The Miracle of Leinefelde?


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?


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’.


The future of single family housing


This winter it was too cold to go out camping with the ANA goes Europe camper. So, when we had the opportunity to visit Bavaria in the South of Germany in order to meet local stakeholders in housing and architecture at the 13th Coburger Wohnbautag, we took the plane instead and gave a lecture on our ideas and experience on the theme of this day: The future of single family housing.

The single family home
In Germany as well as in the Netherlands, in the second part of the 20th century the family home has been considered to be the ideal way of living.
In the Netherlands we have single family homes in all sorts, varying from the very small workers homes in 19th century urban areas, to the wide and light ones from the early seventies, the cheap and narrow ones from the eighties and the technically better, but spatially similar ones from the nineties.
The last period of massive rowhouse production, the VINEX,  is just behind us. The economic crisis of 2008 has forced us to stop and rethink this ambition to produce as many as possible cheap houses in the outskirts of the city, for the better.
Also Germany has a lot of Einfamilienhäuser, especially from the period 1950-1970’s. Unlike  the dominant presence of the rowhouse in the Netherlands (60% of all households live in a rowhouse), in Germany the detached house is the most common typology for single family dwellings.

Lecture at the 13th Coburger Wohnbautag


Smaller households
In both countries a lot has changed. Society today looks totally different compared to the fifties, sixties and seventies. The traditional family, of a couple with two kids, has become a rare minority in a very diverse population.
In the Netherlands the two-parents family forms only 28% of all households. In Germany this is even less: 26%. Clearly, part of this development is caused by the aging population. But apart from that there are many other developments that create smaller households. We have less kids and we have them later. Present day young generations are even worse in guaranteeing offspring. Forming long term relationships is more and more problematic for the very demanding, hedonistic and young generations. That is what Jan Latten, professor social demographics at the University of Amsterdam has stated at the Expeditie Begonia, an inspiration day on ‘living variations for the elderly’ organized by Actiz Aedes. This results in less children on the long term. Divorce also adds to the increase of small households. In 1970 20% of marriages ended in divorce within 20 years, in 1995 this percentage has risen to 25%. [i]
You can imagine the consequence: huge under occupied family homes inhabited by lonely singles in neighborhoods that are fully equipped for the young family but totally not suitable for the aging singles (and couples).

reprogramming the new familyhome

reprogramming the new familyhome

Microliving and /or collective living
We need smaller homes, less to maintain less to pay for, more practical, more affordable.Of course we can fill the cities with mini apartments, container homes, plugin towers etcetera, but this leaves us with two important questions. How do we organize social interaction and prevent loneliness? What are we going to do with the enormous amount of single family homes we have built in the recent decades?

German experiences
In Bavaria the Bayerisches Staatsministerium des Innen, für Bau und Verkehr has initiated a modellproject ‘Revitalisierung von Einfamilienhausgebieten’. In three towns in Bavaria strategies are being researched and tested. Manuela Skorka of planungsbüro Skorka works on these three pilot projects and presented her findings at the 13th Coburger Wohnbautag.The developed strategies are aimed at the aging population, taking away barriers, creating meeting points, adjusting the housing stock and develop new housingprojects more suitable for elderly.The results are not visible yet, since the project is still in the development stage.

Waterwijk Almere

Waterwijk Almere

Case Almere Waterwijk
With the research team ‘Grijstinten in de tussenmaat’ we have been working on this theme in Almere Waterwijk, one of the oldest neighborhoods of Almere.  Waterwijk is very homogenous: 70% of the houses is owner occupied, 83% is a rowhouse. Waterwijk is expected to age strongly in the coming years. A lot of the first inhabitants of Waterwijk are still living there. Their children have grown and moved out on their own, leaving the parents alone in their single family home. The municipality of Almere has turned Waterwijk into a pilotarea for seniorproof living. They have asked the team of Grijstinten to think of strategies to deal with the existing housing stock in a strongly aging neighborhood.

