Urban Strategies: Berlin after the German Reunification

Urban transformation projects have a formal and spatial dimension, which has received an increasing attention in recent decades. Yet urban transformation projects are associated with changes in the social (and economic) morphology of city – changes that produce direct and indirect effects on the city’s welfare. And precisely on the basis of these effects the community judges the social rationality of urban transformation processes – and it authorises, when required, their implementation or gives its organisational and financial support. There are two necessary steps in the assessment process of the urban transformation projects conducted by the local community. Firstly, the short- and long-term effects of the project on the community welfare have to be identified. Secondly, the effects of the urban transformation project have to be evaluated with regard to the city’s ‘social preference function’, which in recent decades in Europe has taken the form of a ‘development strategy’ more or less fully articulated. An increasing number of European cities have endowed themselves with a ‘strategic plan’, which is the framework within which the city assesses and supports major urban transformation projects.

As a case study to address the issue of the relationship between major urban transformation processes and urban development strategy Berlin after the German Reunification is a particularly interesting case. The objective to reconstruct the spatial and architectural identity of the city – again the capital city of a country playing a key role in the global world – has intersected with the objective of profoundly reshaping the economic base of the city, which was largely destroyed by the Reunification. After going through a deep economic and budgetary crisis, partly caused by a contradictory and financially unsustainable building sector expansion, Berlin has started a development trajectory marked by highly praised urban transformation projects for their design and also descending from a clear vision of its social and economic future.

The Reunification of the city has gone through a profound change in its physical structure. It suffices to mention the ‘urban void’ left behind by the removal of the Berlin Wall to grasp the importance that the project of the physical structure has played in the recent history of the city. But beyond the fascinating task of redesigning the physical interface between East Berlin and West Berlin, numerous parts of the city have undergone profound changes in their physical fabric and social morphology. By observing the evolution of Berlin’s physical and social city in the past three decades there is a lot to learn about the rationale of urban transformation projects in European cities, and about the role of architects and architecture in the construction of the European city of the future.