Smart Adlershof

How One Town Reinvented Itself For a Greener Future

Today marked our final travel day of the program! The station, Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, looked quite different today than it did on the day of our arrival; instead of hordes of people armed with brooms to clean up the city following the G20 protests, there were just a handful of quiet travelers with their luggage. Our destination, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, was stunning. A large, glass ceiling and many different levels of tracks gave it the feel of one of the most modern hub of Europe. After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we were off to Adlershof.

The outside of Berlin’s Central Station. With 5 different levels and an exterior of nearly entirely glass, the Hauptbahnhof is the largest and most modern connecting station in Europe.

Adlershof’s history is long and varied, but it has an interesting connection to North Carolina in the form of aviation history. The Wright brothers were the first to fly, doing so in Kitty Hawk, NC. The first German motor-driven flight occurred less than a decade later in Johannisthal airfield, which is modern day Adlershof. The area grew as a hot spot for innovation in flight, and while touring the park we got to see some of the infrastructure that was used to test engines and planes in the 20th century.

This is a former vertical wind tunnel used to test the aerodynamics of various planes. Adlershof has a long history of innovation in the aviation sector, and it was the site of the first successful German motorized flight.

In the early 1990s, Adlershof once again redefined itself and moved to become a center for research and industry. The long tradition of adaptability was quite evident as we toured the area. Walking around, we noticed not only how impressive the buildings were from an aesthetic standpoint, but also how environmentally friendly and smart they were. It was apparent that this was a source of pride for those involved in Adlershof, especially for an area that brings so many people in to produce new and innovative ways of reducing our impact on the climate and finding more sustainable solutions.

The group gets an inside look at what it is like to work in Adlershof. Despite the location being a little far from city center, the infrastructure and resources available are huge attractors to companies, especially start ups.

At the minimum, many of the buildings had passive solar designs. By using windows and window coverings that can either trap heat or deflect it based on the season, the heating and cooling needs are greatly reduced. The “Amoeba” buildings, nicknamed for their wavy shape, used colorful coverings like these that look good while saving energy.

The so-called “Amoeba” buildings in Adlershof. The name is a reference to the wavy, rounded edges around both buildings. They both utilize passive solar and smart insulation to warm them in the winter, cutting down on heating costs.

Other buildings were creative with their use of traditionally forgotten space. Looking out at the rooftops, we saw that nearly all of them were “green roofs”. These have a multitude of important benefits. Firstly, they can help prevent flooding from sudden downpours of rain. The soil and plants soak in much of the precipitation and then slowly release it over the following hours. This helps reduce the peak amount of water in the drainage system, which is a huge help for stopping flooding. In addition, green roofs can diminish the “urban heat island” effect. This is caused when an area has a lot of asphalt and other materials that reflect heat rather than absorbing it, and is the reason why some cities can be 1-3° Celsius warmer than the surrounding areas. The plants absorb some of the heat that would be reflected by traditional roofs. In addition, they can filter the air of pollutants and carbon dioxide.

The “green roofs” in Adlershof. These help to lower the peak amount of water in the drainage system during downpours and can also help cool down the area and reduce the urban heat island effect!

Finally, we were struck by just how many solar photovoltaic cells we saw. Many were set up on top of the buildings and thus were usually out of sight, but there were some that were creatively installed around the façades. For instance, workers eating in the café were shaded by a semi-transparent array of PV cells adorned on the front outer wall. Another building had a concave array, which we learned was a great breakthrough when the technology was created.

Housing for students attending Humboldt University. Compared to our living spaces in Chapel Hill, we were shocked at how affordable these units were. We also learned about how the floorplan was specifically designed to try to increase social bonding between students.

Adlershof was an interesting look at how smart communities can successfully integrate multiple different institutions: industry, government, and higher education. In some ways, it was the perfect representation of both main topics of interest for our program: renewable energy technologies and smart city planning.

-Keegan Barnes