'Infrastructure' Category

Welcome to stuffy, uptight, downtown Munich. Don’t forget your swimsuit. Or surfboard. Or skis.

This is the river Isar in the middle of Munich, just blocks from the city center. Today it looks like a wild natural river but until a few years ago much of the greenspace along the shores was orderly and park-like, the banks straightened and stabilized with stone, concrete and earthworks. This is the story of how a city with a stuffy, uptight reputation (whose accuracy I neither verify nor refute) tore out the orderly, linear shores and restored the river to about as wild a state as possible in an urban center, embracing nature in all its wildness and messy, ecologically healthy vitality – something which even places that are said to be the opposite of stuffy are slow to do.

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“Usage Conflicts”: Berlin debates whether it has enough space to adapt to climate change

This post is available in German at the BUND (German Alliance for Environmental and Nature Protection), here.

 

To say that Berlin is lavishly endowed with public spaces that are manifestly unused despite being paved is an understatement. I’m pretty sure Berlin has more unused paved space relative to the amount of functioning space than any other major city. (If you can think of one, let me know in the comments.) I am not talking about vacant lots that could hold buildings, or any place with significant foot traffic, or squares or plazas that are actually used, or even the parking lots that exacerbate climate change by incentivizing car travel. I refer instead to the inexplicable empty stretches along buildings and at streetcorners that go unused by pedestrians, sidewalks extravagantly and desolately out of proportion to their foot-traffic load, and large traffic islands and medians. (more…)

Mythbusting the weather: Berlin’s rainy reputation belies a grave lack of water

Despite its abundant waterways and reputation for rainy weather, Berlin is in many ways as dry as Spain or Texas. Unsound water management in violation of European Union law is incurring punitive measures, but the issue is virtually unknown to the general public – and complicated by Berlin’s strange water system, the only one of its kind in the world.


Berlin is always viewed as a watery place: everyone loves the abundant rivers, canals and lakes, and hates the grim rainy fall and winter and the high water table that poses constant and costly flooding problems to basements and construction projects. The surprising truth, though, is that Berlin is a very dry place with dried-up forests, near-shortages of water, and extremely low rainfall, in fact less rain than parts of Spain, Italy, and most of the United States including Texas and Florida. The only places in the U.S. that get less rain than Berlin are the deserts, the Mediterranean zones of California and parts of the Great Plains. The climate crisis did not cause any of this, but it’s making everything worse. (more…)

In Indianapolis, trailblazing environmental art once connected the public to their overlooked waterways. Then they turned the art museum into an Instagram playground.

Over 100 engaging and innovative land-art installations raised public awareness of river ecology and water infrastructure. But the once-prestigious museum behind them has since pivoted to crass marketing gimmicks – yoga, craft beer – and the “greatest travesty in the art world in 2017”.

 

FLOW 19L

 

Two of the country’s most compelling and pioneering installations of site-specific environmental art in decades – as much community outreach as art per se – took place in Indianapolis, of all places, in the mid 2010s. The two projects, called FLOW – Can You See The River? (2011) and StreamLines (2015), consisted of over 100 giant oversize map pins with bright red basketball-size pin heads placed throughout the city to mark various features of the local urban waterways such as small dams and sewer outlets. The goal was to increase the public’s connection with the natural urban environment, specifically rivers, streams and water infrastructure. Further, every site had an ingenious interactive installation that not only provided multimedia information about the water features, but literally, physically engaged the viewers by involving bodily movement and play. A worlds-first phone app called Track a Raindrop provided user-friendly visualizations of how stormwater travels through the city infrastructure.

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Germany’s remarkable repurposed industrial heritage – part 2

Previously I wrote about Germany’s abundant and well-funded industrial heritage sites where disused rust-belt facilities are repurposed into multi-use parks with landscaping, nature, culture and recreation coexisting among the dramatic metal and concrete relics. Here I will cover more of the remarkable architecture both new and old.

In many sites striking new pedestrian / bike bridges connect public spaces that are separated by roads, rivers and other obstacles. They help make up for the country’s otherwise abysmal modern architecture which stands in sad and ugly contrast to the rich variety of fresh and exciting buildings in pretty much every other western European country.

The first one is a unique type of drawbridge in Duisburg that stretches up to lets boats pass, without opening as such, like one of those stretchy watchbands made of metal links, or a cat’s back, which has earned it the nickname “cat’s-hump”.

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Germany’s repurposed industrial heritage and the “quintessential park of the 21st century”

Lately I have been discovering Germany’s many extraordinary Industriekultur and Industrienatur sites, which are decommissioned rust-belt industrial facilities repurposed into hybrids of historical monument, recreation park and nature reserve. The sites are cleaned up, the enormous concrete and rusting metal structures largely left in place, the buildings – including numerous architectural landmarks – restored, and the grounds are partly landscaped with ultramodern design and partly allowed to be re-greened by nature running its course.

The buildings are renovated into diverse combinations of arts venues, recreational facilities or opened for tours. But the most striking features are outdoors where the industrial and the natural are interwoven.

I cannot get over how much of this stuff there is and how well-funded it is. There are hundreds of these sites throughout Germany; the greatest concentration is the Ruhr region, Germany’s rust belt. They are linked by bike paths and region-wide sequences of green spaces as well as extensive networks of regional culture agencies providing a vast assortment of Industrieroute planners, maps and guides.

One site that has gotten attention in the US is Landscape Park Duisburg-North, which the New York Times calls “the quintessential park of the 21st century”, its “nightmarish hulks… almost mythic in their lurid grandeur”.

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Berlin Subways

I love how they all have different fonts. There are more with solid colors like at Eisenacher Strasse and Alexanderplatz but I didn’t get pictures.