Berlin is a city of change. Its attractiveness as an urban metropolis has been accompanied by immense pressure, from within and without. Right in its midst, between southern Friedrichshain, Warschauer Brücke, and the Spree, lies the R.A.W. site. Over the past 20 years, this former “National Railway Repair Works” has developed from an industrial zone into an open quarter with a wide array of attractions for both the neighbourhood and the city at large. Studios and cooperatives, workshops, businesses and cultural initiatives, restaurants and sports activities have come together to boost the liveliness of the site.
As the R.A.W. site continues developing, it will continue to see a wide variety of uses knitted together and coexisting, in service of creating a versatile space that’s dynamic, inviting, and safe at all hours of the day, weekends, and throughout the year. Over the past eight years, a participatory planning process involving users and the broader urban public has aimed to guide this development toward finding optimal long-term solutions for the site, whether in urban planning, architectural, or ecological terms.
Some of the key issues that have been addressed or will be addressed range from citizen engagement to the creation of lively places for neighbourhood exchange, from the retention and expansion of cultural free spaces to achieving climate resilience via a coherent landscape architecture concept – which, among other things, seeks to minimise paved area and provide more publicly accessible green space – as well as the retention of public transit connections as a key aspect of Germany’s Mobilitätswende, or “mobility turn”.
In line with the concept of “the compact city,” the future R.A.W. site will strive to facilitate a cooperative cityscape and an urban mix that directly benefits the surrounding environment. This means, in concrete terms, that at R.A.W. people will be offered a choice between work and recreation, between relaxing and playing sports, between shopping and enjoying diverse gastronomic offerings, between experiencing culture and producing it.
The existing social fabric is an important aspect of R.A.W.’s identity, and it is important to ensure that it continues flourishing and becomes integrated with a variety of new uses. To achieve this, the plans call for a non-profit organization to receive a rent-free contract for the segment of the site referred to as the “Soziokulturelle L,” enabled through the area’s development. This enables the Soziokulturelle L to continue operating independently and without economic pressure.
The “House of Music,” opened in 2019 in the site’s former wheel-set turning shop, can be seen as a blueprint for the future of R.A.W. Today it accommodates the widest variety of music-world actors, from local initiatives to global industry leaders. As R.A.W. continues developing, it will maintain this emphasis on coexistence and knitting together. R.A.W. is a place in which history and the future cross paths. A place for the young and old. A place for diverse individuals and groups.
A MASTERPLAN FOR R.A.W.
To identify the optimal architectural, urban, and ecological solutions for the R.A.W. site over the long term, it has been necessary to proceed and plan cautiously, over a span of many years. Following user workshops, citizen workshops, and three dialogue workshops with the interest groups involved, over a two-year dialogue process with the district authority participants developed a structural plan for R.A.W. and a catalogue of values. One core value is to retain its historic identity while simultaneously ensuring it remains an unusual site with new elements and buildings that offer space for experiments, incorporate the neighbourhood, and facilitate synergies, participation, and mutual accountability.
On this basis, the Kurth Group, as owner of the majority of the R.A.W. site, tendered a commission for a multi-stage master plan process to identify a target concept for the various building sites and possible uses of the area. Holzer Kobler Architekuren and Atelier Loidl Landschaftsarchitekten, both also based in Berlin, won the bid. Through further bids and planning phases, the building sites will be defined with more specificity and uses will be tied to specific sites.
Climate protection, ecology, and open space design play a key role in the master plan. The dialogue process resulted in a recommendation to build vertically rather than horizontally, facilitating the creation of publicly accessible free space with urban greenery. The free spaces will be accessible to users of the site and for public events.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT THE R.A.W. SITE
HOW WILL THE R.A.W SITE BE USED IN THE FUTURE?
Alongside its current cultural offerings, new workspaces will be added and the site will reacquire its original function as a place for serving and provisioning the urban surroundings. Groceries, medical facilities, childcare, markets, free spaces, and new areas for sport, culture, and recreation will cater to the community and service the urban environment. Using the space for residential purposes was discussed in early dialogues with current users and neighbours, but the idea was set aside after a series of district council resolutions. This way, the clubs, bars, and cultural venues will not face conflicts with residents.
