Reichenberger Straße 86, 10999 Berlin, June 2017. Photo © Jan Bitter

Residential building with an inhabited vertical garden in Berlin-Kreuzberg

Six storey residential building with a vertical "living-wall" garden facade 
Location: Glogauer Straße / Reichenberger Straße, Berlin- Kreuzberg

Completed: Winter 2016/17

The design for this residential building in Berlin-Kreuzberg was generated from careful attention to the urban and social context. Located on a narrow corner site and sandwiched between two existing residential blocks, this new building has become a part of the much-loved fabric of the current neighbourhood while demonstrating its real commitment towards a greener urban future.

The site is located at a busy crossroads in an area of Kreuzberg that buzzes with street life. After being severely damaged by a WWII bomb, this corner was for many years used as a private parking lot and became an unsightly urban scar that has only now undergone long-overdue repair.

With five floors of flats, Sarah Rivière Architect’s new apartment block rises to form a small tower at the corner, acknowledging the long-established Kreuzberg custom where characteristic towers mark the crossroads of this area.

Green vertical garden or "living-wall", June 2017. Photo © Jan Bitter

Green vertical garden or "living-wall", June 2017. Photo © Jan Bitter

An inhabited vertical garden 

The new corner building is designed to harmonise with existing buildings in the local area. Without being arrogant or obtrusive, the building still expresses its own strong ecological character both within this Kreuzberg neighbourhood and towards the city of Berlin as a whole.

As part of the building’s green agenda, a vertical “living-wall” has been built on the Glogauer Strasse façade. Rectangular box balconies punch almost theatrically out through the living-wall giving residents the opportunity to stand within the vertical garden. This "urban garden" absorbs traffic pollution and noise from the adjoining street and noticable improves the local micro-climate for both residents and passers-by.

With the top corner of the green "living wall" being both East-facing and located some 20 metres above street level, winter-hardy plants that could reliably survive the Berlin winter needed to be selected for the garden. These plants are reliably watered and nourished all year round through a system of hydroponic irrigation. Twice a year the garden is carefully maintained using a "cherrypicker" from the street below.

On the ground floor level, below the vertical garden, three metre high windows to the street invite passers-by into a new bar with a gently-curved corner entrance. The second street façade to Reichenberger Strasse is quieter, as suits the more homogeneous architecture of this road. The apartment windows here have small French balconies fitting close to the façade. 

View into the maisonette flat in Reichenberger Strasse Berlin

Maisonette, June 2017. Photo © Sarah Rivière

Building for a greener future

The ecological footprint of the new building is very low. On a plot of some 660 square metres an area of ​​only 165 square metres was bombed away during World War II. After the war, the two damaged but still habitable wings of the building were left standing separately - one in the Glogauer and one in the Reichenberger Strasse, and were repaired and reinhabited in the 1970s. The rubble of the ruined central section of the building was used to fill the corner basement which was sealed off and the site became a parking lot. When making investigations into the state of the filled cellar, the cellar walls and the original building's foundations were found to be present and in good condition. Thus the new corner building was designed to stand on the original brick cellar walls and foundations from 1885, considerably reducing construction costs and the amount of new materials, above all concrete, needed for the project.

For ecological reasons and to avoid the use of external sandwich insulation in a residential area, the facade of the new building was constructed from the first floor upwards in ceramic blocks insulated with volcanic perlite, which, in combination with locally-manufactured double-glazed timber windows, allow the building to easily meet Berlin's demanding energy-saving regulations (EnEv). A district heating system ensures that even the heating here fulfils the highest possible ecological requirements.

The new facades with balconies allowing residents to stand within the vertical garden in June 2017.

The new facades to Glogauer Strasse and Reichenberger Strasse are designed to fit in with the old. Photo © Jan Bitter

The five floors of apartments are linked with a new staircase and lift that rises to a large communal roof terrace on top of the tower, with round “porthole” openings towards the street. The two new Berlin roofs to Glogauer and Reichenberger Strasse were constructed as green roofs. The courtyard of the building was redesigned to offer long-term residents from the two wings of the building and their children a sheltered garden with a play area. A ramp on the new basement stairs in the new-build creates additional bicycle parking spaces in the re-claimed cellar.

Maisonette, June 2017. Photo © Sarah Rivière

Inside and terrace view of the maisonette in Reichenberger Strasse, June 2017. Photo © Sarah Rivière

Planning 

A commercial unit was planned on the ground floor of the new building - a bar with table-football and two large screens for live sports events. In order to increase the usable area of ​​the bar and to create space for ancillary rooms (WCs, kitchens, etc.), one commercial unit within the existing wing of Glogauer Strasse 9 was included in the project. Now the ground floor bar extends from the new building into the old, visibly linking the new-build to its older neighbour. Similarly on the top floors a larger apartment was constructed under the new "Berliner" roof to Glogauer Strasse, while a maisonette apartment was built in the new extension above the Reichenberger Strasse wing of the building. Each of these apartments has a terrace towards the courtyard.

On each floor of the new corner building two small apartments are designed to be combined to form a larger residential unit if needed. This allows flexible responses to future family housing needs. Since the local area is defined in the land use plan for Berlin as an M2 mixed construction area, the building's owners chose to submit a building application for holiday apartments for the new building, but inspite of this the 12 apartments in the new building were designed so that they can be converted into apartments for long-term use at any time. The large terrace on the new corner tower to the street intersection is designed not to be assigned to a single residential unit, but as a communal terrace available to the house as a whole.