Urban Ideation Lab designs circular urban neighborhoods

A new form of business could emerge in the viaducts at Park am Gleisdreieck in Berlin. At least, that is the goal of the Urban Ideation Lab (UIL). The UIL is a ten-member, interdisciplinary think tank initiated by COPRO, which is developing new innovative approaches for the development of the future urban quarter “Urbane Mitte Am Gleisdreieck”.

As part of the Circular Future Festival – a nationwide festival focusing on the circular transformation of the economy and society – UIL organized a day on the topic of urban production at B-Part Am Gleisdreieck. As an introductory framework, the event offered informative presentations on how urban production will sustainably change our cities in the future and provided insights into already existing places of urban production, such as the Motion Lab in Berlin Kreuzberg.

©Leander von Thien

In a detailed presentation, Dr. Jens Libbe from the German Institute of Urban Affairs explained that modern city centers are also becoming interesting again as production locations. After decades of production and commerce retreating from cities, he said, urban diversity could be increased through a balanced mix of functions and new forms of resource-conserving production. A circular economy would offer new alternatives for building resilient, climate-smart, and local economies in cities. Locally produced goods can minimize transportation routes for importing raw materials and further usable byproducts, as well as dependencies on global supply chains.

The UIL then presented a site for possible urban production: the viaducts underneath the Gleisdreieck. In a further step, the UIL then moved on to apply the guidelines of circular economy to the development of the innovative urban quarter “Urbane Mitte Am Gleisdreieck”. In doing so, the think tank set itself the task of making the many viaducts at the Gleisdreieck usable for the concept of a circular economy. In past decades, the viaducts served as workshops for Berlin’s public transportation company BVG. Everything from stops to bridge girders was built and maintained here. At the beginning of the last century, the areas still housed carriages and stables and were then unused for a long time with the destruction of the surrounding track systems by the war. It is all the more interesting that these areas are being made accessible to the public again through the development of the “Urbane Mitte Am Gleisdreieck”.  Here, the UIL presented a vision for a circular urban district and occupied the areas with exemplary companies that could cooperate with each other. One example: from byproducts such as barley malt, a brewery space could cooperate with a bakery, which would then bake its bread with it. The brewery’s waste heat could be used to meet the electricity needs of an urban farming business that grows lettuce, for example. This lettuce, just like the bread, could then also be processed by local restaurants. The examples are numerous and diverse. In the preceding months, the UIL had already investigated the question of how a circular economy could be designed in a large city and what such a form of economic activity could mean in concrete terms for the development of the future urban quarter “Urbane Mitte Am Gleisdreieck”. The results were presented to the public on this day in the B-Part Am Gleisdreieck. 

The architect and head of the UIL, Amira Sahr, sees in the viaducts “considerable potential for the development of a new form of economic activity.” For this form, the UIL finds, three conditions must be met: First, a sustainable infrastructure in terms of energy, heat, wastewater and waste must be ensured. Furthermore, in a second step, the development of local material cycles would have to be organized and a balance would have to be established between larger producing places, such as bakeries and breweries, and social and consumption places. The circular idea of their concept is by no means limited to material and energy cycles. Sales and production areas are also meant to fulfill a community idea and to offer offers for the community, for example in the form of knowledge exchange (workshops, teaching courses, repair workshop, etc.). The idea of creating a place that offers added social value for the city’s residents should have the same priority as the profitable rental of the space. The head of the Lab, Amira Sahr, sees the development of the “Urbane Mitte Am Gleisdreieck” as a great opportunity: “The new urban quarter opens up the possibility of incorporating new forms of economic activity in an early planning stage in order to establish a resource-saving future for our cities.”

Ralf Jaksch – Berlinboxx