Page 1

What changes when a community starts building? The Phenomenon of Building group (Baugruppe) in Berlin Good afternoon, my name is Winnie and today I am going to present about the phenomenon of building group in Berlin and find out what changes when a community starts building.


1. history of the phenomenon 2. what changes? 3. how can young architect participate?

5 mins 10 mins 5 mins


- Andreas Ruby architectural critic in Berlin quotation from Andreas Ruby in 2008, he said, “One of the most interesting tendencies in German Architecture with respect to the notion of the collective are ‘building groups’, a new type of housing project which has become popular in particular in Berlin during the past decade.”


interesting tendencies

some keywords captured my attention, they are


in German Architecture


notion of collective


particular in Berlin


past decade


before WW II

I would start with a short of history of the phenomenon, going back the time before World War II.



in 1940


The urban structure of Berlin central was like this. It was overcrowded since the 19th Century.


after WW II

but after the World War II



in 1953


There were huge destructions as well as constant decrease of population caused by the War. Up to 2008, there are about 1000 empty plots within Berlin, this condition is unique when comparing to other cities like Paris, London and Barcelona.



then in 1968


1968 Commune Movement it was the Commune Movement


1968 Commune Movement During the commune movement, Political Communes gained popularity as living and housing communities. Multiple families started to live and eat together based on the principles of sharing, achieving consensus and eschewing hierarchy. Communes eventually gave rise to more general housing communities that were motivated more by practical principles, saving money for example, than political beliefs. This kind of multi-generation community living could be the ancestor of the concept of building group community.



in the 1970’s


1970’s non-traditional “family” there was a trend of non-traditional “family”



multi-family communities with multi-generation lived together in the countryside. Whereas the building groups in Berlin are in favour of having this “genuine sense of community: a village-like structure at the heart of the city�.


95% rental

Experienced from the shortage of housing in the 19th century, and then the special reason of the World War II, nowadays, Berlin is one of the traditional renters’ city with around 95% of the population lives in rental apartments.


Suburbs, outskirts, countrysides, were once the paradise for families and elderly houses, but for many reasons, young families, individuals and even elderly now are prefering to move back to the city, living in urban apartments.


This trend is not only for locals, but also for foreigners. In 2003, the governing mayor of Berlin, Klau Wowereit [SPD]], quipped in an interview, “Berlin is poor but sexy�. This may well explain despite the city fell into financial misery after it stopped receiving federal funding, it continues to exude magnetic appeal, particularly for young, creative types from all over the world.


60% single households

Now where is the district currently made up of nearly 60% single households...


one of the highest turnover rate in the city

has one of the highest turnover rates in the city?...



it’s the district of Berlin Mitte, the central of Berlin.


from Berlin Mitte...


these are some of the locations of building group projects seeking members in 2009. Certain area in Berlin could have more marketing value than others, this is why Prenzlauer Berg became my research focus. To quote, “An example of this [trend towards urban living] can be seen in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin, where one finds a striking dominance of young families. This is attributable in part to a wish for shorter routes to shopping facilities and one’s place of work, but also to a growing awareness of environmental factors and rising energy prices.�


64.29% ownership


out of the open building groups in 2009, around 65% of them were under the catagory of ownership



for the rental projects




new built

61.54% pre-1990’s

minority of them are new built, whereas



in the catagory of ownership projects





89.23% new built

almost 90% of them are new built projects


Passive House KfW-40 House KfW-60 House

90.63% if we look at the energy efficiency standard of the buildings, over 90% of those building group projects are classified in standard A to C.



18.75% in Passive House standard



53.13% in standard B



and another 18.75% in standard C


In order to answer why building group projects are tend to be more sustainable, this lead to the first research area, financial and developmental aspects...


What changes financially


What changes financially?


Developer 100%

Building Group 70-75%

first of all, the apartment price


Developer 100%

Building Group 70-75%

in general 25-30% saving compare to apartment built by a regular housing developer, a building group apartment could be 25-30% cheaper in general.


and when we compare the apartment price per square meter in the specific 5 case studies...


Developer 100%

Building Group 60-70%

there are even more savings...


Developer 100%

Building Group 60-70%

case studies 30-40% saving partly because of the self-built efforts done by the inhabitants in the building groups, which bring up the saving to 30-40% compare to developer projects.


down payment Germany 20-30%

UK, HK 5-10%

the saving in apartment price is important because in Germany the down payment is much higher than other countries like the UK and Hong Kong.


Retirement investment

Also, the number of people over age 65 in Germany is increasing constantly, in 2008, it was 19.3% and expected to be over 30% by 2050. Low marriage rate and low birth rate all these facts lead the working age group to invest in their retirement plan. Owning a flat is a way to invest for the future compare to paying rent forever.


Another financial aspect for saving annual maintenance cost, have to relate to the fact that most of the participants of building groups are interested in the idea of “building it green�. Also it could be a financial programmatic argument to receive the subsidization from the German government financially available for passive houses through certain kind of banks called KfW. The subsidization programs from these kind of banks provide special low interest rate for the loan on passive house or house which fullfil a certain % of low energy usage standard.


In one of the case study, they use a special bank which was the first social and ecological bank in Germany. The bank focuses on cultural, social and ecological projects which try to tackle challenges in our society by developing creative solutions.


the second area is planning and construction aspects


What changes architect’s role


What changes the architect’s role?


For the architect of building group project A52, they have gaind the trust from the building group community in the process of participatory design by the fact that they are eventually moving into the building. Their role are beyond architects in the project, they are also the owners as well as builders because of the self-help building for saving cost.


