Here is a quick introduction of our studio project this semester. Our project brief is to design a socially and environmentally responsible, mixed use residential development and revitalize the neighborhood. The students are divided between two sites. These sites are located within a block of one another in a northern district of Berlin called Wedding. The first design phase is a collaboration between the architecture and landscape students to design a program and urban massing scheme for their relevant sites. We also completed a site analysis and president study to help inform our design process.

Site 1 has a more uniform profile but offers a unique contrasting boundary condition between the larger surrounding multi-family residences and the smaller adjacent commercial buildings. The first massing iteration of one group has led to ai interesting mega structure spanning the length of the site.

Our group has site 2, which has a particularly unusual site geometry. Initial studies have led us to preserve the existing vegetation and react to the parti-wall conditions to inform our scheme.

Studio life for the first half of our semester has been a vastly different experience to that which we are accustom to in Boston. Studio is closed during the weekends and we spend a lot of our time on excursions and field trips. This is about to change as our focus on studio is about to increase greatly. This weekend will be our last excursion for the semester – to Prague and Dresden no less. I can’t wait, it’s going to be amazing.


Day 1

Hamburg was our next field trip destination. We spent two days focusing on a couple of contemporary urban developments. The first was Wilhelmsburg’s IBA International Building Exhibition situated on the Elbe Islands just south of downtown. The Hamburg exhibition was created in 2006 and is a lifetime urban revitalizing project.

The Energy Hill was the first project that we saw. Since WWII, Hamburg has used this site as a dumping ground which included 200 000 tonnes of toxic waste. In 1983 “Seveso dioxin” was discovered there and it became apparent that a safe clean up solution was necessary. Due to the size of the waste, removal was not an option, so a protection and management concept was appointed. The waste is now covered by a 1.5mm multilayered plastic geomembrane to restrict rainwater from washing the contaminants into the underlying water table. The toxins that are slowly leaching out are collected and decontaminated onsite. Until the further development of science and technology offers a better solution, this is the best short term answer at the moment. The elevated site offers a great position for wind turbines, solar farms and great views of Wilhemsburg.

Another sector of the IBA offers many great innovations in building materials and technologies, where we visited the Woodcube by Holz100. The interesting concept behind this construction is that there are no use of glues or laminates. The wall cross-section is over a foot thick but incorporates insulation cladding and structural spruce panels. Hard wood dowels are used to join the materials together.

We visited our second Sauerbruch & Hutton project since being in Berlin, the Ministry of Urban Development and the Environment. Their design style is very apparent and was inspiring to see. We were able to analyze a master plan of Hamburg and I was intrigued to see how much development is going on and projected for the future.

The late afternoon was spent relaxing at the Energy Bunker. This WWII bunker is an adaptive reuse project that harvests solar energy and contains a café with views to the city.

Day 2

On Saturday we visited HafenCity, Hamburg’s old harbor district and one of the largest urban redevelopments in the country. There are 56 projects completed and 49 still under construction or in planning. In total this mixture of residential, workplace, education, culture, leisure, tourism and commerce will expand the city by 40% and set low energy use and high sustainable building targets. The Urban Development Ministry of Hamburg controls all zoning and building permissions and the idea is to offer diversity and combine social housing with exclusive residential apartments throughout. It’s a massive undertaking but this urban model has proven to be a success.

One challenge is that a portion of the site suffers from occasional flooding. These buildings are flood protected and use flood shutters to protect windows and entrances. Much of Hafen City is elevated from this threat but one building that isn’t contains a restuarant on the ground floor called “Chilli Club”. They have taken this unique opportunity and offer an inverted aquarium experience within when the flood water rise outside.

We explored much of the developed site and saw the Unilever headquarters, a very energy efficient building with an impressive atrium space. The later part of the afternoon was spent riding a ferry around Hamburg’s Harbor. It gave a good idea of the industrial harbor roots of the city and how this is nicely contrasted by the greener outer suburbs. We were also treated to a great view of the Elbphilharmonie. This project by Herzog & de Meuron is designed on top of an old harbor warehouse and will include two concert halls, residential apartments, public plaza, hotel and parking garage. Unfortunately this project is way over budget and behind schedule but being placed on the most prominent site location, it is the icon of the HafenCity.

