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The city is a large human settlement where different and disjointed
realities live extremely close to one other. The demand for greater
social equity is pressing and almost always unheeded. However, in this
challenge lies the potential for a possible change of perspective,
demonstrating that it is in urban space that social equity can be
experienced in a tangible way.
In this article, I will explore the following key questions:
What kind of life can be attractive for future generations not to
push them out of cities?
How to respond to the demand for greater social equity?
How do we avoid social polarisation? How do we ensure good living
How can we solve the struggle for land?
How should we tackle the shortage of affordable accommodation?
This article is split in three core sections, I will begin my examining
the socio-economic challenges that many cities and urban developments
face at the moment, in the next section I look at how the city of Munich
has been tackling these challenges and finish with a detailed case study
of a particular Munich development, wagnisART.
First of all, it is useful to have an overview of the phenomena
concerning the European population, with specfic regard to both the
demographic change distribution of households and the ageing society.
We explore the socio-economic challenges exacerbating the need
for more socially-inclusive housing.
First, we will explore how the makeup of households has changing
significantly in the past 120 years. The graphics you can see are a
personal elaboration of a graphic present in Altengerechtes Wohnen:
Handbuch und Planungshilfe von DOM publishers.
The diameter of each circle is proportional to number of households
in each category, for that given year.
The colour of circles represents how many people lived in that
household, according to the following key:
Size of household:
Size of household:
Until the years 1960’ households were predominantly
large families (4-5 persons)
However, it's easy to see how demand for this size of housing has
These demographics have evolved over the decades, resulting in a
growing demand for
"single person" housing.
This is a central challenge for urban development, today.
This dynamic has led to the following development challenges:
Demand for small (not easy to find) accommodation within cities
where demand exceeds available supply
Widening of the gap between potential and effective demand for
housing (reference is made to a dwelling that is not economically
Access to high standard technical/architectural houses not
possible for all
Problems of social isolation, lack of an inner sense of community
The "gaps" between buildings, which should be areas of sharing and
aggregation, but which today often seem to raise further barriers
and promote further isolation
Another aspect to consider is aging society; it is no longer the future
but the reality. By analyzing the trend we can no longer consider the
situation as marginal (see chart below). There is a need for strategic
and targeted planning that focuses on the design for an aging society.
The goal of designing for an aging society is to help the elderly stay
independent and self-determined by meeting both their physical and
psychological needs. The aim should be limiting forced "migration" to
health care facilities and long-term homes when not strictly necessary.
The elderly are more dependent on the neighbourhood, due to their
gradual decrease in health and mobility.
Furthermore the social participation of older people is a very
important aspect of healthy ageing, as it is positively associated with
quality of life in terms of well-being, happiness and social
Compared to previous generations, older adults are generally more
active, healthier, wealthier, higher educated and engaged in voluntary
If you are curious about the last sentence, you can have a look at the
Active Ageing Index AAI Data available
Therefore, as well as being a fragile and caring category, they
represent a potential added value and a great resource for the
Furthermore to demographic change and ageing society we also have to
consider the growing economic disparity between the richest and poorest
members of a community.
These elements have always been relevant part of our cities shaping
neighbourhoods for each "different category" with different needs,
different qualities, different comforts and so on. Do we need all these
differences? Healthy housing and living conditions should be a commonly
shared condition ensuring equality. How can it be justified such a
difference from neighborhood to neighborhood?
A social polarisation by “age group” / ”economic standard”/”health
status” and the consequent raising of barriers that sectorialise the
urban environment is already set up in our cities
I have roughly sketched what comes out.
Are we sure this is the best we can do? To avoid turning this into a
philosophical discussion, I would like just to share with you a quote
from one of the urban planners who has always fought for social mix and
life in public spaces; Jane Jacobs.
“The City order is all composed of movement and change, and although
it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the
city and liken it to the dance—not to a simple-minded precision
dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison
and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the
individual dancers and ensembles all have distinct parts which
miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. “
In my opinion,
empowered citizens are a K point for new housing
solutions ensuring equality.
In opposition to an urban district situation that aims at individuality,
the need is to focus on inclusive architecture, which starts from
individuals, creates a social mix where everyone actively participates,
supports/is supported by the community. A sort of “
intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all
have distinct parts which miraculously reinforce each other and
compose an orderly whole.”
I take Munich, the city that first brought me closer to these issues, as
an example in order to explore how to find the human district scale in
dense and socially polarized cities. Moreover, to look for solutions
that ensure healthy living and strengthen participatory governance of
citizens first in the planning process and then in the management of new
Quality of life starts with Housing
Munich first teaches us that nothing can be hastily improvised. A great
plan requires perseverance, careful planning and long-term strategy.
Below are some of the planning guidelines developed over the years by
the City of Munich Department of Urban Planning that I find most
interesting and useful in the field of long-term planning.
