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No more compromise! You ask how to achieve it? Bring on utopia!

02 of February '24

The article is from A&B issue 9|23

Ich bin ein Berliner! - to these famous, solidarity-filled words of President J.F. Kennedy addressed to Berliners on a sunny summer day are referred to in her sketches by Dorota Danielewicz, writing that this one expression has not lost its meaning, "because a Berliner can be anyone anywhere in the world, anyone striving for the fall of some wall dividing into parts something that should be whole."

Returning to Berlin in my memory, I very often pause at the sight of the sun setting over the city, whose last rays, wandering through the crowd gathered for a pop-up concert, cut through the cool panes of the windows of the Postbank-Hochhaus. The productive office space became a place for contemplating art. The building's open plan easily took on a new function, proving that architecture is first and foremost an absorbing backdrop for human activity, and is measured by countless square meters of memories - ephemera that binds the building's materiality to the City.

Photo: © Andreas Rocholl

Five and a half kilometers northeast of the Postbank-Hochhaus, right next to Berlin's most important public space - Alexanderplatz - rises the white mass of the former Statistical Office of the German Democratic Republic. Built between 1968 and 1970 in the spirit of post-war modernism, it was designed by a team of three architects: Manfred Hörner, Peter Senf and Joachim Härter, the building was finally decommissioned in 2008. Dust began to settle in the deserted rooms, pioneer vegetation began to grow in the cracks, the former storefronts of the restaurant, a hunting and fishing store and with products from the USSR, were covered with posters and graffiti. A distinctive bas-relief of a smoky tea cup was graying on one of the walls. Emptiness stealthily crept into the productive, sprawling space of Berlin's inner city.

The fairy-tale-poetic conversation going on between Marco Polo and Kublai-chan in Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities" reminds us that every city is a sign to be deciphered. Berlin, can be like Zaira, which "does not tell its past, it preserves it, like the lines of a hand, inscribed in the corners of the streets, in the window bars, the railings of the stairs, the wires of the lightning conductors, the spars of the flags, and each segment is marked with its own scratches, nicks, blows and cuts." Human actions, but also the lack of them, translate the city's ephemeral fingerprints into the social process of space production, which, together with the class structure of society and the resulting conflicts, significantly affect material space, determining the flourishing or vegetation of given neighborhoods and areas of the city. In the post-socialist city, these processes mean the displacement of representatives of the popular classes from the centers in favor of a more prestigious culture that has been present for years, which in the structure of the capitalist city is located precisely in the center. Gentrification processes became apparent in the first decade after German reunification, and their occurrence was limited to the territory of the former East Germany. As Lukas Drozda points out, the process of gentrification of space affects the housing market to the greatest extent. Artists, identified as the pioneers of the process, by initiating a fashion for a neglected and forgotten neighborhood, start changes that ultimately force them to search with other organizations and small businesses for new premises. Gentrification means speculative increases in real estate prices, and thus rents, which are out of reach for places geared toward developing communities rather than generating high profits.

działanie grupy Allianz bedrohter Berliner Atelierhäuser (AbBA)

action by the Allianz bedrohter Berliner Atelierhäuser group (AbBA)

photo: © Nils Koenning

Land, as well as space, is a non-renewable resource of the city. Its management can resemble robbery or the pursuit of sustainable development as a source of urban renewal of diversity. As the process of transforming the Haus der Statistik quarter demonstrates, the key to success may be to focus revitalization on the social well-being of residents, rather than, as has been the case so far, on the aestheticization of space.

