The fourth pillar of architecture: German examples of living environment valorisation

Kolakowski, Marcin Mateusz (1998) The fourth pillar of architecture: German examples of living environment valorisation. In: Practice in architecture and architecture in practice – Rybna 1998. Wydawnictwo Sympozjalne KUiA PAN, pp. 148-155. ISBN 8991502511

The Fourth Pillar of Architecture
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It is possible to take pictures of a building from all its sides, measure it very precisely, catalogue it, and yet still miss its essence – as it usually lays in the user’s emotional, subjective attitude – both to the building and space. It is obvious that architecture influences social relations just as much as social relations may have a positive influence over architecture.
Nowadays, the architect has a new role. S/he’s the creator of a process, a consultant, an advisor, a mediator, and an initiator of social activities whose aim is to increase the consumer’s architectural awareness.
I would like to present examples of these aspects of architecture that go beyond the Vitruvian triad: firmitas, utilitas, venustas – durability, usefulness and beauty. Can we separate from architecture the social processes that take place within its confines? Nobody separates the blood that circulates within the body from the organism. Examples of the German designing culture integrating social and architectural issues may become an inspiration for Polish architecture for which the rebuilding of the system is closely connected with the question of how to treat the existing building substance.


The difference between the group of inhabitants ‘in themselves’ and ‘for themselves’ depends on their awareness. The inhabitants’ understanding of the process that affects the appearance of a town or city in turn affects and influences that process. The inhabitants’ protests or initiatives should be treated as having value in themselves as well as in an architectural context. They have the potential to put forward the ideas that cannot be designed on a drawing board.
In its first part, the paper presents the effects of social actions – taken in Niedersachsen, Berlin and Ruhrgebiet – which have changed with time into social movements that influenced the process of town rebuilding.
The sociologist Gansenforth, dealing with awareness of Niedersachsen people, said “We couldn’t even have imagined saving the town as a living organism without civic initiative, non-parliamentarian opposition or the minority protests in the parliament or the town hall.”
‘Wir verbessern Linden’ in Hanover and the contemporary ‘Stadtentwicklungs Konzept’ (STEK) in Hamburg were the examples of both educational methods and the popularisation of architectural issues that affect the process of co-designing – ‘Bewohnerbeteiligung’. It is not sufficient to exhibit in ‘Baumamt’ the urban plans of changes planned or distribute leaflets. Polls (Befragungen), ‘open door’ days, cooperation with councillors, open discussions, courses VHS etc. – they all become those inseparable elements that strengthen the participation of inhabitants in town development. The essence of an architect’s work in this sense is the insight and analysis, which are not possible in a ‘closed’ office. This type of work requires direct contact with people.
“Even if a ring worn by a woman is a worthless object, to her it may be worth much more than a diamond ring” – this metaphor refers to architecture too. It may even particularly refer to architecture. Only in this way might the sense of identity be created.
An important aim for urbanists, architects or town councillors is to identify and respect social local identity and to establish contact with local groups. It is an inseparable element in the raising of social awareness. This is evidenced by the positive examples of involving local people in the restructuring and revitalisation of Ruhrgebiet which is both an architectural and a social problem. New functions of the coal mines in Zollverein or Gelsenkirchen are accompanied by museums of the recent history where the miners are now tour guides and managers. On the other hand, they are also great examples of respect for tradition and of the process of awakening local awareness.


Apart from participation in the design process, real and physical participation of residents in the rebuilding of a town and the surrounding neighbourhood is of priceless value. The German project of “competitions” begun in the 1980s may be an example. Unfortunately in Poland “competitions” like that are mostly associated with propaganda from earlier times under a communist regime, which has not got much in common with the original fabric of the city. This paper presents ideas initiated by architects, town planners and sociologists in the 1980s, such as ‘Stadterneuerung in kleinen schritten’ in Hamburg, ‘Hof, Vorgarten und Fassadenwettbewerb’ in Munich and Dortmund, and ‘Hinterhof zum Innenhof’ in Hanover. The analysis and evaluation of research by the Hanover “Institute für Grünplanung’ indicate that biological revival of the houses was accompanied by the social revival. Those actions had more influence on the integration of the inhabitants and were better accepted than any others.
The image of a district or the local surroundings of a house often has little in common with classical architectural activity; it is more a reflection of social relationships there. It is common that the inhabitants are aware of this fact but they do not know where and how to start this process. This is why the initiation of this kind of activity is of great value. This is the basis for the activity of many small organisations associating sociologists and architects. They work under the label of ‘Behutsame Stadterneuerung’. The Berlin KOTBUSTER Tor e.V that was later converted into KIEZGRUN may be an example. This organisation, based on the principle that ‘there is no help without self help’ tries to help people who would like to create ‘green spots’ in the local environment but do not know how to start. They also deal with legal advice, architectural consultation etc. This organisation, like many others, may be proud of their contribution to local ecology, as well as to the integration of inhabitants especially in those districts where there are many foreigners. Moreover, some contribution that is beyond the designer’s perspective may be made by inhabitants.


A process that began no matter how dynamically may still die out very quickly. This is why the guarantees of continuity should be anticipated from the very start. Stable law should guarantee the feasible influence on a house, a district or a town. In Germany, some organisations of inhabitants, designers, sociologists and the authorities started to play an important part. Every organisation like LIST in Berlin, ‘Bürgerbüro Stadtentwicklung’ in Hanover, WOGENO in Munich or STADTBAU in Hamburg set themselves different aims. What connects them is the inseparable connection between architecture and its social aspects.
This paper outlines some aspects of their activities, such as looking for the best solutions for Besetzte Hauser (Squats), buying out of deteriorated tenement houses and their restoration, and creating an organisation ‘Wohnunggemeinschaften durch Mitgliedschaft mit unterschiedlichen Motiven’. They often coordinate the cooperation of civic initiatives, offer legal advice and become a link between people and the authorities.

Keywords:Urban Regeneration, Urban Design, Social Sciences (General)
Subjects:K Architecture, Building and Planning > K400 Planning (Urban, Rural and Regional)
K Architecture, Building and Planning > K430 Planning studies
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Architecture)
ID Code:18006
Deposited On:27 Jul 2015 09:56

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