INFOZENTRALE auf dem Vollgut
The INFOZENTRALE is a public, collectively organized, non comercial 'space for all' on the Vollgut site in Berlin Neukölln. It was designed and built by a group of 36 students as a DesignBuild Project of the Natural Building Lab at the TU Berlin. A building following circular construction principles as realised, which serves as a prototype for a resource-positive construction in an urban context and embodies a new method of architectural production for a post-consumer society.
The Infozentrale is located in Berlin Neukölln, in one of the economically weakest parts of the German capital. The site - the Vollgut - itself is one of the last large urban ex-industrial sites remaining in the area. It was acquired by the Edith Marion Stiftung in 2015 and will undergo many changes in the coming years with a number of new community orientated projects planned. The Infozentrale is being used by all of the diverse actors active on the VOLLGUT site, showcasing up to date information about the currently active processes and designs being developed for the site. The project should provide a place for actors from different groups to encounter with each other and the neighbourhood. It was designed and realised in a collaborative process. The usage of the building is co-ordinated by a cross-party group of volunteers from the different groups thus standing for transparency and open dialogue.
From the outset, the project showed a capacity to connect a network of participants well beyond the Architecture department of the university, all of whom contributed in myriad fashion to its realisation. Through collaborations with civil engineers, the EU funded research project RE4, material producers and sponsors, the use of existing materials was enabled.
The Infozentrale is the first DesignBuild project realized by the Natural Building Lab. Prototypical aspects can be found in both - construction and learning processes. The students worked together on one project as a group of 36 in a highly self-determined process and took over a high sense of responsibility for the project. The proximity of the site to the school of architecture allows them and the the teaching team to follow up with the development of the project (see blog posts below). Even though the engagement in the area is on-going, the operation of the place itself was completely taken over by the actors on site.
The ‘Infozentrale‘ was conceived as a prototype for a circular construction system, in which recycled and waste materials can be given a further usage cycle. During the design phase the students experimented with creating new constructive elements from waste materials. Using the knowledge gathered in the EU funded research project RE4, recovered timber was identified as a material of high potential for the project. In collaboration with the teaching staff and other interdisciplinary actors, the group were able to plan the building up to level of detail ready for construction on site with a focus on creating robust and reversible timber details. The realisation of this planning allowed the application and further development of this coproduced knowledge.
The roof structure is formed from a pre-stressed grid of layered and interlocking re-used timber beams, while the wall elements utilise a system of upcycled cardboard boxes, filled with shredded paper insulation and pasted with excess advertising posters. The system itself is based on reversible details and connections, allowing it to be disassembled and elements re-used at a later date. For example the lattice grid roof beams are connected by threaded bars, which can be loosened without causing damage to the timber beams themselves.
Niches in the walls define various exterior and interior programmatic areas, that can be used in various ways and provide a general zoning. Thus a variety of options to provide for different usage scenarios are enabled using the main central space and a combination of niches. Under the shelter of the overhanging roof on the exterior facade, the entire facade serves a one huge neighborhood notice board.
The different faces of INFOZENTRALE
JANUARY 2021: Since its “completion” in 2018, the INZE has needed a number of makeovers, which was to be expected with a facade made out of paper and cardboard. Over the last two years it has provided a surface for the local neighbourhood to express themselves on. These expressions have varied from the highly artistic to the simply obscene and deliberately destructive. These interventions, plus Berlins consistently inclement winter weather, eventually meant that the INZE received a new and more robust timber facade in spring 2020.
But this is only the most visible transformation that the INZE has undergone over the last three years. Many more things have evolved behind the scenes. The INZE has gone from a DesignBuild project, realised through the engagement and motivation of students and Natural Building Lab, to a self-governed community project, that exists and is alive without our involvement. This transformation in ownership is one of things that makes us most proud and sure that, despite it being “temporary”, the INZE will succeed and evolved for many more years to come - though we hope that we will always be invited to help with future makeovers.
Some of the INZE Crew (aka. Building Cycle Collective) meanwhile came back to the Natural Building Lab for the masters and are doing all sorts of great and optimistic things that make us very happy and proud. Us - would be the so-called teachers here that became great learners in the cause of the project. Actually the roles have become fuzzy.
A new facade for INFOZENTRALE
MAY 2020: The INFOZENTRALE had initially been built as a temporary structure with an intended lifespan of two years. This was mainly because it was not clear from the beginning wether operating and mantaining the place would function the way it was planned. But as there was much interest by the actors involved on the VOLLGUT site and responsilbilities were being shared the project phase was prolonged. Therefore some renovation work needed to be undertaken: The experimental cardboard box wall system was generally in a very good state - considering it was at some stage considered to last for approximitly one year. However, it had suffered from vandalism - meanwhile the terrace had become a very popular, publicly accessible hangout spot day and night in the midst of Neukölln.
