HOUSING SHORTAGE Building for the Masses

Industry advocates call for cheaper construction methods and bigger projects to tackle Germany’s critical lack of living space.
Houses and homes are needed in Berlin.


Sometimes even outdated ideas need to be taken out of the drawer again.

“Plattenbau” —a mid-20th century type of building that used huge prefabricated concrete slabs — is one such concept. The type of construction was often used in public housing and is poorly regarded. But in Berlin they are widely rented – and might serve as a model for desperately needed living space in Germany today.

Several people, including Barbara Hendricks, the federal minister in charge of building and urban development, say these apartments made from prefab concrete slabs may just be what the city needs.

Ms. Hendrick has announced an architectural competition, asking people to design apartments that can be produced cheaply and quickly. The buildings should focus on functionality and design but not be dreary or monotonous.

There is no doubt: We need to build more affordable apartments. Innovative approaches are required. Axel Gedaschko,, president of the German housing and real estate federation

Officials from the housing and building industries met last week in Berlin to discuss the pros and cons of plattenbau construction. Many believe prefabricated modular methods could be used to create affordable housing that is so scarce in urban areas.

For years, too few apartments were built in Germany, and the arrival of more than a million refugees has only aggravated the housing shortage. About 950,000 new apartments are needed, said Matthias Günther, director of the Pestel Institute in Hanover, which specializes in urban development.

Impulse for Housing, a building and real estate advocacy group, calls for at least 400,000 apartments to be built each year until 2020, especially in large cities, university towns and other densely populated areas. Last year, only 275,000 new apartments were built.

A return to concrete-slab apartments is considered a fundamental way to build more units quickly, and the housing industry wants to move beyond the negative image they pose.

“There is no doubt: We need to build more affordable apartments. Innovative approaches are required,” said Axel Gedaschko, president of the German housing and real estate federation.

Berlin finds itself at the head of the movement. In March or April, construction is expected to begin in the capital on so-called “modular housing” for refugees, according to the Senate Office for Urban Development and the Environment.

A total of 60 sites – spread around the city to avoid creating ghettos – are to be announced in the next days. The plan is for modular buildings to be easily altered, so apartments might later be turned into student dormitories or senior-living communities.

Other states have similar plans.

Rhineland-Palatinate, for example, plans to speed up apartment building through prefabrication and serial construction, hopefully without giving up quality. Architectural associations and municipal housing industry are currently preparing a project, state officials said.

In North Rhine-Westphalia next month, state housing and construction minister Michael Groschek will consult with industry officials about large-scale apartment projects.

Bavaria also intends to get involved, but first local opposition to such methods must be overcome. Officials said the advantages of prefab modular construction had not been sufficiently communicated. They hope to establish a task force of leading players from the construction and housing industries, as well as the states.

Mr. Gedaschko of the German housing and real estate federation points out that Sweden has managed to build new prefab buildings. There the Association of Municipal Building Companies got behind a series of big modular projects, which helped stimulate apartment construction and lower costs by 25 percent.

One problem to building new housing in Germany is that the federal states have tended to have different building regulations. If real progress is to be made, the regional states will have to cooperate, to standardize regulations and cut red tape, to build the homes they all so desperately need.


Silke Kersting reports for Handelsblatt from Berlin, focusing on consumer protection, construction, environmental policy and climate change. To contact the author: [email protected]