The new building category “urban area” provides municipalities and architects with more flexibility when planning urban areas. This can create more living space in densely populated cities and help revitalize them as well.

With the Act on the Implementation of EU-Directive 2014/52/EU concerning urban planning legislation and the strengthening of cohabitation in the city, the “urban area” was introduced as a new specific land-use area category. The provisions came into force on May 13, 2017.

Challenges for municipalities and architects

More and more people move into the city to be close to their workplace or to be able to reach the supermarket around the corner walking. They also want to experience the versatile cultural, social and political aspects that the city offers. The model of a “functionally separated city”, where people live (in purely residential areas) and work in the city (in purely commercial areas) is outdated. However, the movement into the cities leads to an increased population density in the cities and thus to a housing shortage. Different views and expectations of the people pose challenges to municipalities and architects regarding urban planning.

Urban area as a solution for more living space

To facilitate the juxtaposition of business, leisure and housing, the legislature has established the new “Urban Area” category in the Federal Land Utilization Ordinance (BauNVO). The new category enables the housing and accommodation of commercial enterprises as well as social, cultural and other facilities that do not substantially interfere with housing projects. This allows the simultaneous construction of residential, commercial and office buildings, retail businesses and facilities for government buildings, as well as for religious, cultural, social, health and sporting purposes in one building area category. The urban area essentially combines the already existing building area categories of “mixed area” and “special residential area”.
In contrast to the already established mixed and special residential areas, the mixed use of the urban area no longer has to be balanced out. For example, 70 percent living space and only 30 percent commercial use could be realized instead of the – until now – 50/50 distribution, as is the case in mixed areas. This allows for a multi-faceted development of cities as well as for an adjustment to the interests and desires of the inhabitants.
To enable the new building area to be implemented flexibly, the Law allows to determine the size and proportions of floors for apartments and commercial use. Above a certain floor defined in the development plan, only apartments are permitted.

Increase of the upper limits of land use

To be able to achieve the new flexibility, the upper limits of land use for urban areas have been significantly increased when compared to special residential areas and mixed areas:

Building area Buildable space to plot ratio (GRZ) Floor area to plot ratio (GFZ)
Special residential area 0.6 1.6
Village and mixed areas 0.6 1.2
Urban areas 0.8 3.0


The increase in the upper limits allows land plots to be used more efficiently and buildings to be built higher than other building area categories may allow. Only the core areas with a building space to plot ratio of 1.0 allows an even more generous utilization of the area.

Increase in permissible noise

With the introduction of the new urban area, the so-called TA noise (Technical Instructions for the Protection against Noise) will also be updated. Since the new mix of different usages can lead to higher noise levels, the federal government plans to increase the permissible noise level in the urban area by 3 decibels (A) during the day. The commercial noise emission values can therefore rise to 63 decibels (A) during the day. However, there seem to be no plans to increase the current decibel dB (A) limits during the night.

Opportunity for heavily dense urban areas

With the new urban area category, cities are given a new planning instrument not only to construct taller and more dense buildings but also to create more living space. Flexibility in urban development makes it easier to accommodate both living and working .. The urban area brings with it numerous opportunities, not only in regards to planning but also in regards to urban transportation. Due to short travel distances in urban areas, in the future, people will use public transportat more frequently and use their cars less and less. Especially at rush hours, this can lead to a considerable relief for the roads.

Practical recommendations (for investors)

Investors and municipalities should explore the possibilities of the urban area in order to achieve a much higher land-use efficiency. This applies both to newly established urban areas as well as to the establishment of (project-related) planning laws. Furthermore, when building permits are granted, an assessment should be made as to whether an existing building area already in fact corresponds to the specifications of the newly introduced urban area. The land’s expanded use might then be permissible.

By Markus Ruhmann