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Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

How do you recycle a bunker?

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The bunker on Poelchaukamp near our home has found new life as a music studio

The bunker on Poelchaukamp near our home has found new life as a music studio

Michael Geller recently wrote that “the most sustainable building is often one that already exists, one that can be reused, rather than be demolished.” While this is certainly true, some buildings are more challenging than others. How do you recycle a bunker?

This is a challenge faced by urban planners and architects in Hamburg. Four hundred and sixty nine above-ground bunkers were built in Hamburg alone during the second world war, from the smaller ones that could hold fifty people to the giant Flakturm IV, which sheltered over 25,000 civilians during Hamburg’s 1943 firebombing. Most of these bunkers are still standing: the British, who occupied Hamburg after the war, found that they couldn’t be demolished without damaging the neighbourhoods around them.

The round tower bunker near Barmbek

A round tower bunker

Some of these bunkers are actually attractive. Eleven rundtürme, large round towers meant to shelter 500 people, were built around the city. With their brick cladding and conical roofs, these structures look vaguely medieval and many have found new life as restaurants. But the 83 bunkerhaüser, the tall square concrete blocks, are unredeemingly ugly.

There are three square ones within a five minute walk from our place here.  One has a mural painted on it (a forest) and serves as a store for construction material; one, pictured above, has been converted into a music recording studio (the walls are so thick, you can barely hear the music from the sidewalk); the third, wedged between residential blocks, seems to be a bare concrete wall without a purpose.

So you have to admire the daring of the architects who took on the challenge of recycling two of these square monsters. In both cases, an appartment complex has been added to the top of the bunker, while the actual structure has been converted into a self-storage space.

The bunker at Schellingstrasse 43 is now topped with two full floors with 5 appartments, each about 130 m2 (about 1300 square feet). The third floor houses two luxury four-bedroom appartments with a large garden terrace – and a great view.

Its counterpart on Marienthaler 173 may have it beat on innovation points, though. It too is capped with two floors of appartments, but with a difference: the appartments here, 36 of them, are designed as small (14 to 22 m2) student appartments. The are fully accessible by wheel-chair, and are highly energy efficient: the incorporation of a ventilation heat exchanger means that the energy use is 15% less than the required standard WK-EH 70 (EnEV 2009). This is a building code that mandates a heating requirement of no more than about 40 kWh per square meter of floor space per year. To put this in perspective, in Vancouver, it would cost $32 per year to heat a 1000 sq ft appartment built to that standard; and this student appartment complex outperforms this.

The Marienthaler bunker, converted to energy efficient student housing

The Marienthaler bunker, converted to energy efficient student housing.  The graffiti are original.

Note: I’ll have more to say about the two giant bunkers later, as they are both slated for projects amazing enough to warrant separate posts. Meanwhile, here’s where I got my info: Helga Schmal & Tobias Selke, 2001. Bunker: Luftschutz und Luftschutzbau in Hamburg. Christians Verlag (yes, a book about the bunkers of Hamburg, which I got from the local library – there are bunker geeks out there!); and Wohnbau in und um Hamburg 2012, a publication available as pdf.

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Written by enviropaul

October 8, 2015 at 12:05 am

One Response

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  1. […] do you recycle a bunker, part one, is here, and part two is […]


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