In 2010, when the results of the competition to transform the land occupied by Haus der Statistik into yet another business and service center with luxury hotels and apartment buildings and buildings reaching 110 meters in height were announced, the Berlin city government was not yet aware that it was itself becoming hostage to the policies it was pursuing to foster gentrification processes. The global economic crisis made it impossible to find investors willing to undertake an investment to complement the Kollhoff Plan2 in the Alexanderplatz area. The resulting opportunity for a public discussion about the building's future was seized by members of the Allianz bedrohter Berliner Atelierhäuser (AbBA) group. In 2015, during Berlin Art Week, they hung a poster on the building's facade confusingly resembling official city announcements: "Here a space is being created for art, culture and society in Berlin. In order to maintain the cultural and social infrastructure of the inner city, space is provided here for studios, workshops and socio-cultural projects." That same year, the city's new leadership - a coalition of the SDP and the Greens - agreed with the vision of the mayor and the Mitte district council, indicating the need to transfer the quarter to the district government and transform it into a model space for administration, culture, education, social affairs and accessible housing. Soon after, the Haus der Statisik initiative was formed, whose presence led to the reconciliation of initially conflicting visions for the development of the space. Its most important body is the Koop5 group, which unites the Senate Department for Housing, the Berlin Mitte District Office and state-owned companies: Wohnungsbaugesellschaft Berlin-Mitte mbH [hereinafter: WBM], Beriner Immobilienmanagement GmbH [hereinafter: BIM] and ZUsammenKUNFT Berlin e.G. [hereinafter: ZKB]. The main task of the formed coalition became, on the one hand, to free the plot from speculative influences, and on the other hand, to ensure that the site becomes a sustainable, economically stable, socially diverse neighborhood space open to every resident of Berlin. Thanks to the political support of local authorities, the provocative action of AbBA and the formation of Koop5, the site was successfully reclaimed from the German government to the city in 2018.

The cooperative process of co-creating the site in a dialogue led by the public, politicians and community organizations was also to become a scalable process, adaptable to other cities. Many of the solutions developed may be models to follow, but certainly not to replicate. As Kim Gundlach of ZKB notes in the interview, "we are currently investigating to what extent the methodology we have developed can be transferred, but this is not a simple task. Such processes are almost experimental activities, depending heavily on the context and local situation. It seems crucial to divide the activity into specific project phases and to have a common and equal understanding of the set goal."

pionierscy użytkownicy

pioneer users

pic: © Maria Garcia

The agreement signed at the very beginning of the process by all five participants was the basis for further activities. It defined the practical aspects of cooperation, such as the ownership division of plots of land or how the costs of the whole process would be shared, as well as its soft aspects, such as the values shared by the project. These are understood as "shared responsibility that will continue even during the lifetime of the site; acting for the common good and by involving the broadest possible Berlin community; creating a neighborhood consisting of residential, public-office, social and cultural functions; realizing the potential of the site and its unique location in the structure of Berlin; creating individual determinants of sustainable design and development."
The long years during which the office buildings have been abandoned have caused considerable damage to their technical condition, not to mention their inadequacy to meet current security requirements. Awareness of this problem, and of the time needed for the building to grow into the mental map of the city, led to the decision to even utopian parallel development of the project to engage the community.

As a first step, a call was launched for pioneering first floor users of the entire complex. It was preceded by an initiating workshop (Initialnutzungen), which took place in 2018. Stakeholder representatives, together with representatives of Werkstatt Haus der Statistik and ZKB, had the opportunity to explore the building. The merits of the various spaces were then worked out together, and the first non-committal ideas of functions that could be realized in the new quarter were proposed. In this way, the costs of bringing the necessary technical and security infrastructure up to modern requirements were kept to a minimum. At the same time, the process of reincorporating the building into its surroundings was set in motion, combined with the search for answers to the question of the desired proportions of the mix of services. The prototyping of the functional structure went on in parallel with the subsequent necessary renovation work of the upper floors. The organization of the construction, as Kim Gundlach writes in her brochure, was undertaken by two entities: BIM and ZKB.

It was up to Koop5 and neighborhood residents representing art, culture, education and social causes to select the first users, working under the guidance of curators from ZKB. Above all, the organizations had to be independent in organizing and financing their activities. Without this, it would not have been possible to carry out the other goals they set out, which were, among other things, to provide visibility to the site, encourage and educate about participation, conduct experimental activities to create a sustainable city, represent diversity andfocusing on the additional public benefits of their activities that can affect not only the immediate Alexanderplatz neighborhood, but also the regional and international context. Submissions were also scrutinized to ensure diversity, methods of funding and added value resulting from activities, as well as the threat of an initiative disappearing from the map of Berlin due to problems with or lack of premises. The selected organizations were then assigned to specific locations within the development and according to the specific requirements of the unit: the height and size of the necessary space for operation, the extent of access to daylight, and the nature of the activity. Large spaces were offered to temporary initiatives, such as the "Projekt Haus der Statistik" exhibition organized by Koop5, the Maxim Gorky theater3, the NOVOFLOT4 opera house, the Berlin Art Week, and educational projects - STATISTA, MAKING FUTURES5 or S276. Smaller spaces were made available to long-term initiatives, and a low rent of 3 euros per square meter of floor space ensured that the premises were financially accessible.

