Project Dessau-Roßlau

Urban Cores – Landscape Zones

The old smoker tower stands like an exclamation mark in the new landscape. Nothing is smoked here now, and you can see right out into the distance. If you climb the steps to the viewing platform, you have a panorama view of Dessau and of the wild meadows encroaching on the town where factories, a school, and a very busy road once were.


 This strip of landscape is part of the urban development concept entitled “Urban Cores—Landscape Zones.” This is also Dessau-Roßlau’s IBA contribution. The town, which grew rapidly during industrialisation due to countless surrounding communities being added to the town, people moving there, and increases to the population, now needs to be split off into separate, stable “islands” or centres. Many new inner-city landscapes form on demolition sites in between these islands. These are similar to the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm, which surrounds the region and is an important part of its identity.

Dessau-Roßlau has been visibly marked by an eventful history. Thus the Garden Realm reflects the ideas of the Enlightenment. From the end of the 19th century, Dessau grew to become an industrial town. The Bauhaus School, which relocated here in 1925, sought new visionary solutions in the face of radical changes in society. Thus today classic modernism with Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus, the Masters’ Houses, and the Törten Estate built in the industrial style all belong to the town’s most important monuments. Both the Bauhaus ensemble and the Garden Realm are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Under the Nazis, Dessau became a centre for the armaments industry and was thus targeted by Allied air raids: approximately 80% of the town centre was destroyed beyond repair. Many new buildings were erected after the war. However, Dessau continued to be an important industrial location during the GDR period.

The rapid de-industrialisation following German reunification therefore hit the town hard. A misguided privatisation policy and the destruction of existing structures soon deprived the location of its economic base. This resulted in high unemployment, out-migration, and decreasing occupancy levels. After German reunification, the population of Dessau dropped from approximately 100,000 to 76,000. Following the merger with Roßlau in 2007, the dual town once again had approximately 88,000 inhabitants.


At the start of the new millennium, the fact could no longer be ignored that the process was irreversible and that all the traditional remedies for growth were failing. Demographic and economic change, decline, and demolition required completely new concepts and methods. Together with the Bauhaus Dessau and the IBA office, the town organised an interdisciplinary planning workshop with numerous participants. The discussion process resulted in the rejection of traditional master plans and the start of an open process. This process, which was intended to last for twenty to thirty years, was to react flexibly to changes in the town as far as time and space were concerned. This required the development of a new planning and land management system.

Urban Cores – Landscape Zones

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The concept has two focuses: firstly, the stabilisation of the urban core, and secondly, the development of new landscape zones. A first step was laying out the strip of landscape stretching from the station to the southern part of town. There were already many derelict sites here, but other properties were owned privately or by banks and could only be obtained by the town after lengthy negotiations and after paying a symbolic price. In order to gain as large an uninterrupted area as possible, further necessary demolition work was concentrated on these areas. The design and aesthetics of the new green zones were thoroughly debated in public. The final decision was in favour of extensive landscapes using wild meadows that only needed mowing once a year, and, bearing in mind the limited financial resources, did not need extensive care but allowed bio-diversity and experimental use. Moreover, distinctive elements such as the “Red Thread” were developed. This acts as a guideline and information system leading people along the green zones and explains the milestones of the redevelopment plan. The idea of “claims” was created to encourage citizen participation. Claims are manageable open areas of twenty by twenty metres which citizens interested in doing so can sponsor for public use for all kinds of activities. An intercultural garden and an “apothecary’s garden” were created, to name but a few. But larger areas, such as a BMX course, also found users.


For the long-term reorganisation of the entire urban framework, the development of urban centres requires close attention and tailor-made solutions. The aim is to create a “town with short paths” in order to safeguard the quality of life for the residents and to build a town on a more human scale, not one which has grown too big. This requires the tightening up of infrastructure, restoring the balance to right the social discrepancies between the “rich” north and the “poor” south, and strengthening the individual profiles of the centres. At the same, Dessau-Roßlau is trying to re-establish the building culture that was missing for decades. The town has rediscovered its important architectural heritage of modernism and wants to continue to distinguish itself as the “Bauhaus town.” Modernism is to be integrated more in urban planning.

Initially three areas have priority: the town centre; the “academic quarter” with the Bauhaus ensemble, the university campus, and the Federal Environment Agency; as well as the southern part of the town including the Leipziger Gate quarter.

The war-damaged town centre, with its widely varying differing historic layers ranging from Baroque to the post-reunification period, has long lacked an urban perspective. The centre is to be invigorated again by public and cultural events. The first steps were taken with the conversion of the former AOK building into a sports facility and learning centre as well as with the modernisation of the municipal swimming pool, which is a protected monument, by adding an adventure pool. The old theatre is now a new cultural centre. Redesigning the Dessau town park to make an intercultural multigenerational park offering a range of opportunities for diverse user groups is one of the most important plans. A workshop took place in the summer of 2009 to develop new ideas and give fresh impetus for the future of the centre. A master plan is now being compiled.


The “academic quarter” will be defined as an academic centre by cooperating and networking with established institutions. The upgrading of the open space between the station and the Bauhaus is also one of the IBA projects. Since 2009, the surroundings of these UNESCO World Heritage sites have been redesigned, including the west entrance to the station. A further important focus is the restoration of the Masters’ Houses. In addition, a new separate building is planned to house the visitors’ centre for the Bauhaus ensemble. The former “Kaufhalle am Bauhaus Dessau” supermarket will be carefully converted and is to house the joint libraries of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation and the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences.

The Leipziger Tor quarter, a housing estate characterised by post-war buildings, is struggling with a great deal social and urban problems. Moreover, this area is targeted for demolition work during urban redevelopment. Dealing with this area requires particular sensitivity in order to provide new qualities to compensate for the losses. In addition, the most important thing is social stabilisation. A plan was compiled in 2005 to consider a district concept for planned socio-spatial actions. Various people formed a network. A “contact point for urban redevelopment” has been set up in a local shop together with the local management of the Socially Integrative City. It serves as a point of contact for citizens and as an intermediary for managing and supporting the network of social institutions.

The new concept is the start of both an open and complex process, which above all requires intensive communication between citizens and the others involved. The greatest challenge for those participating will be putting up with the uncertainties, the changing conditions, and the temporary arrangements that accompany this change process. The experience gained, the newly developed communication and planning culture, and instruments like the planning workshop or the contact point are now all to be used in subsequent tasks, such as the stabilisation of the urban centres.

Ulrike Steglich, 2010

More pictures of Dessau-Roßlau


Info: Dessau-Roßlau

(Municipal Area of 2010)
1989: 119.377
2009: 88.153
2025: 78.681 (Future Prospect)

Municipal Area: 244,64 qkm

IBA-Website of Dessau-Roßlau