This is a guest post by Ella Kay. It is the first part of what we hope will be an ongoing series looking at parking buildings that have achieved a second life as something else. 

At first glance you wouldn’t imagine that the kindergarten on Dresdenerstraße in Kreuzberg, Berlin was once a parking building. But it doesn’t take much of an inquisitive eye to spot a car-sized ramp and identify quite a modular type of construction, well suited to housing multiple rows of metal boxes.

Kindergarten facade
Entrance ramp to kindergarten
(Source: https://www.inakindergarten.de/berlin/kita-dresdener-strasse)

So, how did this parking building become a kindergarten?

The story goes that the parking building was initially conceived of as a part of the new Kreuzberg centre at Kottbusser Tor (location of a busy u-bahn station). It would also strongly compliment the future autobahn expansion through West Berlin, which included a planned interchange at Oranienplatz (which Dresdenerstraße connects to). The parking building is marked in red and Kottbusser Tor is marked in blue here:

Planned interchange at Oranienplatz. (Source: https://www.aiv-berlin-brandenburg.de/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/AIV_Auf_dem_Weg_zur_Hauptstadtregin_HB.pdf with own markup)

Following completion of parking building construction in 1974 it became clear that its dimensions outstripped the needs of the area and went far beyond the forecast demand for private vehicle parking. It was never put into use.

Demolition was initially considered but was going to be a relatively expensive exercise. Instead the building was tested for its suitability for other uses and considered to have potential value. A renovation project got underway in the early 1980s, resulting in the successful conversion of the parking building into a kindergarten by 1987.

The parking building in the early 1980s before conversion (source: https://www.internationale-bauausstellungen.de/geschichte/1979-1984-87-iba-berlin-die-innenstadt-als-wohnort/kindertagesstaette-dresdener-strasse-ein-parkhaus-wird-zum-kinderhaus/)

Some quick history on Berlin’s planned autobahn expansion provides useful context

The junction at Oranienplatz is only one small piece of the planned autobahn expansion in West Berlin. Following the build of the Berlin Wall in 1961 the question of how West Berlin should develop became a crucial consideration. It is little surprise that the swift development of a comprehensive zoning plan for West Berlin was a priority, and one that would ideologically reflect post-WWII auto-centric urban development patterns. 

The resulting Flächennutzungsplan (zoning plan) from 1965 (reconfirmed in 1985) identified some serious roading network expansion within West Berlin and spatially aligned to the then divided city. Given its location in West Berlin, Kreuzberg would have been a particular ‘benefactor’ of the delivered infrastructure had it eventuated.

Map showing location of Kreuzberg in West Berlin (Source: https://ghdi.ghi-dc.org/map.cfm?map_id=329)

Notably, the planned junction at Oranienplatz was especially sizeable and intended to function as a key interchange between routes from the West to the South and South-East of then West Berlin. With its location close to the boundary of East Berlin, this location could be futureproofed to enable expansion of the network to the east should the wall one day fall. 

Flächennutzungplan 1965/85 showing the planned autobahn ‘Südtangente’ (A106) that would cross Kreuzberg (source: http://berlin.bahninfo.de/fnp.html)

While the planned autobahn expansion progressed in West Berlin over the late twentieth century, its final form never fully eventuated. The Kreuzberg segments were spared – and fortunately so, given that Kreuzberg would ultimately become a very central district of a reunified Berlin.

Back to the parking building that is now a kindergarten

And what a dreamy kindergarten it became. The three storey steel frame and concrete construction evolved into a four floor kindergarten, complete with:

A roof garden and play area:

(source: https://www.internationale-bauausstellungen.de/geschichte/1979-1984-87-iba-berlin-die-innenstadt-als-wohnort/kindertagesstaette-dresdener-strasse-ein-parkhaus-wird-zum-kinderhaus/)
(Source: https://www.inakindergarten.de/berlin/kita-dresdener-strasse)
(Source: https://www.inakindergarten.de/berlin/kita-dresdener-strasse)

…with an incorporated green facade

…and a glass house and covered inner courtyard

(Source: https://www.inakindergarten.de/berlin/kita-dresdener-strasse)

…which also functions as a ‘climate zone’ and is supported with a solar storage system

(Source: https://www.engelhardt-kueenzlen.de/Kita_Dresdener_Strasse)
(Source: https://www.engelhardt-kueenzlen.de/Kita_Dresdener_Strasse)

Interestingly, the conversion of the parking building into a kindergarten took place in the 1980s, at a point in time where a reunified Berlin would not have been predictable and the planned autobahn expansion was still live. Despite this, the parking building was still considered obsolete.

I didn’t mange to locate detailed cost information for the conversion, only a broad description that it was ‘kostintensiv‘ (cost intensive). Despite this it seems like a worthwhile endeavour, especially given that the cost of demolishing the building was also estimated to be relatively expensive. And it looks like they got it right – 34 years later the reimagined parking building lives on as a wonderful kindergarten.

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20 comments

  1. Wow, fascinating. The pictures from inside the kindergarten were so surprising. Thanks Ella. We’re starting to get roof-top gardens for day-cares in Auckland.

    With Auckland Central in need of a school, it feels like there are some obvious contenders amongst parking buildings that are no longer contributing positively to our transport goals.

