Christoph Mäckler, director of the Institute for Urban Architecture, wants to limit people’s options to oppose the construction of housing.
Mr. Mäckler, the Institute for Urban Architecture you headed made a very critical assessment of the state of German cities in a call for the 2021 federal elections.
Yes, we found that the built ugliness, sadness and lifelessness of our cities had become unbearable in many places. The crown lock had revealed it. And there is nothing to take away from this judgment.
Before the election, they demanded that there be an independent federal construction ministry again.
For nearly 25 years, the building has been an appendage of other departments, the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Environment and, most recently, the Department of the Interior. For now I am satisfied that an independent Ministry of Construction has finally been created.
What tasks need to be addressed now?
Public urban space needs to be improved. It is important to shape it for the social cohesion of our society. It is necessary to create awareness for this in Germany.
The traffic light coalition agreement calls for the design of a lively public space.
The question is whether the politicians know what they are writing. Public space is the living space of our cities. In Italy it goes without saying. Public life takes place much more outside, in the open, than here. In Germany, during the Crown blockade, it became apparent that there were no well-designed public spaces. Only a few people in this country are lucky enough to live in a quality park or square. When it’s all shabby outside and you and your family are crammed into a two bedroom apartment, it’s terrible. In many of our residential areas, homes no longer constitute public streets or squares. And we’re not building new parks. Today we live in parks that were created 100 years ago.
There is a lack of awareness of these issues and many German cities do not have the money to create quality public space. Many municipalities have sold their silverware. You have nothing left.
The traffic light coalition promises people that 400,000 new homes will be built in one year.
In reality, the federal government is not responsible at all. It has to find countries and cities that implement housing construction. And who has the money for it. I doubt that 400,000 houses can be built a year. Not with the building code we have today, not with the regulations that apply now. There are too many obstacles, for example with environmental protection and noise protection regulations, but also with the objection options that exist during construction.
In your opinion, should these objection options be curtailed?
Yes sure. Otherwise it takes too long to build.
But wasn’t it social progress that people had the opportunity to oppose the construction?
This was true at the time of the social-liberal coalition in the early 1970s, when Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt said he wanted to risk more democracy. Today, however, these possibilities for objection are overwhelming during construction. They no longer serve the common good, but their own good. How long does it take to build an ICE path? Too long.
Which laws would you cancel?
In 2019, building mayors and heads of planning departments of more than 100 cities in Germany signed our institute’s so-called Düsseldorf Declaration. Among other things, they asked for substantial changes to the ordinance on the use of buildings from the 1960s. The distinction and separation between commercial area, central area, residential area must be dissolved. We need a functionally mixed city where people live and work.
But that means more noise becomes possible.
Yes, that too Today, for example, apartments near sports facilities are only possible with special noise protection measures. This needs to be changed. A bakery cannot be housed in a residential area. This needs to change.
Christoph Maeckler, born in Frankfurt in 1951, he made a name for himself in the 1980s with alternative urban concepts. His buildings in Frankfurt include the Opernturm and Tower 185 skyscrapers. His office is also responsible for the new construction of Terminal 3 at Frankfurt Airport and the (co) design of the German Romantic Museum.
The German Institute for Urban Architecture, which is now based in Frankfurt, was founded by Mäckler in Dortmund in 2008.
What opposition options for citizens would you remove?
I am not a lawyer. But the terms of opposition must be shortened. The whole legal process needs to be streamlined. Once again: the common good comes before self-interest.
But this means great political explosiveness.
I am convinced that the expected and necessary 400,000 new homes a year can only be built by drastically changing the regulations. Today we have completely encrusted urban structures. The city must have the ability to approve apartments more quickly. I’ll give you an example: DIN 17037 requires that in every newly built apartment there is at least an hour and a half of sunlight in a room on March 1st. This rule must disappear! You cannot build dense courtyards or neighborhoods with this DIN. But we have to build more densely to create the necessary housing.
However, many people don’t want to live in densely crowded neighborhoods. The bourgeois dream of a single-family home still exists.
We have to build more densely for ecological reasons, so as not to consume so much green and open space. Density also gives life to the city. I deny that people don’t like it. The most popular neighborhoods are the dense 19th-century Gründerzeit neighborhoods and not our new residential neighborhoods.
Do you really believe that the coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP has the strength to implement all this?
I very much appreciate this new coalition. Show great seriousness. I hope it does not act in a party way, but rather pragmatically.
The changes you ask for are a crucial test, especially for the Greens. They have grown thanks to citizen initiatives and objections to construction projects. You have always been in favor of citizens’ initiatives.
The Greens have changed a lot in the last few decades. Today you think more realistically. We urgently need changes in our social policy, that is, in urban planning. It cannot be that the fourth largest industrial nation is unable to provide people with affordable enough housing. Should not be.
The Greens will enter into dramatic conflicts with their clientele, with their constituents.
No I do not think so. Again, we need movement.
We haven’t even talked about your urban planning and architectural quality needs.
The basic rule is: in the future I have to position the buildings so that they form a square. Facades do not have to be repellent. Obviously we need designed house facades with windows. And not a manhole as a facade, as some colleagues plan. Perhaps this is art. But we must always remember: people should live in houses! Architecture has to be there for the people.
But in reality we always see the same monotonous facades in many German cities. Does it have to do with the need to save, with the economic pressure in urban development?
Even. But I have to give the facades a higher quality to get more acceptance among people. I imagine cities will link their building permits with a demand for higher architectural quality.
Can the state and can it do it?
Yes. We have the project charter tool in our development plans. In the past, municipalities have too often succumbed to architectural quality. We can see the result very clearly today. But now something has changed. It is becoming clear to politicians that public space design is also a public task. We now have more than 350 design advisory committees in Germany. Their number has more than doubled since 1994.
But the constraints of the capitalist system still determine urban development. Housing construction is also subject to profit maximization, as evidenced by the steadily increasing number of luxury condominiums.
In this capitalist system there are even more freedoms. In totalitarian systems, restrictions and norms in urban planning are much stronger. It is true that the real estate market in Germany is booming and that prices are exploding. This has to do with the lack of investment opportunities for the money. The state must take action against speculation with luxury condominiums, which are built only as an investment and often stand empty for years. Cities must act to compensate. They should buy land to counter speculation.
Interview: Claus-Jürgen Göpfert