German cities, particularly those in the “old” federal states, have been suffering increasingly from a shortage of housing in recent years. Even in times of declining population, an unbroken trend towards rural migration and a structural change resulting in more and more one-person households have led to an insatiable demand for housing. Since the number of building application approvals for private and social rented housing has fallen dramatically and there are no plans on the table for building social rented housing, local authorities today are particularly faced with the problem of finding affordable housing for households with low incomes.
The lack of housing is aggravated by the increasing trend towards renting out property, particularly those at the lower end of the price scale, as holiday homes and so withholding property from the housing market. There is a reason to doubt anyway whether the present housing stock will be able to satisfy future housing demands.
In this already difficult situation, Germany is faced with a previously unprecedented influx of refugees with a right of abode. This will swell the population of the country to a degree hitherto unknown within the past twenty years and will dramatically exacerbate the housing shortage in certain cities. According to figures from the Institute of German Economic Research, more than 2 million homes would have to be built over the next few years, and 100,000 of these homes alone would be needed every year just to house asylum-seekers who are entitled to stay.
Quite apart from the need to provide immediate temporary accommodation for asylum seekers, we are faced with the challenge of developing concepts for reaching a long-term solution to the housing problem. Designating development areas on the outskirts of our cities is probably not the right way. The negative effects on our cities and the environment of years of practicing this approach of letting our cities gradually sprawl out into the countryside are impossible to ignore. Two other approaches would seem far more sensible: densifying our inner cities and converting unused buildings into housing property.
Our contribution to the exhibition shows three projects pursuing this strategy from Bielefeld, a medium-sized city with a population of some 335,000 people which is also the city where our office is based. Besides providing additional living space for a variety of income groups, the projects are following the goal of resolving urban and architectural problems and contributing towards regenerating the surrounding neighbourhoods in the process.