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Project type: Urban Planning


Location: Tempelhof Airport, Berlin, Germany


Time: 2009


Status: Competition, Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung Berlin


In Collaboration with Büro Kiefer Landschaftsarchitektur Berlin

In times of low investment in public buildings and housing as well as changing demand in housing and recreational spaces, urban development concepts need to be flexible and adaptable in the long term. The concept for the Columbia Quarter, a prime location adjoining intact existing urban fabric, is to develop an adaptable and alterable image of the city that can expand successively at a variable pace but does not look unfinished in the interim. Instead each phase has a legible quality of its own. The result is a process-driven matrix whose parts are mutually complementary without being dependent on one another.


The urban quarter can grow according to the requirements of the city and its citizens. By embracing the principle that ‘people make the city’, opportunities are created for temporary uses to be make use of unused potential, out of which permanent structures can arise over time. While the new quarter adheres to the idea of ‘extending the city’ and connecting with the adjacent urban fabric, it also makes a clear distinction to its surroundings. For example, the new urban plan respects the vast scale of the existing airport at Tempelhof but its monumental and inhuman scale is broken down through the use of smaller-scale structures that together form an edge that continues the arc of the airport building.


Shifting the fences and cultivating identity – To begin with, areas with potential for temporary uses will be made accessible to the public. With minimal financial effort, space in the inner city can be made available. A looping path, the so-called pioneer-band, will be created for use by urban pioneers, sports facilities and the many temporary uses so typical of Berlin, such as cafés, galleries, clubs and restaurants. It is an urban playground for temporary uses that makes use of existing urban fabric and open spaces such as softball fields or tennis courts. Additional temporary structures can be erected and later removed and re-erected elsewhere.


Development of the quarter

As the quarter begins to acquire identity, it attracts investment and an accompanying gradual rise in property value that signals the start of the second phase, the Stadtband, which features predominantly urban housing. A road runs the length of the quarter connecting the existing facilities, and with cross-roads defines the urban blocks and land parcels. Local amenities such as children’s nursery on a former softball field, a landmark building for the innovation sector or a centre for sustainability and community will be built.



The final phase is densification. The development of the band can respond to new concepts drawn up as part of the IGA and IBA development processes. The urban band will gradually fuse with the neighbouring district of Neukölln and local centres will arise along the Tempelhofer Promenade. Spaces that have served temporary uses may be extended or converted into more permanent, lasting structures.



Landscape, public spaces and urban structure


The open space can be perceived as a series of infrastructural, landscape and urban typologies of different scales that range from intensive to extensive and from public to private.

Urban space – The area near Columbiadamm will be develop into an urban centre with urban spaces, boulevards, cafés and public uses. The blocks to the north extend the existing fabric of the city, interspersed with private and communal courtyards.


Pioneer band

This will grow as the quarter grows, starting as islands of temporary uses within the meadow of the airfield and surrounding urban fabric that gradually grow together to form a forest of deciduous and coniferous specifies. The archetypal meadow gradually becomes archetypal woodland. As local citizens will be able to plant trees themselves, the woodland becomes an indicator of the successive development of the quarter. A looping path runs around the area with informal trodden paths crossing the site resulting in an extensive system of pathways.



A linear promenade extends the arc of the former airport and frames the wide expanse of Tempelhof airfield. The promenade offers space for pedestrians, cyclists, skaters along with places to sit and for children to play. Clusters of trees with typical local species, such as the pine trees of the North German lowlands, root the area in the context of its landscape. The public boulevard runs along the edge of the urban realm on one side and the waving grasses of the meadowland on the other, with an urban beach creating a local point of attraction at the crossover between the urban realm and the landscape.


Innovation sector

This is an experimental housing development that affords the future residents the possibility to influence the typology and aesthetics of their homes. Instead of a catalogue of housing types, a set of loose rules governing aspects such community, sustainability and building heights will be defined. Development options are kept as open as possible to foster innovative housing ideas. New project ideas will be presented and discussed in the community centre. Tempelhof therefore has the potential to become a pioneer in new housing typologies.



The barcode-like ribbon of buildings ensures the necessary urban permeability and cross-flow of air between the grassland of Tempelhof airfield and the urban district behind the Columbia quarter. The urban fabric is densely built, employing a catalogue of different typologies that can be combined depending on the height, pressure on investment and demand. Through a system of bonuses and set of rules, private investors and house builders can vary the appearance and typology of the buildings within a given framework.


Bioclimatic considerations and the efficient use of resources

The efficient use of resources is a central aspect of all phases: existing structures should be used and repurposed locally, decentralised supply concepts implemented and local sustainable cycles developed in conjunction with the local community. Using a bonus system, investors can build on land if they provide equivalent green surfaces elsewhere, e.g. on the roofs. Energy-efficient standards and solar collectors are likewise part of the overall concept.

To improve affordability, developers will be networked with companies, institutes and researchers who wish to undertake monitoring programmes. Green roofs, the urban woodland and cultivation in the experimental temporary use areas provide biomass that can be used to power a CHP plant.


Traffic will be minimized and certain areas, such as the innovation sector, will have no through-traffic. Pedestrian routes and cycle paths cross the entire quarter. Rainwater will be collected centrally rather than in individual cisterns for communal and private use and modern tap water systems will reduce water demand throughout the entire quarter. Materials from existing demolished structures – such as concrete airfield surfaces – will be recycled locally wherever possible and used as aggregate for footpaths. Excavated soil will be used for landscape elsewhere on the site. The innovation sector is intended to be the first self-sustaining urban settlement in an inner-city context and will adhere to the DEUS21 (Decentral Urban Infrastructure System) principle.