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
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
How can we solve the struggle for land?
How should we tackle the shortage of affordable
This article is split in three core sections, I will begin my
examining the socio-economic
that many cities and urban developments face at the moment, in
the next section I look at how the city of Munich has been
and finish with a detailed case study of a particular Munich
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.
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 drastically reduced.
These demographics have evolved over the decades,
resulting in a growing demand for
"single person" housing.
This is a central challenge for urban development,
This dynamic has led to the following development
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 accessible)
Access to high standard technical/architectural houses
not possible for all
Problems of social isolation, lack of an inner sense
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 satisfaction.
Compared to previous generations, older adults are generally
more active, healthier, wealthier, higher educated and
engaged in voluntary work.
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 community.
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
In my opinion,
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
first in the planning process and then in the management of
new housing solutions.
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
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 needs.
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
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
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 project:
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
"We live in an age in which we cannot appreciate the value
of community enough,"
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
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 site.
As a certified passive house with a low heat requirement
and favourable A/V value, photovoltaic systems on the
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 construction.
“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,
here. Shared in interests of knowledge-sharing and
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 facilities.
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
“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 the community”.
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 beginning".
The vision works out, the public space and the connected uses
in the ground floor zone can be experienced by everyone in the
The active involvement of residents in the design phase of
public spaces let them creating an identity even before they
were physically part of it.
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
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 sustainable city.
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
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
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 areas).
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
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 construction)
I wanted to analyze the Munich urban planning and WagnisArt
project because it fully answers the questions I asked at the
beginning of this article.
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
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
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
Most of all, however, I think we should start thinking about
housing as a social good rather than just a financial
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 Future Distributed.