Fast growing cities and spiralling unaffordability are making apartment living a more common way of life. However the housing market is largely creating standard apartment commodities, often geared to investors and whilst in Victoria the Better Apartment Standards have put more emphasis on internal amenity there is still a fairly standard approach to the layout and features of apartments.
A segment of the market comprising well informed consumers are seeking more bespoke housing options and willing to take a more active role in the development process. They place a high value on design quality, environmental consciousness and the idea of community. They are seeking development models that enable these values to be realised. They are concerned about affordability and they are looking for better value for money in the housing they purchase.
The Baugruppen model – German for ‘building group’ is one such alternative housing model which challenges the speculative development model. It is actively led and financed by the intended owner-occupiers.
In these projects the future owners have a say in how their apartment is designed, the spaces they wish included (or importantly excluded) and which facilities they would like to share with their neighbours in the building. The way that Baugruppen projects are structured, the extent of shared facilities and the architectural scale and form differs substantially across projects. But at the core of the model is the commitment to a high quality design, creating shared spaces and including environmental sustainability measures.
Echelon has recently undertaken research into participatory development models from across the world. Our research can be accessed here. What we found is that the Baugruppen model is a relatively common housing model in Europe with some 5000 apartments already delivered in Berlin alone. The results are reported to be that housing is developed at around 75% of the market cost and are delivered to a much higher standard than apartments under a conventional model.
Many precedent examples of Baugruppen projects in Berlin also demonstrate how the tailored financing structure and adaptable floorplates can also deliver multi use spaces which include housing, office and creative spaces, public spaces and retail. The live and work model is well as truly alive and working in German cities and with good results.
Our research included review of examples of Baugruppen models in Australia and overseas. Two interesting projects which include both live and work spaces and shown below.
The architects vision for Oderberger Strasse 56 was to “create a city within a city—a prototypical platform for a sustainable, innovative urbanism in miniature, based on high density, low car use, local networks, and openness to change”.
The vision for AM Urban was to create a life space which “was a completely community project, in which the future inhabitants of the complex participated, by giving ideas or making the final design”.
These project examples demonstrate the varying scale of projects with Oderberger Strasse accommodating 5 apartments within a 7 storey, newly constructed building and AM Urban providing 30 apartments in a former hospital. The bespoke approach to housing design in Baugruppen projects means that former institutional or heritage buildings can be more readily repurposed. Reusing buildings was a common characteristic we identified in our review of several Baugruppen examples in Berlin.
Baugruppen is a terrific housing model for those with a desire to actively participate in the development process. It creates the opportunity for home owners to actively shape the housing that they will live in. Rather than being delivered via marketing campaigns the Baugruppen design and development process effectively curates like-minded prospective home owners to form communities of interest, which is a great way of building community early in the development process. It isn’t necessarily cheaper than the standard apartment product developed for the investor market, but on a like for like basis the model can deliver considerable cost-savings (by cutting out profit margins and reducing or eliminating features like car parking or second bathrooms). It does carry risks (the home owner is the developer and so they are putting their own capital at risk, which is very different to putting down a returnable deposit on an apartment delivered by a third party). However there is a nascent capability and expertise available in Australia to work with and facilitate Baugruppen projects. As the market for this sort of development grows, so too will the delivery capability.
There are many avenues to explore in the Baugruppen model and deliberative development more generally. In Melbourne it has been pleasing to see alternative models at a variety of scales being pursued and heartening to see that the planning industry is beginning to embrace the concept. The next step is ensuring that developments which can deliver quality outcomes for the future residents and the wider neighbourhood are facilitated through the planning process and that concepts of shared spaces, reduced car parking etc which do not always strictly align with Victoria’s planning scheme are recognised.
 Curatorial Collaborative, ‘Exhibition Baugruppe ist super! Contemporary Housing – Inspiration from Berlin,http://curatorialcollaborative.net/assets/uploads/2017/06/baugruppe_exhibition-plan_EN.pdf
 Lavrencic T., (2017), Transforming old infrastructure – A story of ‘Am Urban’ complex in Berlin, City Seeders – Inspired by citizens, https://www.cityseeders.com/blog/-/blogs/transforming-old-infrastructure