Berlin is poor, cool and dirty. Despite its momentous debt however, landscapes are still being built. These are often overtly iconic-civic places, as part of the capital’s ongoing symbolic nation-building (and apologising) exercise, but also spaces built because the state is relatively progressive and aware of the value of social and city investment. Park Am Gleisdreieck is a big new city park of the latter school that I visited on a drab day in November, 2011.

The park is very unfussy but not without some satisfying detailed moments like the occasional super graphics and some uber-chunky glulam benches. A pastel-pink-grey concrete edge and promenade (nicer than it sounds) folds through the park and provides its major structuring spine. The rest is largely concrete paths and lawn, pierced by some remnant rail-line archaeology and ecology. There are various play and activity areas hidden away and the skate/court area was a favourite. The terrain here of crushed rock and graphical sports surface is folded to connect the different programmes, while also handily defining their limits.

The site was formerly a major rail junction turned closed-off wasteland, and its isolation is still appreciable. Large, bold access points are required to bring people in and negotiate a substantial increase in level (rails often operated above roads in the city). The level change, although in places disconnecting, is also a virtue as it shelters the park from traffic and creates a bit of oasis, elevated above city life and strife.

In a city where investment and gentrification is often met with resistance, the design struck a practical balance between grit and embellishment. Much more and it wouldn’t have fit with its neighbouring, grimy context, or the broader city itself. The park feels well-judged and realistic in a city that can’t afford to clean its graffiti nor manicure any but its most central and visible public spaces. It’s cool and robust, like Berlin. -NJ