seeding biodiversity
wittenberge, germany
june 2013
europan 12 competition
special mention,
project team:
daniel harth
carla isern
anna martínez
miguel ortega
josé ramos
cristina rivas
íñigo de la torre
susana villares
The term “biosphere” (from Greek βίος bíos ‚life‘ and σφαίρα sphaira ‚sphere‘) is the place on Earth’s surface where life dwells. The Middle Elbe Biosphere Reserve (Unesco) is a 430 square kilometer protected nature reserve around the Elbe and Mulde rivers that includes the Elbe foodplains as a unique biotope and a shelter for many en- dangered species. It is an instrument to protect the relationship between human beings and nature, promoting a sustainable development that allows us to live and work while respecting nature ́s biodi- versity and transformations. The purpose of the Biosphere Reserves is not only to conserve and protect nature. The main objec- tives include the promotion of economic and re- gional development as well as research, education and information exchange amongst its different agents.

The silos at the Elbe riverside in Wittenberge will recover their original use as seed storehouses and so become a seed bank. The Center for the Elbe Biosphere Reserve (CEBRe) is the new institution within a work-in- progress dynamic to be hosted in the silos. This program converts the surrounding landscape into the real showroom of what is being kept inside. The program can be implemented in different steps, which makes a low budget start involving the local population possible. The goal is to evolve the CEBRe as an important research laboratory and meeting point for professionals, researchers and collectors. The CEBRe will be a platform with the aim to link local community projects and regional and national institutions. 


The Center for the Elbe Biosphere Reserve (CEBRe) will be a platform to link the diverse agents of the Elbe Biosphere:
• Elbe Ecosystem

• The industrial history of Wittenberge
• The Silos as rediscovered monuments of the town
• The local population and communities
• Related associations and institutions

We propose a sustainable intervention focused on social and ecological aspects of the Biosphere Reserve. The active participation of all these related agents is key to its success. 


Seeds contain the genetic information of plants, and thus seeds are the latent connection between the CEBRe and Elbe Biodiversity: between the historic agroindustrial program of the silos and the ecologic transformation introduced to the site. The seed catalogue of the CEBRe is hosted in a seedbank inside the silos and cultivated in green houses on the site. The surrounded landscape generates an cyclical process that engages with the local community. 


In science studies, the social process of blackboxing is based on making mechanisms and related processes invisible and focusing on only showing inputs and outputs. That is what happened between Wittenberge, its former industry and the silos site years ago. We believe that architecture can help to understand the black box now, providing the common ground for decision making. We identify 3 concrete scenarios, where the opening of the ‘black box’ is necessary:

1. The silos, biodiversity generators.

The silos were built to store the harvesting in good conditions. Our proposal transforms them to host the Center for the Elbe Biosphere Reserve (CEBRe). With the new program, they recover their old function. Seeds will be stored in the silos again and will generate a transformation, cultivating them and spreading the Elbe biodiversity. Our proposal is or- ganized in 5 stages and connects all the agents involved: local community and associations, academics, politics and institutions.

2. The landscape, biodiversity in process.

The main exhibition that shows the interior of the CEBRe is its exterior: the site surrounding the silos turns into a living landscape with the biotopes ́ elements.

• A system of wetlands and meadows shelter the Elbe’s ecosystem. It is an economic proposal that does not need maintenance.
• A green house as seed nursery and orchards that us the seeds of the seedbank.

• Orchards and meadows give the local population a relation to the site, reminding them of the role of humans as responsible activators of the biosphere.

3. Living the biosphere.

Wittenberge is the gate to The Middle Elbe Biosphere Reserve and their wealth will develop together. Cities are also living organisms that need to grow and this can be the right example to show how city and nature can coexist within symbiotic relationship. Wittenberge actually needs to rethink urbanism, by selecting highly qualified housing projects as the key to develop internal dynamics.

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