Each organization received a space that it had to adopt according to its needs and at its own expense. The costs of maintaining the shared spaces, running the participatory process were borne by the Koop5 as part of their joint financing agreements. Revenues from renting out individual spaces were used to adapt more units and conduct other necessary renovation work.

mapa interesariuszy projektu

map of project stakeholders

pic: © Victoria Tomaschko

Continuously since 2019, when the building complex was re-commissioned, pioneering users have occupied the reclaimed space, according to the stages set by the ZKB: Activation (2019), Construction (2020), Strengthening (2021-2024). As of February 2021, 35 percent of the users were educational organizations, 37 were cultural and art organizations, 20 were social organizations and 8 were neighborhood organizations. The period of the pioneer phase showed that organizations very often take action within the same challenges. That's why activists from ZKB also detail the breakdown of project topics undertaken in Haus der Statisik by clusters of organizations. 20 percent of users take up the topics of social education, 14 percent support with their activities the maintenance of diversity in the neighborhood and a healthy future for the city, 15 percent are concerned with exploring the city's spaces, 12 percent of projects popularize local democracy. The largest number, 25 percent of projects, are challenges of sustainable management and development. Thus, initiatives in the field of urban food cultivation and production are being created here7 and implemented with the participation of WBM. Initiatives undertaking gastronomic education can sell their products at LebensMittelPunkt MITTE - jointly managing production, logistics, processes, sales and supply. Questions about food production, the environment, the city's food supply lines and their impact on the planet are best asked while growing tomatoes in the inner city. The ideas of a post-consumption society are also expressed in the desire to reuse objects or adapt them to new needs and solutions, so as to reduce the use of raw materials as much as possible. In the summer of 2019, the low-rise building located just off Berolina Street was renamed Haus der Materialisierung (house of the do-it-yourselfer), and its spaces were filled with various types of workshops8 and warehouses of recycled or reclaimed materials from industry, exhibitions and fairs, suitable for reuse and incorporation into circulation. Initiatives that encourage new opportunities that adapt people's lives to changing realities will not be effective if they are not joined by spaces focused on education. The inclusion of the S27 organization and its Ubuntus e.V. program in Haus der Statisik makes it possible to explain through art and education what democracy, participation, decolonization, environmental disaster, and global economic systems are.

ZKB has watched over the entire space to make it as inclusive as possible and free from racism and discrimination9 against any minorities. With this approach, it was possible to create a work space designed for communities from the Middle East and North Africa10 - politically and economically unstable regions. In one of the buildings, organizations working for people in crisis of homelessness located their headquarters with contact points11. The inclusion of the broadest possible public was conducive to involving all interested social groups in the redevelopment process. Meetings organized by the ZKB, such as the Project Roundtable (Plan Tische), Café Statisik or networking meetings (Verneutzungsratschlage), allowed to gather opinions and comments from the entire multicultural society of Berlin. As Kim Gundlach writes: "Alexanderplatz is a meeting place for many facets of life, so from time to time opposing wishes, expectations and demands collide on it, but a common understanding of what the project [Haus der Statistik] is and its context allows us to work together. No less important are the concerns and involvement of individual groups, which represent a multifaceted perception of the city and with which the Haus der Statistik project is being developed."

Prototyping by locating the pioneers of space activation made it possible to examine the target assumptions and their impact on the community. Observations and conclusions from this period were communicated to the designers on an ongoing basis by the established Pioneer Users Committee, which could also make changes to the organization's functioning mix on an ongoing basis, including the appointment of new users. This provided greater assurance that once the complex decision-making process of the design phase was completed and the target users of the space were introduced, the functional structure of the quarter would be adequate to meet the needs of the community. The experience gained during the selection and management of the pioneer use phases will be used in the selection of target tenants for the units.
The participatory design process began when the call for Pioneer Uses was announced. The anonymous formula of a competition, in which ready-made solutions are presented, was replaced by a participatory co-design process that allows the solutions to be adapted to the public's requirements on an ongoing basis, while increasing the level of accuracy of the decisions made, so as to ultimately achieve an urban design that is appropriate for the functions and uses of the area.

