#2 the German Midfield

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In may 2015 we visited 10 German cities, talked to 16 stakeholders and drove 2237 km in only 5 days. This speed-trip to the German Midfield learned us what the combination of political consistency, social innovation and initiatives by architects can bring to the housing assignment.

Intergenerational Housing
Germany is the most aged country in Europe; 20,6 % of the population is over 65. Intergenerational solidarity is the leading theme of the German policy. On a national level Germany is supporting the development of Mehrgenerationshauser, community buildings in which activities are organized that facilitate the interaction and thereby solidarity between different generations.  When families live spread out all over the country, the neighborhood should work as a new ‘family’-network that helps to be self-supporting in a society that can no longer organize every form of aid top down. This principle is also translated in new housing concepts.

We have visited several of these ‘Mehrgenerations’ housingprojects. Karmeliterkloster in Bonn is a very sympathetic project in which families live together with older people and form a small community behind the walls of an old convent. The size of this project, 70 housing units, guarantees a balance between collectiveness and privacy. In Pöstenhof in Lemgo, a smaller project with 34 units, the collectiveness is emphasized through the organization of access. This project is open to the neighborhood and integrates daycare for elderly who still live at home. Both examples have waiting lists, and prove that mixing generations could be an interesting solution for an aging society, when organized well.

 

Housing in shrinking & growing Towns
Germany has been dealing with shrinking towns for more than ten years and has developed consistent strategies for transformation of existing buildings and areas. At the same time Germany has so called ‘Schwarmstädter’, cities that grow strongly.

We have visited both sides of Germany. Freiburg and Tübingen are two small university cities in the South that attract a lot of young people. These cities are growing fast. Freiburg chooses to densify the city in the existing housing areas. The city struggles with developers to build delicate solutions and getting public support for these developments.. Tübingen, also a citiy that densifies, chooses to buy land and sell plots to baugruppen. Tübingen uses a consistent strategy for development that guarantees public support and that leaves room for new insights. This consistency in combination with a process of learning from mistakes leads to very consistent and coherent neighbourhoods.

On the other side of Germany we have visited Halle and Leinefelde, two former DDR towns with big plattenbau neighborhoods. The population of Halle Neustadt has shrunk with 50% since the ‘90’s. The city of Halle lost 80.000 inhabitants after the reunion. Most part of this loss is subscribed to Halle Neustad. The measurements undertaken by the city aim for renovation and demolition of the existing housing stock. During the recent years 13.500 dwellings have been demolished. Leinefelde has also demolished large amounts of buildings in a very short period of time. The remaining stock is being renovated as far as the exterior is concerned; behind the fresh new stucced facades the old plattenbau plans without elevators remain. The city of Leinefelde has followed a very consistent top down policy but didn’t leave much room for new insights or bottom up initiatives. Whereas these insights are needed for sustainable urban development both in terms of growth and shrinkage.

Sustainable Housing
Germany is leading in Europe when it comes to sustainable energy policy. Already 25% of German energy is gained from sustainable resources. One of the more interesting building experiments is the energy contest taking place in Frankfurt. The two major housing corporations are ‘competing’ in building energy-plus-apartment-buildings. Neussauische Heimstadt has almost finished a small energy-plus-apartment block in Riedberg, on the outskirts of Frankfurt. The even bigger energy-plus-project of ABG Frankfurt in the city center is still under construction.

These buildings generate a surplus of energy to supply all the housing related energy demand and facilitate several electrical cars.
These energetic ambitions do have an enormous impact on the architecture. Roof and south façade are filled with solar panels to a maximum amount. Balconies and roof terraces are banned to the other sides of the building or skipped completely. One can wonder if integrating energy generating systems in housing projects to such an extent is the right solution for the future of housing.

Bottom Up Housing
Tübingen is one of the more extreme examples of the self build town. Tübingen has fully professionalized  ‘bottom up’ town planning.  In the nineties this town has started to give room for Baugruppen. We have visited ‘Französisches viertel’, the oldest area and ‘Die Alte Weberei’, the newest development area. This phenomenon of Baugruppen has started in the smaller towns as a means to build affordable housing for young people. But now also some of the bigger cities start to see the plusses. In Köln we have visited the project Baufreunden of Office03, in one of the first development areas in Köln with plots for Baugruppen.
In the Netherlands this phenomenon of self-build-housing  has been given an enormous boost during the recent housing crisis. Now that the housing market is recovering again the discussion has started to preserve this way of developing. It brings a lot of variation, housing quality and social sustainability to cities but it also demands a strong government policy to get and keep it organized. Tübingen is a good example in this perspective. It has chosen to follow this way of developing because of the qualities it brings to the city even in times of strong pressure on the housing market.

