GAM 16

Editorial

Andreas Lichtblau, Sigrid Verhovsek

In the European context of social development since the early twentieth century, social housing has already clearly distanced itself from its original objective of creating apartments for individuals at the minimum subsistence level. Definitions of safety in norms and legislation, optimization of energy loss, and target development standards constantly raise the costs of construction and thus also the rent for housing, thus making it no longer affordable for an increasing segment of society. Moreover, due to economic change and the most recent financial crises, the number of people who are living in a financially precarious environment has skyrocketed. In Europe alone, the number of unemployed, atypically employed, and freelance employees, homeworkers, part-time and temporary wage earners has grown tremendously since the year 2000. At the same time, the costs of living and housing, the pressure of consumption society, and quality expectations are constantly on the rise. Our cities are a reflection of this gaping social divide. With financially sound households slipping out into the green peripheries or enjoying urban life in the revitalized city centers, poorer households remain in prewar housing developments and in unrenovated, inner-city districts. This increasing segregation of the population into individual districts also manifests in exterior space through the decline in public and private investments. Rising rents and the ever-growing struggle for living space have shown that the housing market in a European context, with its traditional typologies, is no longer in a position to respond to the aggravated social situation and the changing requirements.GAM.16 confronts this sociopolitical development and makes the case for securing the affordability of housing in the long term with a view to increasingly precarious living situations. The contributions in the present edition introduce new architectural spatial formations for new types of cohabitation, which strengthen awareness of common resources and also of convivial relations among people, while simultaneously opening up new opportunities for attaining an economic return on investment. Currently, the idea of the commons, of sharing, appears to be taking on new significance. A paradigm shift is becoming apparent, which, as an alternative to ownership and property, is increasingly focused on the temporary sharing of objects and experiences. Inspired by this, GAM.16 investigates which architectural-spatial concepts of the (seemingly?) “private” are compatible, possible, or conceivable with the diverse forms of cohabitation within our society. This issue can be explored on both an urban scale and a structural or detailed scale in terms of residential buildings and interior sequences of space.In order to generate alternative visions, it makes sense to newly examine historical models in addition to reflecting on the alternative living concepts that are emerging and presently forming. Research is necessary in order to consider the ideas and plans that appear to have failed in the past as to their contemporary relevance, reexamining them again and again and interpreting them with an eye to the future. It often becomes clear in the process that such ideas can certainly be “socially acceptable” and even visionary under another name and/or with a different target audience in mind. GAM.16 puts such historically reflected housing agendas up for discussion once again, agendas that not only further well-known typologies in the sense of the non-familiar and the non-usual, but also formatively develop from a society that is immersed in change.The first thematic section “Realitäten” engages in a theoretical analysis of the topic “housing as commodity” with a view to the purposeful political governance of what is considered “private.” Jakob Öhlinger, in his critique of “housing as commodity,” defines the change that “living space” and its surroundings have been confronted with due to the currently prevailing political economy. The decoupling of the housing object from its owners, which is necessary for speculation purposes, has an effect not only on the inside floor plan but also on the threshold spaces, the surrounding environment, and ultimately on the city itself. It is impossible to definitively determine, based on the current state of research, whether a visionary model like the Einküchenhaus was likewise halted for economic or socio- political reasons, or whether it merely had to change in order to reach the right target group. Günther Uhlig’s article from 1979 shows the manifold influences and interventions to which such architectural concepts are subject—and his rendering of sociopolitical acceptance thresholds is alarmingly topical today. Philipp Markus Schörkhuber sketches the emergence of a political relationship between “public” interests and individual “dwellings” by citing studies undertaken by a group of researchers around Michel Foucault, who were focused on the French concept of “habitat,” which “lies precisely in the connection between the built and the city as a whole, between the resident and the state’s partitioning of urban space.”At the beginning of the thematic block “Ungewohnt”—dedicated to considering highly varied case studies of more or less well known, sometimes historical, but always unconventionally designated forms of housing in the sense of a convivial practice—the question arises as to whether (and how) architecture is even in a position to substantiate a phenomenon like community. First, Heike Delitz exposes the concept of community as a modern myth before she goes on to explain how the collective of the Achuar, a premodern South American society, is able to maintain cohesion especially through its (in our eyes) disperse settlement pattern. In this context, Marson Korbi demonstrates, citing some historical examples, how collective life was organized by knowledge workers and how economically motivated cluster formations in student hostels and dormitories gave rise to creative reciprocal interaction that can be transferred to the present. Well beyond the norms that we naturally accept, the case studies from Delhi (Nikolai Roskamm and Gesa Königstein) and Hong Kong (Fritz Strempel) illustrate how assertive individuals and architectures can stand up to the system if they organize themselves collectively—or if they are forced to do so through social marginalization. In Delhi’s informal settlements, Roskamm and Königstein have discovered a special form of commons, which they associate with more traditional forms of commons, whereas Strempel focuses on the momentary political energy that tends to arise from informal practices of “urban commoning,” such as the temporary pop-up settlements of the Philippine community in Hong Kong’s financial district. The yearning for commoning is also evident, at least in shades, in the four Austrian alternative settlement examples researched by the collective wohnlabor (Jomo Ruderer and Rebekka Hirschberg) through case studies and interviews. The activation of social and economic potentials within different models of organization and financing is conceived here not only as a countervision to the thinning social webs; it is also being implemented and lived in more or less different forms of communal housing. Architectures of counterculture are likewise thematized in the contribution by Christina Linortner. She embarks on a journey to two American agricultural communes of the 1960s and traces how the learning method of do-it-yourself building can be interpreted as the primary driving force behind communal living. Yet alternative forms of cohabitation also manifest in London, where an increasing number of people are choosing to live on a houseboat in response to escalating rents. And Gregory Cowan, in an interview with Petra Eckhard (GAM), explains how this “loss of land,” as an act of uprooting, spawns truly similar sociopolitical laws and community exclusion criteria to those found on land.The third and last section of GAM.16—“Common”—suggests spaces of potentiality, in the sense of a view to the future, which foster synergies of both social and architectural-spatial nature. For example, the design study by Massimo Bricocoli, Gennaro Postiglione, and Stefania Sabatinelli, taking the form of a family atlas developed by students, explores how new family concepts can be spatially organized and realized. The contribution by Karla Mäder also acts out new family constellations, separating the first two texts in this last section through a series of photographs and thus allowing the boundaries between reality, design, and (housing) stage to blur. The difference between these two areas has to do with the boundaries that exist “in the real” as economic pressures, societal norms, political demands, or our own complacency, owing to the lack of free spaces of thought. How it becomes possible to rebel against this in a concrete way and with the means of architecture is touched upon by the concluding conversation by Sigrid Verhovsek (GAM) with Alexander Hagner, Andreas Lichtblau, and Manfred Omahna, in which different design approaches based on sociopolitical motivation are put up for discussion.In this edition, the Faculty News has also been newly conceived and redesigned, featuring, as usual, the most exciting highlights from life in the Faculty of Architecture at Graz University of Technology during the past year. ■

(Translation: Dawn Michelle d’Atri)