Inspiration from Tokyo, Berlin, Singapore
Untapped living tradition in Japan
There is a living concept in Japan that saves space and energy and recycles resources. It could be a model for the future. But the country has dropped this concept, which has developed over centuries, in the post-war years.
In the traditional Japanese residential house, rooms have no function assignment. There is no sleeping, dining or children’s room. And no furniture – except perhaps in one room a low table and in another a dresser. The floors are tatami mats made of rice straw, where people eat, read and do homework on cushions. To sleep, you get the futons from the closets, of which there are many in the traditional house. This turns the dining room into a bedroom within seconds. That’s why the Japanese traditionally need less space than we Europeans. In the small houses lived mostly three generations under one roof.
In the Edo period until 1868, a time of strict class society, there were regulations in Japanese cities about how large the buildings should be that members of different classes build. This should save space and heat energy. In addition, all the houses had to be south facing and have a veranda. Especially in the big cities of Tokyo and Osaka with their sunny winter months, this also helped to save energy.
This modern-looking home idea has given up Japan in the postwar period. Gradually, all traditional houses are demolished. They have to give way to prefabricated houses from companies like Panasonic and Toyota, or they are building large blocks of flats. The Japanese call “Apato” tiny, poorly-built studios of mostly 28 square meters. Today a lot of single young Japanese people live in an Apato. These houses are hardly isolated and must therefore be strongly heated in winter, cooled in the summer with plenty of electricity.
Co-living space in Berlin
Living in the hippest part of the capital, with a modern kitchen and a luxurious roof terrace – and for a few hundred euros rent a month and also indefinite. So one should be able to stay in Berlin soon. The only catch: one lives very closely. For sleeping, there is only a kind of niche with a shelf, in which fits the essentials. The rest are common areas, laundry facilities, storage space. “Pod-Living” is the somewhat silly name of the model, a mixture of dorm, shared apartment and Japanese capsule hotel with bunk beds.
The whole thing is still in progress. The start-up Robin Hood is currently in the process of renting a large commercial property in Neukölln in order to rebuild it. No details are yet to be revealed, how many berths will be available and what exactly they should cost. Only so much: The interest is enormous, on the waiting list have already registered 2000 people. They are people who actually make up the character of Berlin, artists, creative people, students, young immigrants, but who find it increasingly difficult to find a permanent home in the city.
Dennis Prinz, founder of the start-up, could be one of them. He has studied acting, lived here and there, curated this and that until eventually he moved to Berlin, “the most exciting city in the world”. In recent years, he has himself experienced how living space has become ever scarcer and more expensive. People like him, he says, would set themselves up in a state of persistent intermediate rent, “four weeks in an airbnb, then two weeks with friends on the sofa and another three weeks in the hostel.”
In pod-living you should be able to check in and out via an app within hours, but you can also stay permanently, says Prinz. He has founded a co-working space in Neukölln, a community office where you can rent for weeks or even by the hour. Now he transfers this form of urban nomadism to living. He works with the district, which is open to the model.
Vertical villages in Singapore
In the heart of Chinatown, the “Pinnacle @ Duxton” stands out in the sky. Five high-rise towers, which are connected at the top by wide bridges, so that a large sky garden is created, with chairs under trees and best view over the entire island on the waterway of Malacca. The building can easily keep up with all the other innovative buildings that shape Singapore’s skyline. But in homes like the Pinnacle, there are no private investments. Rather, it is a showcase public housing project that offers four out of five Singaporean citizens a rather small but always comfortable home. “HDBs” is the name of the housing units in the local jargon, according to the authority that plans and manages them, the Housing Development Board.
For the majority of Singaporeans there is no life and housing without HDB. They grow up in one of the apartments that spread all over the city-state and form a parallel housing market to the so-called condominiums, which are subject to the free market and are mainly used by the many foreigners in Singapore. The HDBs, priced significantly cheaper, are reserved for Singaporean citizens. Public housing has played a central role in the development of the city state since the independence of Singapore. Any Singaporean family with a monthly income up to a maximum of € 7500 can apply for the purchase of such a HDB apartment. However, they have limited choices in which facility they want to settle. On top of that, the apartments were reserved for married people only. In the meantime, singles who are 35 or older can buy a small HDB unit. The size depends on the number of family members. The state encourages the purchase and ownership of housing, with 90 percent of HDB users living in apartments owned by them. The acquisition is financed by a sophisticated loan system. For the very poorest in Singapore, there are rental apartments, some cost only 30 euros a month.
There are about one million HDB flats in the city-state, with a population of five and a half million. Since the 1960s, Singapore has systematically operated the relocation of village communities, the Kampongs, in high-rise buildings. Some call the HDBs therefore “vertical villages”. In the multi-ethnic state, the apartments of each complex are given a key, so that no ghettos of individual ethnic groups arise, but the largest groups – Chinese, Indians and Malays – each distribute. As in all areas of life, little is left to chance when it comes to living. The authoritarian-ruled Singapore acquires the sympathy of its citizens, above all, through a high degree of strictly regulated care – a system in which there are fewer freedoms than in many Western countries.
No idea is too outlandish
Churches make room for apartments, bridge pillars could become residential towers. The housing crisis also includes the opportunity to finally think about new ways of living in the city. By Gerhard Matzig more …