Inductive urban development

Anyone interested in ambitious contemporary housing development in Germany cannot overlook zanderrotharchitekten. And yet Sascha Zander and Christian Roth have taken an unusual path with their office. Like so many others, they moved to Berlin in the late 1990s after completing their studies. Fascinated by the enormous availability of space, their office’s first project was to produce a catalogue of undeveloped construction sites. They discovered around 1,000 of them. One would expect that to be a paradise for architects. But at the time, in view of the many empty old apartment buildings, the idea of new housing developments seemed about as lucrative to investors and project developers as a trip to the moon. So Zander and Roth decided: We’ll simply become project developers ourselves and develop projects that we as architects would like to build. They discovered properties in locations that experts considered to be “impossible to develop in the long term”, found their owners and produced clever financing concepts to buy them exclusively with funds from the estate’s future users. Finally, they designed exciting architectural concepts for those properties. For a young generation of urban aficionados, zanderroth developed a new residential architecture that combined contemporary models of living and their requirements to produce a harmonious overall concept: low building costs, to allow people to own homes who would otherwise be unable to do so; flexible floor plans, because you usually don’t know today how you will live tomorrow; the integration of communal uses, because one wants to benefit from living together with other people in a city; greater energy efficiency than required by law, because heating costs will rise considerably in any case; and finally maximum economy of spatial organisation to create as much living space as possible compared to the floor area. zanderroth have been extremely successful with this concept for a decade, implementing one construction project after another, each time raising the bar in terms of standards. They began building multi-storey residential buildings with 12 apartments on individual open plots. Later they moved on to filling half an urban block with up to 45 residential units. Today, they punctuate large interior courtyards with half a dozen houses for a total of 100 units. Regardless of the size, they operate a type of urban development through architecture in all of their projects. It is never just about building houses; instead, they aim to shape a piece of the city with their buildings. In doing so, they manage to fill plots that are difficult to develop and constantly enhance them with new, unexpected qualities. That is clearly not the standard form of deductive architecture, in which a general rule is defined and then applied top-down to the city as a unit. Instead, buildings by zanderroth execute inductive urban development that always derives its design approach from the specific local situation. The more such projects are achieved, the greater their transforming influence on the city as a whole. Since our cities in Europe have already been largely built, they need precisely this form of sensitive, continued thought on special spatial situations created by built structures.

Andreas Ruby