Freiburg (Rieselfeld and Vauban), Germany


Located in the south western corner of Germany Freiburg is a university town in an area that has benefited from high tech industry. The town’s population is 135,000, with a further 60,000 living in the suburbs and outlying hamlets.  After the war, the city had to start by restoring its ancient fabric. It early on realised the impossibility of accommodating the car, and so invested heavily in cycling and a high quality public transport system.

Planning and Process

A side effect of the pattern of regeneration and development has been that the population in the centre is now largely made up of singles, and those with families can no longer afford to live there. To cope with the pressures the municipality has planned and developed two new settlements on land it has acquired. One, called Vauban, is a former barracks, and includes a high proportion of self-build conversions of the old barracks buildings. The other, Rieselfeld, has been built on fields opened up by an extension of the tram system.


The city put in the infrastructure and then let sites to private builders, housing associations and self-build groups.

Climate Change

There are a number of innovative principles, including minimising energy consumption and water run-off, and with a mix of uses the whole development is intended to be environmentally friendly. There are a number of shops around the tram stops. Car parking outside the residential blocks is kept to a minimum. Some blocks have parking under them and there are large multi storey car parks at the edges. Cycling is encouraged.

Freiburg QC Study tour
images © Urbed


The whole environment is extremely child friendly, making it popular among those with young families.  There are no signs of graffiti, and the development seems extremely popular, the high densities helping to generate street life and a sense of community at a neighbourhood level.

The pattern of splitting blocks into maisonettes with separate entrances and large balconies overcomes many of the disadvantages of flat living. But it is probably the appeal of children growing up with ideal play conditions that attracts so many young parents to these new developments.


Most of the housing is in five to six storey blocks made up of two storey maisonettes. There is a high stress on balconies and communal courtyards. However, the most impressive feature is probably the ecological landscaping around the water courses, which has been replicated in the abundant planting around many of the blocks.

The apartments have been made attractive through a number of features.

Learning from the Past and Present

In Vauban, inspired perhaps by the conversions of the old barracks, the residents have very much made their mark, and take great pride in the semi-communal gardens.

  • They are set in a natural landscape, which creates the sense of living in the country. Access to allotments is easy, and the small huts create a kind of ‘place in the country’.
  • While the blocks tend to be similar in height and footprint, each looks individual because of the rich variety of materials and colours used. In Vauban, the policy of keeping cars in peripheral car parks also helps to make the development quieter and safer - the use of crossroads without priority helps to keep traffic speeds down without any need of humps.
  • Each block is different and this is encouraged by the high proportion developed by co-ops, in which the occupiers invest ‘sweat equity’.

Freiburg has promoted planned extensions to cope with demands for more housing. The two settlement extensions of Rieselfeld and Vauban are different from most development attempted in Britain, and it is easy to dismiss them as interesting, but hardly relevant. Yet they tackle some basic issues that apply equally to British cities, including how to attract families to live at higher densities close enough to city centres to avoid depending on the private car.


URBED/Brian Human (Vice Chair HTF)
1stJune 2010