E4 & M2 New Social Housing / Bart Lootsma, Davide Tommaso Ferrando & Bettina Schlorhaufer

09 28th, 2017

New Social Housing

Against the Background of Individualisation, Globalisation and the Rise of Social Media


On occasion of the IBA (International Building Exhibition) Vienna 2022, the studio research of this year is dedicated to new forms of social housing.

In this context, we aim at interpreting anew what is meant with “social”, as it has become so laden with assumptions, that it is not always certain what is meant by it. The social has different meanings and is also subject to continuous change. Today, media and notably social media alter and replace the social realm. In the Anthropocene, the social cannot just be about relations among people, but should take a wider natural and material context into account, urging us to speculate on what new social housing might be.

Over the last century and a half, many concepts for social housing have been developed, from Fourier’s Phalanstère (early 1800), Owen’s New Harmony (1825), May’s New Frankfurt (1925-30) and Ginzburg’s Narkomfin (1930), through Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation (1925-47) and Harry Glück’s Wohn- und Kaufpark (1967-1985) to the recent Baugruppen. Other concepts were developed under the influence of ideologies as different as anarchism and fascism. In the same period, cities and nations worldwide developed housing policies, which were implemented by laws and systems of taxation and subsidies. The most successful ones are to be found in the European welfare states, socialist and communist countries, and in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Recently, other ideas of the social present us with Common Interest Developments, Gated Communities and AirBnB. All these concepts offer more than just dwellings. They present a clear vision of how the inhabitants would or should live together in a collective. In other words, they have a clear vison of their desired social relationships and this becomes visible in the organisation and appearance of architectural projects.

During the last decades, the development of social housing concepts has been hindered by several factors, affecting both the existing and new housing stock. Processes of globalisation have undermined the nation state and the (relative) autarchy of larger cities and metropolises, challenging the basis of public housing systems. Processes of individualisation, on the other side, have questioned the possibility of establishing collective life, while social media have redefined the way in which we operate in and shape communities. The financialisation of real estate on a global scale, finally, has become the principal drive of the transformation of main urban areas, making land prices too high for social housing and subjugating urban planning to liberal individualist solutions, in which the market is supposed to be the panache for everything.

For all these reasons, the issue of social housing poses itself rather differently today than ever before. Known solutions do not work any longer. Still, there is hardly any innovation to be found. Not knowing what to do, the West has largely surrendered to liberal individualist solutions, in which the market is supposed to be the panache for everything.

Even if some of the former European welfare states still try to steer the market by intensive social engineering, financialisation has led to one of the most severe economic and social crises the world has known in a long time. Social differences are increasing worldwide, causing increasingly staggering numbers of people to live in shanty towns or to be completely homeless. Increasing economic inequality and accelerating population growth compel governments to come up with solutions that can be implemented almost immediately, which is why social housing is becoming once again one of the main focuses of the architectural discourse. Still, since its problem is now posed rather differently than ever before, known solutions do not work any longer, while there is hardly any innovation to be found today. Answers to the new questions of social housing, in this sense, must be found not only in architecture, urbanism and landscape architecture, but also in socioeconomic paradigms.

Vienna, among the cities in Europe that can boast the most successful social housing traditions, is challenged by these tendencies as well. For the Red and Green coalition governing the City of Vienna, it is highly important to pursue a policy of social inclusion and social mix. The question is how to achieve that and to find answers, Vienna has initiated an IBA. It is a platform that is destined to generate ideas and debates on new forms of social housing. The question is, in comparison with the clearly recognizable form social housing became in the twentieth century: what could New Social Housing be in the century to come? To answer this question is an enormous task because, as Ulrich Beck writes, “any attempt to come up with a new concept that would provide social cohesion must depart from acknowledging that individualism, diversity and scepticism are rooted in Western culture”. Still, that doesn’t dismiss us from the task. Maybe it should challenge us to come up with even bolder visions and develop scenarios for short, middle and long term developments.

In addition to the IBA, which will result in a series of concretely realized projects in Vienna, some of which have already started, the New Social Housing Studio of will provide a comparative international overview of social housing and a speculative outlook for the century to come.

During the studio, we’ll produce an overview of the most important concepts for and positions on social housing, as they have been developed over the last 150 years. At the same time, we will study the history of social housing in Vienna in depth, comparing it with that of other European cities. Since, strangely enough, there is no existing comparative international overview or standard work on social housing, we will also start a web archive of a collection of more and less known social housing projects, concentrating especially on their typologies and backgrounds. The archive will be used as a point of departure to produce scenarios meant to anticipate future tendencies in social housing. Part of the summer semester will also be dedicated to the preparation of an installation on the topic of the studio, to be shown in Venice during the 2018 Architecture Biennale and on the Internet. Finally, we will try to profit as much as possible from the events organised by the IBA Vienna, undertaking excursions to Vienna and Frankfurt.


The studio is taught in English.


Important learning goals and outcomes for the course beyond its central theme:
– “Learning to Learn”: learning from books, from lecturers, from other students and from reality (fieldwork).
– Writing texts, using pictures, making books, curating exhibitions, editing videos and designing websites based on the investigated material.
– Developing an understanding of scenario planning.
– Learning to read and express oneself in English.
– Acquisition of learning strategies and content in the context of the research of architectural theory and history.
– Learning an effective use of the library(s) and archives. Learning important research techniques, also for archival research.
– Use of several presentation techniques in varied contexts and with different media: essay, short presentation with PowerPoint or Keynote, book, exhibition, website, video.
– Teamwork: we usually work in teams of two students. The topics and presentations are structured in such a way that all teams can benefit from each other and the individual presentations are part of a larger whole or product.

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