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Wohnungsfrage: The housing question

With Wohnungsfrage, a month and a half long programme of exhibition, debates and lectures, Haus der Kulturen der Welt grapples with the issue of affordable housing.

Image for Wohnungsfrage: The housing question
Housing Is a Human Right © Martha Rosler

With Wohnungsfrage, a month and a half long programme of exhibition, debates and lectures, Haus der Kulturen der Welt grapples with a big issue this time, the “big issue” of our time – to cite the name of London’s famous street paper, namely, “growing numbers of people are finding it increasingly difficult to gain access to self-determined, affordable housing.” Indeed. “Affordable” would be a nice start.

“How might anyone with a vested interest in architectural design and a commitment to addressing our time’s most pressing social concerns reconcile the two, if at all?”

That’s from the website of House Housing, a research project by New York’s Columbia University Buell Center for American Architecture (whose director Reinhard Martin is deeply involved in the programming of Wohnungsfrage) on this issue. One could re-phrase it like this: “Don’t the architects of our world feel a tiny bit guilty for wasting their talents on pretty investment properties for the rich?” Even hyper-intellectual star architects like Daniel Libeskind, maker of noble projects like the Berlin Jewish Museum, will happily bang out the occasional luxury apartment bloc. Wohnungsfrage is looking for answers that de-couple the housing question from the real estate business, a rather daunting task in an age where the state is pulled back from the housing market (despite rather timid attempts to regulate rents by German lawmakers this year). A sign of how things are going: just today the Berliner Zeitung wrote that rents for 65,000 state-owned flats in Berlin are going up by 2.4% in 2016.

The exhibition portion of the event seems especially interesting as it got innovative international architects to brainstorm and cooperate with Berlin-based citizens’ initiatives fighting gentrification and displacement. For example, in collaboration with the Estudio Teddy Cruz + Forman from San Diego, the Kreuzberg tenants’ association Kotti & Co has “developed an architectural infrastructure which has evolved into the venue for negotiating new modes of living in all their manifold dimensions.” What that really means is unclear but it sounds intriguing. Similarly, the Stille Straße senior centre in Pankow that resisted eviction a few years ago has worked with London-based architecture collective Assemble, resulting in the design of a communal house, whose individual residential units can be specifically tailored to suit each life phase. Both projects are on display in the exhibition.

Also scheduled is a multitude of public debates and lectures featuring everyone from local academic and activist Andre Holm on “Berlin’s Gentrification Mainstream” (Fri, Nov 23, 6.15pm) to Dutch architect Reinier de Graaf (Tue, Oct 27, 6pm, free) who criticizes contemporary architecture as “a tool of capital, complicit in a purpose antithetical to its social mission.” And many, many more. All events are in English or with simultaneous translation.

If the “housing question” keeps you awake at night, if you’re worried about gentrification, rising rents, and the collective failure to provide adequate housing for the poor, Wohnungsfrage is the symposium for you.

Wohnungsfrage, Oct 23-Dec 14 | HKW, John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10, Tiergarten, S+U-Bhf Hauptbahnhof, for complete programme check www.hkw.de