Investment in a problem district – eight new sites for the white estate in Neukölln

By Birgit Funke, bwgt e.V.

Investment in a problem district – eight new sites for the white estate in Neukölln

The white estate is situated in the north of the Berlin Neukölln district. More than 4,000 people live here, over 60% of whom receive welfare benefits, and over 70% have a migrant background. A large proportion of the children are affected by child poverty.

The estate is characterised by two strips of buildings opposing one another that date back to the 70s, with eighteen-story white high-rise buildings that starkly jut into the skyline against the backdrop of the urban fabric, buildings from whose colour the estate takes its name. The generally very open green structures with numerous play areas and ball sport pitches, as well as outdoor rest areas, form the spine of the estate. Within the framework of the redesign of play and open areas, the enhancement of the district began in 2012. The steps were delivered through the Social Town programme.



The first step taken was the creation of a concept for the 12 play and open areas. High usage areas and target groups were identified. This concept formed the basis for the participation and the planning.



During a launch event, residents were invited to put forward ideas for the individual playgrounds and open areas, as well as to formulate more general requests. To this end, posters with pictures of the various sites were prepared so that ideas could be assigned to the relevant presentation and recorded. In addition, various surveys were carried out in the play areas themselves, and in adjacent local amenities. Aside from the core desires for specific play and exercise opportunities (trampoline, climbing, swinging, wheel sports, water play, etc.) many parents asked for one thing in particular – the chance to sit and pass the time in these areas.

In particular, those groups who up until now had not really been taken into account as far as the existing area was concerned, enjoyed separate participation procedures. For the ‘siblings’ playground’ a small ideas workshop was organised for the girls living in the estate. Apart from taking note of the wishes for various play elements, the design possibilities were discussed and recorded here. For the young adults there was a participation workshop with model making for the ‘Bunker’ site (unfortunately the bunker redesign could not be realised in the end).


Entrance area and multi-generation square

With the funds from the Stadtumbau West programme the entrance area to the Sonnenallee and the neighbouring path in the direction of Aronsstraße were both renewed and upgraded with bicycle stands, lighting, and seating areas along the route.

The popular and highly frequented area between residential buildings on one side and the youth club and the neighbourhood club on the other side was transformed into a multi-generation square with various rest, meeting, play and sport opportunities.


Dieselstraße play area

The existing play elements such as sand play areas, swings and a ball game pitch were retained and, on the basis of the requests made, were complemented with a ribbon of new play elements such as wooden podiums, a trampoline and balancing opportunities.


Central playground                     

The central playground is used as a ‘home from home’ for many residents and their children. During the summer they come in groups to sit, picnic and watch their children play. The design which was implemented keeps this firmly in mind. The fundamental design concept for the playground in the heart of the estate is the arrangement of the various applications in individual settings and areas. The settings fulfil two purposes: on the one hand they incorporate the respective play and exercise opportunities in the inner area, and on the other, the wide area borders provide an additional exercise, design and rest area. By having the different areas overlap one another, junctions are created which, in turn, offer room to play. The ‘active borders’ have been created using differing floor coverings (light and dark stone, wood) with the end product being a dynamic interplay of shapes stemming from the materials used and location of the surfaces.

The playground consists of, in total, six areas of differing sizes. Two of these are for children under the age of three; three have been designed for children over the age of three. The sixth and final area stretches across the neighbouring football pitch, creating a path for various wheel sports. The smaller children can enjoy varied play and exercise opportunities thanks to a mini bird nest swing, boulders and a wooden play device. The older children are invited to play with the roundabout, climbing frame, bird nest swing and balancing beams.

Areas that were previously used to pass the time were able to be retained in the form of wire mesh seating banks, supplemented with concrete blocks, which could now be used not only for seating, but also as tables or simply something to jump over. The goal here was to strengthen the sense of community by enabling people to have a seat and a rest.

The location of the areas was decided after taking into consideration the continued existence of the old foundations. So, for example, the toddlers’ area is in the exact same spot as it was before.

As per the wishes of many parents, the previously dense vegetation that characterised the playground was removed, in order to create a universally clear view of the entire area.

It was possible, however, to integrate individual trees into the space.


Siblings’ playground

The existing toddlers’ playground with a sand play area, a small slide and climb combination structure, and a double swing located directly opposite the area was preserved, with the exception of the swing. The concept for this site was designed with the many girls who move through the estate with their siblings in mind. While the younger brothers and sisters play in the sand, the older girls could have fun in the more age appropriate neighbouring play area. The location that previously housed the swing has been furnished with a table tennis table, a wooden podium, a small ball play area and hammocks. The colourful design is particularly eye-catching: by using artificial grass as well as beams and hammocks in pink, the target group is very clear, and the wishes they expressed during the initial participation programme have been included.


Large ball sports field

The ball sports field on Aronsstraße had been improved with the addition of a new artificial surface and new line markings. New goals and basketball hoops invite you to come in and play. Four small goals have been installed to allow for parallel play across the breadth of the field, while the two large goals mean that anyone can have a classic kick about across the full pitch. Its blue colouring illuminates the square behind the trees and welcomes the residents at the entrance to the estate.

bwgt e.V. was commissioned to plan the playgrounds in the northern quarter. The landscape planning consultants LA.BAR were responsible for the planning of the areas in the southern quarter (multi-generation square, entrance square).


Photo: bwgt e.V.

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