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17.08.2020 - Ausgabe: 4/2020

From the computer hall to the "Abacus": An urban square for games, sports and recreation in the heart of the city of Potsdam

By Stefan Reimann, German Ltd. Hutterreimann Landschaftsarchitektur

©Christo Libuda (Lichtschwärmer)

The plantation is one of three green, tree-lined city squares in Potsdam's inner city laid out in the 18th century and representing an essential element of the historical city layout. The originally swampy ground was first used as a mulberry plantation from the 18th century onwards. In the course of the baroque expansion of the city, the area housed facilities for both the court and the military (mews, horse stables, riding hall, horse hospital, garrison church and parade ground). The structure of this area was characterised by narrow cross roads and diagonal paths and lined by linden trees. In 1850, the plantation was converted into a spacious green area according to the plans of Peter Joseph Lenné, the great garden artist and general garden director of the Royal Prussian Gardens. However, one spacious parade ground situated in the centre of the square and framed by rows of linden trees, remained free. 

It was the turning point of the 2nd World War which led to the destruction of the square and the buildings framing it to the east, including the Garrison Church. At the end of the 1960s the remains of the church were blown up, and a data processing centre (computer hall) was subsequently built in prefabricated construction. The use is now being relocated, the building demolished. The open spaces were destroyed and reshaped and are today in an overexploited and neglected state.

The adjoining urban quarter and the plantation in the middle / at the intersection is now to be developed as an inner-city residential and working quarter in accordance with the redevelopment goals of the city of Potsdam. In this context, the east side perimeter development, the so-called "Lange Stall", will be rebuilt on the basis of a new interpretation of its historical location. In 2016, the German ProPotsdam Ltd launched a landscape architecture competition for the redesign of the square with the task of developing a representative, inner-city recreation area which should provide a high quality of stay. In addition, the adjacent Max-Dortu primary school site should be provided with essential school sports and exercise offers for the leisure time. The process was accompanied by an extensive participation of children and young people. Under the guidance of the Brandenburg artist Hans-Ulrich Kittelmann, insect hotels, sound trees and coloured wooden sculptures were created to provide the square with spot illumination.

In the design concept developed by Berlin-based landscape architects Hutterreiman Landschaftsarchitektur, the element of the double frame of lawns and rows of trees is taken up following Lenné's 19th century plans. According to the urban planning guidelines, there is a parallel shift between the city canal in the west and the long stable building in the east, just as it was in the past, but now playfully broken up by two inconsistent frames. The result is an interconnection between in and outside, the place itself and its surrounding space. 

The historic tree lining (linden trees) was preserved and supplemented. Other valuable existing trees (such as poplars, tree of the gods, elms, plane trees and especially the so-called "Lenné plane tree, a relic from the 18th century) could be freely arranged and integrated into the design concept. Long concrete seating elements accentuate the frames and invite the visitors to stay and have a rest in the light shade of the trees. 

The green frame formed by trees, shrubs, perennials and lawns encloses the square on all sides by forming both a calm, transparent spacer from road traffic to the west and north, while at the same time serving as a green buffer between the new residential development and the frequently used square to the east. The second frame, made of high-quality asphalt, also functions as a circular park path. In addition, it accommodates the 100-metre track for school sports and serves as a 400-metre circular track. Long concrete seating elements highlight the relevant framing.

In the protected interior, a spacious multifunctional landscape made of coloured plastic (EPDM) provides room for both numerous types of school and leisure sports and games.

A small pitch for football, handball, basketball, volleyball, streetball etc., a long jump facility, table tennis tables placed beside, a trampoline track, and much more. These plane surfaces are supplemented by identically coloured, modelled sub areas for BMX, roller skates, running and cycling, scating as well as informal play. Water-bound path surfaces in the area of the tree population allow playing petanque.

It is in the centre of the course where the sand play area and the playground are located, the latter having been designed especially for the plantation by playroom designer Tilman Stachat (Spiel-Ahoi). The former computer hall was the name and theme giver. Thus, a playground was developed which reminds of simple mathematical symbols and the old, so-called "Abakus" calculating machine. A square grid of 1.25 x 1.25 metres forms the basis for the constructional elements over an area of approx. 200 square metres. Steel columns at a height of 2-3 metres are placed at the crossing points combined with horizontally mounted connecting timbers at different heights. Sliding, oversized balls, handholds, ropes and climbing poles are integrated into this construction and provide climbing possibilities for different requirements such as moving hand over hand, balancing at different degrees of difficulty, climbing on nets and swings with a nest swing. Large coloured cubes (dimensions in the same grid of 1.25 x 1.25 x 1.25) are mounted in the grid of the steel columns providing both design accents and small rooms to play hide and seek or where to have a rest. Regarding the movement game, the children can choose cube-by-cube where to start or to finish. 

A soundplay of six swinging steel tubes is mounted on one of the horizontal timbers and also represents a further climbing element.

The 4.5-metre-high slide tower with tunnel slide constructed from three (apparently) stacked cubes is situated symbolically in the midst of the play landscape and offers sliding fun for both young and old. 

The eastern half of the plantation is going to be modelled as a slightly inclined lawn with a gymnastics lawn and a framing embankment planted with perennials serving as a boundary to the access road called "An der Plantage". In memory of the former mulberry plantation, the "Small Plantation" will be created on the lawn area with a screened grove of solitary trees with particularly beautiful seasonal aspects, such as flower, fruit or leaf decorations, including mulberries, in memory of the original land use of this area. 

The meadow cushions, consisting of softly figured concrete elements for limbering up, invite the visitors to relax. This area creates a cheerful garden atmosphere, a contemplative open space in the midst of the light canopy of the mixed grove of trees.

Along the west side of the square and in the front yards of the new housing development, flowering shrub beds link the two areas, bring the plantation closer to the new quarter and thus bridge the necessary access road made of historic small stone paving. 

The entire square is designed in a barrier-free way. Here a wide range of different types of stay is offered, meeting all wishes for communication, privacy, comfort and functionality.

Here, in the heart of the state capital, a historically significant, representative town square in the monument area has been enriched by a wide range of formal and informal play, leisure and school sports options. At this place, both peace and physical activity meet directly and thus create an exciting, cross-generational coexistence.

The variety of uses and meanings of the location between silence and dynamics, between residence and representation, communication and contemplation, games, sports and leisure activities for young and old offers both an enormous density of functions in a small space and an expression of urban quality of life, in the coexistence and interaction of differentiated demands, a novelty and experiment for the city of Potsdam. History and future meet in the here and now where a multi-coded urban space unfolds itself.  


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