It’s a surreal experience to step out onto an airport runway, surrounded by 300 hectares of grassland, and see thousands of people enjoying the sunset. Tempelhof Airport in Berlin was shut down in October 2008, but was opened to the public as a park while a planning process was ongoing. It is an innovative and refreshing decision on the part of the City to allow interim uses to inform and be integrated into the planning process for the space.
For several years spontaneous and informal temporary use of undeveloped land has been typical in many parts of Berlin. Tempelhof Park marks the first time pioneering and interim use will be specifically integrated into a planning process – as the driving force behind a procedural and participatory approach to urban development.
– Notice board in the Park
The airport terminal, originally built in 1927 and later reconstructed in 1941 by the Nazi Government, is an imposing structure that curves around one end of the park. Tempelhof played a key role during the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and the Cold War period as the primary point of access to West Berlin.
Today, little has changed since the airport ceased operations in 2008, and people are free to wander pretty much anywhere in the 303 hectare space. It’s an incredible place to get some exercise – there were people on bikes and rollerblades using the perfectly flat runways – and certain grass areas have been designated BBQ and picnic zones.
What I found fascinating was that people, given the opportunity to participate, pioneer and use, were peacefully and creatively doing their thing. An entire section between two runways was being developed into community garden plots.
Others were using the opportunity to go for an evening walk. Or camp out with the family for an afternoon.
All of this represents the epitome of participatory planning, in which interim and creative uses are directly integrated into planning the future of the park.
The new usage concepts and forms have strategic importance, either as temporary activities or programmes that will eventually give way to a long-term planned usage, or to projects that become permanently established at the site.
The following drawing is the outcome of the process thus far, and indicates the park will not remain in its relatively bare state. Anyone interested in learning more about the redevelopment and planning process at Tempelhof can visit the Tempelhofer Freiheit website here.