The subjugation of large areas of the Earth to the optimal operating temperature of the human body and the extraction of the resources that are necessary for its maintenance behaves exclusively towards other existences that do not benefit from the civilizational project. The progressive destruction of natural ecosystems, the loss of biodiversity, the warming of the climate and the rising of sea levels are all the result of civilizational hegemony over the Earth.
This proposal for a site between the river Spree and the Vattenfall power plant in Berlin is supposed to be an example of how we can shift the perspective from city planning to the construction of complex ecosystems which offer different ecological and social niches for many species.
Weaving new flows, movements and structures into the existing ones; inviting the present species to move in together with the newcomers; not overwhelming the place with meaning, seems to be an approach in renegotiating the relation between what we call human and what we do not consider to be part of the human sphere.
We take a small BVG ferry from Plänterwald to the northern bank of the Spree. The ferrywoman steers toward a place that is rather strange looking. On the large, wildly overgrown property, solar energy is currently being generated, biogas is being produced and rainwater is being collected. It is conceivable that, in the near future, the plant will also allow for the production of hydrogen.
A small path leads through the thicket to the road. Outside of the path, the property is entirely closed off to humans, except for maintenance and research purposes. A refugium is created where wild flora and fauna can develop near the water. This ecosystem’s flourishing is supported by the creation of composting areas, ecological soil remediation measures and the injection of rainwater during dry periods. We can see pipelines that feed the biomass delivered by the garbage collector into the biogas plant, the gas pipelines that provide transport to an on-site cogeneration plant and the large membranes that collect rainwater below the solar panels. The system supports the decentral and efficient disposal of biodegradable resources.
The energy supply is carried out on two different scales. The urban network supplies the area with electricity and drinking water through plants that run underground along the street. The Dezentrale one feeds the electricity that is generated by solar panels and cogeneration plant into the urban grid, and supplies thermal energy to the immediate surroundings. The collected rainwater serves as water storage for the whole ecosystem, and can be distributed over the area as water. Biomass and fecal matter from the area are fed into the biogas plant through vacuum lines. The biogas can be fed into the municipal grid in a processed form or can be converted into electricity via the combined heat and power plant. Urine is flushed into the denitrification reactor in the production hall, and then cleansed of other harmful substances in an activated carbon filter. The liquid product can be in turn used as a plant fertilizer. It contains important nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
We walk along the trail and step out of the thicket onto the road. We can then clearly see the bioshelter on the opposite side. Despite being the middle of winter, the greenish glow of diverse flora stands out in the relatively diffuse facade. Above-ground pipes span the street, disappearing into and behind the building. The bioshelter is supplied with thermal energy from the combined heat and power plant, and feeds biomass and fecal matter back into the biogas plant by way of the vacuum lines.
crossing the street, to the right: we discover a small pond with a rainwater-fed public shower that looms through its reed belt. We gaze to the left, on the south side of the elevated bioshelter. We pass through a forest of supports, tension cables, building services shafts and vegetation, light spilling into the weather-protected outdoor spaces. A constructed wetland located beneath the building filters graywater from the area.
"Let us imagine an enclosure of virtually any scale that lets sunlight into itself and that prevents heat from escaping when the interior microclimate is too cool. It also reflects sunlight, and it dumps heat out into the night sky when its interior is too warm. Let us further conceive that, within this enclosure, sufficient heat could be stored in the ground to provide several days’ worth, even if the sun did not shine. We would then have a system that would maintain a very stable interior microclimate without requiring mechanical heating or cooling. Let us then also imagine a building that is designed not only to provide shelter from the weather, but also to provide some food, fresh water, liquid and solid waste disposal, space heating and cooling, power for cooking and refrigeration and electricity for communications, lighting and household appliances."
Sean Wellesley-Miller and Day Chahroudi. "Bioshelter" Architecture Plus Nov/Dec 1974.
The wastewater enters a multi-chamber pit through pipes, where the coarse contents settle (these contents are not dissolved in the water). A feed pump irrigates a basin sealed with foil, filled with gravel and covered with reeds. Microbacteria, supplied with oxygen via the roots of the plants, enable the decomposition of carbon compounds and nitrogen. The filtered water is collected at the bottom of the basin and passes through a control shaft, which is monitored by the research station, into a fresh water pit, from which the water can be redistributed. We enter one of the stairways, and climb the single flight of stairs along the sloping facade.
The structure of the bioshelter is divided into distinct ring-shaped climatic zones that, by their different characteristics and tools, are able to maintain, produce and regulate a certain climate.
A greenhouse layer runs along the circumference of the property, which simultaneously represents the access, cultivation area and communal outdoor space for the residents, serves as a climatic filter zone. An external sunshade covers the façade during the summer and the accumulating heat can be dissipated through the vertical spatial connection. Plants and rainwater tanks that produce nutrient-rich water as aquaponics, additionally cool the greenhouse. At night, then, the storage mass of the water tanks releases heat energy into the immediate environment. Through worms’ metabolic processes, biomass is composted in so-called vermicultures, and converted into fertile soil and liquid fertilizer.
