Vauban is Famous!
Enter "Vauban Germany" into your favorite search engine and you'll find plenty of stories about this unique district of the city of Freiburg. Vauban is famous!
Vauban's fame contributed to our decision to spend five weeks in Freiburg. As urbanists, we felt that we needed to study this place with the "car free" neighborhoods where residents participated in the planning process; the City of Freiburg enabled and encouraged the eco and people friendly master plan and mandated that no single family houses would be built; architects created passive solar and energy plus house designs; and developers and co-housing groups participated in the construction.
To visit, we hopped on the tram in Freiburg center, and rode through older neighborhoods and then on to Vauban. Walking along the main avenue, we marveled at the car free silence and calm, smiled at the pleasing, even whimsical, contemporary home designs, and relished the easy pedestrian focused environment and the rich summer green landscaping.
Vauban, Freiburg's newest district, was originally a German army compound. After WWII it became a French military compound and remained as such until 1994, after German reunification. The City of Freiburg then took ownership of the property. A few of the original barracks buildings were preserved and have been transformed into student apartments. The service quarters were converted into Haus 037, now a community center with day care, youth centre and bistro. These added a funkiness to the place alongside the uncharactisticly untidy encampment of professional squatters who occupy part of the site to prevent any development proposal they feel is unsuitable.
Far more compelling to us were the limited presence of cars, either parked or moving, along the streets, the ease and joy of walking along narrow streets and pedestrian/bike pathways, the many roofs with solar installations and the diversity of passive solar buildings.
Facing Merzhauser Strasse, the main road into Vauban, was the Solar Garage where residents who really want to own a car may purchase a rather expensive parking space.
Across the road the Sonnenschiff (Sun Ship), a residential and commercial building, 125 meters long, is the most visible element of the Schlierberg Estate. Behind this long facade were 60 residential units clustered along narrow lanes. Architect Rolf Disch designed and executed this award winning project.
The south facing roofs of many of the passive solar houses held installations of photo voltaic panels. Together they generate 7000 kWh per year which is more energy than the houses need for their own energy requirements, making this an 'energy plus' project.
The 'Young and Old' multigenerational residential project offered wheelchair access as well as energy generation to meet the needs of residents. The ISIS passive apartment project offered the 14 families who live there innovative solar heating and ventilation systems.
Perhaps the most dramatic and idiosyncratic project was another Disch project, the Heliotrope House. A surplus energy prototype, utilizing a sun following solar array, it now serves as a residential, studio and experimental building.
Our new friends, Heidrun and Walter, joined a Vauban co-housing group and together, the group built their apartment block. Visiting one evening for dinner, we learned that they don't have a car and use bikes to go everywhere, seldom riding the tram and using a car share program when they (occasionally) need a car. They feel good about their decision to live in Vauban. Heidrun told us, "There are many highly educated people and comparable few poor. People tend to be open-minded and interested in social developments. This is not how life is in Germany in general. We are living on a sort of island. But to be honest – we don't mind, we like this island."
We guess that Vauban may be a bit of an island but it is also a grand experiment in living well with a smaller footprint. There is plenty to learn here!
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