Berlin is one of the most dynamic of world cities. The core is a high density urban environment. It is formed into city blocks and the streets are choking with traffic - much like most other major global cities. Yet Berlin holds some of the best examples of urban solutions which are extremely suitable for future city planning.
In behind the imposing facades of the impressive street architecture there is the hidden world of back courts. The city blocks in Berlin are large enough to contain a high density network of buildings set in a labyrinth of tiny parks and piazza-like squares. These buildings contain homes, workshops, small shops and restaurants in some of the quietest and greenest surroundings you can find anywhere on the planet.
Much of the building fabric reflects the historic fate of Berlin. Many of the buildings are new and many are renovated architecture of previous generations where much of the charm has been retained and expanded. Normally the buildings contain just as many storeys as the main street buildings of the street and so light penetration is an important factor. As such, many of the most successful courtyards are in light colours, many of the older courtyards in white glazed tiles.
The quality of these semi-public spaces is striking. Largely pedestrian, well planted with mature trees and bushes, safe and secure environments for families and with excellent community relations, the back courtyards are ideal indicators of exactly how architects and planners should be shaping our cities. Yet they are often seen as secondary spaces of little important. However the converse is true.
If we are serious about designing sustainable urban environments for billions of future generations we need to be able to take these examples of excellence and reinterpret their obvious advantages with imagination and energy.
More details are on Creating Compact Cities and BLUE and other shapes.
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