Housing is no longer a focus of architectural study. Today’s reality has new players and the latest social, economic and cultural dynamics have produced a detachment between design practice and housing projects and between architect and user, in particular.
“Wohnungsfrage”, curated by Jesko Fezer, Nikolaus Hirsch, Wilfried Kuehn and Hila Peleg, provides an interdisciplinary reading of the relationship between architecture, housing and social reality via collaboration between local Berlin and international protagonists. The housing issue is not treated as a global phenomenon but as a project availing of specific interactions.
The exhibition presents the subject with a multiform approach via historical documentaries, artistic and architectural projects, videos and a number of publications, all displayed along a free route in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
The foyer contains a site-specific work by Spanish artist Lara Almarcegui, who exhibits 400 sqm of earth removed when excavating the foundations of the Feuerlandhöfe in Chausseestraße, in the centre of Berlin. The amount of soil is that excavated for a family home and conveys the imposing scale of the intervention.
A scale of 1:1 is a curator choice that runs all through the exhibition, proving highly effective in architectural installations by Kooperatives Labor Studierender + Atelier Bow-Wow, Kotti & Co + Estudio Teddy Cruz + Forman, Stille Straße 10 + Assemble and Realism Working Group + Dogma. These projects fall into four different experimental types and were born out of interaction between Berlin activists and international architects to highlight the close relationship between client and house design.
Atelier Bow-Wow and Kooperatives Labor Studierender, a collective of university students from the Faculty of Architecture of TU Berlin, present Urban Forest, a new residential type for students. The project responds to the needs of young Berliners in terms of housing costs – which have risen steeply in recent years – and the quality of the shared spaces.
In Urban Forest the bedrooms, on the first floor, are minimal in size and consist in cells overlooking a larger communal space on the ground floor. The design favours the space for encounters and relationships, creating a weak hierarchy between private and collective.
Kotti & Co, an initiative established in 2011 in protest against the rising rental cost of social housing, has placed a small pavilion, with the Turkish name of Gecekondu in the public Kottbusser Tor square in Berlin. Gecekondu is a wooden structure that was meant to be temporary but has been in the square for more than three years now.
Estudio Teddy Cruz + Forman has revisited the small pavilion, rethinking its use and construction system. The new Retrofit Gecekondu exhibited adopts a prefabricated system with parts that are easy to assemble and allow the construction of a mobile and alterable structure.
Teilwohnung is a project that originated in 2012, when a group of pensioners occupied the recreation centre at Stille Straße 10 in Berlin-Pankow to protest against its sale. After nearly four years of occupation, the Pankow district granted use of the property until the end of 2015.
London’s Assemble along with the Stille Straße 10 community have determined a potential residential type that guarantees use of the centre’s communal spaces and creates permeability between residential and recreational spaces.
Dogma with the Realism Working Group present Communal Villa: Production and Reproduction in Artists’ Housing, a prototype residence for artists that addresses the conflict between private and collective, embracing today’s need to overlap living and working spaces. Communal Villa contains approximately 50 housing units, called cells, each designed for just one person. Every cell consists in a large, private, dual-height work space and an inhabited wall which acts as a diaphragm between private home and collective space. The service spaces are on the ground floor and the bedroom or alcove on the upper floor.
The contemporary residential building concept and its history are constantly linked in the exhibition. The Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture of Columbia University presents a study illustrating, via different documents, how the last century’s economic policies for residential building impacted on housing and the marginal role played by the architect. By contrast, the artist Maria Eichhorn interprets the story of the exhibition location itself, marking the floor of the whole exhibition space with the footprints of the old housing that stood on the site of today’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt but was destroyed in WWII.
“Wohnungsfrage” is a complex project, packed with topical content. Its interdisciplinary route opens a debate on contemporary housing that concerns not only architecture but society and every individual, in particular.
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