“San Riemo” is the first housing project realised by the KOOPERATIVE GROSSSTADT, a housing cooperative founded in 2015. The building, located on the outskirts of Munich close to its trade fair, was completed in December 2020. It contains 27 flats as well as communal and commercial spaces. It was planned by the architects ARGE SUMMACUMMFEMMER BÜRO JULIANE GREB from Leipzig (DE) and Ghent (BE).
This project raises many questions - and tries to provide some possible answers.
- How political can a housing project be?
As well as researching the diversity of living, the KOOPERATIVE is interested in the investigation and the realisation of new prototypes for partly experimental ways of living. The balance and the tension between experiment and convention is understood as a realistic window on our pluralistic society. The programming and initial concept for each house is being developed in the cooperative committees - mainly through ad hoc "boards of construction". The initial concept provides the basis to find a specific group of residents for each project. The first projects of the KOOPERATIVE - San Riemo in particular - focus on the key concept of a “breathing house”. This term arose at the founding “Open Table” symposium in January 2016, closely related to Christoph Hochhäusler's contribution there, and his almost scenographic view on housing and living today. Following on that, the KOOPERATIVE has been shrinking and growing apartments within one building with as little technical effort as possible, and within a tight budget. Something that sounded a bit like science fiction at that symposium.
- How open can a competition be?
San Riemo is the prelude to a - in Germany still unique - series of architecture competitions that provide a maximum of openness to participants, and by that provide very broad search for the architectural, structural and technical solutions to KOOPERATIVE`s housing needs. All architects across Europe can take part, and the selection of the contracted architects is not linked to the experience or size of their office. In the KOOPERATIVE's San Riemo competition, the winner of the first prize - due to financial risks - could not be assigned to the project. Unfortunately, in this case, the KOOPERATIVE could not meet its own standards.
- Can one house provide for "everyone”?
The KOOPERATIVE tries to live up to its self-imposed social solidarity standards. On the first floor there's a women therapy community with 10 places, and on the ground floor there's a foundation caring for disadvantaged teenagers. Through that, the KOOPERATIVE provides a space for various backers that otherwise cannot find appropriate facilities on the market. Unfortunately, San Riemo could not provide for income-related rent subsidies, as the floor space price - set by the already subsidised property price – does not allow for this. In a sense, the projects on the ground and first floors are only a first step towards a social mix that the KOOPERATIVE needs to increase and deepen in future projects.
- How resilient can an apartment building be?
San Riemo offers its residents a broad variety of living possibilities - small studios, interconnectable family flats, large shared apartments and of course completely "normal" flats. The architecture of the house combines these pluralistic forms of living within one robust basic structure. Five residential floors, all structured according to the same basic grid: along each facade a row of rooms, the kitchens and bathrooms in the middle. The spatial variety arises as the
structural grid is filled with non-load-bearing drywalls. The number of individual rooms in a living space can then be maximised (e.g. for a shared apartment or family apartment) or minimised (e.g. for large communal areas) according to need. The structure allows for flexibility in the near or far future: neutral room sizes, rooms that can be switched back and forth between different units, and the possibility to add or remove partition walls within the concrete skeleton.
- How residential does an apartment house have to be?
San Riemo wants to be more than just a residential building. Rather, we see the building as a spatial infrastructure for a wide variety of activities and life styles, whatever you may call them. All rooms exist side by side in a non- hierarchical way, spread out like a large carpet. Typical "flat elements" such as a hallway, a storage room, or a dedicated child's room, etc. were done away with. Time will tell what other uses will become established over the, hopefully long, life of the building.
- Can an apartment be entered through the kitchen?
All residential units are accessed via the kitchen. It is located in the middle of the floor plan and forms the center of every apartment. It is not purely a place for cooking, but at the same time a living entrance hall and distribution space to the surrounding rooms, including the bathroom. One could call this a compromise or an advantage: everyone can decide for themselves how they want to furnish and use this generous space.
- How big does a room have to be?
The basic grid of the apartments is outlined by concrete beams on the ceiling: room units are 14 square meters. The size of the room is not based on a specific social model, but on the widest possible range of usability, just big enough for a living room and not too lavish for a child's room. Larger rooms are created by combining several room axes into one unit.
- Can apartments grow and shrink?
Some rooms in San Riemo can be switched back and forth between different units. This is done simply by opening or closing doors, without any structural adjustments. For example, if someone needs an additional child's room, they can ask their neighbors for that room. This room then becomes part of their own unit and is accessed just like all other rooms of the flat. Cross-storey "room swaps" with access directly from the stairway or common spaces are also possible. Electricity can be reruted and radiators with a read-out function in every room make swapping administratively possible. The KOOPERATIVE calls this „nucleus living“ - for us, however, it is just one of the many possibilities of how flexibly the structure can be used and programmed daily or in the medium and long term.
- Can you share a room with your neighbours?
In San Riemo not only can you swap rooms between neighbours, you can also share them. Often three or four apartments are connected to one another by sharing a large, communal "staircase room". For some units the staircase room works as their entry room, other units also have an additional, separate entrance. The residents decide for themselves whether they use this common room as a living room, office, toy world, fitness room, cloakroom or as a mixture of all of them.
- Does interior space have to be heated?
The added conservatory layer, cladded with transparent corrugated plates, serves as a buffer zone to the street and as an unheated extension to every apartment. Here tomatoes are grown, vegetables stored, laundry is dried and ashtrays are left behind. This narrow zone - just deep enough for a chair – provides for a different atmosphere than the large communal roof terrace and the courtyard. The absence of partitions between the units emphasises the communal character of the house and offers "secret" pathways for children and pets.
- How far can participation in cooperative housing go?
A social housing block of flats is not a private co-housing building. However, the structure of the house, which is strict and open at the same time, enables a great deal of resident participation. At first, appartment sizes and positions could be negotiated up to late in the planning process. Secondly, each resident was able to actively take part in planning their own apartment. While the grid was set by the concrete structure for connections and electrics, it was possible to decide which grid axes should be filled with walls, how open the connections between rooms are, and where doors are positioned.
- How many different activities can an entrance hall take on?
The heart of the house is an open communal area on the ground floor. This 4 metre high hall extends from the main entrance as an inner street through the whole house. It serves as a circulation space, laundry room, communal kitchen, library, stroller storage, workshop, and much more besides. On the way to the stairs and elevators you meet neighbours doing their laundry, baking cookies together and exchanging books.
- Can facades express community?
To the outside the building presents itself deliberately uniform. The large-scale facades talk about the utopia of a house minded by and lived in by a community rather than about the individuality of the residents. The white corrugated sheet metal covers the wood frame construction. This gives the building skin a light appearance with a subtle depth. As the facades have no load bearing function, each side of the building is designed differently and has its own individual expression: to the east the continuous, almost institutional ribbon windows; to the south, facing the square, the composed and largely closed surface, contrasted in the west by the transparent layer of the filigree conservatory with its transparent corrugated material.
Text: 1-2. Florian Fischer. KOOPERATIVE GROSSSTADT.3.-13. ARGE SUMMACUMFEMMER BÜRO JULIANE GREB