“150 New Businesses in 2 Years”

CASE STUDY: Neukölln, Berlin, Germany

An interview with Stefanie Raab architect and owner of Coopolis. In this case study Raab will tell you something about Neukölln, a district of West Berlin. West Berlin was during the Cold War desolated, but came attractive for residents when the government offered men the opportunity to move there if they wanted to avoid enlisting in the army. But when the wall fell the number of inhabitants didn’t grow and the neighborhood was filled with empty space. Raab lives in the northern part of Neukölln and saw the potential of the empty ground floor shops. But a challenge was to convince local entrepreneurs to invest in the poor neighborhood. By explaining it’s solutions and secrets the reader gets insight in the improvement of Neukölln through a course of time.

“In our shop vacancy projects, we are committed to new forms of cooperation between owners and space seekers to develop the site as needed for a stabile and sustainable future.”

Click here to read and download this article

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“Lese Cafe” in the Nogatstraße 30, Neukölln, Berlin by Stefanie Raab (2009)
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“Kaffeebar” in the Siegfriedstraße, Neukölln, Berlin by Stefanie Raab (2012)
Cover image: “Weinladen & Weinseminare” in the  Jonasstraße, Neukölln, Berlin by Stefanie Raab (2012)

“The Festival of Empty Shops in Budapest”

An article written by Levente Polyák, urban planner and researcher in Budapest and founding member of KÉK. KÉK is the Hungarian Contemporary Architecture Centre (an NGO focusing on urbanism, architecture and design). KÉK began in 2005, when a group of architects, urbanists, journalists and artists, decided to launch a space for discussing architecture and the city. The group fortuitously gained access to a former warehouse in the backyard of a museum. The warehouse, in the vicinity of Budapest’s relatively central but reasonably infamous Keleti railway station, was in bad shape. Unused for decades and tagged with Soviet graffiti, it needed significant improvements to accommodate events and the public.

“Addressing the possibilities of larger buildings, as well as smaller, distributed spaces, the cautious drafting of rental contracts and the careful organization of renovation and maintenance activities turned out to be key elements in the sustainability of the accommodated initiatives.”

Click here to read and download this article

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The Festival of Open Shops, Budapest Hungary ©Daniel Dorko
Cover image: Coorperative planning workshop at Nyugati Ground ©István Keresztes

“Using Temporary Vancancy for a Permanent Boost”

An article written by Willemijn de Boer, owner of ANNA Vastgoed en Cultuur, and Jeroen Laven, partner at STIPO. An empty building is a lifeless place in the city and has a negative effect on the surrounding area. Without human energy and creativity, these locations do not fruitfully contribute to the community. Good plinths, as the most visible part of the building, should be a priority to really contribute to the overall experience of the street. If done well and with the right partners, managing vacancy through temporary use is a strategic way to bring the right function to the right space. But what is vacancy management and how does it work?

“There is no reason to design a building for a project: the process of putting the building into use is the project. Within such a context, how can an independent artist, designer, performer, researcher, or scientist use a vacant space? A building consists of different aspects. (…) The context creates an environment where people, visions, and manifestations connect, even if at first sight they had nothing in common.”

Click here to read and download this article

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Fris projecten, Zaagmolendrift Tussentijd Rotterdam
Cover image: Tussentijd Rotterdam,  Jonker Fransstraat Rotterdam ©Sober Industries

“Dublin After the Boom-and-Bust”

An article in the book written by Ciarán Cuffe is an architect and city councilor in Dublin. Dublin’s development has been like a rollercoaster ride over the last few decades. In the 1980s, the city centre’s urban fabric was damaged by old-fashioned thinking that promoted road schemes and the destruction of historic buildings. They feared that Dublin would become a doughnut city like cities in the United States. Then along came the ‘Celtic Tiger’.

Cuffe writes about the change in Dublin, gives inspiring examples and about the opportunities in the city.

“With a growing urban sensibility, it may be easier to argue for urban realm improvements. European initiatives to tackle urban noise, air pollution and carbon emissions allow civic leaders to argue the case for better pedestrians and cyclist infrastructure.”