It was back to Berlin that night and I was left with inspiring thoughts of what could be achieved given the right opportunities for large scale urban renewal. I would love to revisit Hamburg on day and explore the city in more detail.

Fall Break

I was lucky enough to have my family visit me for the duration of the fall break. We spent the weekend touring around Berlin and seeing all the sites. Some new experiences for me were taking a rooftop ferry ride down the river Spree. It was a beautiful way to see the Museum Island, Reichstag, German Chancellery and the Tiergarten. Interestingly the Chancellery completed in 2001 crosses over two sections of the River Spree which sybolizes the reunification of Germany. After the weekend in Berlin we spent the following week visiting my extended family who live in Holland and Germany.

We first went to Groningen, in the north of Holland. The Netherlands is an incredible place with very lush meadows, canals, windmills and of course it’s as flat as the eye can see. After seeing family we traveld to Brussels, Belgium. We were lucky enough to stay in the heart of the historic district and see the Grand Place, a very picturesque part of the city. Of course we had mussels, frits, beer, waffles and way too much chocolate! Then it was down to Karlsruhe which is at the edge of the Black Forest in southern Germany. It was great to spend some quality time with the family. The trip back to Berlin was dedicated to exploring the northern stretch of the Romantic Road. This roadway offers a scenic tour of the region with many picturesque and historic towns, castles and palaces. We stopped in at Dinkelsbühl and Nordlingen in Bavarian. Dinkelsbühl founded in 1351 and Nordlingen in 898 are both fortified towns. In Nordlingen we were able to walk around the town on the wall. They both have fascinating urban plans and of course the houses were of the German Fachwerk vernacular.

Back in Berlin we spend an afternoon at the Schönenberg Stadtbadd. This is an indoor/outdoor public pool that has a children’s water park, lap pool, diving boards and a hot tub. On the last day we explored the Berlin Wall Memorial which has preserved section of the infamous death strip and later the East Side Gallery, a mile long section of the remaining Wall which is a permanent art exhibition. We also walked along the Landwehrkanal which is beautiful part of Kreutzberg. On our way home we came across a peaceful protest march containing thousands demonstrators on the streets of Kreutzberg. This was very intresting to see. And with that, fall break was over as fast as it had begun and before I knew it, I was back in class!


Day 1

Our week long trip started early and we rode the train to Wolfsburg. The first building we visited was Alvar Aalto’s Cultural Center which was completed in 1962. The building has a mixed program and includes multiple auditoriums which are arranged around the central space. Aalto pays  incredible attention to detail and uses a great variety of materials. What struck me the most were the vast number of sky lights that lit the many spaces throughout the building.

Later that day we also visited Aalto‘s Heilig Geist Kirche which was also completed in 1962. The site includes a church and a community center which together forms the whole complex. The church is very unusual and is untraditional in its scheme. Upon entering we were bathed in light. A swooping ceiling with wood accents directs you to large windows behind. These windows frame views of the bell tower standing independently in the complex. The seating arrangement within is off-axis and collectively the interior has a very unique feel. I was impressed by the contrast in materials and the amount of light that entered the space.

We managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Zaha Hadid’s Phaeno Science Center. It was an interesting experience as the building’s main space is designed for the interactive use of science exhibits and demonstrations. The buildings massing is set off the ground floor and stands on large conical footings. The massive internal space is spanned by an incredible space framed roof which twists in sections to accentuate Hadid’s style in space making.

Day 2

The second day we visited the AutoStadt and the VW factory. The city of Wolfsburg was actually founded in 1938 and designed to support the VW factory and its intended production of the Volkswagen Beetle. Adjoining the VW factory is the Autostadt which opened in 2000. This is a promotional facility that houses various auto pavilions, a test track, museum and hotel. It really feels like a theme park but the main focus is on the auto purchasing center which includes two silos that are filled with new cars ready for prospective buyers . The whole site is an unreal vision of the glorified auto industry but I was quite impressed by the designed landscape. Afterwards we took a tour of the VW factory which nearly spans the whole length of the city. It was very interesting to get a sense of the enormity of the whole complex. That evening was spent traveling across the country to Dusseldorf for part two of our week long journey.