DURING THE NEW CONSTRUCTION, WILL MORE AREA BE PAVED?
No, in fact the opposite. Currently, most of the former industrial site is paved. But vertical densification will allow for a significant share of the ground area to be unpaved. The old trees will nearly all be preserved, while additional areas will be regreened with a wide variety of adequate urban plant species that offer food and nesting opportunities for animals. Climatic groves will ensure natural cooling of the site and its surroundings, contributing to the area’s climate resilience. It is important, however, not to overlook the pressure and challenges that the urban context will exert on the site, which must be incorporated into the planning and realization of safe and barrier-free open spaces. To ensure that R.A.W truly becomes a climate-friendly quarter, renowned sustainability and mobility specialists are closely involved in the planning.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE EXISTING BUILDINGS?
All landmark-protected buildings are being preserved, and the renovation process will be coordinated with landmark advisers and the Berlin Monument Authority (LDA). Buildings and structures critical to the site’s identity will be integrated into the planning to safeguard its history and background. Even trees, defining lines of sight, and historical road surfaces will be preserved as much as possible, although accessibility concerns and spatial needs cannot be overlooked. Buildings that are not sustainable or structurally suitable, that have no particular architectural significance, or that are problematic from an energy or climate perspective will be replaced with new buildings.
WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW AND DURING THE CONSTRUCTION PHASE?
The site will continue to be developed in organic collaboration with its users. Damaged historical buildings, such as the wheel-set turning shop, will be renovated in stages and assigned new uses, while open spaces will be built up. During the construction phases for individual building sites, offerings on the rest of the site will be limited as little as possible to ensure their use continues developing organically with the social surroundings. Over the long term, the goal is to increase use of the space so that the R.A.W. site is occupied around the clock.
WHAT IS THE “SOZIOKULTURELLE L” (SKL)?
The SKL is the sociocultural centre located in R.A.W.’s partly landmark-protected, L-shaped buildings, made up of art and culture initiatives, design, sports, and circus groups, as well as social associations and gastronomy. For nearly twenty years, the SKL has serviced the neighbourhood, the city, and visitors. Since the Kurth Group assumed ownership of the site, the SKL has been actively supported, and in the course of the planned development and site alteration, it will receive long-term security through rent-free access to the site. For many years now, the ownership group and SKL actors have enjoyed a productive and evolving collaboration, leading to successes such as mutual support and the allocation of free spaces to culture creators.
WILL THE CLUBS BE DRIVEN OUT?
No, the clubs will not be driven out. Quite the contrary: all the existing operations are active, intensive participants in the planning process, and will continue to develop in tandem with the site. Through a collaborative process, the specific needs and requirements of the various facilities were explored so that further development could be all the more responsive to their specific needs.
STATEMENTS ON THE R.A.W. SITE PLANS
“The publicly accessible spaces, the through-paths and squares, and the variety of building typologies offer convincing approaches for combining existing building stock and new structures into a holistic ensemble. The approaches to incorporating the Soziokulturelle L, and its connections to the overall site, are very inspired.”Florian Schmidt, District Councillor for Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, on the design by Holzer Kobler Architekturen and Atelier Loidl.
“The new owners have laid an entirely new foundation. They’re incorporating us into their work and communicating a feeling of eye-to-eye belonging.”Ralf Brendeler, Suicide Circus
“The extended planning process for the site was incredibly demanding, and we’re happy that we were able to have an impact on it. It’s our hope that the cooperative process between the owners, politicians, tenants, and urban society continues running smoothly.”Mike Stolz, Bar Zum schmutzigen Hobby
“The benefits that the R.A.W. site provides for our youth and education work are incomparable. We’re persuaded that a workable compromise has been found for the site’s ongoing development. Our offerings for up to 100 young people every day will continue to have a home and good working conditions at R.A.W.”Kim Wibbelt, Drop In e.V.