by Pooja Suresh HollannavarMay 09, 2023
Can a 500-year-old public housing complex inspire the NEXT shift in our understanding of social housing?
Fuggerei, the world’s oldest public housing complex that is still in use. The complex was founded by a wealthy merchant’s charitable thought to create affordable housing for the Catholic workers of Augsburg in Bavaria, Germany. Though the founding ideals of the housing complex, have their roots in conservative principles, one cannot move past the fact that the rent in this housing hasn’t changed, since its inception in 1521. As the housing complex completes 500 years, the Fugger Foundations celebrated the occasion with an interdisciplinary debate on the topic of housing. Over the course of the evolving discourse, the ‘Fuggerei Code’ was derived, as a means to explore the future of social housing by considering the Fuggerei housing complex as a model. Becoming an epicentre for the discussion, talks and debate on social housing was the Next500 Pavilion designed by MVRDV.
Anchored outside the town hall in the Fuggerei’s home city of Augsburg, the temporary pavilion takes inspiration from the long roof houses of Fuggerei itself. Though the narrow and gabled form resembles the buildings of Fuggerei, rather than a single square block, the architects curved and raised up one end of the pavilion. Envisioned as a window to a future Fuggerei that would appear in Augsburg and the rest of the world, the raised end of the pavilion overlooks the town hall adjacent to Augustus Fountain, an important local landmark. Within the design of an 8.5 m cantilevered end and the curved form, the pavilion incorporates a part of the town hall square into itself, creating a public space that hosted variety of events.
Composed to host events and exhibitions, the interior spaces of the pavilion have been split into various rooms. Also referred to as ‘building blocks’, these spaces were identified during the Fuggerei of the Future study. These rooms become a meeting point where the visitors come together to design the Fuggerei of the Future. Furthermore, the pavilion houses a pink bar, and a tribune in the raised end to host lectures, and presentations.
“The walls, floor, and roof are built from prefabricated cross-laminated timber panels, an approach that offers a number of sustainability benefits: the wood stores carbon, while the CLT panels make the pavilion demountable so that it can later be deconstructed and relocated - ensuring it can have a second life within a sustainable or social context after the conclusion of the exhibition. In addition, the wood is sourced from the Fuggerei’s own forests, and a local carpenter created the wooden interiors,” states MVRDV in an official release. Realising this intent to give the pavilion a second life, the structure will be dismantled, rebuilt and opened to the public in the Fraeylemaborg Foundation Art and Sculpture Park in Groningen, Netherlands.
The pavilion inaugurated on May 6, 2022, hosted exhibitions and talks that explored multiple notions of how the oldest social housing project can pave way for the future of social housing. Inside the pavilion, an object-driven exhibition showcased in the blue cubes highlighted how current the seven social challenges identified in the Fuggerei model are around the world. The seven social challenges put forward were; overcoming need, developing spirituality, guaranteeing humanistic values, strengthening self-determination and dignity, creating living space, creating sustainability, and providing security. “Designing the NEXT500 Pavilion was a thrilling exercise for us, not only to celebrate the Fuggerei’s 500th anniversary but also because it provided the opportunity for us to take part in the Fuggerei of the Future research, with proposals to bring the Fuggerei formula to communities around the world”, shares MVRDV founding partner, Jacob van Rijs.
Amid the discussions, MVRDV partnered with the Fugger Foundations to develop a manual for the creation of a new Fuggerei around the world. The manual included three studies from specific locations: one in Lithuania, one in Sierra Leone, and a second in Augsburg with a focus on education. Within their intention to adapt the concept to a new context, the architects also focused on ensuring that the proposals adhere to the values and principles of the original. In sharing about the new outlook on social housing rooted in the Fuggerei model, the architects share, “A Fuggerei should address a specific social need (broadly describing any location-specific social challenge, ranging from poverty to education to gender discrimination); it should provide a safe haven for the people it serves; it should be sustainable. It should encourage humanistic values (500 years ago, Catholicism defined the original Fuggerei, but today this can refer to any common value system that residents share); should enable self-determination and dignity for residents; should be a social home (supporting community and a rewarding personal life), and it should provide for residents’ spiritual needs. These central tenets are enshrined in the newly-written Fuggerei Code, along with additional details such as requiring only a “minimal spiritual monetary and spiritual consideration from residents” and the expectation for the Fuggerei to maintain its mission in perpetuity.”
Reflecting on these perspectives, the proposals had eight generic steps under the title of 'building blocks' which could be adapted in cities across the world. A few of the parameters in the 'building blocks' include entrance doors facing the streets, space for private green, car-free streets, emphasis on the human scale, and the design to be climate-responsive. While the basics of the proposals and the discussions revolved around the principle of Fuggerei, the in-depth presentation of its adaptations put forward intriguing thoughts. Though the Fuggerei housing is rooted in conservative beliefs, it is interesting to note that this particular case still functions. While most of the housing that originated during this period has vanished into pages of history, Fuggerei celebrates its 500th year and enthusiastically looks forward to another 500. In the advent of a new era that is probing into new perspectives and solutions for the future, a retrospective dive into what can the Fuggerei contribute to the future of social housing would call for a riveting conversation.
Name: Fuggerei Next500 Pavilion
Location: Augsburg, Germany
Typology: Temporary Exhibition Pavilion
Client: Fürstlich und Gräflich Fuggerschen Stiftungen
Area: 150 sq.m.
Founding Partner in charge: Jacob van Rijs
Director: Sven Thorissen
Design Team: Christine Sohar, Marta Iglesias Rando, Alexander Forsch, Alessio Palmieri, John Hermansson
Strategy and Development: Jan Knikker
Contractor, Structural engineer: Züblin Timber GmbH
Carpenter: Burghart GmbH Schreinerei