Ruhr Valley

Day 3

We traveled to Duisburg-North to visit Landschaftpark. The previously used ironworks site was abandoned in 1985 and only reopened in 1991 as an adaptive reuse development by Lats und Partner. Instead of denying its industrial past this park celebrates its industrial history and allows the public to explore its structures and surrounding landscapes. It also incorporates art installations, rock climbing areas, a scuba training tank and an auditorium. The parklands incorporate bike paths that connect to other adaptive reuse sites across the Emscher River region. It was really inspiring to see this industrial site completely repurposed to accommodate such a variety of programs. The rusted steel structures are contrasted beautifully by the reclaiming vegetation.

That afternoon we visited Gottfried Bohm’s Pilgrimage Church. It sits nestled in the quaint village of Neviges. The concrete expressionist church was completed in 1962. It has an irregular form which is expressed internally in a large darkened space. There are small skylights within and some very impressive stained glass windows. It was a very unique experience, especially for one of our students Matt, who volunteered to play the organ for us at the request of one of the Franciscan Friars!

Day 4

Next on our trip was Karl Heinrich Müller’s Stiftung Insel Hombroich, in Neuss. The first of two destinations on this day was to the Museum Insel which is Karl-Heinrich Müller’s private art collection. This unique museum exhibits the interaction between architecture, art, sculpture and landscape. Landscape architect Bernhard Korte and sculptor Erwin Heerich both contributed to the design of the museum parklands, which was completed in 1994. With a sense of discovery we explored the numerous pavilions and sculptures that were distributed across the parkland. It was refreshing to be surrounded by art in nature, designed together in a seamless partnership.

Raketenstation was the second part of today’s adventures and is within walking distance of the Museum Insel. This is an adaptive reuse project repurposing an unused Nato missile station into a place for the arts. There are various art studios, pavilions, living quarters, as well as a music center, library and herb garden. A highlight was the Langen Foundation by Tadao Ando which incorporates a reflection pool and a great scheme of intersecting geometries.

Later that afternoon we took a walk along Dusseldorf’s Harbor. We were lucky enough to check out the sunset from the Düsseldorfer Stadttor which is skyscraper which has a 15 story atrium space and incorporates smart building technology. It was completed in 1998 by Petzinka, Overdiek and Partner. We also got to walk past Frank Gehry’s Neuer Zollhof building.

Day 5

On the second last day of our tour we visited the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex which is another adaptive reuse project of a previously used coalmine. The master plan of this UNESCO world heritage site was realized by Rem Koolhaas and includes his renovation of the Ruhr Museum as well as other interventions such as Norman Foster’s Red Dot Museum and SANAA’s School of Management and Design. In the morning we had a tour of the Ruhr Museum which incorporates the longest free standing elevator in Europe. After lunch we visited Foster’s Red Dot Museum which is built in and around machinery of the preexisting building. This building had a great contrast between preexisting industry and the new adaptive museum spaces. We finished the day with a tour of SANNAA’s building. The façade has punched windows which do not give anything away as to its varying floor heights. This was an impressive concrete building with incredible freestanding spaces.

Day 6

On the final day we were in Cologne and visited the Cologne Cathedral continually built from 1248 to 1800. It has a classic gothic style and towers over the city. We managed to climb the 500+ steps to the top of the spire where we were treated to beautiful views of the city. Another highlight of the day was visiting the Kolumbia Museum by Peter Zumthor in 2007. The museum is situated on a site that has been periodically built on from a time dating back to the Romans. There are remaining ruins and a preexisting chapel that have all been incorporated within Zumthor’s building. The attention to detail in the design and use of materials is exquisite. We were very lucky to see an example of Zumthor’s work as this one of very few outside of Switzerland.

That evening was spent traveling 4 hours back to Berlin and beginning our Fall break. I really enjoyed the exhausting but very inspiring week traveling around Wolfsburg and the Ruhr Valley.

Of Interest

Cycling to Neukölln the other day, I decided to explore Tempelhof Airport in Schöneberg. It was operational from 1926 to 2008 but is now a mixed use green space that is open to the public. The site also serves the community by hosting various annual events. It also provides a natural habitat for various species.

