The Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales are the inspiration for five courtyard gardens in an abandoned factory being converted into luxury loft apartments.

Location: Berlin, Germany
Client: Realprojekt Bau– und Boden
Size: 5 Courtyards
Status: Completed 2000

Paul-Lincke-Höfe, Berlin, Germany By Martha Schwartz Partners - Sheet2
©Martha Schwartz Partners

Situated over a parking garage and in the shadow of surrounding buildings, the courtyards are a series of man–made, magical vignettes. By transforming traditional tales into a built environment, a cultural connection is made to German folklore. The design provides a strong and memorable identity for the courtyards, creating a fanciful Ômake–believe’ landscape. Because the six–story buildings surrounding the courtyards block the sun, the fairy tale gardens enliven the space with bright, colorful palettes. Each garden’s unique character is accentuated by playful architectural elements, imaginative plantings, and sculptural grade changes. Vertical elements extend the gardens skyward, filling the void between the buildings.

Paul-Lincke-Höfe, Berlin, Germany By Martha Schwartz Partners - Sheet3
©Martha Schwartz Partners

One of the gardens is based on a tale about a water spirit. In the fairy tale, a brother and sister fall into a well where they are captured by the water nixie. The children escape, but the water nixie chases them. In desperate defense, the boy throws his comb behind him. The comb magically transforms into a mountain sprouting hundreds of teeth. But the water nixie climbs over it and continues the chase.

Paul-Lincke-Höfe, Berlin, Germany By Martha Schwartz Partners - Sheet4
©Martha Schwartz Partners

The girl then tosses her hair brush behind her. The brush transforms into a mountain with thousands of spikes, but the water nixie climbs over it as well. Finally, the children throw back a mirror which shatters and becomes a mountain of sharp glass, allowing them to escape. The courtyard garden corresponding to this fairy tale is a dense, miniature forest of weeping birches. The elements are evocative of the magical mountains in the story, and serve as a playground for children.

Paul-Lincke-Höfe, Berlin, Germany By Martha Schwartz Partners - Sheet5
©Martha Schwartz Partners

The ‘comb’ mountain is made of oversized brightly– colored wooden studs stacked for climbing. The ‘brush’ mountain is made of steel beams with short lengths of colored nylon rope attached for children to scale up the mountain. The third mountain, the mirrored mountain, is a black rubber mound covered with small automotive mirrors that distort images, giving a fun-house effect. A ‘well’ is simulated with blue marbles lit from below to represent water.

The designs for the courtyards are based on the following, lesser known, fairy tales:

Courtyard 1: How Six Made Their Way in the World
Courtyard 2: The Twelve Brothers
Courtyard 3: The Water Nixie
Courtyard 4: The Juniper Tree
Courtyard 5: The Moon


Company Profile

Martha Schwartz Partners (MSP) is a leading international design practice whose work focuses on activating and regenerating natural sites and urban centers. Situated at the intersection of landscape architecture, urban design and site-specific climactic considerations, MSP has over 40 years of experience designing and implementing large scale masterplans, mixed-use developments, urban regeneration projects, as well as civic plazas, parks, institutional landscapes, corporate headquarters, installations, and gardens. MSP works with city leaders, planners and builders at a strategic level so as to advocate for the inclusion of the public landscape as a means to achieve environmental, economic and social sustainability.

With offices in London, New York and Shanghai, MSP is engaged in projects around the globe and has to date worked on projects in over 40 countries and on six continents. The core team of design professionals consists of landscape architects, urban planners, architects, horticulturalists, field implementation specialists, and senior project managers, from diverse backgrounds. This diversity in disciplines and backgrounds affords MSP the agility to work across all scales and cultures, and allows its team to be nimble and understanding in even the most challenging urban and social contexts. In addition to its core team of professionals, MSP collaborates intensively with many internationally known architects and external consultants, expanding the breadth of the practice and enabling effective response to any scale of planning or design problem.

MSP understands the urban landscape as the platform upon which human and natural environments can be brought into an artful balance. The engagement of people by bringing delight and playfulness to urban life is fundamental to the practice’s process. The practice strives to create places that are used and beloved by people. Through their design, the practice champions the human need for connection, identity and enjoyment. The creation of humane spaces can, as a result, positively impact sustainability by supporting density and the benefits and efficiencies gained through urban living. MSP’s expertise and commitment to landscape as a means for activating urban sites have led to the design of highly effective and well used public and private spaces. The team’s landscapes, installations, and large urban projects continue to shape the environments they are part of and the lives of the people who use them.

MSP has continually been recognized for its contribution to the field of landscape architecture. The firm has received many international award recognitions, including the ASLA Landmark Award, the ASLA Honour Award, the British Association of Landscape Industries Award in the Regeneration Category, the Chicago Athenaeum Award for Best New Global Design, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award and the Urban Land Institute Award for Excellence.


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