Why Brooklyn’s Hipster Communities Could Take A (Green) Leaf Out Of Germany’s Book

A project in Heidelberg brings together environmentally friendly structures with socially friendly environments.

By Jeff Vasishta November 8, 2016
Credit: Frey Architekten

The Bahnstadt Experiment may sound like a cold war thriller by John Le Carré but it is, in fact, likely to thrill environmentalists everywhere. Based in Heidelberg, Germany, two billion Euros have been invested into one of the most ambitious urban development projects ever undertaken in the country. In terms of its scope and innovation, the conversion of a former freight train terminal to a groundbreaking eco-community could set the precedent for cities, intent on living by green principles, the world over.

Related: How Long Island City Could Become A Cleaner, Greener Williamsburg

On a 290-acre campus, powered entirely by renewable energy, 2,000 “passive” homes (they retain warmth naturally and do not need a heating system) have been constructed. Great news for the home owner and the planet. Not so good for the utility company. But that’s just the start. The Bahnstadt experiment will be a part of Heidelberg Village from Frey Architects, a 162-apartment block covered with green facades and rooftop gardens, which opens in early 2017.

From afar homes in the development may look like they’ve been left to rot with weeds sprouting. A closer inspection will reveal green walls—purposely installed plant facades that serve a multitude of purposes from insulation and cooling to air purifying. The double whammy is solar panels generate additional electricity.

Here’s a quote you won’t hear too often from an architect:

“We avoid making our buildings look like apartments for the needy—they look like stylish, modern, sexy spaces,” Wolgang Frey, architect behind the development, told CNN. “We try to cultivate this sense of modern luxury so people want to be there, and act the right way.”

Credit: Frey Architekten

Eco friendly and sexy. Can it get any better? Apparently yes. Shiny hipster targeted enclaves in Brooklyn could learn a lot from Herr Frey. His emphasis is on the principle of integration, defined as “living places in which social integration can occur.” That means a broad demographic will co-exist—young and old, rich and poor, black and white—well, you get the idea.

“We try to re-establish the idea of a rural village in a modern city,” he says. “When people lived in small villages everyone knew the other people. The children knew the elderly, the disabled people, the single mothers. Today they are surrounded only with similar people.”

Frey’s not making this up as he goes along. He draws inspiration from the Pro Scholare building in Freiburg. The project incentivized integration, offering reduced for rent for youths if they spent time caring for disabled people or the children of single mothers.

Frey derides buildings in cities such as Dubai where glass towers blast air-conditioning day and night in sweltering heat. He believes that buildings should exist in accordance with their environments. Germany is a pioneer in the clean energy revolution vowing to shutter its nuclear power plants by 2022 and reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

The Heidelberg project has some Americans excited too. “We realized we could use this site to create one of the most dynamic environments for collaborative scientific research anywhere in Europe – a real hotbed of discovery and innovation,” explains American businessman Dr. Henry Jarecki, who has maintained friendly links with Heidelberg for many decades and, through his Max Jarecki Foundation, has provided 60 million euros of funding for the construction of the SkyLabs research facilities which is part of the Heidelberg project.

Ok, which brave developer in Brooklyn is going to put his ethics ahead of his wallet and give this a go? Anyone? (Crickets)


Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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