German Architects in housing
German architects have always had a bigger responsibility compared to Dutch architects. German architects operate as main contractors and are also responsible for the other advisors and the builder. On the one hand this gives the architect more possibilities to control the quality until the end. On the other hand it leads to architects taking less risks in the design of the technical detail.
Also in the many baugruppen-projects architects are often the initiator, which makes their position even stronger. It gives them more control to guarantee a typical German high building standard. Recent developments in the Netherlands show more often the architect in the role of initiator.  This gives them also the possibility to claim a stronger role in the process. If Dutch architects could combine this with their conceptual and typological approach to the design this could result into an integral high quality in housing.

What ’s next?
The trips to Scandinavia and Germany have shown us a part of Europe that is doing well, by healthy economies as well as by a well-organized society. Things function, policies are executed.
In October we will visit Spain & Portugal; the Southern survivors. This part of Europe has had more trouble to survive in a turbulent context of large financial problems, immigration overflow and a less stable political history .

A book and new European prototypes
What do these trips bring us? Future housing themes are being  answered with new design solutions all over Europe. We have started a collection of housing prototypes, new solutions to future housing issues: New European Housing Prototypes. And we are preparing a book about our discoveries in Europe. More about this in next posts.

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#1 The Untouchables – Scandinavia

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In September 2014 ANA has been travelling and researching through Denmark, Sweden and Norway We have talked to various stakeholders in housing architecture; architects, municipalities, projectdevelopers, housing corporations, private clients, architecture schools, builders etcetera.
In 2,5 weeks we had 40 meetings, visited 8 cities and saw numerous projects. This first pilot trip was very inspiring in many different ways.

 

A different context generates new perspectives.

In recent years, the housing debate in the Netherlands has been strongly determined by de financial crisis. This crisis has not affected Denmark, Sweden and Norway as much as it did the Netherlands. In these Scandinavian countries, the debate on housing architecture has focused on other issues. For instance, the high pressure on the housing market has both in Sweden and Norway strongly  dominated the debate. Also in these countries (architectural) quality is under pressure, but for other reasons and with other outcomes.

ANA at Dutch Ambassy in Stockholm

ANA at Dutch Ambassy in Stockholm

The Dutch have a good reputation for innovative architecture. One of our research questions is what will happen with innovation under the new more restrained circumstances. If you look at the Dutch situation from abroad there is still much innovation. The new circumstances have caused a vacuum that has generated innovative solutions. To name one example, the introduction of the smaller scale in developments, that is clearly visible in Amsterdam (Houthavens, Buiksloterham, Zeeburgereiland), is something that the Danes also want very much, but are unable to develop due to high market pressure.

 

Architects reclaiming their role

During our first trip to Scandinavia we have met many passionate architects that have the ambition to make good housing projects. The role of architects in housing is under pressure in all countries we have visited, but in some more then in others. Some of the architects we met are developing interesting strategies to reclaim their role.
Especially in Sweden architects involved in housing complain very much about their limited role. In Sweden builders have a very dominant role and determine construction methods up to a detailed level. Architects are often not commissioned for the later stages of the design and the building process. For instance Tengbom, a firm with around 500 employees and offices in twelve cities, is focusing on how they can add value for the client. They offer performance instead of hours, in order to reclaim and strengthen their role. White architects, an even bigger firm with over 700 employees  and offices in thirteen cities, has shown us another way in which they are able to make high quality housing. In Äppelträdgården they have taken over the role of the client and worked together with a building company to design, build and sell innovative housing types in a poor neighborhood.

 

The new housing assignments

During the meetings we have focused on the future housing assignment. We found several issues that overlap with the Dutch situation, but also many differences in the way these issues are addressed.
Making livable and divers cities that provide housing for all social groups is an important issue in all the places we have visited. Building affordable housing is a recurrent topic, but the solutions differ very much, going from building small & clever, new financial strategies to using prefab building systems. Related themes are keeping families in the city, creating housing for the new generation elderly Europeans and providing affordable student housing.

Taking care of environmental issues is also a returning topic that has different emphasis in the different countries; the Swedes are taking good care of waste, whereas the Danes focus more on mobility issues.
Quality under pressure was in every meeting we had a recurring topic. Even in good economic circumstances that all three Scandinavia countries are blessed with, quality is not taken for granted. Quality has numerous definitions, defined very much by what is missed. For instance in Norway quality is defined as space, in Sweden it’s experiment and in Denmark quality is defined as creating good public/private relations.