Preservation statutes are used as an important tool to retain
reasonably priced housing, whilst expanding the portfolio of
municipally-owned housing in Munich. For example, from March 2014,
the process of converting a property into a condominium is also
subject to additional approval, as they know this can lead to the
displacement of tenants (which is unsustainable). Read more
Housing associations and future tenants create joint building
ventures, prior to construction, to plan the project together.
'Cooperative'-style housing is common and the buildings designed and
constructed are typically affordable and customised to the tenant's
In the past ten years, more than 1,500 homes have been built by
housing cooperatives and around 700 by community building ventures
on municipal land, or are currently in the planning stages. The City
of Munich supports their commitment through a range of measures, and
makes 20 to 40% of the land in large residential development areas
available for community-oriented housing projects. Read more
Socially-appropriate land use
The Sozialgerechte Bodennutzung (SoBoN)was introduced in Munich over
20 years ago (for socially-equitable land use). This states that
developers must pay for (or even build) the ancillary services that
are required for new developments (access roads, amenities). SoBoN
also stipulates that at least 30% of new development must be
allocated towards socially-appropriate housing to ensure a diverse
mix of tenants. From 1994 to 2016, 150 legally binding development
plans were produced according to the SoBoN principles. For examples
of projects built under SoBoN, see more
Conceptual rental housing construction
Since 2013, the City of Munich have been awarding housing contracts
based on the most convincing (and socially sustainable) tender
concept. The build cost is completed removed from the equation; land
is sold at a fixed price per square meter, regardless of location.
Furthermore, the tenant's price of rent is also capped ot avoid
landlords overcharging. See more projects using this measure
Municipal housing associations
The Department of Urban Planning and Building Regulations oversees
the municipal housing associations GWG and Gewofag. They promote
innovative housing and guarantee secure, safe and
socially-responsible housing in Munich, especially for the lower
middle-income brackets as well as for groups of the population who
would otherwise have limited access to the private property market.
By guaranteeing appropriate secure, reasonably-priced housing in
Munich, these municipal housing associations act as regulators in
the constantly overburdened Munich housing market. Read more
Sustainable urban planning and climate-conscious urban development
As a member of the
Climate Alliance, the City of Munich has set itself the target of reducing carbon
dioxide emissions by around 50% by the year 2030. To achieve this
target, 55 measures have been drawn up. For urban planners,
sustainability in the sense of a joint consideration of
ecological, economic, social and built environment issues means
taking all of these aspects into account to achieve balanced,
sustainable urban planning.
.” - extract from this
City of Munich document.
These are just some of the planning initiatives undertaken in Munich.
How do all these plans and programmes materialise within the projects?
We will go into detail about one in particular, which was a pilot
A Munich cooperative housing case study
I still remember the day I visited it for the first time and suddenly I
felt like I was in one of those 3D Renders where everything seems to be
in perfect harmony, and you think "whatever, in reality it will never be
like that" and instead it is, and
this reality has existed for four years already!
Ingenierburo EST Gmbh, Miesback; Henke Rappol der Fruhe
Ingenieurgesellschaft mbH; Arge Aubock
Cooperative Housing Wagnis eG
Certified Passive housing
National german sustainability award 2018, german award for urban
design2016, german landscape architecture prize for participation
and planning 2017, german architecture award 2017 honorable
mention, Dam award 2018
"We live in an age in which we cannot appreciate the value of
explains DGNB President Prof. Alexander Rudolphi. "The wagnisART
project shows in an exemplary way how sustainable architecture can
promote community and create a livable living environment. The
jury's reasoning for nominating the project reads similarly, in
which wagnisART is described as "exemplary in many respects and
unique in Germany".
In the project designed by ARGE bogevischs buero in collaboration
with SHAG Schindler Hable Architekten, the intensive involvement of
future residents in the planning process through workshops, goal
definition and decision-supporting measures resulted in a remarkable
architecture that promotes community. It is also evident in the
unusual arrangement, connection and design of the five individual
buildings. The themes of the three-pillar model of sustainable
construction are very well integrated in many areas of the 138-unit
As a certified passive house with a low heat requirement and
favourable A/V value, photovoltaic systems on the roofs, reinforced
concrete/wood hybrid construction and mobility concept, it meets the
requirements of a contemporary construction method.
The administrator is Wagnis eG, a cooperative housing that has currently
implemented 4 projects in Munich and two more are now under
“We breathe new life into the traditional cooperative themes of
self-help, self-administration and self-responsibility. Cooperative
living at wagnis means that the residents have influence on what
happens in their project from the very beginning. The housing
projects are self-organised and self-administered house communities.
The entire project is communal property of the members, in which the
residents are "tenants in their own house". They have a lifelong
right of residence and pay affordable rents in the long run. And all
this in ecologically sustainable houses that are a real home.”
This is a translation from German of their presentation, available
in interests of knowledge-sharing and collaboration.
