Planwerk Innere Stadt', a lack of affordable housing and public resistance against large scale constructions all show the necessity to re-think Berlin at large scale. The project Grand Paris, Grand Berlin wants to expand the reflection on Berlin's future development beyond its central areas, towards the entire metropolitan region. What are the diverse and often conflicting needs of Berlin's civil society? Which spatial models are able to integrate these needs at the scale of the region?.

Grand Berlin, Grand Paris is conceived as a long-term research project on Grand Berlin, which will ultimately result in a publication. It will be carried out together with students, researchers, experts and critics from various disciplines over the course of several semesters.

Departing from the hypothesis of a polycentric Berlin, a Berlin that is based on social coexistence and spatial heterogeneity, the project will follow two approaches: One is to develop an understanding of the city's characteristics and dynamics at the scale of the metropolitan area. The second is to investigate current planning issues at the scale of urban design and architecture. This twofold approach will be reflected in the overall studio structure. Our research seminar will be dedicated to investigate the metropolitan area, while the design studio is aimed to develop spatial strategies in relation to the current growth. The two formats are followed in parallel to mutually strengthen and inform one another. Each semester will begin with an emphasis on the research part (in order to inform potential design approaches). In the course of the semester this relation will gradually change in favour of the design part.

A third angle of Grand Berlin, Grand Paris will be created through a comparative perspective. By relating Grand Berlin to Grand Paris, we will look for 'universal' and 'specific' challenges of large European Metropolises. What can be learned from one another?

Task Design Studio
Berlin is growing and is confronting the city administration with new challenges. Between 2011 and 2015 the city welcomed 220.000 new inhabitants. To face this growth, Berlin needs to nearly double its existing housing stock and build ca. 320.000 new flats until 2030 according to recent estimates. Besides the emergence of new neighbourhoods in the outskirts (Grand Paris, Grand Berlin Studio 2016), also the existing urban substance will face re-densification (Critical Mass Studio 2015/16, Reverse T-Type Studio 2016/17).

Next to the Wilhelminean perimeter block, that is not as homogeneous as widely assumed (Berlin Block Seminar 2016), the slabs of the "Plattenbauten"are a wide-spread housing type in Berlin. As a third type we are interested in the point tower in the framework of this semester's design studio, a type that was often used during the post-war era. Besides the fact that there is a recent debate on building higher in Berlin4 and that the Senate of Berlin is currently developing a plan for high-rise developments5, the point tower is quite suitable for re-densification. With its small footprint it can be relatively well adapted to diverse urban contexts.

Project territory
This thesis should be investigated on a heterogneous project territory of 3,5 km x 1 km, which is located on the Berlin S-Bahn ring between Friedrichshain and Lichtenberg. It consists of diverse urban structures: Wilhelminean perimeter blocks, production and commercial areas, rail tracks, parks, post-war housing areas and newly built neighbourhoods. Eight sites will be defined within this territory, that each will be projected by one student group. Several aspects need to be considered.

Urban integration
How can the point tower be integrated in it urban context? Here the focus on how the building can react to different urban contexts spatially and programmatically, especially in the ground floor.

Forms of living
A point tower is not necessarily a point in plan. If we look more closely at built examples, an iconographic alphabet of different plan shapes can be noticed. Next to the point there are A's, C's, H's, I's, L', O's, T's, X's and Y's. Each of them generates different light and access situations and allows for certain flat types and sizes. An important question is consequently the forms of living that the chosen plan shape generates and how they match to the selected place.

Stacking of program
The point tower should have an emphasis on housing. However, the question of programs that can be useully combined with housing in the ground floor and vertically arises, in order to support contemporary lifestyles and the urban context. This is also connected to the question of the gradual transition between the public and the private.

Berlin predominantely needs affordable housing. To build a point tower cheaply, it needs to follow simple and reproducable standards. In order to avoid a lack of quality, that excessive standardization has contributed to during the post-war era, it is important to develop concepts that can be standardized, but at the same time offer a high degree of programmatic flexibility and spatial quality.

Height and density
Also the question of height and density is important in regard to affordability. A higher density can reduce the building cost for each housing unit. More height leads to a higher density, at the same time more height also increases the building costs. Which is the best ratio between height and costs for each project? Which dimensions, which denisty and which height are suitable for each urban context? To raise the density it could also be considered to think of clusters of point towers or of different typologies, that include production, commerce or education, depending on the urban context.

Another approach to the task is the critical analysis of programmatic, conceptual and technical aspects of built reference projects as well as their re-interpretation and further development in regard to the project brief.