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Berlin Environmental Atlas

09.01 Environmental Justice (Edition 2015)

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Complementary Indicators

Complementary Indicator 1: Socio-spatial Distribution of the Building Structure
(Planergemeinschaft Kohlbrenner eG 2015)

Taking “healthy living and working conditions” into consideration is a basic principle of the general urban planning laws (§ 1 (6) clause 1 of the building code (Baugesetzbuch, BauGB 2014)). Even before the building code, the maintenance and creation of healthy living and working conditions was an important guiding principle of urban and architectural planning. The reformist urban development of the early 20th century and the demand for "light, air and sun" in construction are representative of the (demand for) consideration of health aspects in urban development.

However, in the process of Berlin becoming a major city and the concomitant rapid constructional growth, there were different appraisals of the general principles and goals of urban planning and their impact on health and general quality of life. One example of this is the dramatically changing cultural estimation of the Wilhelminian block structure. One reason for this change in attitudes lies in the changing environmental conditions. In recent years, the set of problems has changed significantly due to massive reductions in the field of domestic fuel and industrial air pollution through enhanced technologies and different fuels on the one hand, and due to a significant increase of sound emissions, especially by the motor vehicle traffic, on the other hand. In the process, the assessment of the urban planning situation has undergone changes, as the different structural typologies can damp or reinforce the different loads to different extents. Therefore, the building structures must be included in the assessment of the topics of environmental loads impairing health and their planning area related evaluation.

In order to take the building structure into account, one can draw on the extensive elaboration available in the framework of the Environmental Atlas (cf. 06.07 Urban Structure, SenStadtUm 2011c, und 06.08  Urban Structure – differentiated, SenStadtUm 2011d). Regarding the area types with predominantly residential use, it distinguishes the area types depending on their use, origin as well as building and open space structure. The spatial as well as structure-type differentiation carried out there is here reduced to a few succinct structural types that each exhibit similar characteristics of urban development (cf. Fig. 2):

  • Block-edge development: This category encompasses the Wilhelminian structures as well as the building structures of the interwar period.
  • Row development: This category represents the architectural designs of the interwar and post-war period (multi-storey development in rows, with an open block edge).
  • Large estates: From the 1960s until the 1980s, large multi-storey estates were built in the east and west, which tied in with the traditions of the 1920s and 1930s and claimed to implement the aim of “light, air and sun” to an even greater extent, through differentiated large-scale structures (row, block, point), generous availability of open spaces and adequate positioning of the buildings.
    Note: The social differentiation, a partly one-sided occupancy and changed housing demands have in part turned this building type into a social challenge. This impacts on the assessment of the social situation.
  • Open development: Different structural forms of estate and detached house development are combined in this category.

Structural characteristics have a significant impact on the load situation in the different urban spaces, though to some extent with mutually opposing effects of de- or increasing the load (for an overview cf. Table 4).

Tab. 4: Environment-related characteristics of different building structures
  Dense, closed building structures 1) Open building structures 2)
Noise Positive effects for building parts/fronts which are protected from noise Negative effects due to free propagation of sound
Air pollution Concentration of pollutants favoured by lack of air venting Stronger air venting and swirl
Bioclimate Negative effects due to over-heating and restriction of air exchange Positive effects through cooling and air exchange
Availability of open spaces Depending on the availability of public open spaces, tendency of negative effects due to high population density with low availability of open spaces for private use Less dependence on the availability of public open spaces, as open spaces are available for semi-public and private use
1) primarily Wilhelminian block structure
2) row development, complex housing development, row development and detached housing areas

Tab. 4: Environment-related characteristics of different building structures (Planergemeinschaft Kohlbrenner eG 2015)

The point of this representation and integration into the research questions of environmental justice is not to correct the existing assessment of the environmental load topics; the building structure has already been taken into account in their analysis.
Rather, these classifications may serve to quickly match the environmental situation and evaluation with the predominant building structure and to indicate possibilities of urban planning interventions and prioritisations.


Fig. 2: Distribution of the structural types with predominantly residential use at the level of the planning areas (Planergemeinschaft Kohlbrenner eG 2015)

As the structural type "block" is to be viewed rather as an aggravating factor regarding health hazards, the area requires special consideration regarding the interaction of urban structures and health risks and in assessing a possible course of action to influence the situation.

125 planning areas, i.e. roughly 30 % of all areas are to be classified into the block-structure type according to the classification applied. Three quarters of these planning areas are in the area inside the S-Bahn ring, i.e. in the environmental zone. This is where the block structure predominates, with few exceptions (Friedrichstadt, Luisenstadt, Tempelhof, areas east of Alexanderplatz). At the same time, the population density is particularly high, also as compared to the block structure outside of the S-Bahn ring. This indicates the differentiation within this structural type.

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