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Interview series: Living cheaply: How does it work?
Interview series: Living cheaply: How does it work?

Video: Interview series: Living cheaply: How does it work?

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Video: The 10 Cheapest Countries To Live or Retire | You Might Not Need to Work 2023, February

How can living space be reduced, rooms can be shared, quality of life defined differently and, at the same time, costs reduced? We are addressing these questions in our new Interveiw series "Affordable Housing". This time we spoke to the Frankfurt architect Hans Drexler about the future of living.

Germany groans: There is a lack of affordable housing, construction costs are rising. Loans are extremely cheap, but increasingly complex energy saving measures and technology costs are driving prices up. Where and how can builders save? Which austerity measures make sense? The Frankfurt architect Hans Drexler shows in his book “Affordable. Well. Living.”(With Klaus Dömer and Joachim Schultz-Granberg, Jovis Verlag) using a number of examples of how inexpensive living space can still be offered today.


With adaptable walls and interior fittings, living space can be used more effectively: The “Black Tree Frog” house from Splitterwerk in Bad Waltersdorf, Austria

Photo: Paul Ott Photographed

Mr. Drexler, everyone complains about high construction costs. How can you still build affordable housing today?

“To do that, we should rethink living overall. First of all, this applies to the area we inhabit. It has increased a lot in the past decades. And it's about the living standards that are expected today: How many bathrooms does an apartment need? What comfort, how much media technology, how classy should everything be equipped? When we talk about increases in construction costs, we seldom talk about such reasons for the increases in costs. And we usually ignore the fact that we live on more and more square meters.”

Architekt Hans Drexler
Architekt Hans Drexler

Hans Drexler has been researching sustainable and inexpensive construction for years. At the Jade University of Applied Sciences in Oldenburg, he teaches future architects in "Construction and energy and building technology"

Photo: Drexler Guinand Jauslin Architekten GmbH

How much space are we living in now?

“On average, every German has 47 square meters available today. That is ten square meters more than twenty years ago."

Do these numbers apply to all of Germany?

"No. In some big cities, the average living space is lower because the prices are so high there. Here in Frankfurt, for example, that's 39 square meters per person.”

Can you achieve the same quality of living on smaller spaces?

"I guess so! We are currently planning such a house for a cooperatively organized residential group in Frankfurt. We want to realize a living space of 28 square meters per head. To achieve this without sacrificing comfort, we work with two main strategies. The most important is that many functions are shared in the building. For example, there is no guest room in the apartments because there is a shared guest room in the house that can be used by everyone. The living room for a family of four is relatively small, only 30 square meters. There is a large kitchen-cum-living room in the building that can be used when there is a birthday invitation or another party. Many smaller things are also shared: instead of washing machine rooms in each apartment, there is a common laundry room. There is car sharing instead of individual parking spaces. We are transferring the idea of ​​the sharing economy, which we increasingly have in different areas of life, to living there.”

Do they also shrink the other rooms?

“We are currently designing children's rooms with 10 square meters. That doesn't seem like much at first, but is compensated for by very effective built-in furniture and good room proportions. The bedroom can also be a little smaller if it has good fittings. You can easily organize such a room on 13 square meters, including a wardrobe and a double bed. Today, however, bedrooms are often planned to be 20 square meters. Of course, that drives up the costs."

Moriyama-Haus in Tokyo
Moriyama-Haus in Tokyo

In Tokyo there is already a culture of small houses and they live in the smallest of spaces. One of the finest examples of this is the Moriyama House by the architects of Sanaa

Photo: Hans Drexler, Tokyo 2016, Moriyama House, design: SAnaa / Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa, 2005

How do the residents take these reductions?

“Of course there are discussions about this. Most people are reluctant to limit their consumption. Waiver is not "in". But when it comes to living, we have - at least in many larger cities - reached a point where the current prices hurt most families. We have to find the right balance.”

Are there any models for the reduction in living space?

"Yes, absolutely. Look to Japan. It is a highly developed country with a standard of living equal to ours. But for a long time also with enormously high land prices. This pressure has taught people in big cities to live in small and tiny spaces. From this, the Japanese have developed a very high living culture. In my view, it is therefore important to take into account not only the manufacturing costs when it comes to housing costs. We also have to look closely at what we ask for.”

Is founding an assembly a way to save costs?

“A classic property developer today expects a project to yield between ten and twenty percent. Theoretically, this could be saved by an initiative, a construction project or a cooperative. Or you can use this margin to increase the quality of the construction. But you shouldn't underestimate the additional effort if you build without a developer."

How could you get a grip on the costs of building land?

“Some German cities are trying to help reduce costs by making land available for lease. This has significantly reduced the cost of land acquisition. In some regions, the only way to get to the site is at all. Just like with us in Frankfurt. There is no longer an offer here. In order to reduce the high price pressure here, new construction areas would have to be identified."

Wohnprojekt Wien
Wohnprojekt Wien

Smaller apartments, but shared spaces: The Vienna residential project at Nordbahnhof defines sustainable living in terms of the number of personally used square meters

Photo: Hertha Hurnaus

Can we learn about inexpensive living and building from abroad?

“There has been a large political consensus in Austria for many decades that the urban communities are providing housing projects with affordable housing. It's a national tradition there. Such a thing is not lived in Germany. And unfortunately not demanded by the voters at the ballot box. In Holland you can always find examples of how to build quickly and cheaply. Sometimes high-quality buildings there only cost half of what they would have cost us.”

Did the legal requirements for energy efficiency and environmental compatibility also contribute to the cost increases?

“I would be very happy if there were better solutions to build houses at a very high level in an energy-efficient and at the same time cost-effective way. But unfortunately there is still a technological gap. Now a house is either very efficient and therefore also complex to construct, or it is relatively simple to build and you have to put up with a higher energy consumption.”

Buch Bezahlbar gut wohnen
Buch Bezahlbar gut wohnen

The architects Drexler, Dömer and Schulz-Granberg portray proven models from architecture and urban planning, derive strategies from them and explore potential savings. 288 pages, paperback, Jovis-Verlag, 25 euros. Here you can order the book directly

Photo: Verlag

Why is that?

“An example from The Hague (which we also discuss in our book) shows that with a clever standardization of components and with a lot of prefabrication, you can achieve a high quality of living and at the same time build very inexpensively. The project costs per square meter there were just over 1000 euros. That is very low."

Do you see opportunities to reduce costs in Germany as well?

"In the next few years, we will see a significant increase in prefabrication and standardized components on the building site. We also have to prefabricate for other reasons: There are no longer any specialists and craftsmen who work on the building in the amount that is currently in demand for building services.”

What opportunities does urban densification offer?

“We have a huge demand for apartments at the moment. In order to provide enough building ground for this in the booming cities, one would certainly have to get to the building regulations and change and liberalize the clearance area regulations there. So far, such regulations have limited the possibilities of densification significantly in urban areas. That would help to use urban areas more and better."

Modell für eine Wohngruppe in Gemeinschaftseinrichtung
Modell für eine Wohngruppe in Gemeinschaftseinrichtung

This building for a residential group in Frankfurt will one day house a large number of community facilities. This enables Drexler to build smaller apartments without sacrificing comfort

Photo: Drexler Guinand Jauslin Architekten GmbH

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