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The prefabricated panel buildings that were a symbol of East German construction have long been regarded in the West as examples of ­unsuccessful urban planning. Today, ten years after reunification, the majority of these structures have been refurbished – but in a disastrous form, unfortunately. Instead of tackling the structural problems involved, “conservationist” measures have been implemented, leaving the buildings outwardly largely unchanged. The mechanical services have been renewed; and the facades have been fitted with plastic windows and wrapped in composite thermal insulation systems. In many cases, the landscaping was undertaken before the start of building work, simply to take advantage of the available subsidies. In some places, developments of this kind have already been demolished, having been refurbished beyond existing needs.
Despite the fact that a million dwellings are unoccupied in the new eastern states of Germany, however, it is ecologically and economically unwise to replace existing urban fabric and infrastructure with new developments. The aim should be to rehabilitate areas with a viable future to the level of good-quality new construction, and in this way to create a fresh, attractive neighbourhood image.

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