WIT Press

Space As A Resource: West Berlin’s Impossible Sites


Free (open access)





Page Range

251 - 261




531 kb

Paper DOI



WIT Press


V. M. Carlow


Because of its containment by the Wall during the years 1961–1990, West Berlin experienced a strict limitation on its physical boundary. This condition, plus the transition from an industrial to a service-oriented economy characteristic of this period, gave rise to a particular experimental urban culture. Based on an attitude of treating space as a scarce resource, this culture led to the opening of sites with very difficult conditions for development, for example those close to major infrastructural arteries. This paper examines these “impossible” sites – sites, which under conventional circumstances would have been considered too difficult or unmanageable for development, but which in West Berlin were used for development of various kinds. Presented as case studies, these sites reveal experimentation with mix of functions, formal architectural language, public space typologies, and technical strategies to deal with adverse environmental hazards, such as noise and air pollution. In addition, innovation in urban policies, such as the International Building Exhibition program, also emerged. While cities today may not face the particular conditions as faced by West Berlin during its period of containment, space is indeed increasingly scarce in rapidly urbanizing regions, and a shift in attitudes and thinking about urban space is critical for sustainable development and planning. The case of West Berlin offers important lessons on how users and policies can adapt creatively to conditions of scarce space. The paper concludes with hypotheses about opening up as yet “impossible” sites for development in other contexts, and how challenges in accessibility and perception could be overcome to make these spaces “productive.”


West Berlin, urban culture, urban development, urban policies, space as resource, density, sustainable development, sustainable planning