The New Berlin
: urban design models for a more compact and sustainable city

  • Brendan Baxter

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis examines Berlin’s 20th century record of innovative higher density
    residential and mixed-use projects. Particular emphasis is given to the period
    following Berlin’s 1990 reunification, when the government adopted the
    European city model to inform development in both the city centre and on
    brownfield and greenfield sites further afield. The European city model is
    characterised by a compact, mid-rise urban form with a fine-grain, mixed-use
    structure. The thesis argues that if we are to reform our cities towards a more
    compact and sustainable form, then Berlin offers instructive models from
    which we can learn.
    Through the direct and detailed in-situ comparison of a broad range of Berlin
    case studies from across the 20th century, this research adopts the approach of
    Panerai et al. (2004, p.5) that ‘mixes architectural knowledge, awareness of
    context and direct observation in order to bring about some reflection (which,
    then, of course takes you back to history) while raising questions over our
    capacity today to design the city.’ The thesis examines shifting professional
    paradigms about the form of the city and its architecture and how these
    competing models were considered in the projects of the 1990s. These recent
    projects highlight differences in models for Berlin’s ‘urban’ and ‘suburban’
    locations. The inner city ‘urban’ projects demonstrate the (largely) successful
    implementation of the European city model to reinstate a resilient and
    coherent urban fabric that supports the diverse and vital cultural life for which
    Berlin is famous. On the other hand, the ‘suburban’ projects – the brownfield
    and greenfield sites located outside the city centre – illustrate how the
    European city model was tempered by an urban design approach directly
    influenced by the early housing reform, Garden City and Modern movements.
    The innovative urban design of these new garden-oriented suburbs includes a
    variety of attractive and affordable higher density housing types. Both the
    urban and suburban projects are found to be valid and instructive models for
    creating more compact and sustainable cities.
    This research examines both the procedures of urban design – the client brief,
    planning policies, design and development processes – and the physical
    products – the built outcome of buildings, landscape and open spaces. While
    the case studies consider the work of architects, the main focus is on urban
    design – the comprehensive design of precincts – rather than on individual
    This research demonstrates how high quality integrated neighbourhood
    designs are the direct outcome of Berlin’s compact city policies, with statutory
    master plans playing a key role during the market-driven 1990s. These privately
    financed higher density projects demonstrate how a statutory master plan can
    be developed through design competitions and public consultation to address a
    broad range of issues. This includes consideration of the design and role of
    public space, a mix of uses, the spatial enclosure of the public realm, density,
    residential amenity, housing diversity and housing affordability
    Date of Award2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorStephen Frith (Supervisor) & Eugenie Keefer Bell (Supervisor)

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