Exploring the world's built environments and seeking sustainable solutions.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Comparison of Rieselfeld and Vauban

Vauban and Rieselfeld are new districts of the City of Freiburg, Germany. As of 2008 there are 6,500 residents in Rieselfeld compared to the 5,000 residents in Vauban. Both districts were planned to be sustainable urban developments along tramlines. Despite their similarities it is amazing how site locations and decisions made during the planning resulted in two very different developments.

Rieselfeld felt underdeveloped despite having a higher density than Vauban. There are several explanations for this. Rieselfeld has a past as a sewage leach field. For this reason, there were no existing trees and hence all vegetation is new and almost insignificant in comparison to the built structures. It is anticipated that once the trees mature they will fill many of the currently vacant feeling areas. Less pedestrian oriented, Rieselfeld is too large to be a comfortable human scale. Over the next two years approx 1,000 more units will be added, so the additional units might ultimately change the feeling of the space.

Vauban is a former military area for the Nazi and then French army. Much of the existing vegetation, including mature trees, has been preserved and the residents have been proactive about planting. Even the main street along which the tram line runs is carpeted with grass. The grass provides a practical solution for reducing up to 50 percent of the noise from the tram line. The result is a lushly vegetated district.

A Rieselfeld generic and homogeneous architecture has led to a sterile environment. A primary reason that Vauban is characterized by more diverse spaces and architecture is because of what Germans refer to as “construction groups.” Construction groups offer an alternative to standard developments. Babette Köhler, the Director of Urban Development for the City of Freiburg, explains construction groups as follows. If a group wants to develop they make a contract between each other and then present themselves to the city to request a site. Such groups get priority and the city tries to meet any special needs they might have. After the land is purchased from the city they are free to build. At Rieselfeld the buildings are 20 percent construction groups and 80 percent developer based versus the reverse at Vauban. A comparison of Vauban and Rieselfeld shows how construction group based housing can lead to a more architecturally diverse district.

The disadvantage to construction groups is apparent in terms of social housing. When developers build social housing, they get financial support from the city. Construction groups are less likely to incorporate social housing. There is about 10 percent social housing in Rieselfeld and less in Vauban.

At Rieselfeld there are a lot of parking under structures. It is required that there be one parking spot per household according to the residential contract. At Vauban, the contract was written so that 40 percent of people agreed not to have cars, and so no parking had to be built for them. These Vauban residents were possibly motivated by the $40,000 cost of buying a parking space.

It is apparent that there are many young families in both districts. Green space and reduction of car traffic has lead to children appropriating more areas as play space. As one Rieselfeld mother commented, parents feel safe letting their kids run around. Both had swales for storm water management. According to Wulf Dasseking, the Planning Director of Freiberg, the primary motivation for on site infiltration is to reduce flooding in local creeks. Both districts have standards for energy consumption with a focus on energy savings. Both developments provide a refreshing alternative to standard suburban developments.



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