Five irregularly shaped, polygonal buildings with three to five storeys
grouped around a community courtyard were created. WagnisART provides
138 apartments, consisting of both subsidized and freely financed
The amount consists of a one-time deposit: 310 to 950 euros per square
metre occupied (depending on income and support) plus monthly rental
costs of 5.60 to 13.10 euros cold per square meter.
“The most important places are reserved for the community, after
all, the question is whether I should own everything privately, or
whether it is sufficient to use things as necessary, borrowing from
Is how Rut-Maria Gollan, who as a resident and board member of
wagnisART, describes one of the basic principles of the cooperative in
an article for DBZ.de (translated from German).
Building community at the ground floor
"We always try to realize a concept that offers more than just
apartments," is how Elisabeth Hollerbach, the initiator from the
very beginning, describes the basic idea. "Therefore, there are not
only common rooms for us, but also facilities that include the
neighbourhood. At wagnisART, this is a large event hall, the
cooperatively run café, guest apartments, workshops, practices,
studios, music practice rooms and other infrastructure facilities
such as car sharing, so that urban life happens there from the very
The vision works out, the public space and the connected uses in the
ground floor zone can be experienced by everyone in the complex.
The active involvement of residents in the design phase of public spaces
let them creating an identity even before they were physically part of
In addition to the calendars for the management of public spaces on the
ground floor, the success of the community has been further demonstrated
in everyday life where young people help the elderly with shopping and
older people take care of the children.
N.B. Workshops were organised in collaboration with TUM University
to make residents aware of environmental sustainability issues (roof
gardens – photovoltaic panels – car sharing – ebikes) and to make
them understand what it means to live in a "Passivhaus".
Empowering the inhabitants and making them aware of the potential of
their actions on the environment is the first step towards a
Building community on the upper floors
In the participatory design phase it was agreed to give each building
the name of a continent. The inhabitants strongly wanted the 5 buildings
to be connected by bridges at different heights.
These bridges are semipublic while only accessible by the inhabitants.
Today they are used a lot by everyone, both children and adults. Parties
and barbecues are also often organized.
In addition to the green roof terraces, there are also areas for joint
activities, planting beds and creative freedom.
N.B. Bridges between buildings are increasingly common in projects as
they encourage connections and communities especially where it might
be difficult to get space to the ground floor (e.g. in high density
Building community in new housing typologies
With eight housing clusters grouping a total of 53 individual housing
units around large multi-purpose common areas, "wagnisArt" aims to
counteract the increasing social isolation of the individual. This
experimental approach to housing has become increasingly popular in
recent years, especially in Germany and Austria.
Clusters are an ideal solution for all age groups, from young
professionals, to families, to the elderly, who can feel part of an
intimate community without having to sacrifice their privacy. In fact,
unlike co-living, in the housing cluster each inhabitant has a complete
and independent accommodation at their disposal, with a small bathroom
and a personal kitchenette. In addition to that, on each floor four to
nine parties share common rooms (kitchen, living room, terrace) to
encourage multigenerational meeting, cooperation and support between
N.B. As espected, when interviewing the inhabitants of Wagnis Art, it
emerged that the inhabitants rarely cook alone in their apartments.
Moreover, they wanted to emphasize that they create such an intimate
and friendly relationship that they named “a real family”,
especially for the elderly.
Can you see the “
harmonic ballet” Jane Jacobs was talking about?
There would be so much more to add regarding this project. WagnisART is
the fourth project of the cooperative, and two others are already under
construction. If you are curious about this new way of living you can
discover other projects ( WagnisRio and WagnisWest currently under
I wanted to analyze the Munich urban planning and WagnisArt project
because it fully answers the questions I asked at the beginning of this
In a saturated society and building sector, with inhabitants
increasingly isolated and more and more in difficulty looking for a
healthy apartment, the time has come to stop this trend and consider the
impossibility of proceeding along this path.
Housing can be more than four walls! The WagnisART model is an example
of how housing can restore the human scale lost in cities.
If I think about Italy, my home country, it cames to my mind the project
Cenni di cambiamento" in Milan (link to the project
here) promoted by the
Cooperative dar (link to the website
This project is an example of efficiency and great social sensitivity.
But this is an isolated case.
Unfortunately, I do not see any strong incentive to make it a model for
the development of our italian cities. To make such a marked change
requires clear and decisive planning with a strong objective, which to
date I do not see.
The planning process and regulations are certainly among the blocking
Most of all, however, I think we should start thinking about housing as
a social good rather than just a financial instrument.
IT'S TIME TO RETHINK!
Rethink housing typologies!
Rethink the space “inbetween”!
Thanks for reading!
This article was written by Simona Cocco, Architect of H2R Architekten
BDA. The article layout and interactivity was implemented by Will of
The interactive essay is a new format we are exploring at Future
Distributed. If you have feedback, or have an idea for a future
interactive essay, we'd love to
hear from you.
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