Trying to bring life to Adlershof: The Newtonprojekt

by Erno Alberts

As a result of the democratization of Higher Learning, many universities who have an inner-city location, like Berlin’s Humboldt Universität, had a hard time expanding. A general sought solution is to keep social faculties in the center, and move their technical counterparts, which require more space, to the outskirts of the city. The rationality is clear, but when you walk through these recently claimed lands of learning, you can’t help feeling that the betas received a bad deal: The contrast between the lively inner city departments around the famous Unter den Linden Boulevard, and the desolated areas around the new faculty buildings in Adlershof is just as high as the students attending them. The Adlershof neighborhood does not have the same reputation as Berlin’s famous buzzing Bezirke like Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg or Neukölln. You will see students walking down the streets, or better, at the tram stops, but they commute directly back to their houses, after their classes are due. They do not feel invited to stay, and in the evenings and the weekends, the place feels abandoned.

Nonetheless, this new area plays a vital role in the future of Berlin. In the Smart City plans, the Technology Park Adlershof is one of the key areas where sustainable, high tech research and start-ups should flourish. And to be fair, with its tech faculties, an already established business population, and the nearby Schönefeld airport with links to multiple European cities, it has many ingredients of the perfect mix. However, as innovation theorists would agree, it is missing one crucial element: life.

The biggest project that seeks to bring life to Adlershof, is the Newtonprojekt. The project is a new addition in the fast growing neighborhood, and will develop almost a thousand new apartments over the coming years. It is located at Newtonstraße, its namesake, and the Abram-Joffe-Straße – the latter named after a Russian born Jewish scientist, who researched aviation defense for the Soviet Air Force. This street runs parallel to two remaining relics of the old 1930s Luftwaffe testing sites; you can’t say that the civil servants at the Berlin department for street names lack a sense of irony.

The Newtonprojekt is an ambitious project. The houses will not only be energy efficient, but will actually produce an excess of energy. Room is reserved for a battery under the complex, to store excess energy once that technology has advanced. The project is initiated by a private building cooperative, which consists of both the developers and the constructors. Buyers of the apartments will also participate in this cooperation. The expertise in sustainable building of the architect of Haus 1, Deimel Oelschläger, was recognized by the KlimaSchutzPartner Berlin prize, which described the building as an example for modern property development.

The charming part is that each house has a different architecture firm: the second Haus is being built by DMSW, and the third one by Zoomarchtitekten. Together with Oelschläger, all three are Berlin-based. This brings some necessary variation to the surrounding area. The houses will be connected by a ‘meandering garden’, which will be maintained by the people living there. The idea is that this will improve the sense of community. However, there are many examples across Berlin where shared space was not a success, so it will be interesting to see how this will work out in the future.

The first three buildings that are being built, seem to be an initial success: Almost all apartments have been sold. When you read the comments of some of the future residents at the website of the project, you get a good sense of what attracts them. “Since our son was born, we were looking for an apartment to buy, removed from the hustle and bustle of the inner-city”1, says one future Adlershof family. Other frequently mentioned motives are the green spaces, the sense of community originating from the building cooperation, the nearby recreational areas like the Müggelsee, and the energy cost saving, climate friendly appeal.

Controversially, many also mention the short commute to the inner-city. Of course, distance is relative, but I do not feel that the area is close to the city center. The project sites tries to lure buyers by cherry picking commuting distances, such as the 28 minutes to Alexanderplatz. Sure, but you will still have to walk ten minutes to the S-Bahn station. If you were to go to the Potsdamer Platz, it will take you 50 minutes.

Will projects like these succeed in bringing life to Adlershof? There are some signs that this is indeed happening. Recently, a Korean restaurant opened up, a spin-off from a culinary Korean restaurant in Kreuzberg. Also a Denn’s market, German biggest bio-Supermarket chain, set up a shop near the Adlershof train station. Then again, a buzzing Bezirk does not seem to be the destiny of the neighborhood, but it seems that that is exactly what the future residents of the Newtonprojekt attracts them to it.

All images taken from the project’s Website: http://www.newtonprojekt.de/

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