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The European Answer to Silicon Valley
by Martin Lewicki | 9/29/2014
The new TXL - a place of work and encounter for start-ups, university research institutions and industrial enterprises.
Photo © GRAFT Gesellschaft von Architekten mbH

What happens to an airport when it closes? Urban planners in Berlin are occupied with this question at present, as Tegel Airport (TXL) will be replaced in a few years’ time by the modern Willy Brandt Airport (BER) outside the German capital. The vision is that urban technologies for the city of the future will soon be developed on a site where 20 million passengers a year were once handled. It could be the European answer to Silicon Valley.

The future of Tegel Airport has a name: Urban Tech Republic. According to the plans of its initiators, solutions and products for new urban challenges will be created here and find their way to global markets. The aim is to turn TXL into a place of work and encounter for start-ups, university research institutions and industrial enterprises. Visionary and creative ideas are to be combined with industrial know-how and open-minded investors. Something like a hotbed of creativity, reminiscent of Silicon Valley in California.

Indeed, hardly any other city provides such good conditions for the Urban Tech Republic at present as Berlin. According to a recent study by McKinsey, Berlin is already seen as one of Europe's leading start-up cities. "But in order to catch up with the leading international start-up locations, Berlin has to exploit its excellent potential even more strongly," says Katrin Suder, head of the McKinsey office in Berlin. Supporting company founders and talent, providing capital for newly founded enterprises in the growth phase and networking start-ups with established companies are the fields where she sees the biggest potential for improvement. All of these are factors that have contributed to the success of Silicon Valley.

In Berlin the aim is to apply this entrepreneurship philosophy specifically to urban technologies, as the trend to urbanization is moving ahead globally. It is estimated that in the next 40 years up to 70 percent of the global population will be living in cities – on a mere three percent of the Earth’s surface. The consequence is mega-cities of unprecedented, bound-breaking dimensions, a development that creates enormous problems. Urban mobility, energy supply and the use of resources are especially challenging topics. Furthermore, new materials and intelligent systems are needed to be able to tackle these coming challenges. That is why the plan is to develop and produce solutions for tomorrow’s cities under the heading of “urban technologies.”

Urban Tech Republic plans to focus on electromobility in particular. It will be a testing ground for conceiving and integrating new mobility concepts. In the “workshop of electromobility” producers of charging stations or newtechnologies for generating energy, for example, could be established and use the urban space of Berlin as a research laboratory. Power-train technology and components for electric and hybrid vehicles, intelligent traffic guidance systems and city logistics could then be tested directly on the spot.

In this year’s Audi Urban Future Award the Berlin team is tackling the question of what influence the Urban Tech Republic will have on Berlin’s traffic and how this development center with up to 25,000 employees and residents can be linked to the city efficiently.How will flows of people behave? And what is the quickest way to move about in urban space? The Berlin team is searching for answers, and will present them as part of the Audi Urban Future Award 2014. Its result will be a contribution not only to taking the vision of the Urban Tech Republic closer to reality but also to illuminating the whole topic of future mobility from a new perspective.

More articles on the Audi Urban Future Initiative 2014

The place should turn into a hotbed of creativity, reminiscent of Silicon Valley in California. Photo © GRAFT Gesellschaft von Architekten mbH
In the “workshop of electromobility” producers of charging stations or new technologies for generating energy could be established. Photo © GRAFT Gesellschaft von Architekten mbH
Power-train technology and components for electric and hybrid vehicles, intelligent traffic guidance systems and city logistics could be tested directly on the spot. Photo © GRAFT Gesellschaft von Architekten mbH
At the Audi Urban Future Award 2014, the team Berlin will present a vision of Urban Tech Republic. Photo © GRAFT Gesellschaft von Architekten mbH