Parkour & Urbanism: The High Deck Estate

08:17:00


The High Deck Estatein Berlin-Neukölln was a visionary project at its time in the late 70s and early 80s. The architects Rainer Oefelein and Bernhard Freund had a concept radicially different from the high rise social housing that dominated the 50s and 60s in Germany. The immediate post-war era in Berlin urbanism and social housing was dictated by the mantra of urbanity through densitiy and a car friendly city. The High Deck Estate was seen as an attempt to make urbanism and architecture more family and child friendly.
The separation of traffic and pedestrians by the elevated walk ways was seen as a way to use public space in a new way. The high decks were originally intended to be equipped with fountains, sitting areas, playgrounds and diverse greenery to enable a welcoming atmosphere of neighborly exchange. The idea was to radically seperate traffic and public space to create an almost rural atmosphere.
Due to costs most of these plans were cut and only conventional playgrounds away from the decks were build. What remains is a rather lifeless living machine,  devoid of any affect or neighbourly atmosphere. The highdecks were not able to achieve the feeling of community the architects intended. Instead, as architecture historian Heiko Haberle suggests, there even is a growing anonymity in the estate. “In no estate or suburb I ever had the feeling of being in a parallel city devoid of time or a sense of place”, he writes. This atmosphere has nothing of the communication space that it was originally intended as. In 2014 nearby playgrounds were closed for security reasons. When kids and teens then used  the high decks to meet up or play they were frequently dispelled. The conflict arouse over noise and groups of young male immigrants being perceived as threatening. The conflict over the proper use was settled in favor of the older inhabitants and consequently signs have been atttachted limiting activity to everything but walking. A private security firm was hired to enforce this.
 
When me and a group of other traceurs visited the estate we found it in an eery mist, which amplified the lost and anonymous feeling. For most residents two degrees celsius were not the most pleasant condition to spend a day outside and the estate almost seemed abandoned. We ventured around the spot, seeing jumps every five meters. The rough concrete that had commentators at the time speak of “social housing misery” is gold in the eyes of a traceur. Good grip is more important to us than a colourful or fancy façade.
What is most surprising however is that the private security firm is allowing Parkour in the estate. Despite the multiple signs that forbid all playful activity, the management of the area has instructed them to not dispel us from the area. Thanks to the advocacy of ParkourOne Parkour is seen not as a destructive thrill seeking activity but for the profound cultural practice it is. Maybe they hope that our moving bodies and our unthreating interactions breath some life into the desolated walk ways. It is discouraging however that Haberle itendifies a threat that especially older residents feel towards groups of teenagers meeting on the highdecks. Youth groups just hanging around in this setting, according to Haberle, are often perceived as “gangs”. It is in anonymous places like this that Parkour shows its ability to revitalize places, even for a short and fleeting moments. By reintroducing play into public space we might see more vital urban spaces emerge. 
Keep moving,
Paul

Literature:
Heiko Haberle (2006) Highdecksiedlung und Rollbergviertel – Zwei Wohnkonzepte der 1970er Jahre in In: Matthias Seidel, Thorsten Dame (Hrsg.): weiterbauen 70. Universität der Künste Berlin
WEEBER+PARTNER (2015) Integriertes Handlungs- und Entwicklungskonzept 2015-2017 Quartiersmanagement Sonnenallee/ High-Deck-Siedlung

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