BFC on baugruppen: Proactive Jurisdictions

This is part 2 of a series on baugruppen, private owners collaboratively building affordable multifamily projects. Read parts 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

For the first concept of our Baugruppen: Badaβ Concepts series, I’ll be highlighting a few cities and the policies enacted that have allowed this self-organized collaborative building thing to grow well. I mean really, really well – there are tens of thousands of built and occupied units in these cities. Yeah, I know you were hoping for some nice renderings or built projects – but we’ll have time for that. The reality is that city policies have shaped and promoted this type of development, and so I felt that was a good place to start. Freiburg, Tuebingen, Hamburg and Berlin are baugruppen hot beds – though there are others (Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Leipzig). These jurisdictions have given a phenomenal amount of support to push such innovative housing. Local governments see the obvious benefits – to owners, certainly – but also to the greater community, and have worked to get these out there. Proactive governmental agencies can seem rare, but these are allowing a truly fundamental shift in the way communities are made. +1.

Tuebingen (BaWu)

The Tuebingen BG model represents a higher plane of thinking with a people over profits mentality, resulting in a quality of sustainable urbanism very difficult to come by. By the mid-90s, Tuebingen was beyond affordable for many. Even with a high level of density, housing prices were high and land was scarce. In an effort to adjust this, the City purchased land in the southern part of town (brownfields vacated by NATO), determined legal limits, and engaged in actual urban planning. Competitions were initiated, with lots being sold to the BG with the best concept (unfathomable!). Cars were kept at the periphery of development – similar to Vauban. Zoning laws weren’t utilized – instead BGs were required to set aside the ground floor for non-residential use, set development at the block periphery, and set aside large portions of land for semi-private courtyards. According to this slideshow (pdf) by Tuebingen resident Fabian Betz, BGs resulted in lower costs (10-20% lower!), with high levels of diversity and ownership amongst younger families.

foto: Ramessos

The City believes it has gotten an excellent cultural and social return for its investment, and the neighborhoods are certainly rather attractive. There is a vitality and neighborhood identity in a region where, historically, other ventures could not provide (think large, banal developments). Yes, the process took longer – but the results are phenomenal. There is diversity, a high quality of life – and nearly 150 completed buildings ranging from inexpensive duplexes to wacky, large apartments. For more on the Tuebingen story, check out planen – bauen – leben Baugemeinschaften in Tübingen (pdf, German).  Two BGs I’m rather drawn to in Tuebingen are Kristall, a duplex over workshop, and Prisma, a $240/sf, 11-unit concrete and glass building.

Vauban/Freiburg (BaWu)

I’ve talked in previous posts about the incredible BGs in Freiburg’s Vauban district – and we featured one early in our PHBdW series. Like Tuebingen, Vauban’s baugruppen scene started to initialize when NATO vacated an existing base. The city purchased the land, and then proceeded to worked with a self-organized citizen’s group, Forum Vauban, to design, plan and implement one of the best ecodistricts I’ve ever seen.  Thus, I was rather pleased to discover Joseph Little’s paper, Lessons from Freiburg on Creating a Sustainable Urban Community (pdf). What Little highlights, and I believe to be of the greatest consequence, is that Freiburg’s city council made a conscience decision that developmental rights in Vauban would be preferentially given to baugruppen over developers. Joseph correctly points out this leads to a great question ‘what is the best use of this land?’  The city and working group felt that prioritizing affordability (through collaboratively-built projects), would make it attractive and feasible financially for families to live there rather the suburbs. When Vauban lots were put up for sale and multiple parties expressed interest, bidding wars were skipped for other factors – most diverse scheme, most ecologically sound, etc. Mind, blown! What an incredible way to build a city! Freiburg’s city council even provided facilitators that helped the baugruppe procure legal and financial representation for the project. Vauban features several completed BG projects – along with a self-organized student housing co-op (where several of our friends lived). The first BG completed as a model demonstration was Genova, formed by a number of participants in the Forum Vauban process. Built projects include a variety of The first Passivhaus BG was, not surprisingly, also built in Vauban. Dubbed ‘bauen + wohnen‘ and completed in ’99, it preceded a number of innovative multifamily PH projects. The working group set efficiency standards for the district, . The results from Vauban’s BG community appear to have been extremely successful. There have been conferences and workshops to spread the idea beyond Freiburg (imagine that!). Forum Vauban and Oeke-institut e.V. also put together a lengthy report on the social/ecological model district of Vauban (pdf, German) that is worth looking at as well. In terms of population density – at 5,300 inhabitants over 38 ha – Vauban packs in a whopping 36,000 people/square mile – making it denser than over 95% of Seattle, yet it maintains a distinct character and ample open space. Fotos here.



