Friday, July 26, 2013

Rieselfeld:Freiburg's other model sustainable community

In Geman, the word Rieselfeld means sewage farm, and this is the early history of an area of Freiburg that has been developed into another significant environmentally focused master-planned community.
Like Quartier Vauban, it too is located at the end of a tram line that runs through the centre of the community. I read that the plan is the result of an urban planning competition and the project is being carried out by a separate entity owned by the City of Freiburg.
Development began in the early 1990's and the overall plan calls for approximately 12,000 residents in 4200 apartments. (As an aside, this is comparable to the proposed size of the UniverCity community at SFU.) At the end of the main street, next to the transit loop, cows can be seen grazing.
In addition to the housing, the community offers a wide range of social, cultural and educational facilities.
When I was touring the community, one of the residents proudly pointed out a church next to the community centre that is half Protestant and half Catholic! While I liked the concept, I didn't like the raw concrete church design!
Nearly all of the housing is developed in three to six storey townhouse and apartment blocks. However, many of the buildings are quite small and I was told that small groups and cooperatives were invited to purchase land and develop projects.  Unlike Vauban, I was told that cars are tolerated and indeed, are accommodated in surface lots, underground lots, and along streets.
I was interested to see the use of pervious pavers under these parking areas, a design feature we experimented with at UniverCity.
Some were very 'green', if you know what I mean! There is a mix of both market and non-market housing for sale and for rent. It's interesting to note that many more Germans are prepared to rent, rather than own, especially when compared to North Americans. I'll leave it up to you to determine which projects might be rental, and which might be ownership.
All of the buildings are required to meet stringent energy codes. There is a heavy focus on renewable energy (solar power and photovoltaics) a district heating system, and water conservation. As an aside, when I was telling a local developer about my visit to Germany, he mentioned that a German energy consultant had advised him that what was planned to become one of Vancouver's greenest buildings would not even meet current energy standards in Germany.
While I was there a large truck pulled up to a house and loaded something into the basement. It reminded me of the oil trucks that used to fill up the tanks of older homes. However, I looked on line and determined that this truck was delivering wood pellets.
The urban development concept attaches great importance to green spaces, playgrounds, open areas, as well as bicycle paths and traffic-calmed streets where children are encouraged to play. It was wonderful to see so many scooters and children's bicycles parked outside the kindergarten and schools.

As I wandered around the community I discovered a number of very interesting projects and design features. Many of the buildings featured prominent glass walled stairwells, something we used to do in our older walk-up apartments. Perhaps this is a feature we should re-invent.
One new building had a facade that incorporated a curviliear metal tube and wire mesh with vines planted at the base. It is expected that it will soon will be covered with greenery. In looking at it, I can't help but think it's one of the non-market developments, rather than a market project. Hopefully someone will let me know if I am wrong!
I was intrigued by another building with photographs of people attached to the balconies. I wondered if they were residents, but was subsequently told they were all the workers who helped build the project. Again, I suspect this is non-market housing!  But I could be wrong. There is no doubt that the Germans are much more adventurous when it comes to building design and concept.
Both Vauban and Rieselfeld offer many lessons for Vancouver. These include community plans designed around a transit spine; higher density but predominantly low and mid-rise building forms built from lot-line to lot-line; very high energy standards; and an overall pedestrian character. I also liked some of the more adventurous architecture although I still wonder about that raw concrete church prominently sited along the main street. It certainly isn't as beautiful as some of the other churches I visted during my four week tour of Germany!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Vauban: Freiburg's first model sustainable community

Vauban is a new neighbourhood of 5,000 residents and 600 jobs 4 km to the south of the Freiburg town center. It was built as model sustainable community starting 20 years ago on the site of a former French military base.

The community is connected to the city center by a tram, and is laid out linearly along the tracks so that all homes are within easy walking distance of a tram stop. Transportation is primarily by foot or bicycle. I was told approximately 75% of the households had chosen to live without a private car.

Most of Vauban's residential streets are described as stellplatzfrei - literally "free from parking spaces". Vehicles are allowed down these streets at walking pace to pick up and deliver but not to park, although I saw cars parked in many areas.
Each year, households are required to sign a declaration stating either that they do not own a car, or if they do, they must buy a space in one of the multi-storey Solar Garages on the periphery of the community. 

All houses are built to a low energy standard, with 100 units designed to a Passive House standard. Many buildings are heated by a 'power station' burning wood chips, while many of the buildings have solar collectors or photovoltaic cells.

The Sun Ship is a large integrated office/retail building designed by architect Rolf Disch and located on the main street leading into the community.

Behind it is the Solar Settlement. It claims to be the first housing community in the world in which all the homes produce a positive energy balance. The solar energy surplus is then sold back into the city's grid for a profit on every home.
Also by the entrance was the recently completed Green City Hotel and an adjacent housing complex.
Wandering around the community it felt like an urban, high density version of Hornby Island! Some of wood-clad buildings were fading, while many others were surrounded with greenery, much of which was growing up the walls. 

I particularly liked the use of colour and streets that were named after significant figures in the city's history who had similar sensibilities to those who planned the community.
With its green roofs, overgrown greenery, the place had a very natural, but unkempt look about it. Sadly, there was a surprising amount of graffiti, considering this was planned as a very communal development with presumably a high level of community pride.
As for who lives there, I was told that there is a mix of market and non-market housing with quite a few of the developments built cooperatively. There appeared to be a large number of children, as evidenced by the many playgrounds, and children's bikes parked outside a school. I suspect the people I saw riding around were probably quite typical of the majority of the residents.

While I thought the place could do with a good tidying up, there is no doubt that this is a very interesting experiment that appeals to a certain segment of the population. In reading about the community on-line, I came across a comment from one resident who claimed that when she asked a taxi driver to take her home to Vauban he commented that he was surprised to see such a normal person living there!

Postscript: Adjacent to the older part of Vauban I came across a number of colourful buildings still under construction and an attractive retail building with a large bicycle shop/repair facility. While I'm not sure they are part of the community, I found their designs very appealing and am posting some pictures, while I attempt to verify with a contact in Freiburg whether this is in fact part of a later phase. of the community.