Beer Garden Design: Creating Social Hotspots
by Aaron Rzeznik, Associate ASLA

Introduction

Public spaces have been used throughout history as an important area for humans to interact with one another. Since the first city was established, humans have constantly been developing new types of social hubs. For example, in medieval times the town square served as a center of social events, much like a downtown plaza today. However, people now tend to meet in multiple locations instead of a centralized area (Marcus and Francis, 1990). With the increase in public spaces, there has also been an increase in their variety. Today, people may meet in parks, malls, community centers, and many other areas. Some of these spaces are developed through pressure from the public. For example, the need for a centralized commercial area gave birth to the modern mall and the priority to create green spaces in cities resulted in the introduction of parks in urban areas. However, some public spaces are not a consequence of public pressure, but are created for other reasons. One example is the beer garden. In his article, “Welcome to the Bier Garten” (November, 1999), Conrad Seidl calls the beer garden “the product of invention,” that occurred with the creation of lager beer (beer created through a process called bottom fermentation, only occurring in environments between 39F and 48F) (Dornbusch, 1997).

History

Although beer can be traced back to the Bronze Age, it has played a particularly integral role in German culture (Dornbusch, 1997). Germanic tribes began brewing beer around 800 B.C. and have continued to transform the beverage to this day. Breweries began to make the beer in early autumn and would finish it mid-spring (Dornbusch, 1997). As early as the 16th century, brewers in Bavaria (the Southern region of Germany), would collect the barrels of beer near the end of the brewing season and stock them in specially developed cellars for the summer. By the 18th century brewers discovered they could make a greater profit if they opened their garden top cellars to the public and served the beer.

Traditional Beer Gardens

The best examples of traditional beer gardens are in Bavaria's largest city, Munich, and tourists come from all over the world to experience them. Because of the large numbers of visitors, these gardens tend to be large. Munich's largest beer garden, Hirschgarten, has a capacity of 8,000 people (“Discover Munich,” 2009). Like all traditional beer gardens, Hirschgarten arranges rectangular tables and benches in a linear fashion to fit as many people as possible. As a result, a visitor might be seated next to a complete stranger. Likewise, in a traditional beer garden, there are no private spaces. And the only vegetation on site is usually chestnut trees that shade and cool the area, and various plants on the edge of the garden that provide an enclosure to the garden. 

Rzeznik Image 1
Traditional beer garden in Potsdam, Germany. Copyright© 2009 Aaron Rzeznik all rights reserved, used by permission.

Trees are placed evenly on a grid pattern, which copies the design by early brewers to shade the ground and the cellar below most efficiently. Traditional beer gardens also use gravel paving to cool the cellars below. Gravel is also useful in these public spaces because it drains well and reduces dust (Thompson and Sorvig, 2008). However, it is not very navigable for the handicapped patron, which is understandable, considering that traditional beer gardens were a product of the 18th century.

The traditional beer garden provides a vibrant social atmosphere that brings together both strangers and families. Many beer gardens provide play areas for children near the tables so all ages can enjoy the atmosphere. The owners also provide other forms of entertainment such as music from a local folk band. When the sun sets on the beer garden, the owners illuminate the tables and aisles with lights attached to cords (similar to Christmas lights) strung through the grid of trees, which adds a comfortable luminescence to a place already emitting a healthy social glow. The typical closing time of a Bavarian beer garden is 10:30 pm, with the exception of a few that stay open until 12:00 am.

Contemporary Beer Gardens

Over the years, owners of breweries, pubs, bars, and restaurants have adapted the beer garden to fit their respective businesses and areas, and may provide umbrellas, bricks pavers, and reclining chairs in place of chestnut trees, gravel, and benches. For example, the Spandau Brewery near Berlin has a traditional German theme inside, and a rectilinear layout of benches and tables in the outside beer garden. However, because the brewery area is dense and not suitable for some traditional beer garden elements, the brewery uses umbrellas to shade the tables and artificial turf in place of the traditional gravel ground.

Rzeznik Image 2
Contemporary beer garden in Spandau, Germany. Copyright© 2009 Aaron Rzeznik all rights reserved, used by permission.