Berlin seems to have had a more ‘free-market’ approach, where the City has supported the growth of BGs, but much of it has happened organically. Berlin has a long history of self-organization, and early on there were many vacant lots or dilapidated buildings that could be obtained quite reasonably. Though it started slow, the boom of BGs has been amazing, and the infrastructure that has followed is similarly remarkable. Back in 2007, Michael LaFond wrote in Worldchanging, ‘By 2020 we predict about 5% of the city’s residents to be involved in around 3000 projects, adding up to about 150,000 people.’  The process has been standardized – there is a strong network of organizations, architects, and PMs specializing in the formation and construction of BGs. Berliner baugruppen also seem to push innovative practices more than other cities (passivhaus, CLT, etc.). Local government has published extensive information for interested parties – including a lengthy report on living in BGs (pdf, some English). Additionally, there are groups that provide consultation, meeting spaces, legal framework and work on the promotion of strong examples to increase uptake. There are a multitude of websites with information on built BGs, as well as those in planning – where potential owner-builders can find their ‘tribe’. Wohnportal-Berlin includes a search option that refines by building type (new/reno), location, and even efficiency class (PH, KfW 45, etc). There have been countless exhibitions and lectures on BGs, and the city has hosted conferences on experimental housing.


foto: ELBE&FLUT; Source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbH

Hamburg has an amazingly robust BG scene. The City’s website holds an extensive amount of information on BGs and what the City does to encourage and facilitate their development. Part of that is a department within the city, the Agentur fuer Baugeminschaften, which has overseen and coordination erection of 1800 BGs over the last decade, and several hundred more in planning. Many of those are in the incredible dockside redevelopment, HafenCity. Looking for land? The department facilitates that as well – Hamburg even sets aside nearly 20% of suitable land specifically for BGs. Even then, there is more interest than land! If there is competition for a lot between BGs, the City looks at various criteria, including viability, concept originality (uber green, car-free Amazonians!), owner diversity, etc. This pushes BGs in the planning stage to be very innovative – predominantly immigrants, or single parent households only. Exemplary projects? Check. Looking for your tribe? The city’s site maintains an active list of incomplete BGs looking for owners, including contact info, project description, etc. Like other jurisdictions, savings over traditional models are running 10-20% less expensive for higher quality projects specifically tailored to the end users.

Other jurisdictions also have extensive information for interested parties. The wohnprojekte-portal functions similar to the Berlin version – except can be further refined, and is extended to all of Germany. The report, Neues Urbanes Wohnen in Baugemeinschaften, (pdf, German) was prepared for Stuttgart – who has also seen a late but healthy start into the scene. For links to other regional jurisdictions with BGs, click here.

There are a number of solid reasons why cities should be interested in stimulating and facilitating such undertakings. Jobs, affordable housing within city limits, maintaining or expanding the tax base, and stimulating development of vacant/awkwardly shaped/smaller lots developers may see as too risky are just a few.  Yes, there will be hurdles to getting something like thus underway – but the framework exists and jurisdictions may find the long term benefits are well worth the short term growing pains. + 1 googolplex.

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