Urban Structure / Urban Structure - Area Types Differentiated 2020


The effects of urban development upon the environment depend to a particular degree on the type and intensity of human use. For this reason, the effects on the environment are closely linked to uses and building structures.

In the course of the urban development of Berlin, a multifaceted structure of buildings and open spaces has emerged. In Map “Urban Structure – Area Types Differentiated” (06.08), 52 area types are defined and described on the basis of their typical use, the time of their emergence and their structure of buildings and open spaces. For better readability, they have been grouped into 16 urban structure types and body of water in the “Urban Structure” Map (06.07).

The area types serve the purpose of further differentiating the use of the built-up areas (WOZ, cf. description of Maps “Actual Use of Built-Up Areas” (06.01) and “Green and Open Spaces” (06.02)). Especially for the use type “residential”, further differentiation is required. On the one hand, areas with residential use account for more than half of the city’s built-up area, and for more than one quarter of the entire area of Berlin, so that they assume a special position; on the other, this use covers a broad spectrum of characteristics, from single-family home residential areas to large estates. It is exactly this more detailed differentiation of the residential areas, that is of particular interest when using the data, since the various urban development and environmental indicators and characteristics are highly dependent on urban structure. Here, structural age, height, density, and arrangement of the buildings in relation to one another, as well as the characteristic structure of the open spaces, are particularly important.

In contrast, the types of green and open spaces largely correspond to the uses of Map “Inventory of Green and Open Spaces” (06.02) (GRZ cf. map description) or even combines them.

Knowledge of these various structural types, in connection with the actual use mapping in Maps 06.01 and 06.02 of the Environmental Atlas (SenStadtWohn 2021d and 2021e), constitute an essential foundation for the urban development and landscape planning investigations and development projects, both at the superordinate and the local levels. With the aid of these maps, it is also possible to derive information regarding the nature of biotope and vegetation structures, the climate situation, the consistency of the soil, the intensity of imperviousness, or the formation of new groundwater.

In terms of spatial and functional differentiation, these maps are of fundamental importance, especially for city-wide analyses, models, programmes and planning in the environmental area. Since not all data required for certain calculations or planning are available or can be collected with reasonable effort locally, literature values are assigned to mapping units by means of random sample mapping on site, or parameters or indicators that are obtained through expert estimates. Based on the comprehensive maps on use and urban structure available, these can then be transferred to the entire city for many applications with a sufficient degree of accuracy.

Development of the Urban Settlement of Berlin

Both the natural landscape and the development of urban settlement have made their mark on the urban structure of Berlin. Some remainders of the agriculturally used land, as well as landscapes characterised by water and forest, have to this day remained free of development: the forests in south-eastern Berlin between the Spree and Dahme, and, in the West, along the Havel, and also some large contiguous agricultural areas in the north-eastern part of the city. Only a few of the once numerous creeks, ditches, ponds and wetlands are still present.

After 1880: The Wilhelminian period

The appearance of Berlin changed most markedly at the end of the 19th century, as the city developed into an industrial centre. With increasing job opportunities, many people moved to Berlin, and a growing need for housing was the result. The building activity was regulated by development plans and building codes, in which the street edge lines, the sizes of the blocks, the minimum sizes of courtyards, and the heights of buildings were stipulated. Thus, Berlin’s typical dense block development with its narrow, sometimes connected courtyards emerged between 1880 and 1918 within the City Rail Circle Line. This building design was structured by scattered decorative squares and parks, and by cemeteries. In the then-suburbs (such as Friedenau) the building code of 1892 permitted a lesser degree of property utilisation than in the inner city. In these areas, lower and somewhat more generously-dimensioned block developments emerged, with decorative features and a garden-courtyard structure, as well as villa development.

Fig. 1: Examples of urban structural types from various phases of Berlin’s urban development

Fig. 1: Examples of urban structural types from various phases of Berlin’s urban development

After 1918: Greater Berlin

New designs developed extensively only after 1918, when the construction of wings and rear buildings was forbidden by law. At the same time, public housing construction companies took over the role of the main actors in the area of residential construction from private builders. They replaced the until-then prevalent lot-by-lot development with the construction of larger, coherent estates outside the Circle Line, in what was then the outskirts of Berlin. This development was favoured by the incorporation into Berlin of its surrounding communities in 1920, to form Greater Berlin, which made uniform planning possible. Also, the open spaces associated with housing developments were accorded greater significance, which was manifested in the greater size, usefulness and design of these open spaces, but also in the designing of public open space. During this time, the large public parks and allotment garden facilities emerged, which extended in a ring shape around the turn-of-the-century inner-city core. Some estates, such as the “Uncle Tom Estate” in Zehlendorf, continued to bear witness to the previous rural character of the area, with their woods and orchards.

After 1945: The divided city

Massive destruction during World War II and the political division of Berlin in 1948 influenced the further course of urban development. Some 30 % of all buildings had been totally destroyed or severely damaged.

Destruction of almost the same proportion – often with destructive effects on the historical plan of the city and on its structural substance – ensued in both parts of the city during the following decades, with the often radical implementation of such plans as the “automobile-appropriate city” and “socialist urban development”.

