Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave in the West, is characterized by plentiful green plantings and a historical green structure. However, due to significant damage during World War II and Soviet-era construction, little of this historical center remains. Based on historical, spatial, and socioeconomic analysis, a Kaliningrad Form-Based Code (FBC) was developed as a comprehensive document on zoning ordinances. Kaliningrad’s FBC allows the city to create a balanced urban environment, with the streets and city blocks necessary for a comfortable life. It is a part of a Russian nationwide project to increase the overall quality of the urban environment, based on UN Habitat and OECD programmes.
The Kaliningrad Form-Based Code addresses characteristic issues in the city: a tendency toward sprawl, inefficient use of built territory, a lack of preserved historical construction in the centre, conflict with the character of historical districts, monofunctionality and inactive frontage. The resulting FBC uses a comprehensive approach to regulating urban territory, covering everything from buildings to city blocks, streets, squares, and green spaces, while giving recommendations for rebuilding centres of urban life. It zones urban territory into 4 groups: historical construction, central construction, peripheral construction, and the development of housing construction.
Kaliningrad’s FBC is a unique case in Russia of regulation based on the characteristics of existing spaces, rather than functional usage, and parameters were set to preserve the city’s unique qualities. The FBC devotes special attention to the city centre, creating a comfortable environment and increasing the efficiency of space usage while respecting its historical characteristics and regulating plan.
One of the Kaliningrad FBC’s main tasks was to preserve the planning structure on lots with high-quality spaces, while beginning progressive and directed improvement on territories with problematic form-based characteristics. New zoning in the FBC accounts for existing conflicts between construction types while taking measures to reduce visual discomfort and create a harmonious frontage. The FBC regulates maximum building height and land-use ratios, creating a compact, medium-height, and human-scale built environment. In addition, it provides for a multi-functional environment by creating ground-floor, mixed-use spaces, with guidelines covering every parameter of building frontage. The overall effect is to squeeze the maximum possible utility for city dwellers and improving the function of existing structures without the need for fundamental demolition or reconstruction.
The FBC creates attractive open urban spaces by regulating street frontage – setting minimum ground floor height, fenestration, entrance heights, maximum setback from the frontage line, and spacing between entrances – which work in concert with parameters for building blocks, green spaces, squares, and streets. Fencing and ground-floor fenestration in building frontage helps to mark the boundaries of public spaces while creating a psychological sense of enclosure and protection, providing a subjective feeling of safety that is crucial to bringing urban spaces alive. Mandatory variety in the functional zoning of green spaces, squares, and streets is the final piece in the puzzle. The requirements for urban greenery increase the number of plantings, improve the environment, and restore the garden city concept in Kaliningrad.
The FBC preserved the form-based parameters to protect every district’s special characteristics, from the historical center to later Soviet construction. For historical zones, the FBC’s parameters follow historical planning structures and existing form-based characteristics of buildings, while protecting the main architectural parameters of facades. The FBC also places Kaliningrad’s city centre in a separate zoning group, acknowledging the area’s urban environment: the centre is a sparsely populated, uncomfortable, low-density microdistrict. By redefining its parameters, the FBC allows it to gradually become compact and viable, with high functional variety attractive to both residents and tourists.
Working in an environment with as unique an urban development history as Kaliningrad presented a complex set of challenges for the developers of the Form-Based Code, resulting in numerous useful lessons applicable to similar projects across all of Russia. The FBC’s developers learned that existing tools for urban spatial development in Russia do not adequately provide for sustainable development. When these documents are followed, the result doesn’t meet the new needs of city residents or the criteria for comfort and efficiency of usage in the city. The existing parameters, their qualitative values, and the proposed zoning are not capable of increasing efficiency of usage, creating frontage, preserving historical spaces, or providing for compact development.
Nevertheless, even without making comprehensive changes to the makeup of Kaliningrad’s urban fabric, the FBC has the potential to offer significant economic benefits to the existing development community. An analysis of the effects of integrating the FBC found that budgetary income would increase from 11% (175.8 million rubles per year, or $2.6 million) to 21% (335.8 million rubles per year, or $4.9 million), depending on whether additional housing capacity from peripheral territories was redistributed through compact development into the city center.
In developing the FBC, developers understood that the whole city’s environment, a result of its fundamental fabric, can only be changed evolutionarily, over a long period of time. Setting parameters that create the right conditions for solving urban problems and improving life in the city is the basis for a balanced and progressive transformation of urban territory.
Strelka KB was founded in 2013 to offer strategic consulting and comprehensive urban solutions. The company is currently working across Russia and abroad as a multi-disciplinary and multi-national team, covering expert teams, with Centers for Urban Anthropology, Urban Economics, and GIS Analysis among them. It collaborates with both Russian and international experts from 45 countries. Landmark projects include a renovation program and development guidelines for 3,500 streets in Moscow, Integrated Guidelines for Urban Development and the data-driven Urban Environment Quality Index for 1,114 Russian cities, the functional model for Zaryadye Park and architectural competitions, including Nike’s outdoor sports center in Gorky Park, Moscow, and Tel Aviv University’s nano lab.