Waterwijk Almere- demographics

Waterwijk Almere- demographics

In several workshops with inhabitants over 55 we have been discussing possible strategies. Immediate problems can be solved with simple adjustments such as stair elevators, but this still leaves future generations with a big problem. The amount of families in all of Almere will decrease, there is very little supply for smaller households. So there is a need for a long term and top down transformation strategy. We have introduced the ‘Waterwijk Neigborhood Cooperative’. This Cooperative can provide loans to facilitate individual adjustments. The cooperative can gradually buy, transform and sell or let existing rowhouses. Banks, municipality, private investors and the house owners can become shareholders in this cooperative that will also facilitate where necessary the social infrastructure in Waterwijk.  In the coming period the project will be developed further.

Pilot cases have started on different sites as stated above.  Some municipalities feel already the urgency to think about the future of existing single family housing areas. Hopefully these pilots will deliver useful and workable strategies that can be used in the many older single family housing areas we have in the Netherlands that face aging and downsizing households in the near future. Apart from that, these pilots should also feed awareness in new building programs. It is awkward to see the municipality of Almere think about adjusting family housing in one neighborhood and facilitating the building of large amounts of these types in other areas.

[i] Veranderingen in samenlevingsvormen en consequenties voor de woonbehoefte, presentatie door Jan Latten op Expeditie Begonia, 24 maart 2015.


Housing, planning and architecture, lectures in Linköping & Norrköping


In march 2015 we had the opportunity to visit Sweden again, on invitation of Sveriges arkitekter in Linköping and de municipality in Norrköping. This invitation was related to the LivsRum/WoonRuimte exchange project we have been involved in. LivsRum/WoonRuimte is an initiative to stimulate the quality of housing architecture in Sweden by organizing exchange events between Dutch and Swedish architects. We used this opportunity to talk to local stakeholders on local housing and planning issues.

Linköping is a midsize (150.000) town on the east of Sweden. Norrköping  (120.000). The two cities work together to create a strong region. Both cities are growing and are being  challenged to build new housing for all their new inhabitant and  Both cities are growing and building a lot of new houses. Norrkoping is f.i. working on Inre Hamnen, an area of 2000 houses. Linköping is working on BOmesse 2017/ Vallastaden a new innovative housing  area of around 500 houses on the southern outskirts of the city.

After both lectures sharing information about the Dutch planning, architecture and housing tradition we have been discussing with the  participants  the local issues in housing and architecture. The architectural quality and diversity in housing is a question that needs attention in both cities. The role of the cityplanning office, in how to guard ambition throughout the whole process. Can they work with defining rules? What other means can the cityplanning office use to stimulate quality? Is it enough to sell smaller plots to attract also the smaller developers? At the Lecture in Linköping it was emphasized that there may be even a more urgent matter to deal with in planning and housing. That is segregation. It is stated that Linköping is the second most segregated city in Sweden with Skäggetorp with its around 10.000 inhabitants as the most problematic area. Should social mixture not be the key issues to address in urban planning of new and infill neighborhoods is one of the raised questions.

Christina Nilsson Collste, chairwoman of the Östergötland department of Sveriges Arkitekter believes that Linköping already has an interesting example of socially mixed planning, in the eighties neighborhood of Lambohov. Although there is a lot to criticize as well on this development, the social, financial and typological mix has really contributed to a more integrated neighborhood in her opinion. We have noticed a strong worry that Sweden is not handling segregated neighborhoods in the right way, from the spatial planning point of view. In Norrköping we have seen small attempts to diversify in the area Ringdansen, a Bijlmermeer-like scheme on the southern outskirts of Norrköping.  Some floors of apartment blocks have been torn down to create lowrise housing with private gardens in an area that is dominated by small apartments.  That this also demands a specific approach to the public-private border is maybe the next step to develop.

We will try to continue with a dialogue with the two cities and see if we can use the LivsRum/Woonruimte approach of exchanging knowledge and experience to stimulate the debate on architecture and housing.