Click here to read and download this article

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Tempory Granby Park on lands awaiting redevelopment in Dublin City Centre

“In the Meanwhile”

An article from our book by Emily Berwyn, director of London-based company Meanwhile Space. In 2009, the recession was beginning to hit hard in the UK; businesses were going under, developments stalled, high streets were declining and unemployment was soaring. We noticed that vacant property and lapsed developments were a missed opportunity in the ‘meanwhile’, and it was almost impossible to access these spaces. The abundance of empty properties compound the decline of high streets (also called main streets), yet local people who need space to develop new business ideas and innovative uses for high-street spaces are excluded by the archaic property industry. It seemed to us that there was a great opportunity here—if only we could get hold of the space!

“Our vision for an ideal ground floor is one where vacant space does not exist; that vacant periods are foreseen and ‘curated’ to give people a chance to test an idea, in a highly visible, low risk and affordable way, even for a few weeks or months. This requires a transparency of ownership, a flexible approach to bureaucracies, and a central point all the knowledge on an area so it is easily accessible.”

Click here to read and download this article

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BEFORE: Queens Parade, Willesden Green London UK ©Mike Massaro
p260b 71-5. Queens Parade, Willesden Green AFTER London UK - CREDIT Mike Massaro
AFTEr: Queens Parade, Willesden Green London UK ©Mike Massaro
Cover picture: Cottrell House, Wembley London UK ©Dostofos



A walk though Kreuzberg | Berlin at eye level

After dividing into smaller groups, to tackle this city more efficiently, we met up with Cordelia Polinna from Think Berlin. We stopped at Suppengroen for a quick, delicious vegetarian lunch, and then headed to the Spreefeld project.


The Spree is a very interesting collaborative project, essentially a cooperative building for mixed uses. They have dedicated their ground level as public and semi-public space, and all the residents help fund the ground floor–both the building and programming.  Maybe on our next trip to Berlin, we’ll see the finished product!



Our next stop was the Markthalle. This old market hall, built in the 1890s, was left abandoned and finally restored a couple years ago. An initiative among the locals kept the market just that way: local. Now it is filled with produce stands and local vendors, like bakers and chefs. They also hold weekend events and it’s a very lively atmosphere.

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Continuing on our walking tour, our next stop was the Karl-Marx-Strasse in the heart of Neukolln. We were going to see the Klunkerkranich project, but we first had to find the shopping mall. Klunker was at the top of it.

How could we miss it? It was quite massive, and terribly out of place on this rather local commercial street. Cordelia explained to us that the street has always been problematic for commercial uses: lots of vacancy, no charm, lots of traffic. The super-sized mall was supposed to be a miracle solution and would bring new people into the area. It didn’t. Moreover, one of the greatest resources, especially for the surrounding lower-income community, was hidden away on the 3rd floor of the mall: the public library. You can barely see the vertically-oriented sign that reads “Bibliotheck” in small letters. Not surprisingly, the library is largely underused.



Despite the downsides, the real treat was the top floor of this massive mall. You exit the elevator, thinking you’re still in a parking garage, walk around the corner and up the ramp, and then you reach the small paradise of the Klunkerkranich and Farbfelder projects. A community project completed by a group of about 500 people and about €100.000, it is an urban farm, music venue, and cafe/bar. We spoke with the founder, a young guy wearing baggy pants,  a hoodie, and long dreads. He was very casual about the project–“we just asked the mall, who asked the parking garage company, who asked the real estate company and then got together about 500 people and built it.” The main challenge has been the contract with the real estate company.  A one-year contract makes it a difficult decision to invest in things like proper irrigation for the farm. But they are taking things one step at a time.

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A walk through Mitte | Berlin at eye level

Along with AIR Foundation and the City of Rotterdam, we lead a group of 40 urban planners, architects, and real estate professionals to Berlin. We were on a mission to see the city’s best examples of temporary use, cooperatives, collaborations, and revitalization projects. Of course we were also interested in the plinths, and the city at eye level.

Our first full day started with a tour by Dutch local, Vincent Kompier. He lead us through Mitte and over to the Department of Urban Planning. We saw a great diversity of streetscape: construction zones, quiet semi-public courtyards, large historic open spaces, formal gathering areas, various commercials scales, and river front residential.

From our first observations and first walk through the city, it was very clear that Berliners prioritize community, art, and the city’s history in the way they produce their cityscape. Each is demonstrated in their own, Berlin way, and they overlap as well.

Mitte is the center of Berlin, but also a diverse and bohemian neighborhood. Lively, organic, bursting with energy. It can also be quiet and reserved. These dichotomous themes were visible throughout the whole study trip.

