In the past, participatory planning used to be regarded as an annoying factor in the already intricate procedures of urban planning. Fortunately, today participation seems to permeate through a variety of city projects. This time around, the good news comes from Berlin. Self-Made City is a bilingual (German-English) book by the German Jovis. As the title insinuates, the reader is given the chance to page through a panorama of self-made housing projects all situated in the city of Berlin, most of them built during the last decade.
A showcase of the 125 co-housing projects, accompanied by extensive photographic documentation organized in a very clever and consistent way, composes the core of the book.
This title also includes:
- A small retrospect on Berlin’s recent construction history setting the background for the chosen projects;
- A list of ten criteria-axes which defined the choice of the particular projects presented;
- A section of short interventions by persons who had a key-role in the projects; as well as,
- A quantitative analysis of the projects, serving as the conclusion.
But what does Self-Made City mean? Within the introduction, the writer, Kristien Ring, sets the record straight for a variety of similar terms that might confuse the reader. “Self-initiative is not the same as self -organized building, and self made is not the same as self-help and doesn’t mean Do-it-yourself.” However, the majority of the projects commented on are self-initiatives, which means that were co-financed by their future users and they were made to cover real needs. Furthermore, the projects are organized around important sets of principles that show:
- Up to what grade they promote urban interaction;
- How their planning combines communal spaces and what their effect is on the community;
- How they achieve the goal of staying affordable in the long-run;
- How much green and open spaces offer to the city;
- What their contribution is on the reactivation of the city;
- How innovative they are in terms of building technology;
- How they achieve cross-generational goals and multi-use standards;
- What their impact is on the environment; and
- What their future potentials are.
A positive surprise about the projects were their high architectural caliber, as well as their potential in providing access to affordable housing to lower income individuals. These projects offer strong proof that good design is not a monopoly of private high cost real estate. What I missed in this book were the opinions of people inhabiting these incredible housing units, and some further hints about the reactions of the society of Berlin around them. Besides this, Self-Made City is a must read for urban planners and architects interested in bottom-up initiatives and participatory planning in housing.
Matthew Griffin-architect and member of the initiative “Stadt Neu Denken” says: “Self made city seems to be the ultimate crowd-sourced project.” What’s your opinion about these alternative solutions of self-initiated building projects?
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.