A smart square: Why Berlin's latest district is built twice
Siemensstadt Square will connect the physical and digital worlds for a sustainable, inclusive living.
Sustainability and accessibility are at the heart of Berlin’s newest neighborhood, or Kiez. The Siemensstadt Square redevelopment project shows how progressive design and advanced technologies enable smart city living by adapting to the needs of their citizens.
Berlin is often seen not as a single city but as a series of neighborhoods in which the character of each Kiez has been shaped by its unique history. Siemensstadt, for instance, which lies between the Charlottenburg and Spandau districts, is one of the oldest and most famous industrial sites in the region. Founded on May 7, 1897, with the purchase of land by Siemens & Halske, Siemensstadt celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.
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Smart infrastructure is sustainable infrastructure.
When we develop a new urban environment, we have to look at energy, buildings, transportation and also production.Franziska Giffey, Governing Mayor of Berlin
The Siemensstadt Square regeneration project will transform this 73-hectare site into a state-of-the-art urban district. The goal of the project is to enhance the original vision and create a 'smart neighborhood'. To do this, Siemens is bringing together research, technology and innovation to map out the interplay between work, commercial and residential space.
The new residential and working environment will include innovation hubs for artificial intelligence, electromobility, Industry 4.0, and the Internet of Things (IoT). This will make it one of Berlin’s Zukunftsorte – innovation campuses that are central to the city’s commitment to attract start-ups and industry leaders. That commitment is paying off: Berlin came in 12th place out of 500 in the 2019 Innovation Cities Index, confirming its status as one of the three leading European cities for innovation.
According to Franziska Giffey, Governing Mayor of Berlin, projects such as Siemensstadt Square are going to be crucial to Berlin reaching its goal of climate neutrality by 2045 at the latest. Cities worldwide account for about 70% of global carbon emissions and consume two-thirds of the world’s energy. So smart cities are an important opportunity to reduce energy consumption and air pollution while meeting service demand, increasing grid stability, and improving quality of life.
“When we develop a new urban environment, we have to look at energy, buildings, transportation and also production,” says Giffey. “And this is what is being done here at Siemensstadt Square.”
Where form follows function
The regeneration of Siemensstadt Square is based on two principles: full accessibility and carbon neutral operations.
Including historically protected existing buildings, the site will comprise one million square meters of gross floor space. Around 420,000 square meters of modern office space are planned for Siemens, other technology-oriented companies and start-ups. 2700 apartments are to be built, and around 6000 people will live here one day. Space will be created for 20,000 additional jobs. 190,000 square meters are planned for digitally supported production. A research campus of 89,000 square meters will be built on the site.
All this is to be combined with climate-friendly energy supply, sustainable mobility solutions and integrated rainwater management and 100% barrier-free access. In 2020, the overall urban development concept received two "platinum" awards for these ambitions: from the German Sustainable Building Council and from the U.S. LEED system.
When you plan to build something and you have all possibilities open, then you can implement accessibility from scratch, in every aspect.Raul Krauthausen, disability rights activist
The site will comprise a mix of modern and historic buildings, so to reach carbon neutrality the planners will use digital technologies to track, manage and minimize emissions from all types of construction. Smart buildings will make sensible use of locally generated renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades, while sector coupling – integrated energy systems for the power used in transport and buildings – will optimize overall distribution and consumption.
“How do you cool and heat buildings? One way is for example to use excess heat from industrial applications. A district heating network will connect the buildings to each other for energy sharing. This data can also feed our digital twin for further analysis – to make the energy system run more efficiently,” says Cedrik Neike, member of the Managing Board of Siemens and CEO of Digital Industries.
Looking at transport, the 4.5km Siemensbahn, a rapid transit line of the Berlin S-Bahn that went into operation in 1929 but was mothballed in 1980, will receive about €500 million up to 2029 for its reactivation. This project will involve the renovation or rebuilding of about 30 bridges, the laying of new tracks, and installation of the latest new switches and signaling technology to allow for a more automated system.
Instead of having people adapt to a city or neighborhood, we can now adapt the city or neighborhood to people.Cedrik Neike, member of the Managing Board of Siemens and CEO of Digital Industries
Old train stations will also be modernized and upgraded for accessibility. Disability rights activist Raul Krauthausen emphasizes the opportunity presented by smart districts like Siemensstadt Square to improve livability for all citizens. “When you plan to build something and you have all possibilities open, then you can implement accessibility from scratch, in every aspect,” he says.
He stresses that accessibility is not just a disability issue. “Why am I fighting for a hundred percent accessibility? It's because we all get older, and sooner or later we will all need accessible homes. Maybe you will have a child and this child will be in a stroller, so you will need an accessible apartment. We need to see accessibility as an issue for everyone,” Krauthausen says.
Digital twins are a city planning win
At the core of urban transformation is the digital twin, which facilitates the planning and implementation of smart buildings, sustainable transport, and energy supply.
A digital twin is a computer program that uses real-world data to create a simulation of a physical object such as a building or a service, which can then be used to predict how it will perform. This helps cities to optimize all aspects of design, construction, operations and management. On a larger scale, digital twins can be used for the development and operation of entire cities and districts like Siemensstadt Square by interconnecting buildings, transportation systems and other infrastructure such as energy distribution.
To solve the challenges of the future in regard to mobility and energy, we have to scale the digital world.Stefan Kögl, General Manager of Siemensstadt Square
The advantages of this are immense in financial, sustainability and livability terms. Potentially costly mistakes can be avoided because the future-oriented location is being built twice – first in the digital world and then in the physical world.
“We make the mistakes in the digital world first by seeing what the impact will be,” says Siemens’ Board member Neike. “Instead of having people adapt to a city or neighborhood, we can now adapt the city or neighborhood to people.”
The benefits of digital twins are expected to continue increasing over time, with layers upon layers of data informing the way buildings and districts are designed, built and operated. “To solve the challenges of the future in regard to mobility and energy, we have to scale the digital world,” says Stefan Kögl, General Manager of Siemensstadt Square. “It is the only way to find solutions for the future, by bringing together the digital world and reality.”
For Mayor Franziska Giffey, Siemensstadt Square represents an opportunity to improve accessibility, sustainability, livability, and mobility in this Berlin district and beyond. “We have three big challenges in how our cities should be in the future,” she says. “They should be accessible, they should be affordable, and they should be sustainable. I hope that we will achieve this everywhere, and smart cities are an important way to reach these goals.”
July 7, 2022
Picture credits: Siemens AG