The City of Tomorrow

Interview with Gudrun Sack, Tegel Projekt GmbH

Following the closure of Tegel Airport, a new residential district is arising on its former site among other things: The Schumacher Quartier is to become a sustainable, smart and social home for more than 10,000 people. We spoke with Gudrun Sack, Managing Director of Tegel Projekt GmbH, about Berlin's ambitious showcase project.

© Tegel Projekt GmbH
»Berlin TXL – The Urban Tech Republic« is an innovation park for urban technologies.
© Tegel Projekt GmbH
Neighborhood street in the future Schumacher Quartier

futur:  Ms. Sack, you have been Managing Director at Tegel Projekt GmbH since May 2021 and are responsible for both the residential quarter and the Innovation Park. What is the current planning status?


The plans for both projects are well advanced and are based on ten years of intensive work on the question of how we want to live in our cities in the future. In the process, exemplary and innovative concepts have emerged for the Urban Tech Republic and the Schumacher Quartier. The task at hand is to implement these concepts now, and for us this is a process that is as exciting as it is challenging. The core of the Urban Tech Republic, namely the former main terminal, will be home to a university. Around it, we will create space for up to 1,000 start-ups and companies working on innovative technologies for our cities. Ideally, they will be applied right next door in the Schumacher Quartier. It will be a smart, CO2-neutral urban district, ultra-modern, socially mixed, with affordable rents. What both projects have in common is their model character with a large number of individual innovations. Concepts such as the Car-free Neighborhood or the 15-Minute City are applied here, as is a new type of energy system, the Sponge-City principle or Animal-Aided Design.

futur: What are you specifically engaged in at the moment?


In August 2021, we took over the project site of the former airport and since then the first steps of implementation have been running parallel to the planning. In concrete terms, we are currently clearing explosive ordnance and preparing for civil engineering. The first development plans have been drawn up, the land allocation process can start this year and we are pleased to have the first companies on site. 1,600 m² in offices and workshops and 6,000 m² of experimental space are already being used in the future research and industrial park, which is a great success. Parallel to the renovations of the listed airport buildings, the first major construction phase will begin in 2024. The plan is for the first construction phase in the Urban Tech Republic to be completed in 2027 and for the first wooden buildings to be in place in the Schumacher Quartier.

futur: The Schumacher Quartier is regarded as a model project for neighborhood development adapted to the effects of climate change. What are you doing specifically to make the new district climate-neutral?


In the Schumacher Quartier, various building blocks come into play that are aimed not only at climate neutrality but also at climate resilience. For example, we focus on sustainable raw materials, renewable energies, the sensible use of resources, and a conscious look at the CO2 footprint we leave behind – in everything we do. Our big issue is the circular economy. We don't think in terms of consumption, but in terms of reusing and recycling raw materials within a closed-loop system. This applies to the Schumacher Quartier, but also to the Urban Tech Republic, where we hardly ever demolish buildings, for example, but instead convert them or recycle the concrete from the many sealed surfaces.

»Our vision is to scale timber construction to an industrial level and thus help climate-friendly construction achieve a breakthrough.«

– Gudrun Sack

© Tegel Projekt GmbH
A bird's-eye view of the future: On the former site of Tegel Airport, a research and industrial park for urban technologies and a new residential district are being built.
© Tegel Projekt GmbH
Environmentally friendly mobility is being taken into account in neighborhood planning.

futur: To what extent will the Schumacher Quartier benefit from the neighboring Innovation Park?


Very directly. The Schumacher Quartier is considered a model quarter for the »city of tomorrow« and new forms of construction. The technological foundations for this are being researched, tested, produced and transferred into marketable solutions in the Urban Tech Republic. Starting with the efficient use of energy, sustainable construction, environmentally friendly mobility, recycling and the networked control of systems, through to clean water and the use of new materials. If we look at our project area, research, development, production and application take place in a 500-hectare microcosm in which the »system city« with all its facets can be rethought and designed for the future.

futur:  What role does wood play as a raw material in the urban planning concept of the Schumacher Quartier?


 A very big one. Nothing less than the largest urban timber construction quarter in the world is to be built here. Our vision is to scale timber construction to an industrial level and thus help climate-friendly construction achieve a breakthrough. We want to make timber construction attractive and competitive while saving 80 percent of climate-damaging emissions. In view of the fact that the building sector is responsible for almost 40 percent of all CO2 emissions, there is no alternative to a building turnaround. With the Schumacher Quartier, we can showcase the sustainable innovations that are possible in neighborhood development.

futur: Experts at Fraunhofer IPK have investigated how architecture in timber construction can succeed on such a scale. Industry 4.0 technologies can make a significant contribution to this. What advantages do you expect from digitalization and automation in timber construction?


Digitalization is a common thread running through the after-use of Tegel Airport. We are not only planning digitally, but are also building a digital infrastructure with our own data platform. And of course, the advantages of digitalization and automation are also obvious for timber construction. They make prefabrication faster, more efficient, more controllable, and it is impossible to imagine serial production without them. The construction volume that we have in front of us with the Schumacher Quartier is simply not feasible without digitalized planning and production processes. Wood construction is already very digitalized anyway. For the requirements of climate-positive construction, the degree of prefabrication in timber construction is a significant advantage, if you think of the blower door test, for example. With a very high degree of prefabrication, it is much easier to manufacture components precisely.

futur: If you look ten years into the future, …


 ... the construction turnaround will have been completed. We will be building less, but in a more climate-friendly and qualitatively better way. Berlin TXL will have set an example in this respect. Here, the first 3D-printed wooden facades will have been manufactured, residential blocks with integrated, self-sufficient vegetable cultivation areas realized, and much more. In the Schumacher Quartier, socially responsible residential construction with an interesting mix of players will have been realized; a lively, colorful and nature-loving residential district will have been created. And the clever solutions for such livable neighborhoods – those will be created in the growing Urban Tech Republic, Berlin's innovation hub for urban technologies.

Gudrun Sack

© Jonas Maron

Managing director of Tegel Projekt GmbH 

Gudrun Sack's focus is on sustainable planning and building, anchoring qualities and new standards in construction, and implementing forward-looking and pragmatic urban planning solutions. After studying architecture at the Technical University of Berlin and the University of Applied Arts Vienna, the trained restorer began her professional career with Norman Foster in London. After a stopover at Alsop Störmer Architekten in Hamburg, she worked as a research assistant in the Department of Architecture at the Berlin University of the Arts. For more than 20 years Gudrun Sack was managing director at NÄGELIARCHITEKTEN with offices in Berlin and Karlsruhe. Among other things, she was a board member of the Berlin Chamber of Architects as well as of the Netzwerk Berliner Baugruppen Architekten and is a member of the housing working group at the BDA – Bund Deutscher Architektinnen und Architekten.