The western part of Berlin received economic aid under the Reconstruction Programme (Marshall Plan), so that the war-time destruction could be removed continuously by large-scale building activity during the ‘50s and ‘60s. In the inner city, vacant lots caused by the war were closed, and whole blocks were reshaped by large-scale reconstruction and by de-coring, coupled with demolition and the construction of new buildings. The developmental goals at that time were relief of the density of inner-city development, the dispersion of municipal functions and the creation of wide thoroughfares for motorised private transport. On the outskirts, large new self-contained estates emerged with relatively high shares of open space, i.e. green spaces between the buildings, and with industrial areas on former open spaces between old village cores. Starting in the late ‘70s, construction policy began to be concentrated on the revival of the inner city. The recovery of the historic inner city, largely destroyed by the war and the building of the Wall, was the main focus of the International Building Exhibition (IBA) in 1984/87. Building activity was essentially limited to smaller vacant lots all over West Berlin, and on the preservation-oriented reconstruction of existing structures.

In the eastern part of Berlin, which did not receive economic support initially, but was in fact instead burdened by reparations in addition, reconstruction began on a large scale only after construction of the Wall in 1961 and with the industrialisation of the East Berlin construction industry. The emphasis during the ‘60s was on the new formation of the centre of the city on areas wiped out and cleared as the result of the war. At that time, the plan was not to reconstruct the pre-war building stock as the inheritance of capitalism, but to tear down the remains in further sections and to replace them with developments built in the socialist architectural style. Relatively little new living space was created during the ‘50s and ‘60s. As a result of great dissatisfaction among the population with the insufficient housing supply,, the housing programme was proclaimed as the main focus of the GDR’s social programme in 1971. Large residential areas were created in the centre of East Berlin and especially to a great extent on the outskirts of the city in Marzahn, Hohenschönhausen, Lichtenberg and later in Hellersdorf by means of industrial prefabrication. As part of this, new allotment garden areas were also created on the outskirts of Berlin. It was only later that the existing old building stock was recognised as living space worthy of preservation; but hardly any funds were available for its reconstruction.

After 1989: The reunited city

By 1992, all the concrete-plate residential estates still under construction in the eastern part of the city had been completed. In the western part, only insignificant amounts of additional construction were carried out during this period. From 1993 to 1997, construction activity involved on the one hand new suburbs on the outskirts, such as Karow-Nord, built on former farmland, and on the other, numerous major projects, such as around Potsdamer Platz in the following years. Moreover, both numerous government buildings were erected as part of the urban development programme “Capital City Berlin – Parliament and Government District” and open spaces and memorials were created. Simultaneously, other urban development projects on extensive conversion spaces (predominantly areas with commercial, research, industrial, military and police use), such as Johannistal / Adlershof, in the Rummelsburger Bucht area and along Oberhavel river, were officially planned and concepts were developed in order to promote the development of new urban neighbourhoods. In the mid-1990s, it became clear that the development boom expected for Berlin would fail to appear. Migration to the surrounding areas became the dominant demographic factor. The housing market eased and the first office and commercial buildings became vacant. Due to these changed business conditions and unfavourable development policies, the original planning goals were modified, and the structural dimensions considerably reduced. For example, the Wasserstadt Berlin-Oberhavel development programme in Spandau was cancelled already in 2006 and construction projects were stopped. Less massive building typologies were devised and implemented for areas that were not yet developed in the Rummelsburger Bucht development area.

Since 1997, new housing construction has been declining in Berlin, and by 2000 had dropped back to the level of 1991, due to the reduction of subsidies. Subsequently, residential development stagnated at a low level up until approx. 2011. In place of major construction projects, this time saw the closing of scattered gaps, the expansion of existing structures, and the densification of already developed areas, especially in the inner city. This involved primarily buildings with large condominiums, as well as single-family homes and duplexes. New housing construction was largely concentrated in the boroughs and districts of Spandau, Weißensee, Pankow, Treptow, Köpenick, Marzahn and Hellersdorf, where densification was carried out in existing loosely built estates (cf. FNP Report 2020, SenStadtWohn 2020a, only in German). Moreover, large parts of the city centre with old buildings, especially in the eastern part of the city, were reconstructed with the aid of various urban reconstruction and urban renewal subsidy programmes, which involved both the building structures and the residential environment. The same is true for the great majority of the concrete plate-type estates. In recent years, new housing construction has picked up significantly, due to the rapidly growing population. The Urban Development Plan for Housing 2030 (StEP Wohnen, SenStadtWohn 2020b, only in German) identifies 14 new residential neighbourhoods, with a total potential of some 200,000 new residential units. New residential neighbourhoods of varying typology and density are currently being created or planned on conversion areas, on the outskirts and, particularly, on numerous urban fallow areas. Small-scale building projects are to be implemented as part of densification of already built-up areas. It is likely that this process will shape the city for the next 10-15 years.

The last 10 to 15 years have also seen a strong increase in the number of hall-like (large-scale) commercial buildings, including the associated access facilities and parking spaces for motor vehicles.

Open spaces along the old Berlin Wall corridor, and abandoned railway grounds which, in the course of the decades of the division of the city, have in some cases developed into valuable segments of the biotope and open space system, have since reunification in some cases been reshaped as urban parks or memorial areas. Some of them could also be secured as near-natural areas, and as new typical parts of Berlin, they contribute to the diverse structure of open spaces of the city (e.g. the Nordbahnhof, Gleisdreieck, Mauerpark, the Bernauer Straße Berlin Wall Memorial, Südgelände, Biesenhorster Sand). As part of urban development projects, completely new public green spaces were also created, which were oftentimes designed as landscape parks, and which meanwhile do not only serve the purpose of recreation but are increasingly taking on tasks and functions of nature and landscape protection as well. Environmental Atlas Map “Open-Space Development” (06.03) (SenStadtWohn 2021f) presents the increases and decreases in green and open spaces in detail.