The courtyard and the elevation of the building create a natural draft, in which stale warm air rises to the top and cool fresh air is drawn in from below. The second climatic zone of common indoor spaces is only slightly insulated, and is largely determined by a higher activity and clothing of the inhabitants. Depending upon the time of day and the season, the communal living space can be partially or fully opened or closed to the greenhouse.
In winter, the perimeter buffer zone’s building envelope can be completely closed by a textile roof and curtains on the ground. The solar energy inputs compiled over the course of the day are held at night by thermal curtains and the large storage mass of the solid wood ceilings. An infrastructural layer in the center of the apartments accommodates all of the building's installations and functions as a climate-active furniture wall. In the winter months, the adjacent living spaces can be supplied with fresh air by means of natural ventilation through wind cowls. A heat exchange system located on the roof recovers energy and heats the fresh supply air, minimizing energy loss from ventilation amid colder temperatures. The furniture layer can be heated by the hot water from the combined heat and power plant and, similarly, by a tiled stove that provides comfortable temperatures inside of the living space. The third climate zone towards the inner courtyard consists of small chamber-like private rooms that can maintain a moderate climate all year round due to their technical equipment and their location within the building. Planters in front of the rooms function as private terraces and filter the view both in and out.
The concrete organization and formulation of the climatic interior should be left to the residents. Open apartment floor plans structured by thermal textiles, as well as rigid spaces created by lightly insulated building components, should be made possible according to people's needs. In the north, viewable here on the left in the picture, the outer filter zone opens up thermally lightly regulated communal areas, such as laundry rooms, drying rooms, playgrounds and meeting places. In the south, displayed on the right, unheated greenhouse areas can be rented out as vertical allotments to residents from the surrounding area.
We continue walking on the stone slabs, between which the moss is spreading, and even now from a distance we can see isolated scenes of the production hall spreading into the outside space. Boxes are loaded and unpacked; fruits and vegetables are sorted. The communal garden to the south of the production hall can also be utilized by the surrounding residents. The production hall provides the necessary tools and equipment, seeds and fertilizer. The garden is maintained as permaculture, a concept based chiefly upon closely observing and mimicking natural ecosystems and cycles. Unlike monocultures, biodiversity is supported through permaculture, while pesticide use is avoided and fertile soil is protected from erosion.
The flooring does not change upon entering the hall, as the overgrown stone slabs run lengthwise through the building. The sliding doors to the outside are raised, and the folding doors to the warehouse on the left and the processing room on the right are half open, which allows a pleasant fresh air to blow across the hall. The server towers protrude into the air spaces in the center of the hall. They heat up strongly when working and are cooled by a system of pipes with cold water from the fish tanks. The heated water is fed into the pipes of the algae farm, which requires an optimal water temperature of between 25 - 35 degrees Celsius for a productive photosynthesis process. The water and fish tanks supply nutrient-rich water to the plants on the two upper floors and return the return water back into the cycle.
Productive interrelationships between animal, human, and plant life are symbiotically linked in a way that creates a material cycle, one that is as closed as possible, conserves resources and produces as little waste as possible. A linear economy of mass production and mass consumption is, of course, at odds with planetary boundaries.
The air is warm and humid, yet still fresh. Plants that require a higher temperature, such as strawberries, basil and tomatoes, grow near the servers, and benefit from the waste heat. Lamb's lettuce, fennel and arugula, on the other hand, grow at lower temperatures, allowing the hall to generate produce year-round. The different areas are separated by transparent slatted curtains and sliding doors.
We walk to the end of the hallway, and take the last staircase to the top floor. Under the open roof and next to the bright green algae, which are evenly flushed with warm water through the glass photobioreactors, we sit down and gaze back at the tall trees in front of the hall. In addition to nutrient-rich water and heat, the algae need carbon dioxide and sunlight. In optimal conditions, they grow one kilogram per day and are harvested every two weeks throughout the summer. In a centrifuge, the algae are then concentrated into a paste or powder that can be processed into food.
We return to the first floor, this time passing by the fish tanks and getting something to eat in the cafeteria. We look for a place under the hall’s canopy and spot another measuring point in the distance, just in front of the fruit tree grove. To our left, the movement house is clearly visible. The textiles in the facade move slightly in the wind – a sort of carpet of different voices settles in the space between.
Standing in the shelter of the production hall, we look at a building where intervention and transformation are visible. The facade is sprayed and the relic of a hall typology. Features of the connection can be found in the vegetation and building fabric. The adoption of a filigree building skin via climbing plants allows for the perhaps otherwise generic hall to demonstrate specific qualities. A robust but pale textile provides shade in front of the facade.