In the building group project LUU, since the project is initiated by their community of inhabitants, the architect involved in the project much later than other two building group projects. The community is formed from the beginning and they may have their ideas to be fullfulled, so the role of the architect is then more about communication with the group and make their dreams come true architecturally.


? architect


In the case of developer project, they are being criticised as, in quote “blocks of flats standardized in size and type and is less and less able to meet individual needs; further more, developers are rarely willing to experiment. the members of a building cooperative, on the other hand, often have quite concrete housing concepts that are met neither by offthe-peg flats nor by a detached house.� end of quote. It is interesting here the rendering from the architect’s website looks very different from the final brochure of the project. Who will control the architectural design of the final product?


Building group projects not only changed the relationship among the neighbours living in the same building, in the planning and construction process, it also brings direct relationship between the architect and the individual clients compared to the traditional investor model where the architect have to make a design for anonymous future buyers.


finally and properly the most important area is the social and urban aspects


What changes inhabitants’ role


What changes to the inhabitants’ role?


The role of inhabitants change from anonymous users of space to a community of inhabitants participate in the actual design of their living space. As a result, There are strong ties formed between neighbours as well as the potential for stable social support. They could be the initiators, the project managers, the designers or even the builders in the building process.


The inhabitants take control of their project and even try test model. For example, in the building group LUU, the group made an exceptional test model for incorporating owned apartments with apartments owned by the building group and then rented to older people among the group of inhabitants. The project addressed both ownership and cooperative housing to be built, since inhabitants in their sixties have a different life plan compare to those in their mid-forties.


From the city of Berlin’s perspective, they are starting to provide support because of the changes in the role of inhabitants. In quote “Belin’s municipal development authorities are now supporting private initiatives too, as they have found in recent years that building cooperatives encourage a resident structure of responsible home owners who have a great interest in their housing environment and commit themselves to it actively.


finally in the aspect of architecture


What changes architecture’s role


after all, what changes the role of architecture in terms of the way it is being communicated?


“Generational housing project built to passive house Berlin-Mitte” “LUU - Living in Urban Units”

here are some titles describing specific character of the project


“Particular luxury: communal areas�

when we compare the communal areas in developer model to building group model


for developer project, it is normal to have individual entrances to private studio houses, minimum shared area to reach apartments in front building and town houses... whereas


100 sqm roof terrace + 30 sqm guest room

for building group project, it is normal to have unique design for each units, reflected from the floor plans as well as building facade. The 30 sqm shared guest room, the 100 sqm roof terrace and the communal garden are made out of the decision of the group for maximizing the shared space.


“project aim: designing together, individual, flexible living�

when we compare the flexibility of the living space design


it is normal for developer project to design a town house having living area and kitchen on the lower floor whereas bedrooms are located on the upper floor. Rooms are seperated by functions and clear definition between living space and private space.


flexible designed for future’s growth

but in this unit of a building group project, there are living area, kitchen, seperate toilet and shower room, even seperate entrance on each floor. Each floor can be visited as an independent unit, so it is more flexible in a way that it would be possible to rent out part of the unit with minimum modifications


young architect’s participation


Finally, how can young architect participate? to quote an article about the concept of living together published in 2008, “Architectural discussions today often focus on topical formal trends or outstanding buildings, with social aspects playing a subordinate role. The social understanding of a community, however, is expressed in its housing rather than in a few remarkable structures. Communal aspects of living have become rare in recent times. Experiments with shared facilities had shown that they were underused and often fell into a state of neglect.



new opportunities

Where no satisfactory, affordable property is available, independent citizens are taking matters into their own hands and founding building cooperatives, which now play a forward-looking role in modern housing.� end of quote. So it’s the choice of young architect to take up the role as an architect to participate in this new kind of housing projects because the1000 empty plots in Berlin won’t be there forever.


... Will they be able to provide a new humanism? ... Are they bringing individuals, families and groups together, or are they forcing them apart?

“Notes on the New Town” - Henri Lefebvre


Henri Lefebvre has questioned about living space in “Notes on the New Town” written in 1960, in quote “Yet every time I see these ‘machines for living in’ I feel terrified... These blocks of flats are also ‘technological objects’ and machines. Will they be able to provide a new humanism? Are they already providing it? Can they mediate between man and nature, between one man and another? Are they bringing individuals, families and groups together, or are they forcing them apart?...”


... Can spontaneity “Notes on the New Town” be revitalized here, - Henri Lefebvre can a community be created?


Then he carried on to talk about the sense of community, in quote “Can spontaneity be revitalized here, can a community be created? Is the functional being integrated into an organic reality - a life - in a way which will give that reality a structure it will be able to modify and adapt?” end of quote.


I will end with a 1 minute recap on the interview with Andreas Ruby about what changes when a community start building in his personal experience. (for PDF version please refer to video “perhaps it’s an Onion”)


thank you Prof. Gunnar Hartmann and Prof. Niebergall for their guidance during the preparation of this thesis but more importantly for their insights, advice and constant invaluable support. Ms. Beeke Bartelt for her help and advice. Mr. Andreas Ruby for his time of an friendly interview, Mr. Christoph Roedig, Mr. Thomas Welter and Ms. Stefanie Klinkhart for answering my questions in emails. To Stefan Holzerland, who provided me a home with love, my beloved parents in heaven and my almighty God.

thank you


What changes when a community starts building?  
What changes when a community starts building?  

The Phenomenon of Building group (Baugruppe) in Berlin