During our visit to Copenhagen it became clear that good architecture is perceived as an undeniable value, also in regard of the non-profit housing assignment in the capital. By all parties involved in the building industry, architects are considered well respected professionals and their contribution to the building assignment is, also in these times of financial crises, not in question. The non-profit housing assignment is probably the best example of this fact.
Housing in Copenhagen is, as in probably most other countries in Europe, very much influenced by the economic situation. In prosperous times housing prizes rise, developers build and the municipality can try to convince the developers to add quality to the surroundings by realizing their projects. But under these circumstances, non-profit housing organizations can’t afford to build on the central locations, because they cannot afford the land. On top of this, housing is mostly market driven. As a result, only products that do well on the market are being developed. Under these circumstances it is almost impossible to build for the lower incomes. In periods of economic decline however, the non-profit housing organizations can buy land and build housing for the lower income groups.
Still, there are numerous parties that put an effort in realizing affordable housing for starters and young urban inhabitants, also in prosperous times. Remarkably, it’s architects that come up with innovative, smart concepts. Besides, architects know how to integrate optimized building logistics in the design of good dwellings and agreeable living environments. This makes that architects are seen as an important party in the development of low-income housing.
An interesting development is the Armenbolig+ concept of non-profit housing organization KAB, the biggest non-profit housing organization in the Copenhagen region. Stine Kofod explained the concept of prefabricated lowrise casco houses that was first developed by a coalition of an architect and a builder in order to offer affordable but spacious and architectural attractive housing for a low prize. Tenant’s take care of maintenance of their homes and outdoor space.The dwellings are delivered as a casco+, tenants can eassily change the interiorwalls, bathrooms, kitchens etc.. In return they pay low rents. The projects are up to 20% cheaper than other non-profit housing estates, 10% through the use of prefab solutions. The other 5-10% follows the new model for running it, where people take care of some maintenance themselves.
This principle was also used in the project Signalgarden in Copenhagen, by Lejerbo, where they built several blocks with different housing typologies. We have visited a maisonette of three stories accessed from a gallery. This is a uncommon typology for Denmark, even for Copenhagen. The inhabitants, a family with three children and a dog, are very happy with their house. They pay a relatively low rent for their 120 m2 flat, 1000 DK per month (ca. 1300 euro), this includes energy. In return the inhabitants of the block have to maintain their own collective garden and do some other maintenance jobs. The housing at Signalgarden looks well designed, the floor plans are clever, the facades smooth with expressive balconies, aluminum cladding and careful detailing of the common spaces.
We have also met Flemming Frost of JuulFrost arkitekter who initiated and build the concept of Bedre Billigere Boliger (Better Cheaper Housing) in Ølby. They designed apartments that were built for half the prize of normal non-profit housing. The quality they achieved is, considering this reduction of the building costs, very remarkable. The main significance is, however, that they showed that affordable housing does not necessarily means a cheap, worn down at forehand and stigmatic architecture.
These examples from Copenhagen show that in order to develop attractive and cheap housing solutions the architect can play a crucial role. A role that improves all aspects of the project: better, cheaper housing.