What makes living together a quality – how does architecture react?
In my view, the entire building is a single large dwelling place, and the actual apartments in this building are individual retreats. This basic idea leads to a housing concept that removes various functions from the purely private living area and makes them accessible to the community – for example, a library, a guest apartment or a washroom. The merging of uses in communal areas that can be reached quickly gives rise to additional housing and life quality. This quality can even be increased if the ground floor and roof areas are opened up to inhabitants and made attractive. In densely populated urban areas, you can hardly live on the ground floor anyway – it’s part of the town and should be treated as such. All in all, the quality of living in a city is a question of organisation, and this is where architecture plays an important role because it provides the framework for ground-breaking solutions.
What types of housing do we need in order to be equipped for the future?
First of all, we mainly need versatile and varied living concepts. After all, the rigid standard plan for a family with two children no longer applies for most of the population – plus the fact that the amount of room we need changes according to our age – sometimes more, sometimes less. We have to develop architectural concepts that react to this fact and offer people options for adapting their living situations to the respective living conditions. If residential units are carefully planned, the amount of living space per inhabitant can be reduced and at the same time improved in quality. But this can only succeed if various functions of the apartment that are not used daily are transferred to communicative community areas. Densification in towns also gives us the opportunity to create more living quality.
Growing numbers of inhabitants are causing great housing problems for towns and cities. To what extent is this development a chance for architecture and urban construction?
Housing has become a central political topic in the last few years. I see it as a chance for an intensive confrontation with housing programmes, ground-plan typologies and the urban context. Ultimately, we finally have to overcome the strict function divisions of post-war modernism, which separated living, working and leisure. Existing estates and purely residential areas also need a greater mixture of shops, utilities and childcare to give us shorter routes for all ages. In this respect, renovation gives us an opportunity to correct mistakes from the past and create lively residential areas.
What is the meaning of ecology and economy for your projects?
As part of the “Case Study Houses” of the Hamburg International Building Exhibition and the GBW Group in Munich, we have built exemplary model houses for a future-oriented energy concept and for sustainable materials. In my opinion, the appropriate handling of existing resources plays a central role in the future of housing construction. It was important for me to judge ecological aspects according to economic criteria and thoroughly inspect all measures. Our aim was to build two energy self-sufficient houses. However, we can only do this is if we understand the house not as a separate unit but as a module in a comprehensive district energy network. In such a network, the energy surpluses and requirements in summer and winter can be sold, stored or consumed according to needs. The local community with different usages is absolutely decisive for energy supply questions. Additionally, cars and bikes can be used for energy storage. As far as the materials of both projects are concerned, we restricted ourselves to local resources – wood or brickwork. The materials come from the region, so our building promoted local craft industries.
Why do ecological measures need bold innovations and unconventional approaches?
Changes are always connected at first with insecurities. This calls for bold clients and architects. The property market has to react to changes in society – and we need architectural concepts that suggest forward-looking solutions. Good architecture can provide this if it goes for compact, dense buildings with diverse living styles. Thanks to the calculated mixture of living, working and leisure, urban space takes on decisive qualities. For me, architecture and urban development in this context are not defined by individual projects. I understand them far more as an ongoing process.