The three teams were selected through a closed, paid competition, to which the selected offices were invited. "A key criterion in making the selection was experience in urban design projects and landscape design," Kim Gundlach reported in an interview. The target design task was to create: a new headquarters for the Mitte district's city hall with an area of about 25,000 square meters, new apartments for WBM with a similar area, a building for ZKB with an area of roughly 15,000 square meters, the conversion of existing structures into apartments for BIM with an area of 35,500 square meters, and another 9,500 square meters for ZKB. Each team consisted of an architecture and urban planning studio and a landscape architecture studio.

To ensure transparency in the process and to keep the community updated on the development of the process, Cafe Statisik was established. Thematic design workshops held in the Werkstatt space and Networking Council meetings brought together interested people, allowing them to gather issues and concerns important to the ongoing process. ZKB ambassadors were active in the public space, gathering feedback and guidance for the project. The data thus obtained went to the project teams, who confronted them with their proposals during design labs. During design colloquia, the progress of the work was presented before an expert council - specialists in urban planning, architecture and landscape architecture, a Koop5 representative and two democratically elected public delegates. The council provided further guidance.

Two evening meetings were also held for Berlin residents to learn about the project and express their opinions or ask questions about its details. During these meetings, concerns were expressed about the increased traffic caused by the new feature, and hopes for an improved quality of life - the emergence of health care, affordable dining and meeting places for residents - resounded.

miejski pokój — przestrzeń łącząca mieszkańców dzielnicy, proj.: Teleinternetcafe i Treibhaus

urban room - a space to connect neighborhood residents, proj.: Teleinternetcafe and Treibhaus

vision: © Teleinternetcafe and Treibhaus

During the closing colloquium, the winning project was to be selected by vote. However, due to feedback from the local community, it was decided that two of the three teams (Cobe Berlin and Studio Sörensen, as well as Teleinternetcafe and Treibhaus) would test their designs in a workshop held jointly with all Koop5 members. The distances between the buildings, the depths of the tracts and the details of the purpose of the various spaces required changes. Koop5 used the period of revising the designs to refine common goals and their understanding in the upcoming decision-making process of the project implementation phase.
During an additional final colloquium, a public vote selected the winning concept developed by the Teleinternetcafe studio in collaboration with Treibhaus. The justification for the selection cited "the interrelation of small scale with a variety of functions, in keeping with the spirit of Koop5 and the functional purpose planned for the quarter." Also appreciated were the greater flexibility and complexity of the service spaces, the lower development and simplified building structures, as well as respect for the existing traffic system and the promotion of bicycle traffic.

The main idea of this project was to create a clear articulation of the Haus der Staistik quarter, clearly distinguishable from its surroundings by the clear boundaries of the frontage layout of the buildings. Inside, a system of coupled interiors was created - courtyards connecting individual users to each other. Most of the new buildings are about 22 meters high. The only building that stands out against this background is the new headquarters of the Mitte district office, whose scale relates to the Haus des Reisens building opposite it.

The selected work would then be checked for traffic, noise, emissions, stormwater management and the local climate. Another agreement was also signed to allow this phase of the work to proceed smoothly. A new land use plan was to be completed by the end of 2020, allowing the implementation phase of the project to begin.

Werkstatt Haus der Statistik

Werkstatt Haus der Statistik

Photo: © Nils Koenning

The utopianism of the Haus der Statistik project-process is the restoration of the city to what lies at its core - communal decision-making through cooperation, experimentation with space and a formula for participatory co-creation of the city. The idealistic, ambitious vision set by the five actors in the process at its inception has built a solid foundation on which the project's ultimate vision can be realized. Sustainable building standards are still being developed, Kim Gundlach reports, but the most important premise of the circularity of matter has been achieved - to save the quarter from replacing the fabric. Lessons learned and efficient information exchange also prevented the depletion of human energy.

