Interview — 26.04.2016

Collective Garden Baugruppe Zelterstrasse

An interview with Susanne Friedburg

Two years ago Stichting Tussentuin visited a communal garden situated at Zelterstrasse in Prenzlauerberg, Berlin. The garden is surrounded by a new building block of 45 apartments. Both the building and the garden were brought into realization as a Baugemeinschafts project. Susanne Friedburg of Herrburg Landschaftsarchitekten made the design of the garden. Together with her family she is living in Zelterstrasse.

The building and garden are part of a Baugemeinschafts project or Baugruppe. What exactly is a Baugruppe? How did you manage to realize this project?


The’ Baugruppe’ has become a very popular form — particularly in Berlin — for people with a tight money budget to purchase property. It means that a group of people buy and develop a plot of land or an existing house for themselves, thereby cutting out the costs for professional building developers. It also means, however, that they have to take the risk usually taken by the developer, i.e. the increase of costs. Also they have to organise the process themselves. In our case, the project was developed by Zanderroth Architekten, who have specialised in ‘Baugruppen’-Projects since the 1990s. This included finding a suitable property, developing an architectural solution, promoting the project, gathering a group of potential owners and then guiding them through the planning and building process. With the size of this particular ‘Baugruppe’ (45 units which means up to 90 individuals) it was necessary to establish a ‘strong’ leadership to keep the process in control and going. So decisions on all matters concerning communal property were actually due to the professionals — which meant that for the communal courtyard our office made a design proposal which was then presented to the group. We did a lot of design research before we started on the design — trying to find a solution that would hopefully meet the needs and expectations of the future inhabitants. When we presented our proposal to the group we were very happy and relieved that only one person voted against our design.

You made the design of the collective garden. How did you decide for the layout of the garden? What was the influence of the other habitants on the design?


As already mentioned we did intensive research before we started with the design. At that stage we asked the habitants to write a ‘wish list’, so we could develop a general idea of the peoples expectations. After that the whole design process became totally undemocratic: with us developing a design proposal which was presented to the group for election. With the design, we started of with the results of our analysis. The large amount of children (ca. 40 back then, now there are a lot more) and the spatial conditions (the courtyard is only 11 metres wide with an overall length of 100 metres) were particularly challenging. We thought a lot about privacy and the transition between semi-private and private space as well as children’s playgrounds, communal space and neighbourhood. From an early stage we decided that the courtyard should carry the intimate atmosphere of a private garden and with this hopefully encourage personal identification. Once we had established this leading image, everything else followed this principle idea. The required (also legally demanded) children play areas should be embedded informally in the garden design. Thematically it is orientated on the idea of nature inspired play and self-adaptation to encourage creative playing. The concrete pathway which was needed to access the backyard house, was used to implement the overall structure, creating a zoning of private and public spaces – thereby achieving a private buffer zone alongside the edges and an open communal space in the centre. To equalize spatial density and allow intimacy, the decentralisation of play areas was the next step – a topography of small hills with tree planting was used to form smaller subspaces which also structured and broke the spatial length. Informal and reduced playing elements (sand, water/fountain, wooden platforms and a tree-house) were distributed evenly across the courtyard. Last but not least the planting played a major role not only in the achievement of the garden character we had in mind, but also in supporting the functional and spatial structure. The topography – also necessary for tree planting to achieve sufficient substrate depth – is emphasized with dense shrub planting underneath the trees. The trees do not only punctuate the spatial longitude, but also create a filter between the higher buildings storeys as well as scaling down the height of and intermediating with the 7-storey gardenhouse. We chose the Gleditsia triacanthos as it is a very delicate tree and some native multi-stem Sorbus aucuparia for wildlife habitat. Overall the planting concept comprised a framework of compact planting of ground-covers and small sized shrubs partially evergreen, so the gardens structural clarity is maintained throughout the year. The Bands of flowers and grasses transport the gardenesque character into the courtyard. A mix of various species create the small-scale diversity typical of private gardens.

Now the garden is there and you all live at Zelterstrasse for some years. How do you organize the maintenance of the garden?


You should not forget that the courtyard actually is a roof garden with the cars parking underneath. Therefore and due to its extremely intensive use by the more than 60 children and their friends the garden needs intensive professional care. Hence a garden company takes care of the garden which includes an ongoing effort in keeping the lawn growing… After 5 years the planting has established extremely well which is probably also to do with the integrated sprinkling system. We now start to thin out, some plants needed to be replaced by other species, so the garden is slowly changing and evolving. It is a dynamic process…

What advise would you give for the design of a collective garden?


I think it is very recommendable and helpful to get into contact with the future users to find out their expectations and needs prior to starting with the design process. Not only does it gives you a lot of ideas and input you wouldn’t have thought of, but also the people will rediscover themselves in your design proposal. It is more likely that the people will actually identify themselves not only with the design but that they might also develop a real engagement and attachment with the built garden.


Susanne Friedburg is a landscape architect and resident of the Zelterstrasse project.