From the ball field, we walk under the fabric and pass the existing facade, grasses and bushes, finally standing in the center of the hall. As a first intervention, a geothermal probe is placed. To this end, a borehole with a diameter of 32cm will be drilled 100 meters deep. At the upper end of this channel, a heat pump will be installed. While, in the beginning, the extraction power was less to heat only the winter market, now new public life has become organized. A dance room and a city bath form the new core. Music is playing in the dance room, but we can easily walk past it all the way to the top. The open roof can be reached by way of several paths. Beyond the selective intervention, holes are also sawn into the concrete slabs to bring hidden seeds to the surface. People take samples.
The link to soil is not only crucial to understanding the self-awareness of buildings in their appropriation of ecosystems. The Movement House draws upon a subsurface flow of energy and synergies defined by groundwater inflow, geothermal depth levels and anthropocene surface impacts. In comparably densely populated areas in Berlin, the anthropocene influence of sealed surfaces, long-distance heating lines and subways on the ground creates a temperature difference of 3 degrees. The Movement House draws upon the sustainably skimmable energies, and guarantees the integrity of the resource. The Movement House views itself as an integral part of subterranean mechanisms that shape the analogous structures above the ground.
The public structures that form in the movement house can draw upon two space-defining elements: the technology and the filter. While the technology, in its design, always makes a statement about the adjacent spaces, neighboring uses or agreed upon possibilities, the filter layers – under these circumstances – allow us to understand and shape relationships between temperature, noise, light, time and activity in novel ways.
We leave the movement house to walk toward the station. Plants grow out from between the narrow grates. Some of them have been trampled flat, but then grow in a staggered manner even higher. In the back, near the heat pump, there is even room for a tree. Some water still drips from the roof into the space between. The zone is formed as a biophilic in-between space by opening doors, plants, incidence of light and the distribution of energy and people. The public is to be provided with a unique infrastructure, whose responsibilities arise in a collectively conscious way.
To enable a diversity of biological and human life forms and their coequal, communal existence, it is necessary to limit the extent of human design of the environment. This refers to the overall network, in which humans and nature form space. In the differentiated separation and attentive connection, all of the life forms within the ecosystem have the opportunity to form both formally and informally, constructed and adaptive.
We are on a now-overgrown wasteland at a measuring station, which examines here the effects of the overgrowth on the microclimate, and is accepted as a small place to stay.
The measuring stations, which were set up with a distance of 50 meters from each other across the area, can be equipped with location-specific measuring instruments. What they have in common are instruments that measure the nutrient content in the soil in the Spree region, the soil temperature and the energy potential of the soil, the chemical composition of the air and its temperature and humidity, as well as wind direction and wind speed. These data, collected over a wide area, provide useful information about the interactions between micro and macro climate in an urban ecosystem. Of particular interest here is the understanding of the climate-dependent mass transfer between the soil, the water and the atmosphere. In order to investigate these interdependencies, three 15-meter-high stations were built, which collect data for the Eddie covariance analysis at a staggered height of two meters with the help of infrared anenometers.
We can already see the structure where the data are collected and analyzed.
The continuous production of space, the becoming and decaying, the metabolism of the constructed ecosystem should all be observed in the long-term and remain changeable.
With a network of research facilities and spaces for wild experimentation, an accountability for place, beyond the classical temporal scale of erecting architecture, has been laid out.
The researchers' involvement in the place connects them to other researchers around the world, who, in turn, gain detailed knowledge about specific places on Earth. The servers in the production hall are part of a Terrestrial Data Network.
So now, if we step through the slatted curtain into the interior of the structure, we find rooms in the old warehouse on the ground floor that allow for one to directly, physically work with the site. Here you will find a workshop, an equipment rental and a large warehouse. Above, one will find a microbiology laboratory and clerical workstations. If we climb up to the roof, we will be in a greenhouse, where plants are grown for laboratory work.
The structure creates areas with different climatic conditions. In the laboratory, the indoor climate can be regulated independently of the climate in the actual environment. It is sterile and has mechanical ventilation and workstations with exhaust systems. The old warehouse remains simply glazed, and is subject to the climatic fluctuations of the envelopes surrounding them. The concrete structure represents a storage mass for the more general, entire structure.
Laboratories and warehouses are enclosed in a space framework that enables thermal regulation. The inner envelope is double-glazed. The outer shell consists of a transparent foil in the area of the facades, and textile sheets as sun protection above the roof. On the ground floor, both envelopes arrive as transparent louvre curtains that can be fully opened. This creates a climatic zone that is unheated, but that regulates the external climatic fluctuations, so that moderate temperatures can be produced.
The researchers who work here can use the facilities to carry out their own research, on the one condition that they also devote themselves to the tasks of exploration and enrichment of the area. Workstations can also be rented out to outsiders.
Planting tables and writing workstations are arranged around the laboratories. Here, there is a lounge area, and another area where plants can be repotted and worked on.
We look into the zone between the laboratories and the outer shells. Smaller areas here can be additionally climatically insulated with the help of aluminum-coated curtains. We can still see certain traces of the work that has recently been done.
We can be here, even if we are uninvited. This place is freely accessible to anyone who wants to slip through the slats. It is not just a climatic intermediate zone.