IBA Hamburg began last month, and lasts for the rest of 2013. Building exhibitions have been held in Germany since 1901. They are events at a scale, both physical and intellectual, that we here in Australia have neither achieved, nor contemplated. OK, that's a bit below the belt – it's a bit hard to compete, when you think of the sort of political rivalry that gave us the East German 1952 Stalinallee and West Berlin's response in the 1957 Interbau – with an international who is who including le Corbusier, Gropius, Jacobsen, Niemeyer, Aalto, Bakema and 42 other eminent architects, commissioned to execute a huge range of accommodation, both low- and high-rise.
The Hamburg 2013 “Building Exhibition within the Building Exhibition” is not quite as ambitious as that. But it's still a remarkable contrast to our celebration of the status quo in Homeworld, Kellyville, or that whimper of adventure, the Houses of the Future we held back in 2000. The 130 apartments in Hamburg are built as case studies, around four themes:
- Smart Material Houses demonstrate building using innovative construction materials.
- Smart Price Houses set out cost-effective, inner-city building solutions.
- Hybrid Houses, exploring how flexible living will look in the future with dwellings adapting to the needs of the residents.
- WaterHouses illustrate building concepts that are centred around and incorporate water, both as a resource and a risk factor.
But by coincidence, what drew my attention to the Hamburg show just now, was "Grundbau und Siedler" (Basic Building and Settlers) by BeL Associates, picked up by DETAIL magazine, highlighting it as the only architectural project among the 61 winners of the universal design award in 2013. For some of us, it triggers deja vu, and consequently incredulity that the project should be considered original enough to be premiated in any category. It is a very literal concrete example of specific proposals by John N. Habraken, whose Supports, an Alternative to Mass Housing was first published in 1962 . In the book, Habraken proposes the separation of 'support' or base building from 'infill' or interior fit-out in residential construction and design as a means of giving inhabitants a meaningful participative role in the design process.
Indeed, it takes a little digging to find even tacit acknowledgement of this uncomfortably close precedent. It comes in "In with the Old, out with the New", a more wide-ranging piece by Oliver Elser, writing in Frieze. Elser argues elegantly that the project is driven by a subtly different zeitgeist. In his view, during the 1960's and 70's, 'participation' topped the agenda, and as part of the process of emancipation from all manner of dependencies, homes were also to be revolutionized. Whereas now these strategies are making a comeback, with less ideological baggage, based purely on the need to be able to offer affordable accommodation to an increasingly poor middle class. From a German perspective, Elser suggests that:
If so, I am more than happy to suppress my knee jerk indignation at the poorly acknowledged recycling of 50-year old ideas (not to mention, most of the references to the Grundbau un Siedler project are in German, and I may be missing the relevant citations), and agree that the time has finally come for those ideas to be implemented as part of a more sustainable future.".....the architecture scene in Germany (and elsewhere) is gradually coming to the conclusion that augmenting, repairing, extending and improvising can be more important than the never-ending quest for the new and the unprecedented....."
Do It Yourself: Affordable DIY Housing here.
In with the Old, out with the New here.
Basic Building and Do-It-Yourself Builders IBA_Hamburg web site, here.
IBA_Hamburg home page.