Striking was also that we missed some themes that are part of the Dutch debate: the participation of citizens,  populism in housing architecture, private plot development, dealing with the existing housing stock. These themes are not necessarily not relevant, but they are not being debated.

 

 

Mehrgenerationswohnen: Pöstenhof Lemgo & Karmeliterkloster Bonn

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cohousiThe medium-sized town of Lemgo with about 40,000 residents is seriously aging. Wohnbaugenossenschaft Lemgo (WBL) owns a large number of familyhouses, and has to deal with this problem. They took the initiative to explore a new way of living. On a vacant site they have worked with HSD architects on a ‘Mehrgenerations’ housing concept in the project Pöstenhof.

The idea of the project is to mix generations in a small scale courtyard building. Based on a first sketch a group of interested people has been selected to participate in de process of developing a cooperative housing project with rental apartments for mixed generations. The residents are very mixed, from young to old (0-81 years). There are 21 children in the project and multiple nationalities. The project includes a day care for the elderly, which is rented to a healthcare organization. This is used by residents from the project and from the neighborhood, who depend on the care of others, but still live at home.

 

The building consists of two buildings that are half open to the street. A raised gallery filters the access of the garden to a public entrance square. An important aspect of the project is the commonality. The wide corridors are orientated to the collective garden and function as important meeting places, along with the collective garden and a collective room on the ground floor.
The outside of the block is the private side. The architecture of the outer facade expresses the individuality of the inhabitants. The fragmented articulation of the volume also connects the building to the small scale of family houses in the surroundings.

The inhabitants of Pöstenhof commit themselves to contribute to a mixed-generations-living community. The residents have signed an agreement with the owner (WBL) to make it possible to regulate all new rentals themselves. They take care of maintenance in the collective areas and organize activities in the collective space. New candidates are selected by a committee of inhabitants. For the inhabitants it is important that new people choose for the concept , and not just for the house.

The project Karmeliterkloster in Bonn is a bit older and bigger. The project has been initiated by the architects: Fischer – von Kietzell Architekten on the site of an old convent. The project contains 70 housingunits in different types around a spacious garden to create an attractive mixed generations area. In contrast to  Pöstenhof there is less mixture within the different building parts. Famlies mainly live in the rowhouses, seniors mainly occupy the apartment blocks. In the renovated part a collective meeting room has been realized that is used for all kind of activities, also accessible for people from the neighborhood.

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Karmeliterkloster garden

The inhabitants that have shown us the project tell us that it is particularly this bigger size that attracts them. It creates more privacy and distance then we have seen in Pöstenhof. But at the same time the enclosed garden, the orientation of the houses and the way the project is organized creates a collective atmosphere.

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Karmeliterkloster garden

The Miracle of Leinefelde?

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Leinefelde, is a small town in former East Germany that doubled  in population due to the construction of a large cotton mill in GDR times.  Nowadays the town is joined with Worbis to stay strong even in times of severe population decline. The population of Leinefelde has shrunk with the same speed as it grew after the Wende and after the closure of the cotton factory.  Leinefelde has since demolished large amounts of buildings. On the outskirts of Leinefelde Sud, the first large flats, that were only built in 1991, were already demolished again in 1998.

Thanks to a visionary mayor the city has had a very consistent policy, with architectural quality  high on the agenda. Now after several years of refurbishments in the southern city, the original plattenbau is hardly recognizable anymore. All the buildings have been either renovated or demolished.

As a result of competitions, two architects were selected who have shaped the major part of the transformation. The first phase is designed by Meier, Scupin, Petzet architects from Munich. The second phase by Stefan Forster from Frankfurt. Both have been able to design and execute an integrated plan. In terms of urban planning, housing typology and architectural appearance their designs have given a new identity to the neighborhood.
The town villas Forster are the most iconic. These slabs have been downsized from 6 to 4 layers, and parts have been cut out, leaving a row of urban villas. The precast concrete walls are finished with stucco in fresh colors and new balconies so that the association with plattenbau has completely disappeared.

The renovation of Leinefelde South is very convincing, due to the consistent approach. It has changed the image of the neighborhood tremendously, but it also raises a number of questions. Tino Hartlep, head of technical services at Wohnungsbau und Verwaltungs GMBH Leinefelde, tells us that after the demolition and renovation only two of the buildings in Leinefelde Sud are equipped with an elevator.  That conflicts with the strong aging of the area. The ownership situation and thus the type of residents has not changed. The beautifully renovated houses are still rented out for social rent. People with a high income cannot live there.

