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An abandoned Berlin airport is being transformed into a climate-neutral, car-free neighborhood

The site will have 5,000 new apartments—along with schools and stores that all residents can walk to.

An abandoned Berlin airport is being transformed into a climate-neutral, car-free neighborhood
[Image: © Tegel Projekt GmbH]

Last year, after Berlin’s Tegel Airport had been replaced by a new international airport at another location, workers started clearing the land for a new project: a neighborhood built from scratch with the climate in mind.

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Some parts of the airport will be reused, with old terminals turned into commercial space for research and offices for startups. But a more-than-100-acre area near where the runway used to sit will be completely reimagined, with 5,000 new apartment homes built in a walkable, bikeable, carbon-neutral neighborhood with parks, schools, and stores.

[Image: © Tegel Projekt GmbH]
“The planning is based on questions such as: How do we want to live and get around in urban spaces in the future? What qualities are important to us as individuals and as a community? And what functionalities can’t we do without?” explains Constanze Döll, press secretary for the Tegel Projekt, which is developing the area, called the Schumacher Quartier. While the final designs are not yet complete, the project has several guidelines. First: People take priority, not cars.

[Image: © Tegel Projekt GmbH]
“The Schumacher Quartier is planned in such a way that the streets and squares belong to the people again, rather than to cars,” Döll says. “We want to let people rediscover the public space . . . for socializing, playgrounds, places to relax and talk. Important locations in the neighborhood, like the kindergarten, school, bakery, supermarket, can be reached easily by foot.”

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The plans call for wide bike lanes and green spaces. At the edge of the neighborhood, there will be access to micromobility and existing public transit. The neighborhood will allow limited access to cars (people who are disabled, for example, will be able to drive up to their buildings), but will otherwise be car-free.

[Image: © Tegel Projekt GmbH]
The apartment buildings will be built from wood, and when completed will be the largest group of mass timber buildings in the world.

“Wood in particular enables long-term CO2 storage, and the use of wood as a building material reduces the consumption of environmentally harmful materials such as concrete,” Döll says.

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The team will source timber locally in Germany, and expects to reduce CO2 emissions in construction by 80%. The designs will also be ultra-efficient, and all energy will be produced on the site, including solar and geothermal power. A system will also harvest waste heat from adjacent commercial buildings to heat the homes.

The commercial part of the redevelopment, called the Urban Tech Republic, will be home to new startups whose technology—from recycling to new mobility systems—will be developed and can be tested in the residential area.

[Image: © Tegel Projekt GmbH]
The neighborhood will also include “sponge city” designs that help capture water in heavy storms to prevent flooding. Green roofs and gardens will use some of the water, and some will be stored underground.

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“All rainwater is used or stored in the quarter; nothing is lost,” Döll says. “If the water evaporates on hot days, it cools the surrounding area—and if instead it seeps in, it fills up the groundwater. This self-contained system makes for local climate regulation, aided by many large-leaved, deciduous trees that act like natural air-conditioning systems.”

[Image: © Tegel Projekt GmbH]
The plan also includes a concept of “animal-aided design,” developed by ecologist Wolfgang Weisser and landscape architect Thomas Hauck, that incorporates biodiversity. Open spaces and buildings will be designed to support 14 rare species, including broad-winged bats and nightingale grasshoppers, with the goal of helping them permanently settle in the area and attract other species.

Over the past year, the Tegel Projekt team has been working on the first step of the development: clearing some of the old debris that existed on the site before it was an airport, when it was used for military training in World Wars I and II. So far, Döll says, more than 5,000 pieces of ammunition, including old grenades and bombs, have been removed.

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This fall, the project will begin allocating land, and architects will work with residents on the design details. The first buildings, which will include social housing, cooperatives, and student housing, will be completed in 2027.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley

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