Picture: Steglitzer Kreisel, Uwe Jonas 2022

Photo: Thomas Bruns

What is possible 2023/24?

“For years, rents and purchase prices for flats (and commercial premises) have been rising to ever more dizzying heights. The supply of (still) affordable accommodation is becoming increasingly scarce and, for some, partly out of reach. Even for those who have a flat, it is becoming more and more difficult to pay the rising rents and to deal with the fear of losing their own flat – for whatever reason. In the face of this problem, we want to look for possibilities that have already been realised somewhere in the world and could show us an exemplary way for a solution, or maybe just utopian to theoretical thoughts on the matter.”

This text, already written in 2021, seems almost unreal, except for the theoretical/utopian. In Berlin, around it and (almost) everywhere, housing is expensive and getting more expensive. However, there are no longer any opportunities to break new ground, for example through building groups, cooperatives, micro-apartments or houses, or classic social housing, because the prices for land and building are rising immeasurably. All those who were not fortunate enough to have sufficient means to acquire property or who simply did not want to do so are increasingly confronted with the question of how they can continue to pay for their (rented) housing. The people who no longer manage to do so quickly find themselves on the outer fringes of society. These are the ones who ask us for money in the underground, camp out on the street or use shopping trolleys to transport their belongings. An exhibition in Munich logically asks: “Who’s next?” (Architekturmuseum der TUM, until 6 February 2022) Beyond that, we ask: “What then?”.

It is true that there are ways in which societies can deal with homelessness by creating alternative housing options, so-called inclusive projects that allow the “normal” and the “failed” lifeworlds to overlap. One example is the Viennese “VinziRast-mittendrin” by gaupenraub+, which accommodates homeless people and students together and also establishes a public café in the building, which points in the right direction. But these are individual measures.
Attention must therefore be paid to individual solutions, i.e. informal housing on the edges of usable areas, which are also becoming fewer and fewer, especially in Berlin. In the agglomeration called “slum”, these irregular buildings can certainly form appealing settlements – and be temporarily liveable, even idyllic.

A search for solutions for people who have become homeless and are exposed to the manifold hardships of this situation is on the agenda. There is a need to think anew and to build anew: How about building on the Tempelhofer Feld? How many people could be accommodated there? And how can building be sensible in the future, also in view of the “climate change”? Here, the project at the former Tegel Airport, the Schumacher Quarter, is certainly grou

After decades of rising real estate prices, the market has “collapsed,” not really, but a good 10 to 20 percent cheaper than a year ago. What sounds good at first continues to weigh on the rental market, and the reasons for the slump, rising interest rates and construction costs, are leading to a sharp decline in residential construction. In the course of discussions about energy prices, types of heating and simultaneously rising construction costs, there has been a lot of talk lately about standards, optimal house construction and necessary renovation measures. Simplified can be said at present: The rent prices in the population centers will continue to rise, too little new building and postponed and/or burst dreams of the home of one’s own, the prices for residential property will rise again, with rising financing costs. Added to this are considerations regarding the energy-efficient refurbishment of buildings, which give rise to fears of further cost increases, quite apart from the sharp fluctuations in energy costs.

Apart from the possibilities of informal building, which run like a thread through the considerations in “Space for Architecture” and for which the new addition of Pakistani architect Yasmeen Labri in particular offers some ideas, the focus is on simple and traditional building. In addition to thematic essays on global architecture, there is a series on architecture in Sub-Saharan Africa (Sub-Saharan Africa. Architectual Guide), which describes the status quo from traditional to modern for this region, and a book on the architecture of Sri Lankan architect Geoffry Bawa. The aim is to learn more about architecture and building in general in order to better reflect the German reality and, above all, to find “different” solutions.

Another example from the world of architecture is the Indian architect Anupama Kundoo, who has lived in Berlin for many years, but like some other well-known architects has not built in Germany, so far only in India. The reason often given for this is that it is difficult to impossible to build innovatively in Germany, as the many regulations do not allow it. “You are not encouraged to experiment and innovate here, not even at universities. (…) ‘The West has created the huge sustainability problem because it uses so much more energy than everyone else. So it has to change,’ Kundoo says. ‘Either he has to keep inventing new things that are even more efficient, he says. But what’s the point of making things more and more perfect if they’re things you might not need? The architect suggests instead to ‘be happy with the half you have’. Coming from India, I can say: a lot of money does not necessarily mean that the party will be good. ” (SZ 22.09.2023)

So where do we go from here? All the discussions are aimed at simplifying construction. On the one hand, this leads to a simplification/reduction in the cost of building in the interests of exploitation, with a simultaneous deterioration in quality (including energy efficiency), which can lead to higher profits on the part of the developers and higher running costs for the users. On the other hand, new possibilities for “simple” building and also for “do-it-yourself” can arise, i.e. partly informal building methods can get a sustainable legal framework. A good example of this is Walter Segal, who planned and implemented “self-building communities” in England in the 1970s.

The buzzword of simple building is gaining ground in the discussion in Germany, especially due to the demand of the Bavarian Chamber of Architects for a new type E building. This initiative goes back to the Chair of Design and Construction of Florian Nagler at the Technical University of Munich, who is practically testing how simple building could work with his research buildings in Bad Aibling. Architects always flinch at this keyword because they usually think of a deterioration in spatial quality and energy efficiency, which is not the case at all with the three building types presented. It is therefore worth taking a closer look at the brochure “Simply Building”.

ndbreaking. More questions than answers remain, but we want to and must continue to consider what the future of housing in Berlin can look like so that everyone can afford it.
*** Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version) ***