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Plinths in ZoHo {part 3}

The Zomerhofkwartier, Rotterdam

This is the final part of the ZoHo plinth trilogy–but by no means is it the end of the story. So far we’ve discussed the historical context of the neighborhood, the challenges surrounding plinths, the assets in the area, and the plinth strategy. Now we are on to the solution and results.

Multi-layered solution

Strategically re-activate the plinths using innovative and creative tools such as temporary use and incubator strategy is a main tactic. The partners focus on quality over quantity, experiment, and taking calculated risks. We default towards an organic development and placemaking process, underlining the neighborhood’s industrial and “maker’s” origins.

Key players

The two main players in the project are Havensteder, as the developer, and Stipo, as the urban strategist, advisor, and network purveyor. Many tertiary parties are involved in the project, both within and extending beyond the neighborhood boundaries. These parties include the municipality and local/neighboring art, urban, and cultural organizations.

Outcomes of the plinth strategy

Meetings among the partners and various others in the network slowly determined a set of values for the ZoHo project that focused on preserving the industrial character and manufacturing uses of the neighborhood, support businesses that promote local production of goods and services, and fostering creativity, openmindedness, collaboration, and flexibility.

Through no outside funding sources nor advertising, we have a growing list of over 300 diverse parties that have shown keen interest in relocating to ZoHo, on a temporary and permanent basis. By the summer 2013 the partners have successfully found two new major, high-quality tenants for the ground floor, securing over 1,000m2 of space in 2 out of the 5 buildings, of which a majority is public or semi-public space. We worked closely with the new tenants to encourage the hardware objectives listed in the previous post.

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Above: before and after temporary use plinth strategy


To continue momentum and build an identity for the neighborhood, branding and communication is a necessary step to take. Complementing the ZoHo brand identity, the partners will organize an on-going marketing campaign. Events, festivals, meetings, etc, will be held in the neighborhood, all high-lighting its capacity as a “Makers Quarter.”

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Roodkapje, a Rotterdam-based cultural and music venue secured over 600m2 and brought 2.000+ people to their opening party.

For more information on the ZoHo project please see http://www.zomerhofstraat76-90.com.


Plinths in ZoHo {part 2}

The Zomerhofkwartier, Rotterdam

ZoHo is a small neighborhood just north of Rotterdam Central Station. It’s an edge neighborhood. There’s not a whole lot to do here (yet). And in terms of the plinths–they’re just awful.  The area suffers from vacancy, poor neighborhood image, low performing real estate, inactive plinths. The plinths in particular suffer from:

  • Lack of landmarks or anchors
  • Few places to meet and gather
  • No clear way-finding or signage
  • Discontinuous and/or unsafe plinths
  • No public functions
  • Closed-off, hard corners
  • Lack of eyes on the streets, especially at night
  • Dominating, single-use office space

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Even though ZoHo has terrible plinths, the neighborhood and its surrounding has an incredible amount of assets, an important part of any analysis.

Key assets: Though many of the key assets, as in institutions, organizations, and popular initiatives lay on the borders of the Zomerhofkwartier, the neighborhood also has a lot going for it already. Some of these include:

  • Young, creative, diverse students walking in and around the Zomerhofkwartier from neighborhood educational facilities
  • Two major bicycle routes moving non-motorized traffic through
  • Existing gathering places, at the edges of the neighborhood
  • High quality social and neighborhood capital, including creative industries, makers, schools, and cultural initiatives
  • Popular initiatives nearby that highlight user-based, DIY, crowd-funded urbanism

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Components of the plinth strategy: By systematically assessing each street in the ZoHo and combining the networks of the partners, we were able to identify priorities in each of the softwarehardware, and orgware components for the plinth strategy.

Software priorities included maximum use corners of buildings and the ground level for public functions; a solid mix food, fashion, design typologies; and maintain the local ‘maker’ and light industry uses.

Hardware objectives included using maximum transparency; maintain buildings as non-specific, multi-purpose, flexible; maximum use of hybrid zone.

Orgware objectives included continual updates and communication of lead Zoho partners; high quality maintenance of public functions and programming; presence of holistic ‘street logic’.

The next section, part 3, will focus on the strategy and outcomes.

For more information on the ZoHo project please see http://www.zomerhofstraat76-90.com.