The latest issue of Mark magazine features a very interesting article about ingenious transformation of social housing blocks, many of them in the town of Leinefelde in former East Germany. Architect Stefan Forster has dedicated about ten years to developing creative ideas on how to totally rebuild the architecture of poorly performing pre-fab concrete housing blocks – which are an increasingly greater problem in many countries throughout Europe. Having just a week ago read in Helsingin Sanomat about the plans to demolish two housing blocks in the northern Helsinki suburb of Jakomäki, makes one curious about the other potential alternatives to demolition.
In his renovation projects, Stefan Forster has gone beyond the methods of “architectural facelift”, into plastic surgery. He has treated the buildings as raw material and changed their total architecture. Floors have been chopped off, balconies and gardens added on ground and roof levels, and long blocks transformed into individual villas. The idea has been to change the total living experience in the buildings and the surroundings, and to make the buildings meet today’s standards.
These projects proof, that in fact, poor housing can be improved with low cost. All of Foster’s social housing projects have been realised with a tight budget. In these cases, renovation turned out cheaper than building new, and the buildings have been fully occupied after the renovation.
Successful architecture has had the power to give a new identity to Leinefelde, which, like many other towns in Germany, has suffered from unemployment, migration and building vacancy during the past decades.
Why not try this in Finland, instead of just painting grey and deteriorated concrete blocks with pastel colours or demolishing them? Thinking of the many problematic suburbs in Helsinki, Tampere or many other Finnish towns – living examples of how bad architecture can result in problem neighborhoods – Foster’s redesigns give confidence that they could be reinvented as well. More research, debate and creative efforts like Foster’s would be needed, just as well as open-minded attitudes from the authorities.
All photos from Stefan Forster Architekten