Project 21: Large Settlement Sachsendorf-Madlow

New life in the old panel-constructed blocks of flats

At the edge of Cottbus lies Sachsendorf-Madlow, the largest panel construction development in Brandenburg. Built in a few years for the workers needed by the lignite and energy industry, the development lost 50 per cent of its inhabitants after reunification. It quickly entered a downward spiral of vacancies, neglect, negative publicity, and more people departing. This trend was combated using a model city conversion process. Today, the development is stable again.


Politically-backed large-scale lignite mining in the GDR – and in Lusatia in particular – led to a huge increase in the number of people working in the region. This was especially true of Cottbus, once the capital of this »Energiebezirk.« Tens of thousands of people worked in the region’s open-cast mines and power plants – and needed homes close to their workplaces. This led to the large settlement of Sachsendorf-Madlow being built in south-west Cottbus from 1976 to 1986 (from prefabricated panel elements). Over ten years, almost 12,000 flats were built for about 30,000 miners and energy plant workers and their families.

But the political upheavals changed everything: after the reunification, most of the lignite mines had to be shut down for economic or ecological reasons, with a loss of about 90,000 jobs. The children and grandchildren of the people who had moved to the region because of jobs »in lignite« began to leave to find work elsewhere. The housing market situation meant that anyone still in the region with money could afford to choose – and they would usually choose a private house outside built-up areas. Since reunification, Cottbus has lost over 40,000 citizens – a third of its population – to the general exodus, urban sprawl, and demographic changes. Sachsendorf-Madlow has actually lost more than half of its inhabitants. About a third of the apartments in the district are empty.

The loss of people – especially educated and well-off sectors of the population – makes it hard for functioning neighbourhoods to develop and survive. The district’s high level of unemployment also harms stability. When this community was included in the joint federal and regional program »Soziale Stadt« in 1999, it was therefore facing a whole range of challenges.


Since 2000, the IBA has supported the city of Cottbus in working to stabilise and convert Sachsendorf-Madlow. That year, the city formally classified the district as an area to be renovated and adopted a double strategy – to demolish some structures while improving the district. Fifteen different projects either have been or are being implemented in the renovation area, in collaboration with the Landesministerium für Infrastruktur und Raumordnung, the city of Cottbus, and the housing associations. This made Cottbus one of the first German cities to take part in the Federal Republic’s »Stadtumbau« (urban redevelopment) programme.
The IBA was especially concerned with presenting a selection of model projects and spreading the word. Since 2002, visitors have been able to track the Sachsendorf-Madlow urban redevelopment measures either on the »IBA City Path« with its stelae markers or on the internet. Users can navigate the whole conversion area on the site

The model projects include a successful architectural experiment on the Theodor-Storm-Strasse. An eleven-storey apartment block with fifty-four apartments was about a third vacant. It was decided to demolish the panel construction and »recycle« the individual concrete slab elements based on a plan by the Cottbus architecture firm Zimmermann & Partner. Step by step, the building was dismantled, and the individual modules were built up into three-to-five-storey town villas with thirteen apartments. While there are still many empty flats in the district, the new flats are all occupied. This project proves that reusing construction elements can make economic sense, and that it is possible to reverse the trend even in shrinking districts – if the design and functional quality of the architecture and open spaces is high enough.
The Turower Strasse quarter was given an exemplary district-wide conversion – modernization coupled with partial demolition and improvements to the living environment. An old childcare centre was converted into a neighbourhood centre for the city’s inhabitants. In the Priorgraben green strip, new footpaths and cycle paths connect Sachsendorf-Madlow with more rural areas to the east and west and with the Cottbus town centre – helped by the new bridge at Priorgraben.

The first large-scale project for a public space involved the new leisure park at the Wasserturm, the Hegelstrasse sports complex and the city square with its new Sachsendorfer icon – the Zelt (tent). The Gelsenkirchener Allee was also improved with plants and city furniture.
Another of the projects was in Hegelstrasse, close to the motorway. Due to its high development density, low quality of living space, and peripheral position, this district is one of Sachsendorf-Madlow’s disadvantaged areas. There were so many vacant flats here that about 1000 flats had been »taken off the market« by being demolished. To keep down the inhabitants’ exposure to dust from the resulting wastelands, it was decided to turn them into transitional green spaces – leading to an inhabitants’ planting campaign in 2004.
In 2007, the IBA and the district of Spree-Neisse held an international architecture competition to convert the Pückler-Gymnasium school on the Hegelstrasse, which was won by the Hamburg firm pmp Padberg & Partner. There were plans for the district of Spree-Neisse to bring three such schools to¬gether under its roof, making this school the largest in Brandenburg.


Most of the urban redevelopment measures for Sachsendorf-Madlow have either been completed or are underway. There is a plan to replace the transitional green spaces on the wasteland in the Hegelstrasse with advertising space, and an appropriate development plan was created. The federal pilot project »Initiative ergreifen« (take the initiative) supported the sociocultural centre Bunte Welt (colourful world) on the boulevard in the Gelsenkirchener Allee. The Pückler-Gymnasium was never converted as planned, because one of the three schools was not closed as foreseen, removing the reason for the planned conversion.

Download the flyer: Large Settlement Sachsendorf-Madlow (747.9 KB)

Our Partners

Stadt Cottbus
DSK Deutsche Stadtentwicklungsgesellschaft mbH


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last update: 1/26/2017 13:13