Despite these questions in Leinefelde the added value of the architect is greatly appreciated. Tino Hartlep confirms this with his story on recent experiences of WVL. On a very limited scale WVL builds new barrier-free housing with varying experiences. They have noticed that, in a traditional process with all parties in independent roles much more quality is achieved for the same price, as a design and build process. In future plans WVL holds on to the vision that good design should be leading.

Halle, Schrumpf oder Schwarm?

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Halle, capital of Saxony Anhalt has about 230,000 inhabitants. The old city lies on the eastern bank of the river Saale. West of the Saale the gigantic neighborhood Neustadt was built during DDR times. In the 90s Neustadt was inhabited by about 93,000 people. Nowadays there are only 45,000 inhabitants left in Neustadt.
About sixteen years after the Wende, Halle doesn’t shrink any more. The population is stable, according to Lars Loebner, head of the planning department of the city of Halle. There are however big differences between the different city districts. The old quarters of the city now slightly grow, the large plattenbau areas shrink even further.

 

When addressing the shrinkage problem Halle has stimulated investments in the towncentre and the old quarters around it, with success. In Neustadt only some apartments have been refurbished. On the edges a lot of buildings have been demolished.

The predominantly social housing in Neustadt is now mostly occupied by elderly people who started living there before the Wende and by immigrants. For a durable development of Neustadt, new generations have to move in. In order to stimulate that Lars Loebner wants to give Neustadt a ‘cool’ image. During an international design workshop with students the idea was suggested to connect Neustadt and Heide Süd. In Heide Süd you can buy a plot to build your own home. The question is if this strategy will work. The two areas are not well connected and very different.

Neustadt still has some fantastic empty plattenbau- buildings. These buildings are perfect to develop as ‘klusflats’ (cheap casco appartments, infill by the inhabitants) . Maybe such a strategy would be more successfull in making Neustadt ‘cool’.

 

Erfurt – Innercity housing

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Living in the city in a spacious, modern home with plenty of privacy, great outdoor areas and parking facility: that’s the best of both worlds. With their project Schottehöfe in Erfurt, Osterwold Schmidt + Exp!ander Architects have succeeded in combining a high quality of living with a very careful integration in the historic city center of Erfurt. After many unsuccessful attempts by various developers to develop a feasible plan on the derelict site an architectural competition ultimately led to this project. The assignment was enormous complex: high quality new housing, energetic renovation of existing buildings, the famous German parking ratio, a lot of rules for building in the tight historical context and, last but not least economic feasibility.

These architects have added great added value to the project: a very careful integration of new housing at all levels and a smart solution for the energy renovation of existing blocks.

Developing attractive housing in the European inner cities is very important to keep these areas livable and mixed. This project shows that you need a client with guts and a good architect to get this done.

What happened to Freiburg?

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Freiburg for us refers to ecological districts, renewable energy, solarsiedlung and Vauban. With the development of the Vauban district in the ’90s and ’00 Freiburg gained an eco-image at a time when sustainable building was hardly an issue in the Netherlands. We are very curious if Freiburg has managed to keep up this leading position..

We cycle through Freiburg with Pieter van der Kooij, a Delft-trained urban planner who works at the municipality of Freiburg. Contrary to earlier demographic predictions Freiburg is growing rapidly. The city is mentioned on lists of so-called “schwarm ‘cities; German cities that attract many young people and thereby grow significantly. Freiburg, however doesn’t own the land to facilitate this growth after the development of the major sites Vauban and Rieselfeld.

Vauban is such a success that it is now seen as an area for the eco- elite unaffordable to most Freiburgers. Therefore, the politicians have decided not to continue with similar developments. The city now aims at densification within the city limits and at affordable housing. With Pieter we see some more and less successful examples. A number of recent less successful infill projects have led to increased resistance to densification. This makes it difficult for the city to generate support among the population for new developments.

Densifying the city within existing urban fabric is a complex assignment. This is clearly a challenge for architects, careful densification demands integrated spatial solutions on all scales. When more volume is required a delicate architectural design is of great importance to make a project appreciated. Proof for this statements is found in one of the more successful projects; student housing in Seepark. This area, developed in the 60’s -70’s, is characterized by student housing in small towers with precast concrete walls in a green park. The new interpretation fits both in terms of volume as well as in the architectural expression very well in this context.