Through art, the project is an antidote to the consumerist city, where possessions and the value of the gross domestic product achieved by the statistical resident count. In the Haus der Statistik quarter, residents cease to be a component of the city's mathematical equation of profit and loss, spending and saving. Buildings and forms cease to matter, axes, arteries, squares, facades become the framework against which people act. The currency is memories of Being, and the history of urbanity again becomes the history of people living in a particular place and time. Could it be that a breach in the wall has been created?

Edyta SKIBA


1 B. La Hengst, Chor der Statistik, in K. Gundlach, Pioneer Usages, vol. 3, Berlin 2021.
2 Dating back to 1993, the plan created on the basis of the winning entry by Hans Kollhof and Helga Zimmermann in the competition for the redevelopment of the Alexanderlatz area envisaged, among other things, the realization of thirteen skyscrapers, each about 150 meters high. They were eventually reduced to ten. The plan is still the main point of reference for the ongoing work transforming the space in the area.
3 The Maxim Gorky Theater in Berlin is one of the smallest and most beautiful of its kind in Berlin. Located on Unter den Linden Boulevard in the 19th century building of the Berlin Singing Academy. The theater was founded in 1952 and since then has been an urban theater for East Berliners critical of the prevailing regime. In 1989, it actively joined the peaceful revolution that overthrew Soviet rule. Today, the theater's repertoire consists of contemporary plays and interpretations of classic works. The theater is open to all Berliners. In 2014 and 2016, it was voted Theater of the Year by critics from Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
The 4th Independent Opera was founded in 2002 by director Steven Holm, conductor Vicente Larrañga and playwright Sebastian Bark. Since the initiative's inception, the opera has produced forty-five experimental productions. The opera's collaborators include the National Opera in Hamburg, the Grand Theater in Warsaw, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation in Athens, the Luxembourg National Theater, and the National Philharmonic in Cologne. In 2014, the opera was awarded the György Tábori Prize.
The 5th Making Futures School is one of the initiatives of the Making Futures Bauhaus+ organization exploring architecture understood as a collective and as a resource. Within these two meanings, the organization conducts activities of experimental practice and education. It also teaches how to design, build, negotiate, maintain and perform. Locating the school in the construction site space of Haus der Statistik underscores its out-of-the-box approach to architectural education.
6 The Schlesische27 Foundation, now S27, which has been operating since 1980, carries out art-inspired projects with young people and children. Since 2009, the foundation has become an urban laboratory, with the participation of children, teens, young adults and young adults conducting artistic research of leisure spaces for young people, integrating refugees into the labor market, as well as experiencing the urban past and envisioning the future.
7 Pioneering users: SunSeeker e.V., Kollektiv Kalte Butter, SoliOli, RESTLOS GLÜCKLICH e.V., WO KOMMT DEIN ESSEN HER?, Hof Walden, Foodsharing e.V., Baking Futures, DirektKonsum, Sterngartenodyssee, LebensMittelPunkt MITTE.
8. pioneering users: cosum, MURKS? NEIN DANKE! e.V., FahrArt Berlin, Material Mafia, Kunst-Stoffe e.V., KOSTÜMKOLLEKTIV e.V., Textilhafen (Komm & Sieh gGmbh) der Berliner Stadtmission, Baufachfrau Berlin e.V., Technische Universität Berlin, Circular City - Zirkuläre Stadt e.V., mrtz Forschungswerkstatt, SELBSTGEBAUTE MUSIK, Chainless_d, Larsito, Extinction Rebellion Bau AG, ZK/U, Merijaan, Meltmeister.
9. pioneer users: Queer im Quartier e.V., Education LAB.
10. pioneering users: SyrienHilfe e. V., Al Sharq Forum, Lernlabor mit Café Bamako, Refugee Academy e.V.
11. pioneering users: JugendAktionsRaum Alexanderplatz (JARA) vom Moabiter Ratschlag e.V., KARUNA eG - die Sozialgenossenschaft mit Familiensinn Berliner Stadtmission, Gangway e.V. - Verein für Straßensozialarbeit.

The vote has already been cast

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