    1. Repurposing a parking building is not the cheapest way to build a school in the city centre. There are a large number of empty lots there that can host schools. For example, there is a massive unoccupied site on Fort Street that is large enough for a brand new multi-floor school to be built there. Converting a parking or other building to a school is more expensive and difficult than building one, because the building was not intended to be a school.

      1. Yeah, just demolish the parking and build a real building there instead. Why dick around when you could have a 50 storey tower on the Victoria Carpark site, for example. You’d only need two or three floors for a school.

        1. I think it’s a struggle to get new schools anywhere, isn’t it, let alone in the CBD.

          I just learnt that Rangitoto College has over 3000 students. How big is too big?

  2. It would be nice to have some of the council run car parks repurposed into (at least partially) non-commercial things.
    Schools are a good idea as Heidi said, but artist spaces or sports would be great too. (An in-door skatepark, you’d hardly have to do anything!)

  3. One issue with car park conversions is that they often have a lower floor-to-ceiling height than a typical apartment or office building. A couple of years ago I worked on a project that included planning for a multi-storey parking building in a pretty central location (we tried to talk the client out of it, seemed like short-sighted decision), and there was a lot of debate about the relative value of making it five storeys, so it could be converted to another use in the future, or 6 storeys which would get another floor of parking but prevent any future re-use. This was in 2017/18, interesting to note how different that same conversation might be today.

    1. Low level vibration can be a problem too if the carpark has a wide span. If you look at the Downtown carpark the floors span the aisle and two rows of parking, which is excellent for parking. But it can be an issue if people are sitting at a desk above that span and getting shaken. Not such a problem in cheap carparks with columns everywhere.

  4. I would like to see the current Auckland Council/AT run carparks,converted into assets that have a return on investment. There wouldn’t be a need to spend a lot of money converting them, just change the parking rate,to reflect total cost of ownership.
    Inevitably this would lead to reduced use,until,it becomes unecominic to continue as a car park,but a much better scenario,than now,where the powers that be,pretend,they are profitable, while exacerbating excessive car use.

    1. I would just like AT to sell the buildings with a caveat that the site must be redeveloped. Auckland desperately need more central housing.
      Fanshawe St would be great commercial space, or residential space close to public transport and other amenities.
      Victoria St is a significant site, again very well located.
      With the proceeds AT could accelerate the cycle lane building – another 3-4 kms, unless costs magnify again?

  5. The same idea should be applied for residential and commercial building as well.

    For example houses that had internal garage should be able to legally converted into living space as soon as insulation is compliant.

    That will encourage development to have flexi parking that can be use as living space.

    Same idea should also be applied to commercial building.

    For example some carparks should be able to at least have the street facade to convert into retail/hospitality without too much red tape and council compliance.

    Examples includes the conversion of new market carparks facing the lumsen green near the freedom furniture building.

    It happens but at very slow pace, possibly due to council red tapes/ resources consents.

    The council process should be made easy and red tapes removed.

    1. I’m under no impression that German bureaucracy is straightforward. But yes, it would be nice if the regulatory framework could be enabling of flexible uses.

    2. Hey, you won’t need a resource consent for convert a garage. But you’d need a building consent as it’s a water tightness issue. In most instances you’d need to build a concrete nib wall for the timber bottom plate, that will need a structural engineer to sort its strength & durability. You’ll need to scabble surface to form the nib so it doesn’t delaminate. Also it’ll probably have no insulation on the slab so it’ll be a massive cold bridge you you’ll best either build a false floor with insulation or cut out part of the existing garage slab to put in insulation. I guess the point being, what might sound simple has additional costs that the average punter mightn’t know about.

  6. That is a great urban re-use project. Definitely shows the positive potential if there is strong investment in PT infrastructure.

  7. Berlin is such an interesting city. It is filled with clever examples of buildings which have been repurposed. Post-reunification, Berlin was filled with abandoned buildings as people moved to the West – don’t forget that Berlin is deep inside what was East Germany. This gave lots of opportunities for innovation with few barriers to entry.

    This is Kreutzberg example, while dating from the 1980s, is super. A car park is a good solid structure that can be reused as needed. It’s a classic example of a ‘low-road building’, as described by Stewart Brand in ‘How Buildings Learn’.

    If the original use is no longer valid, but the structure is sound, find a new use. Good low-road buildings are pretty unsentimental and this is their strength; you have the freedom to adapt them. Multi-storey car parks tend to be in/near town centres and, being tall, you get good views from the top.

    Best UK example of converted car park: Bold Tendencies, Peckham, London. (originally Frank’s Cafe http://boldtendencies.com/)

    Possible Auckland car park candidate for conversion: Cross Street Multi-Storey; well located for Karangahape Road and future CRL station.

  8. AT is conflicted. One team is trying to bring about “Behaviour Change” ie use more public transport. Another team runs inexpensive car parking buildings that attract commuters. Does the AT Board realise what is happening? Or, do they even care?

    Why not double the price of parking at each AT car parking building each month, until they are 100% empty, then sell the sites to a developer for mixed use developments that contain NO car parking spaces?

  9. There is a big difference between Auckland and Berlin. Berlin has a huge glut of parking spaces while Auckland has a severe shortage. Removing parking spaces will disparage people from going to the city centre.

    1. Auckland has one of the highest rates of city centre parking in the world. It has more carparks than Sydney, even though Sydney CBD has three times as many daily commuters and visitors.

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