So, after two years of being in use and being tested we decided to add a new outer layer to the wall system of stacked cardboard boxes. This required a creative approach to construction details and methods: More robust timber panels were added as an additional layer. The substructure was stuck onto the paper walls with recycled posters. The new panels were screwed on directly and will now protect the walls for years to come.
The construction works were undertaken by us, a team of students and teachers involved in the project since the very beginning. It served as a very soothing break after months of being locked in during the corona pandemic.
A terrace for INFOZENTRALE
SUMMER 2019: One year has passed since the Richtfest ceremony of the Infozentrale. In the summer months of 2019 a terrace underneath the 100 m2 roof was added to the built space for the coming seasons. It aims to expand the Infozentrale to the outside and connect it with the surrounding community garden. The supporting structure was built by recovered wood from a past installation project.
A group of ten students worked for one week on site. The team was a mix of students new to the project and some of those that had been the driving forces since the very beginning - the latter ones acted as coordinators of the construction site.
INFOZENTRALE in use
SPRING 2019: Since construction works had been completed the INFOZENTRALE hosted various events - bit by bit the place has become known & vivid. Stakeholder meetings, community pasta evenings, and various workshops have been taking place on a regular basis since the inauguration.
We are excited to see how the place will develop further and how it will meet it`s original goal: to provide space for actors with diverse backgrounds to encounter each other and get engaged in the neighbourhood.
Let's get started with INFOZENTRALE
AUTUMN 2018: The Infozentrale is opening it`s doors as a 'place for all' ! A new website www.infozentrale.berlin, which includes an open calendar, simplifies access and makes the events is online now!
Building Phase: The walls
SUMMER 2018: After a few months as a open roof structure the cardboard wall system that we had invented and tested back at the school of architecture is being build in. Tons of donated posters are being soaked in self-cooked (and vegan!) glue. Technical challenges included the different standards, heights and connectors of the different crates. Each module had to be assembled from a collection of different crates. This was in the end a tetris-like challenge requiring much experimentation and patience!
There is quite a sense of festival atmosphere on the construction site.
Building Phase: Lifting the roof
MAY 2018: The roof structure that we had built on the ground was finally lifted! After that it was time for the Richtfest.
Building Phase: manuals
The INFOZENTRALE was conceived as a prototype for a circular construction system, in which recycled and waste materials can be given a further usage cycle. The system itself is based on reversible details and connections, allowing it to be disassembled and elements re-used at a later date. For example, the lattice grid roof beams are connected by threaded bars, which can be loosened without causing damage to the timber beams themselves.
To build the new constructive elements, it was not always possible to fall back on conventional systems or expert knowledge. Therefore, detailed instructions on how to build and test these elements have been developed and illustrated.
FEBRUARY 2018: The team has finally arrived on the construction site. Bit by bit they will be spending more and more time here and less and less time within the protected surrounding of the school of architecture. Though only 12kms away it feels like travelling to the moon. They have landed in the real world for good and bad ...
Design Phase: Wood harvesting
JANUARY 2018: Sourcing and storing material are one of the most challenging parts of circular construction. We will definitly gain our own experience with that. However, in Januray 2018 the team is going out to Frohnau to harvest an old timber roof structure.
Design Phase: Material Testing
WINTER 2017: The construction of the wall elements provided a number of technical challenges, mainly because there were no presidents for the use of these materials in such a building. This required 1:1 experiments to be undertaken in order to determine all properties of the modules.
Firstly the load bearing capacity of the elements was determined by loading them with water tanks until failure. The durability of paper wall modules was a concern from the outset, to test this a number of prototypes were left outdoors over the winter and exposed to wind, rain and snow. Observation showed that the outer skin of posters, pasted with a mixture of flour, water and vinegar, absorbed some water but tended to dry very quickly, the inner structure with the fruit crates and insulation remained dry. Fire resistance was tested experimentally, here again the outer skin proved extremely resilient and difficult to ignite, even under prolonged exposure to a blow torch, the elements did not properly ignite.
Design Phase: Building Cycle
WINTER 2017: In October the Design Studio Building Cycle started with 36 students. The semester began by undertaking wide-ranging material experiments with the harvesting and reconfiguration of waste plastic, glass, timber and concrete, all of which were categorised and documented.
Based on these experiments teams were formed that worked on pre-designs for the site. These were discussed with the different future user groups. Based on these discussions the projects were merged into one single design that was then developed furher by the group as a whole. Therefore, the students defined different expert groups (material, construction, involvement, management, ...). Main decisions were taken in the big circle that soon became emblematic.