Not only since the dawn of the financial crisis are the high street and office spaces under pressure. Flexible working schemes and online shopping also pull revenue out of these traditional markets. As a result, especially with shops the small and independent units are disappearing and big chains fill the city centres. However, on the fringes, more and more empty units, both business and retail are left unused.
The architecture in many of these buildings has been rather specific and very clear in its typology about the usage. A shop is a shop and an office building is an office building. But what to do with them if they are empty? They leave massive holes in the urban fabric, simple because they are under used or unused.
Image taken from urbanTick on flickr / Section of 'Living Cubes' by Jan Conradi and Jens Ullersperger.
Together with the idea of the functional city, these usages have established themselves in central city locations taking over and pushing out any other use, including living. As a result most western cities have no, or very little mixed usage in central city locations.
The decline in shops and office needs could be a chance to reestablish pockets of housing in these location in order to reclaim the city centre also as a place for housing. However the main chalenges are the sustainable and typological adaptations of a mono functional area. How to live in an office block?
In an international student competition this question was addressed. The results are summarised in the JOVIS publication 'Urban Living' and give an overview of ideas and concepts to reuse office buildings and develop innovative urban housing concepts.
The competition was sponsored by the 'Immobilienforum Frankfurt' as they have realised the decline as well as the potential. At the time they estimated, that across Germany in the seven most important business locations (Berlin, Duesseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, Munich and Stuttgart) more than 10% of office space in prime locations are unused. In cooperation with the Deutsches Architekturmuseum Frankfurt (DAM) the international competition was launched in 2007.
Image taken from urbanTick on flickr / Top: Visualisation of staircase and gangways of 'Canyon Connection' by Jan Becker. Bottom: Floor plan first floor of 'Canyon Connection' by Jan Becker.
The publication showcases 46 projects of great variety, all based on existing office building structures being transformed into housing. As you would expect there is the bare concrete 80ies office block with the dominant structural facade towering over the rest of the street now turning into a gentle and soft host for a variety of living concepts.
The projects show an impressive variety of ways of living. The students have really put some thought into, not only transforming the existing structure but also ways of live and organisation of living. There are a lot of merging activities, working and sleeping overlaps as well as privat and semi public to public space are here conceptually possible in the same space. Often these solutions imply a temporal separation. In this sense time is added as an additional dimension to organisation of living and activity.
Overall concepts fo course bring in the normal suspects, nomade living, nested units, communal concepts, mobile units, green living and so on. However, most of them have a unique twist to it, probably not least because of the unique setting.
It is a great task for students to be challenged by the constraints of such a 80ies monster, but also a very interesting contribution to a ongoing urban discussion. Eventually this scenario will become reality and the vast number of these structures is a chalenge of change.
Image taken from urbanTick on flickr / Urban Living Book Cover, visualisation of the project 'Living Cubes' by Jan Conradi and Jens Ullersperger
Diniawarie, D., 2009. Urban Living: Visionen neuen Wohnens Bilingual., Berlin: Jovis.