I’ve long been a fan of self-build housing having grown up in a house my father designed and built. I was reminded of his entrepreneurial zeal this week following the announcement of DCLG’s NewBuy Guarantee initiative, which confirmed our reliance on a developer-led model of housing design and construction.
Baugruppe is completely different model of development which, roughly translated means ‘self-build communities’. In some parts of Germany, groups of house buyers, work together co-operatively to purchase land and then design and build their own homes together.
Baugruppe has been actively encouraged within projects like the redevelopment of the Vauban quarter of Frieburg, where it played a crucial role in helping to create the high quality of environmental standards, design and car free environment that are characteristic of ‘Quartier Vauban’ today. Indeed, the city council actually gave preference to groups of citizens over commercial developers at the site and also fixed the land prices so that commercial developers could not enter into a bidding war.
Through this process, not only did residents get exactly the type of house they wanted (within the parameters of the overall planning guidance and site masterplan) but they also began to get to know their future neighbours even before they moved into the area, building a sense of community from the very start. Individual families can also add their own design ideas to the building which gives the neighbourhood area a real sense of identity.
Could self-build co-operatives work in the UK?
The question I’ve been asking myself this week is “could elements of the Baugruppe approach work in the UK?” At a time when the supply of private investment in house building is at a low ebb, Baugruppe provides an opportunity for people to take matters into their own hands and can provide cost savings. Research in Berlin by Chan (2010) found that in contrast with apartments built by a housing developer, Baugruppe could be 25-30% cheaper, partly because the same level of marketing is not required.
Cities and towns with areas of undeveloped land, like Berlin, may also be able to use Baugruppe as way to attract developers and investment and encourage the redevelopment of vacant land, particularly where this land is owned by the public sector.
Orientating a housing development around the end users in the community also means that much greater attention is given to the outside environment, a real feature of Vauban which is dotted with communal gardens and play areas as well as provision of shops and community facilities.
Individualised budgeting is all the rage in health and social care, why not individualised house building budgets? In the redraft of the National Planning Policy Framework, why not provide incentives to local authorities and communities to explore the possibilities of an entrepreneurial approach like Baugruppe in the local plan as part of the solution to housing demand.
The example of Baugruppe in Vauban, Frieburg has been critiqued as an ‘intentional community’ where people have the financial capacity to acquire a desirable place to live. But its also a chance for us to re-evaluate what type of housing developments we want to see in the UK and to think differently about how we might build sustainable communities in the future.
For more information
If you are interested in finding out more about Baugruppe, there are a number of good sources of information:
- Buegerbau is a company based in Germany who specialise in ‘Bauen in Gemeinschaft’ which translates literally as building collectively in the community
- Report on the Phenomenon of Building groups (Baugruppe) in Berlin:
- Report on the Lessons from Freiburg on Creating a Sustainable Urban Community written by Joseph Little