Many more or less profound things have been said about the value of one’s own home. Home is not a place, but a feeling. You live as you live and you live as you live. It’s best at home. Housing has been something that moves people, and not just since the narrowness of the corona pandemic. Space is becoming narrow in the big cities, and the suburbs are also expanding because many families can no longer afford the space in the center. The real estate market in and around Cologne has been swept clean.
It is clear that living will change. Not only because, according to the Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft (IW Cologne), there are more single households today than ever before – they take up space that is actually not there. Issues such as sustainability, digitization and increasing citizen involvement are likely to shape the way we live in the future. An overview.
Less space, more hybridity
Space in metropolitan areas is becoming increasingly scarce, but rents continue to rise. For economic reasons, this forces people to shrink, to move closer together. “Big cities are rebuilding as needed,” says Ralph Henger, real estate economist at the Institute of German Economy (IW) in Cologne. The expert predicts that the living space per capita will decrease in the metropolitan areas, while it will continue to increase in the surrounding area.
The central keyword is therefore compression. Micro-apartments, in which people only live on 15 to 30 square meters, are only one model of many that will be on the slips of city planners in the coming years. This is also the case with Brigitte Scholz, head of the Office for Urban Development in Cologne. “The living space per capita is shrinking in the cities, so the residential layout has to change,” she says. This should be implemented in concrete terms, for example, by downsizing existing residential units while at the same time using the available space more efficiently – both the space of the apartment itself and the entire building land and existing living space in the city itself.
Rooms such as the office but also guest rooms could be moved out of the apartment in the future, explains Scholz. Models such as shared office spaces are already widespread among the self-employed. The new Kreuzfeld district in Cologne should be built according to this model: “In addition to a good infrastructure, Kreuzfeld should become a lively, dense quarter,” says Scholz. Work, leisure, living – all aspects of life should be connected in one place in the city of the future. Green areas should offer places of retreat in the densely built-up quarter, and existing areas should be used as efficiently as possible.
For example, the flat roofs of discounters. “There is untapped potential here that needs to be tapped,” says Henger. New living space is to be created on the flat roofs. In Cologne, according to Brigitte Scholz, 63 grocery stores in the city area are suitable for development. But other places that initially sound uncomfortable, such as parking garages, old factories or office buildings, could also be increasingly used for living in the future.
It does not only apply to car sharing: living space is also increasingly being thought of as communal. “There is a growing interest in collective building,” says Marco Hemmerling, professor of architecture at the TH Köln. He speaks of a movement of participatory and collective building. “In many places it was understood that involving citizens leads to better results.”
His colleague Yasemin Utku, architect, spatial planner and also with a professorship at the TH Köln, is now increasingly looking at models of communal living. It refers to projects like velvet weaving: a quarter in Krefeld, where living, working and leisure space was created on an old factory site with the close involvement of the neighbors.
The special thing about it is that so-called “quarter hours” are linked to all commercial leases: For every square meter that is rented, a certain amount of time must be invested in the quarter – for example for organizing a city festival or a quarter newspaper. In total, the entire complex runs 3,000 “quarter hours” a year. “This combination of living, working and civic engagement is great,” says Utku. “Living there is not only thought of as a commodity, but as a structure and process.”
Another initiative she mentions is the “Immovielien” network, in which actors from civil society, the public sector, business, welfare and science come together to develop real estate together. The sponsorships are decisive for community building.
Influence of digitization
Marco Hemmerling’s research and teaching area at the TH Köln is one of the things that will bring about many changes in real estate construction in the coming years: He deals with digital technologies in architecture. Nowadays, more and more information technology is used in the planning as well as in the implementation and equipping of buildings – and goes far beyond what we know as self-switching lamps under the catchphrase “Smart Home”.
Especially in the implementation, new so-called manufacturing tools arise through digital aids. For example, 3D printers and robots can now also be used in the construction of buildings. And: The use of computer models in planning can theoretically enable each individual to design their own, individual house.
Hemmerling is currently head of the open source project “Interact” at the TH Köln: With the help of a computer program, an individual wooden structure can be designed. All the user has to do is enter the dimensions of the outer surfaces and the system will calculate the necessary production parts. They can then be commissioned in a carpentry shop, for example. Put simply: “You could build your own house with two cordless screwdrivers and a ladder,” says Hemmerling. However, the project still requires support from an architect. On the Deutz campus of the TH, a first prototype is to be built by autumn 2021, a real laboratory that can be further developed at will. The individual parts of the wooden structure can be easily dismantled and rebuilt.
But the networking of objects will also play a growing role in the household: “The functions of a building are increasingly networked with one another in such a way that it can become significantly more energy-efficient and adaptable,” says Hemmerling. This includes facades that can be used to generate energy and front doors that know what is happening at the window.
Smart homes are often thought of as excessive technological demands, as “what is feasible” instead of “what is useful?”. The danger of neglecting the analog world via digital spaces is no longer justified, says Hemmerling. “The exciting question is how materiality and digitality can come together.” In practice, information technology aids would become less and less visible because they would be better integrated into their environment.
Sustainable building material wood
It is no coincidence that Marco Hemmerling relies on wood for the “Interact” project. “We are experiencing a renaissance in timber construction because, on the one hand, it is an ecological building material and, on the other hand, it can be processed very easily using digital manufacturing methods.” In order to use wood correctly, however, a corresponding understanding of the material and its strengths is required. Because even if wood is a renewable building material and therefore has an ecological coating, it is often not used ideally: for example, there is too much waste or properties such as the cell structure are not used sufficiently.
The ecological advantages of the building material include lower CO2 emissions during manufacture and the binding of CO2 in the finished building. The Aachen University of Applied Sciences now even has its own course in wood engineering. What would have sounded absurd in the past is already booming: in 2019, every fifth building permit in Germany was granted for a one or two-family house as a prefabricated wooden house.