It is an incredibly vast open space within the city and it is notable that the public interests have been able to prevent investors from developing the site. This is another example of the community culture here in Berlin-to have a voice and be heard.

Bruno Taut’s Hufeisensiedlung

On Thursday we took a fieldtrip to the Neukölln district to see Bruno Taut’s Hufeisensiedlung, also known as his social housing “Horseshoe Estate”. Constructed in 1930, the 1285 apartment settlement covers 29ha and was built in stages. It provides gardens and circulation for both the front and back of each of the residences. This estate offered relief from the overcrowded city and was situated on the outskirts of town. Incredibly it is a UNESCO world heritage listed site, which demonstrates its precedent standing. It was a really successful example of social housing in its time and even now it remains a highly desirable location.

Walking through the varying levels of housing I got the sense of a modern suburb within the larger urban fabric. There is a greater reliance on auto transport here but as an example of urban housing, it has a sense of tranquility. We spent 2 hours exploring the area and really enjoyed this very unique built environment. It was very different to what we had previously seen here in Berlin and an inspiring example of Bruno Taut’s work.

Olympic Stadium

On Wednesday afternoon we visited the Olympic Stadium Complex in West Berlin. En route, we visited Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation which is nearby. It is very similar to his Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, except that the 2 story apartments here are not double height and there is no roof program. The overall axial concept of interlocking apartments with alternating corridors has remained true to the original. We were able to explore the building and see some great views of the Olympic Stadium and its surrounding complex. We really enjoyed the experience.

Afterwards we had a traditional pregame steak dinner and entered the stadium to watch Hertha Berlin play Wolfsburg in a Bundesliga match. The exterior of the stadium is deceiving as it is only 4 stories but once inside, the enormous 77 000 capacity stadium opens up way below. It was built in 1936 for the Olympic Games and still has an undeniable link to its history. Today this is contrasted by the massive cantilevered roof, built by GMP Architects for the 2006 World Cup. It was a very impressive place to be. We had a great evening soaking up the German football culture and we were treated to a 1:0 win!


Our visit to Dessau was spent focusing on two buildings. The first was the Federal Environment Agency headquarters designed by Sauerbruch Hutton and was completed in 2005. The building makes a very convincing argument for sustainable architecture. The originally contaminated site was chosen as a design challenge and highlighted the agency’s sustainable approach. The site was decontaminated and reintegrated into the urban fabric. Its snake-like arrangement doubles up on itself and takes advantage of natural circulation with an array of roof louvers, cross ventilation and geothermal systems. Other technologies include solar cooling and photovoltaic energy systems on the roofs. We also learned that there are 780 ergenomically designed offices that are wheel chair accessible and the entire building is constructed of sustainable materials. The weather was mostly overcast but nevertheless we got a great sense of the atrium space. The attention to detail was incredible and the building is very striking.

After lunch we made our way to the famous Bauhaus by Gropius completed in 1926. It was very exciting to finally see this iconic building. At closer inspection there were signs of aging but still it was very remarkable for a near century old building. Witnessing the façade details and overall feel of the interior spaces, really helped me understand the significance it must have had during this period.

We also visited Walter Gropius’s Master House settlement. Two of the four houses were destroyed during the war and were recently rebuilt by Bruno Fioretti Marquez Architects. The exterior form of the new buildings replicate that of the previous. The interiors take inspiration from Gropius’s architectural principles but are redesigned to function as art spaces. We were able to compare these to the two originals which survived WWII. The original houses provided living quarters and large studio spaces for the Bauhaus Masters and their families. Photos of the Masters’ Houses can be seen via this link.

Of Interest

We took a couple of field trips throughout the week. The first was through central Berlin. We saw many prominent buildings including Neue Wache, Konzerthaus and Altes Museum all by Schinkel. We also got to see IM Pei’s wing for the German History Museum.

The second was to the Freie University Library in Dalem where Norman Foster added a new Philology Library in 2005. This library has a very high energy efficiency rating thanks to its double skin which is held by a self-supported frame system. It utilizes diffuse light, natural ventilation and a passive thermal store system in its concrete floors. The 3 floors have  dynamic geometry and utilize the most space possible within the cocoon-like dome. It was quite amazing to see in person.