Study Abroad Option Studio: “Poor but Sexy”: Berlin, The New Communal

Former Berlin Mayor Klaus “Wowi” Wowereit’s claim in 2004 that Berlin is “Arm aber Sexy”, poor but sexy, set the tone for a post-reunification milieu where cheap rents, radically changing demographics, and a burgeoning art and music scene set the stage. Bogged down in large infrastructure projects, such as the long delayed and over-budgeted new airport, Wowereit missed the cue for the needs of everyday citizens, that is, the urgent need for new affordable housing, and was recently ousted. 1

Increasing friction between market-driven speculation and the need for affordable housing is rising in a context where 30,000 new apartments are needed within a current legislative period of five years with a yearly demand of 6,000. Berlin, as a growing metropolis, needs housing after much commercial and cultural expansion. The opportunity lies in creating density in a diffuse multi-centered/ layered city. What new sustainable typologies can give form to a new residential urban landscape? The current political/ speculative climate suggests a proactive one, that is, where planners, architects, and developers propose housing solutions that can interface/ embed in a historical city but with no direct precedents or master planning to guide them, anticipating and provoking new experimental ideas for an immediate and urgent future. What could be new models for these typologies where proactive speculation is given the opportunity for re-mapping economic, zoning, and density, and as negotiated not pre-ordained?

“The city of Berlin has decided to build thousands of new dwellings in response to an obvious lack of affordable housing. But how should these dwelling look like? For whom are they built? How can they challenge the ongoing zombification (the blatant urban re-imaging) of the city. How can post-nuclear-family mass housing become a domain for experimentation and investigation?“ 2

Proposals should be developed at multiple scales mediating between the conceptual and the physical, at the scale of an individual dwelling (from 50m2 and 6 Euros/m2) and as understood urbanistically in their collective/ aggregate whole. This suggests a comprehensive and inclusive approach where strategies for infrastructure, landscape, and movement are integrated in the reframing of \”housing\” models. Proposals will consider and provoke our conception of what \”private\” and \”public\” space is and how it overlaps and is mediated and articulated by these housing types. A particular focus will be given to new forms of production and making (by rethinking the possibilities of prefabrication), and how such a project might materialize physically, economically, and with an emphasis on quick construction.

Case studies include but are not limited to the following approaches and situations for new proactive methods for generating density.
1. Re-purpose/ appropriation infill (International Congress Center, ICC)
2. Shuffle strategies: Cut and Fill: The Plattenbau
3. Fallow Ground (Tempelhof Field, former airport)
4. Aufstockung/ Anbau, adding to and on existing housing stock.

Another IBA:
Such an approach suggests an alternative to the IBA (International Building Exhibitions) of 1957 and the 1980’s, which offered heavily, state subsidized models for economical experimental housing as designed by a cadre of international architects and planners. If such state support has largely disappeared for such enterprises today what are the mechanisms and response by design that can harness market forces with incentives for affordable housing in a new public/ private partnership?