In America, most establishments do not have a traditional German theme. Rather, they adopt a genus loci or “prevailing spirit of the site” that otherwise conforms to the theme of the establishment (Reid, 2007). An example is the Bell's Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The theme of this contemporary beer garden is carried from the building’s interior. Inside, the bar is decorated in an “eccentric” manner with random pictures, murals, and memorabilia on the walls. The beer garden imitates this eccentricity with unique chairs and tables, a variety of paving materials and ground cover, mixed flora (150 different species), and assorted spaces that are both open and secluded.

Rzeznik Image 3
Assorted elements at contemporary beer garden at Bell's Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Copyright© 2009 Aaron Rzeznik all rights reserved, used by permission.

Despite the seemingly random layout of site elements, the spaces really work. The area maintains a high level of socialization through clustered seating that forces people to sit with and by one another.

Rzeznik Image 4
Clustered space at Bell's Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Copyright© 2009 Aaron Rzeznik all rights reserved, used by permission.

Similarly, because the boom of microbreweries and general increased interest in craft beers in the late 1970s, there has been an increase of establishments with unique “spirits” that have contributed to the large palette of contemporary beer gardens (Brewers Association, 2008).    

But whether traditional or contemporary, two elements of the beer garden remain constant: the social atmosphere and, of course, the beer.

Design Considerations
 
The design of any new beer garden should adhere to design criteria and a theme to improve chances of social, functional, aesthetic, and economic success. Following the basic design principles of scale, texture, color, and organization can result in a thoughtful beer garden layout. Designers must also consider the human scale in creating a beer garden: people are most comfortable with a sense of enclosure without being overwhelmed (Shaftoe, 2008). It is also best to use a variety of textures because too much of one texture can become monotonous. Color should vary as well. While there should be a consistent color scheme in the establishment, accents can be created by using brighter colors, which tend to excite the viewer (Austin, 1982). Two types of organization—unity and harmony, when balanced with interest, create a more aesthetic and functional environment (Reid, 2007).

Designers should also consider the elements of sustainability and education in creating a beer garden. More and more designers are considering the environment when planning public spaces. A beer garden could include environmentally friendly features and practices such as pervious paving, rain gardens, native plant species, reduced lawn, and fewer built elements (Thompson and Sorvig, 2008). Beer gardens can also incorporate an educational element by highlighting either sustainability or beer, or both. It is important to include signage or symbols that describe these elements and their purposes. In this regard, the beer garden at Bell's Eccentric Cafe has an arbor covered in hops (a key preservation and flavoring ingredient in beer) on the site. Honoring the elements of context, theme, and basic design principles will make a beer garden more aesthetically pleasing and functional, and increase its chances of becoming a social hotspot.

Conclusion

Beer gardens have been hubs for social activities since the 18th century. People go to reunite with old friends, spend time with families, meet new people, listen to music, and even get married. As long as the layout allows, a plethora of activities is possible in beer gardens. Future beer gardens that are thoughtfully designed to be attractive and comfortable places will continue the tradition of inviting people to visit, socialize, and, of course, drink beer!     

Aaron Rzeznik is a recent graduate of landscape architecture at Michigan State University and traveled to Germany in 2009.  His most recent e-mail address was rzeznika@msu.edu 

References

Austin, R. L. (1982). Designing with Plants. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company Inc.

Beer Gardens in Munich. (2009). Retrieved October 22, 2009, from “Discover Munich”:  http://www.discover-munich.info/beer_gardens_munich.php 

Dornbusch, H. D. (1997). Prost!: The Story of German Beer. Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications.

Marcus, C. C., and Francis, C. (1990). People Places: Design Guidelines for Urban Open Space.
 New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company Inc.

Modern History of Craft Brewing. (2008). Retrieved October 22, 2009, from Brewers Association:  http://www.beertown.org/education/craft_history.html 

Reid, G. W. (2007). From Concept to Form in Landscape Design. Hoboken, NJ:
 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Shaftoe, H. (2008). Convivial Urban Spaces: Creating Effective Public Spaces. Sterling, VA:
 Earthscan.

Thompson, J. W., and Sorvig, K. (2008). Sustainable Landscape Construction: A Guide to Green
 Building Outdoors. Washington, DC: Island Press.

 
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