Berlin: Spaces of Sustainability

The Story


The What


The dimensions of height, depth, and width within which all things exist and move
— Oxford Dictionaries (Online)

"Berlin: Spaces of Sustainability" is a journey of sustainability through a modern metropolis and the spaces that define it. What makes a space sustainable? How can we digitally capture a space and its sustainability? In what way do these spaces influence those who interact with them? "Berlin: Spaces of Sustainability" is an online catalog of spaces presented through images, sounds, and texts that sets out to answer these questions.

The Why


Why SPaces

Why Berlin

Space is unavoidable. Space is where you find your grocery store, university, office, running trail, and favorite restaurant. Space is where we breathe, where we live. And thus all that we do is invariably affected by the space in which we do it. Yet when we discuss sustainability we often ignore the spaces in which it happens and thus a critical element of sustainability has gone unexplored.

Due to the enormous destruction caused by two world wars and the uneven development and dead zones caused by Berlin's division during the Cold War, Berlin is constantly evolving with space a major object of consideration in the city's redevelopment. Moreover, one of Europe's largest cities, Berlin offers a wide variety of spaces and thus a great starting point to explore all types of space.

Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space.”
— Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

If the will of our epoch is to make a sustainable world, it is space we must rely on to accomplish our goal. 

The Story

Note from the research fellow

When I started as a PPEH Research Fellow, I had planned to study the history of German sustainability. Although a fascinating and rich topic, and one I wrote briefly about here, I discovered that it was not a topic I could well cover in the time and knowledge I had available to me. Reexamining my research focus, I took a short walk along the Schuylkill River and considered my experiences with sustainability efforts to-date. Like an apple from a tree, a realization hit me on the head. Actually, to more fairly convey the moment, it was like when you trip in public and then look around to see if anyone else noticed. I asked myself, why don't I just research spaces, before wondering if it was too crazy, obvious, and unrewarding. Then, lost in thought, I actually did trip, but that's not too important for the story.

Eventually I was back in my apartment and put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) to elaborate on my research idea and see if there was good reason to undertake it. I considered the fact that throughout my previous sustainability involvements, I had always taken space for granted. Whether hosting a meeting on promoting green businesses or encouraging others to spend time outdoors, I was not truly thinking about place. But that's sort of a big object to ignore, isn't it? After all space is, well, everything. It's where our lives are spent and our interactions with it are thus a vitally important part of our identities. So how do attributes of our spaces, like sustainable characteristics, affect those identities? Could a sustainable space be a key to unlocking a method for encouraging mass sustainability efforts without mass disruption? Improving a building here, creating a park there - could that be the way to create the sustainable city of the future?

With so many questions unanswered, I decided I did indeed have quite a promising topic. Of course, the next step was to narrow all these loose thoughts down into a more concrete project. Given that I am studying abroad in Berlin this spring semester, I have limited my exploration to Berlin. But what exactly would I be exploring? After much research, I created an initial list of nearly 50 spaces to visit during my time in Berlin. To this end, the following resources were undeniably helpful: Inhabitat, Berlin Stadtentwicklung und Umwelt, and Ultimately, as I conclude my research for the time being, I have researched, explored, photographed, and catalogued 27 spaces, all of which can be viewed through my image gallery and include text descriptions. I am also utilizing this project to examine another interesting idea: the soundscape. How do we capture the feeling and identity of a place with just sound? To more fully explore that question, a subset of spaces are also presented through a sound gallery. 

My work will not be finished when I leave Berlin. I hope to expand this project and look at spaces across the world. I also wish to more systematically measure the impact those spaces can have and finally develop concrete ideas for how these lessons can be used in cities around the world to create a more sustainable population. I encourage you to join my efforts however you can, whether it's submitting a space of your own (see our larger Faces and Spaces Project), sharing how a space has impacted you, or providing ideas for how we can develop more sustainable spaces (all possible through our Get Involved page). 

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