Leave a comment

A sustainable district is more than the sum of optimised buildings

The construction industry’s transformation towards more sustainability cannot be solved on the basis of only optimising individual buildings. Instead, the focus is shifting to optimising whole districts. The DGNB offers an independent system for this topic. Dr. Stephan Anders, DGNB Head of Certification, has gathered some information on sustainable cities, districts and the challenge of planning sustainable living environments.

In the coming decades, the world’s population will be confronted with two fundamental processes of change, both of which will take place at roughly the same time. On the one hand, there is the increasing influx into cities, their growth and all forms of urbanisation. And secondly, climate change – the earth is getting warmer and warmer.

In addition, both processes interact with each other, because the consequences of climate change are often particularly being felt in large cities. In future, cities will therefore have to concentrate even more on these two tasks of keeping their own contribution to global warming as low as possible and offering their growing population a high quality of life. This challenge can obviously not be met at building level alone.

Five topics and seven usage profiles for cities more sustainable

One basis for the (re)design of sustainable cities is the planning of sustainable districts. The DGNB system for districts was relaunched in 2020 (it is also available in English). Reason enough to pause at this point and recapitulate the concept and structure of the system.

For the districts system, we have looked at the challenges that a sustainable district must face on a superordinate level. These are elementary fields of action such as climate action and sustainable energy supply, clever land use planning, mixed use, sensible traffic concepts, ventilation and air quality, as well as biodiversity.

In order to address complex challenges such as these in our criteria, we have drawn on the tried and tested DGNB concept of topics. In the districts system, there are not six but five topics, because site-related criteria are integrally incorporated into the system: ecological, economic, socio-cultural and functional, technical and process-related. Each topic is rated at 20 %. In order to meet the different demands of different types of districts, developers can certify according to seven usage profiles: Urban Districts, Business Districts, Commercial Areas, Industrial Sites, Event Areas, Resorts and Vertical Cities, i.e. high-density high-rise ensembles.

In the beginning was the planning

The quality of the planning and participation process is particularly important in districts developments, because only through the early participation of local stakeholders and specialist planners can all concerns be taken into account holistically and translated into an integral planning concept. One example: the orientation and alignment of buildings to each other. Promoting space-saving construction methods while guaranteeing the supply of fresh air, planning open spaces for encounters and at the same time designing them in an aesthetically pleasing way so that people also feel comfortable – not so easy! That is why the process qualities are weighted twice as highly in the districts system in comparison to the system for the new construction of buildings.

Hexagonal sustainability: the office and commercial quarter Berlin TXL – UTR – Campus West in Berlin. © gmp Architekten

Districts and SDGs

By the way: At the DGNB, we constantly compare our system with the so-called SDGs – the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, the UN catalogue of objectives which the global community should be moving towards. The construction industry is considered a key sector for reducing global CO2 emissions, for example. Our analysis has shown that the DGNB system for districts, as intended, makes a major contribution to SDG No.11, sustainable cities and communities. However, SDG No. 13, climate action, and SDG No. 3, health and well-being, are also covered to a relevant extent. Other SDGs are at least partially served. More information is available here.

Courage and added value

But how does a certificate benefit building owners? First and foremost, I would like to congratulate all those who decide to become certified: They have shown the courage to be part of the sustainable movement that is constructively developing the building industry and creating sustainable living environments for our fellow human beings! A somewhat abstract value at times, I readily admit. But certification also has a number of advantages that help you in your everyday life: the certification process as an instrument for defining qualities and putting them into practice, a high degree of future security through the reduction of cost-intensive risks, the use of LCA as a planning tool, the certificate as a communication instrument and for positioning, as well as simplified building certification, which entails further advantages.

Prominent applications

The DGNB system for districts is the market leader in Europe. It is already being successfully applied to several districts.

One lighthouse project, for example, is the newly emerging Oberbillwerder district in Hamburg. The urban quarter of IBA Hamburg GmbH received the DGNB Platinum pre-certificate with an overall degree of fulfilment of 81.9 %. According to the plan of the Danish office ADEPT together with Karres + Brands from the Netherlands, 7000 flats are to be built in the 105th district of the Hanseatic city, approx. 5000 workplaces, schools and day-care centres. A kind of green ring road, selective parking garages instead of space-intensive parking spaces, and diverse architecture are to guarantee sustainability.

Another pre-certified project, but already of national importance, is Deutzer Hafen by Cobe Architects in collaboration with RMP Landschaftsarchitekten – Cologne’s new urban district. The urban development of the area has already been indiscussion for ten years. The planned area by developer moderne stadt covers over 37 hectares (more than eight hectares of which are waterfront). About 3,000 flats and living space for about 6,900 inhabitants are to be built. In 2020, the project was pre-certified with an overall compliance rate of 83.3%.

Other interesting projects are, for example, the Berlin TXL – UTR – Campus West in Berlin, Les Corts Campus of the FC Barcelona football club in Barcelona, the Neckarbogen urban quarter in Heilbronn or the Chinese Sino-German Ecopark Qingdao.

On the greenfield site: the Oberbillwerder urban quarter as it will be. © IBA Hamburg / ADEPT mit Karres + Brands

Act now!

The 2020 version of the DGNB system for districts is the result of an intensive examination of current social and market-specific requirements. It provides answers to all important challenges of current transformations. Let’s tackle the upgrading and adaptation of our cities now! As head of the certification department, I am already looking forward to the district projects in the next few years.

The DGNB system for districts is available in German and English. All information on certification can be found here.

Filed under: Districts


Stephan Anders studied Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Stuttgart and the ETH Zurich. From 2009 to 2015 he was an assistent professor and doctoral candidate at the Institute for Urban Design at the University of Stuttgart. Since 2012 he works for the German Sustainable Building Council e. V. (DGNB). At the DGNB he cared for the development and international application of the certification systems for sustainable urban districts and industrial locations. Since 2015 he is also lecturer for urban planning at the University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart. 2016 he published his dissertation with the title "city as a system: method of holistic analysis of planning concepts". Since 2017 he is the Director of the DGNB System.

Print this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *