The Sustainable Urban District of Vauban in Freiburg, Germany

The Sustainable Urban District of Vauban in Freiburg, Germany

G.J. Coates 

School of Architecture, Kansas State University, USA

31 December 2013
| Citation



The university town of Freiburg, Germany has a well-deserved reputation as the European capital of environ-mentalism and sustainable architecture and urban design. The city is perhaps best known for the development of two model sustainable urban districts, Rieselfeld and Vauban, both of which integrate multi-modal trans-portation linkages, ecological storm water management, low-energy passive solar houses, combined heating and power (CHP) systems, mixed uses (both public and private), local schools and a variety of shops to meet everyday needs, thus reducing greatly the need for private car ownership.

The focus of this paper is on Vauban, a mixed-use district of some 5,100 residents, which has been built on the site of a former French military base. Unlike Rieselfeld and most other European sustainable urban districts, Vauban grew from the grass roots up and was largely designed and developed (within city guidelines and with technical assistance provided by the city) by many Baugruppen, small ecologically and socially progressive homeowner cooperatives organized under the auspices of the Vauban Forum. Members of each Baugruppe worked with their chosen architect to design their own apartments and housing blocks as well as their shared outdoor living spaces. The result is a community that is socially cohesive and architecturally diverse. Excellent light rail connections to all of Freiburg, as well as car sharing clubs and extensive walking and bicycle paths, offer Vauban residents everything they need for everyday life without owning a car. In addition to pioneering new patterns of user-developed ecological urban design, Vauban also has been a leader in setting new low-energy standards for buildings in Freiburg as well as for the rest of Germany.

Based on a review of the literature, interviews with selected architects and residents as well as on-site observations by the author, this paper presents a comprehensive description of Vauban as a successful example of participatory design and development, as well as social, economic, architectural and technological sustain-ability.


Baugruppen, biophilic design, ‘car-free’ living, carbon neutral building design, child-friendly urbanism, combined heat and power systems, design for social diversity, ecological storm water management, participatory planning, Passivhaus and Plusenergie® housing, solar photovoltaics, sustainable urban design


[1] Frey, W., Freiburg Green City: Approaches to Sustainable Urban Development, Herder: Freiburg Basel Wien, p. 102, 2011. For an excellent overview of Freiburg as ‘the European capital of environmentalism’, with discussions of both Rieselfeld and Vauban, see: Gauzin-Müller, D., Sustainable Architecture and Urbanism: Concepts, Technologies, Examples, Birkhäuser: Basel Berlin Boston, pp. 69–75, 2002.

[2] Frey, W., ibid., pp. 103–107.

[3] Frey, W., ibid., pp. 108–113.

[4] See Field, S., ‘Vauban: Freiburg, Germany’, in Foletta, N. and Field, S., Europe’s Vibrant New Low Car(bon) Communities, downloadable PDF available at,

[5] Frey, W. ibid., pp. 109–110. Over the course of nearly two weeks living in Vauban in the sum-mers of 2012 and 2013, the author personally experienced the effectiveness of these greenways as ventilation corridors bringing cooling breezes into the heart of Vauban.

[6] For a consideration of the importance of integrating nature in architecture and urban design see: Kellert, S. R., Heerwagen, J. H., & Mador, M. L., Biophilic Design: the Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2008. See also: Louv, R., The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill: Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2012.

[7] Guzowski, M., Towards Zero Energy Architecture: New Solar Design, Laurence King Publish-ing LTD: London, United Kingdom, pp. 52–67, 2010.available at : http://www.werkstatt-stadt. de/en/projects/22/


[9] + Vauban,

[10] Shoup, D., The High Cost of Free Parking, APA Planners Press, updated edition 2011.

[11] de Pommereau, I., ‘New German community models car-free living’, The Christian Science Monitor, December 20, 2006. available at


[13] op. cit.,,_Freiburg. See also op. cit., http://streetswiki. + Vauban. Also see ‘The Fused Grid: A Contemporary Urban Pattern’, available at

[14] Little, J., ‘Lessons Learned from Freiburg on Creating a Sustainable Urban Community’ avail-able at

[15] ‘Vauban, Germany: Community leadership delivering sustainable urban renewal’, available at sustainable_precincts_case_study_vauban.pdf

[16] ‘Benchmark Study: European Sustainable Urban Development Projects’, available at http:// pdf, available at



[19] Frey, W., Freiburg Green City, op. cit., p. 127.

[20] Interview with Michael Gies and Jörg Lange, in Vauban June 21, 2013.

[21] Gauzin-Müller, D., Sustainable Architecture and Urbanism: Concepts, Technologies, Exam-ples, op. cit., p. 156.

[22] Frey, W., op. cit., p. 128.

[23] Interview with Jörg Lange in Vauban June 21, 2013.

[24] Interview with Michael Gies in Vauban June 21, 2013.

[25] Voss, K. & Musall, E., Net Zero Energy buildings: International Projects of Carbon Neutral-ity in Buildings, Detail Green Books, p. 84, 2013. available at, http://bruteforcecollaborative. com/wordpress/2010/06/12/phbdw-passivhaus-bau-der-woche-02/ and /wiki/2000-watt_society

[26] It is widely recognized that Germany is one of the leading nations in the western world with regard to the movement to create a sustainable society. The urban district of Kronsberg in Hannover is an admirable example of sustainable urban design architecture even though it was not created through a ‘bottom-up’ process of design and development by Baugruppen as was the case in Vauban. For a description of Kronsberg see: Gary J. Coates, ‘Sustainable Urbanism: Creating Resilient Communities in the Age of Peak Oil and Climate Destabilization’, in Wallimann, I. (ed.), Environmental Policy is Social Policy—Social Policy is Environmental Policy: Toward Sustainability Policy, New York, Heidelberg, Dordrecht, London: Springer, 2013, pp. 81–101, and; Gary J. Coates, ‘The City as Garden: A Study of the Sustainable Urban District of Kronsberg (Hannover), Germany’, in Documentation Set # 57: Sustainability Is-sues Shape Planning: Selected from presentations at the International Making Cities Livable Conference, IMCL Council, 2009. available at 57-sustainability-issues


[28] Scheurer, J., ‘Urban Ecology, Innovations in Housing Policy and the Future of Cities: Towards Sustainability in Neighbourhood Communities’, PhD Thesis, Murdoch University, Perth. As cited in Monika Anderson, Chapter 7: Community Participation available at–7.pdf.

[29] case_vauban.pdf