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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Flussbad in Berlin, Germany by realities:united

April 11th, 2012 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: realities:united

The goal of the Flussbad project is the permanent transformation of a 1.5-km stretch of river in Berlin’s historic center that has gone unused for more than 100 years.

The lower section of the course of the river, currently channeled as a canal, will be made into a space accessible to the public via two broad shoreline stairways at the Lustgarten and the Schlossplatz. The design alterations in this sensitive city-planning area, part of which belongs to the “Museum Island”, a UNESCO world cultural heritage site, are restricted to a minimum.

Perspective (Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture)

  • Architect: realities:united
  • Name of Project: Flussbad
  • Location: Kupfergraben, Berlin, Germany
  • Type: Urban renewal and swimming-pool precinct, Berlin, Germany
  • Client: Kunst & Technik e.V.
  • All drawings/renderings: realities:united, studio for art and architecture

Perspective (Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture)

  • Year: 2020
  • Status: Unrealized
  • Project category: Architecture, urban design
  • Work performed: Artistic & technical concept, design, planning
  • Project team: Tim Edler, Jan Edler, Denise Dih, Kai Dolata, Erik Levander, Wolfgang Metschan, Daniel Mock, Carmen Reina
  • Consultants: Anna Lundquist & Christian Bohne/ Man Made Land, Berlin, Germany (Landscape Design); Heiko Sieker/ Ingenieurgesellschaft Prof. Dr. Sieker, Hoppegarten, Germany (Hydraulic Engineering)
  • Geographical coordinates: 52.518719°, 13.397942°

IsometricDraw of Section A (Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture)

In the former canal in the middle of these historical environs, a new site will be created for sitting, watching, and relaxing. And for swimming.

These stairways provide access to a natural swimming pool 745 meters long, for the water flowing through this arm of the river has bathing water quality. A functional changing facility with lockers serving the practical needs of swimmers is invisibly integrated in the unused lower storey of the former Kaiser Monument.

The filtered water comes from the upper reaches of this section of the river, which lies about 1.2 meters higher than the pool. There, on a stretch 390m meters long, a 7.200m2 constructed wetland is inserted into the canal profile to purify the running water in a natural way. The 640-meter uppermost section of the river that continues from there will be renaturized. To this end, the northern shore wall will be completely removed and the course of the river gently widened into the grounds of the Fischerinsel. As an auxiliary purpose, this section serves as an inner city green area and preliminary water purifier. The actual main purpose of this side arm of the river is as a wildlife refuge, to support the resettling of riparian flora and fauna in the channeled main arm of the Spree River in Berlin’s urban area.

IsometricDraw of Section B (Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture)


1.    Outdoor stairway
Two stairways, 120 and 75 m in length, cut into the eastern side of the  existing canal wall.

2.    Changing rooms
Surface ca. 400 m2. Lockers, showers, and changing rooms. Access to the water is possible within the area shielded from public view.

3.    End weir
The end weir regulates the outflow from the swimming pool into the main arm of the Spree and prevents the reverse flow of water into the swimming pool, which is dammed 5 cm higher.

4.    Flood canal (bypass) and rescue jetty
Any overflow from the mixed wastewater system (-> Planet) in the project area will be drained via a separated bypass about 2-3 m wide along the western shore wall. The bypass opens into the main arm of the Spree at the northern tip of the island. The upper side of the bypass is designed as a wharf and serves as a strolling path on the level of the river and if necessary as a rescue jetty. In the area of the Schloss Bridge, the jetty will be widened and, together with 2 broad access stairways, will also serve as a pedestrian underpass under the street Unter den Linden. If the water of the Spree rises higher than the highest mark of the last 20 years, the bypass serves as a spillway channel to regulate the level of water in the arms of the Spree along the island’s shore.

5.    Filter basin
The filter basin consists of a gravel filter ca. 0.8 m thick, covered by an average of about 0.5 m of water. The filter has a capacity of ca. 0.5m3/second and is able to purify inflowing impure river water to the quality of drinking water. The filtered water is collected and led away through drainage pipes below the sand packing. The upper side is planted everywhere with various marsh, shallow-water, and deep-water plants.
In rare extreme high water situations (as occur on average every 50 years), the end weir can be used to lower the level of the main arm of the Spree.

Section B (Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture)

Environmental quality and resource efficiency

Two essential resources are at the center of this project: public space and water.

  • The focus in respect to space is on optimizing and concentrating the use of and access to inner city spaces.­­­­
  • In regard to water, the aim is primarily to reduce the deleterious influence of civilization on the river as an ecosystem.
    The latter involves substantial problems; in Berlin, the greatest single problem of water pollution results from the outmoded mixed wastewater system in Berlin’s inner city districts. This system overflows after heavy rainfall up to 30 times a year. Each time, this means the influx of large amounts of unpurified wastewater directly into the Spree River, which is a tremendous burden on the water quality and the ecosystem of the river.
    The project Flussbad influences this complex on two levels:

o   On the concrete level, the project will effect a moderate improvement in the water quality of the whole river by filtering ca. 16 million m3 of water per year. In addition, the area of the upper course of the river, restored to nature, will reduce the rate of flow to about 1.5 cm/sec. on a surface of about 1.8 ha, making it resemble an old arm of the river. Here, a large ecological “stepping stone” will arise within a river landscape, which has been rigorously canalized over many kilometers; it will promote the settlement and migration of natural riparian fauna and flora.

o   Additionally, we expect the project to have an effectively even greater influence on the indirect level, because it supports a number of independently developing processes that aim to improve the river’s water quality and ecological function.
The problem with these processes, some of which aim at restructuring Berlin’s mixed wastewater system or at reducing the influx of nutrients from agriculture in Berlin’s environs, is that they are always very expensive and at the same time highly abstract. That means: people don’t see them; they are hard to understand and so it is difficult to organize the financial means for these measures.

The project Flussbad aims to alter this lack of perception. It directly displays the value of the quality of living achievable through these processes and is thus extremely well suited to awaken and increase the necessary public awareness of them.

Section C (Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture)

Economic performance and compatibility

For centuries, Berlin’s Spree River pragmatically served urban development. The river was alternately and simultaneously used as a transport route, for waste disposal, as a defense installation, a source of food, and an energy provider. Its function, course, and profile were always adapted to its uses. Unused areas of the river were usually filled in.
The section of the river in the project area is an exception to this. It lost its usable function as a shipping channel in 1888 and has remained unused ever since.

  • Its future use as a resource for social and natural regeneration will again give impetus to the city’s development and enhance the quality of life in the inner city districts.
    These areas have experienced a striking  densification of use in the 20 years that have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the area where also much informal green and recreation surface have disappeared, the river swimming pool will create urgently needed opportunities for leisure and sports.
  • Another aspect of value creation lies in the external effect of the project. More than any other city in Germany, Berlin lives from its “image” as a special place: a place of brusque ruptures and contradictions, but also as a site of very special possibilities. This image is an essential motor for tourism and, in particular, ensures a constant inflow of young people, who today are vital for the cultural and educational landscape and for many branches of the economy. With its future-oriented, pragmatic, and simultaneously somewhat provocative message, the Flussbad is a very fitting new building block for this image of Berlin.

Overview Plan (Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture)

Innovation and transferability

Like Berlin, many cities grew along rivers or at fords and have turned away from their rivers in the last 150 years. Today this situation offers the basic precondition to approach their original resource, the river, once again and with similar interventions to transform their river courses or canal systems into publicly usable spaces.

  • As shown in this project, this can lead to river courses in which people can swim in in the middle of the city.
    The methods and technologies used in this project are tested, simple, robust, and easily understood.
  • But transferability is not restricted to the technical aspects of this project. At the center is, above all, a change in fundamental ways of viewing, change that can be transferred:

o   societal participation in and influence on the river as a public resource.

o   The changed standards of evaluation of the use value of the river as a resource – no longer primarily as a transport route, but also or above all as a resource for natural and social recuperation.

o   The changed standards of evaluation in regard to the reason and object of a public investment as the basis for projects like the Flussbad that do not promise direct monetary revenues (like a swimming lake located in the middle of the city, Flussbad is accessible completely free of charge).

Site Plan (Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture)

Contextual and aesthetic impact

  • The project creates an elemental and universally accessible use offering in the historic center of the city. The possibility to dangle one’s feet in the water may be used by some of the ca. 3 million museum visitors, but the offering aims primarily at those who live in the city.
  • This cannot be taken for granted, because in Berlin – as in many comparable cities in the world – the historic inner city has developed into a place populated mostly by tourists and hardly any more by the city’s own residents.
    The Flussbad moderately counteracts this functional separation. It is an approach, also in the center of a city and under monument protection, to enable a multiplicity of uses that do not rule each other out, but mix and overlap. The river swimming pool thus serves the everyday, the touristic, and the iconic Berlin.
  • This gives a new depth of meaning to Museum Island, which has long been one-sidedly cultivated as a historic pictorial landscape soon to be augmented by a replica of the historic City Palace. Indeed, it may be above all the delicately balanced provocation of the unaccustomed simultaneity of nature and culture, body and mind, present and past, that gives the Flussbad project the potential to become another, new landmark of Berlin.
  • As a symbol of a new and civilized way of appropriating public space as a living “res publica”, this project will invite the city’s residents to a new, engaged form of democratic participation.

Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture

Ethical standards and social equity

  • Flussbad creates public space in the middle of the city.
    The canal, which lost its earlier use 120 years ago, but has remained legally a shipping route, is in principle publicly accessible and usable again.
  • This change in function and the resulting space and potential for use create a direct possibility for participation in a central site that has previously mostly been marked by increasing specialization of use and privatization of.
  • Beyond that, the process of completely refunctionalizing a whole arm of the river also has a great symbolic significance – for the process of democratizing the water , or more precisely, access to water in the city.
    In Germany, as in many other countries, the administration of the rivers has traditionally been oriented almost exclusively toward the needs of shipping and the disposal of wastewater. (It is no coincidence that the river is the property of the federal government, which keeps local possibilities of influence as restricted as possible).
  • The project Flussbad is a model for the so far mostly neglected weighing of which purposes and whose benefit the river in the city should and can most sensibly serve. This weighing is also to be carried beyond the specific project area and beyond Berlin – especially to places where, as in Berlin, the importance of freight transport is constantly dwindling.
  • Making the river and the water experiencable and demonstrating the possibilities that lie in this unsoiled resource will also directly contribute to finally bringing the general theme of urban wastewater treatment to society’s consciousness. For in Berlin, the problematic of the mixed wastewater system is not widely known. The financial, juridical, technical, administrative, and political means provided to improve the situation are correspondingly limited.

Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture

Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture

Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture

Images Courtesy realities:united, studio for art and architecture

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Categories: Mixed use, Swimming Pool, Urban Design

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