Master's Thesis: 2. Questions

2. Questions

Berlin is a city of empty spaces from bombings and the deconstruction of the wall. The voids in Berlin – a characteristic that inspired Oswald Mathias Ungers’ “Berlin as the Green Archipelago” – have now, within increasing population, become the focal points of densification and new urban speculation. Cooperative building projects are built in the vacant spaces, and the concept of void or openness is integrated into projects as common or programmed spaces. Here are my fundamental questions for the research.

(1) Is the common space within collective housing strategies in Berlin capable of realizing architects’ broader socio-spatial visions?

(2) Why do cooperative housing models emerge within the contemporary urban-political constellation in Berlin?

To understand any architectural model, the people’s ideas of the project must be studied (not only the architects, but also the participants), the medium of transitioning into the building (participatory design process), and the predicted project (structure and social relationships). If we follow these three steps – idea, medium, and outcome – we can trace the evolution of projects.
(3) What are the design concepts, processes, and resulting spatial/social conditions of the cooperative housing projects?

(4) The transition to free market capitalism creates, as Strom and Mayer argue, “a new set of winners and losers.”[i] The recent controversy over the development project Mediaspree and the expiration of rent controls at Kottbusser Tor in Berlin create new social unrest, where community members reacted to new projects and rising rent to stay in the city. Some protest even reacted directly to a Baugruppe project near the Spree.[ii] This raises another set of questions: (4) How do architects conceptualize their impact on the city’s urban transformation: increasing market prices, beautification, social improvement – versus – rising rents, displacement, or gentrification?[iii]

(5) If cooperative housing projects produce the antithesis of their vision, how could the model be applied to a broader population of vulnerable communities threatened by displacement?

(6) Does the material form of space or the economic contract between participants provide a more valuable strategy to realize the cooperative architectural vision?

I want to challenge whether we can go beyond an ambivalent assumption of the success of architectural form. Can we be sure of its effect upon people or the urban?

[i] Elizabeth Strom and Margit Mayer, "The New Berlin," (German Politics and Society, 16/4, pp. 122-139, 1998), page 1.
[ii] For instance, see Karla Pappel: Initiative gegen Mietpreiserhöhungen und Verdrängung Alt-Treptow:
[iii] The linguistic use of the word gentrification outlined very clearly here: Matthias Bernt and Andrej Holm 'Is it, or is not? The conceptualisation of gentrification and displacement and its political implications in the case of Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg',City, 2009, 13:2,312 — 324

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