In a world where real estate prices are reaching peaks and the desire for supportive communities is increasingly strong, neighbourhoods can, among other things, integrate participatory housing, small minimalist houses, intergenerational housing or flexible architectures. Behind these popular typologies there are also economic considerations linked to land, tells us Dr. Florian Hertweck, housing expert at the University of Luxembourg.
Architect, researcher and professor, Florian Hertweck is an expert in housing and is particularly interested in the relationships between the public, the common and the individual. In his practice as an architect, he designs all types of housing, with a focus on economy of means, for reasons both environmental and accessibility of the housing. He is the author of the essay Architecture of the Common Ground. Positions and Models on the Question of Land, where he addresses the land issue which he considers “crucial to addressing the housing issue”.
Does Luxembourg have good practices in terms of renewing the typology of housing and being aware of trends?
Dr. Florian Hertweck states “There is a great need for housing in terms of quantity and quality. In my opinion, what is currently being built does not sufficiently meet the needs of Luxembourgish society in the face of major challenges such as climate change, resource shortages and social inequalities. Participatory housing, minimalist houses or even intergenerational housing have existed for a long time, but these are experiments which have practically not been used in Luxembourg.”
What conditions are needed for experimentation in terms of housing typology?
F.H.: “The question of land is at the heart of the debate. To stimulate housing diversity, one suggestion would be to consider more public leasehold land for self-promoting communities or cooperatives. This approach aims not only to integrate future residents into the project creation process, but also to guarantee social diversity. As for the essential role of developers in the production of housing, one option would be to encourage them to guarantee more than 30% of subsidised or cooperative housing. In addition, relaxing regulations could encourage greater architectural experimentation. The reform of the right to experiment, long favoured by architects, and a review of the regulations could revitalise the sector. Finally, it could be a good idea for public authorities, including public housing companies, to consider part of housing production as a grant investment aimed at a sustainable future, while balancing economic needs.”
In your opinion, is participatory housing a trend to watch out for and a good practice for our neighbourhoods?
F.H.: “Participatory housing, while having a long history in countries like Switzerland, Germany and Austria, remains relatively new in Luxembourg with only one self-managed group housing project to date. These homes offer groups of people the opportunity to live in a community at a lower cost and, depending on the size of the group, to design their own space. The most common form in Europe is the cooperative, followed closely by “self-managed group housing”, often referred to by the German terms “Baugruppen” or “Baugemeinschaften”. With this approach, the community is both the main decision maker and the future user. Each member contributes to the configuration of their private space, while sharing ideas for common spaces. These can vary, from a shared kitchen to a garden or even a swimming pool. While self-managed group housing is often geared toward middle-class taxpayers, cooperatives exhibit social diversity because they are non-profit. For successful implementation, it is essential to have individuals willing to collaborate, as well as competent moderators to ensure harmonious collective governance.”
So in your opinion, these shared habitats work best when they follow the cooperative model…
F.H.: “The cooperative, beyond its relevance for shared housing, could be a major solution to the housing issue. For life in a cooperative to be fruitful, access to advantageous rates for land, offered by the State or the municipality in the form of long lease, is a sine qua non condition. This is particularly true since communities aspiring to this lifestyle often do not have significant initial capital. Luxembourg, having long since put aside this model, today seems to be opening up to this approach under the influence of new generations, whether foreign or Luxembourgish. This opens the door to new experiments in the field of housing, and I am optimistic about the future of this model in Luxembourg.”
Would micro-housing, or Tiny House, make it possible to alleviate certain housing problems in the Grand Duchy?
F.H.: “The Tiny House offers an interesting perspective. Although it evokes the idea of a rural single-family home, it also lends itself to urban densification without necessarily relying on the traditional pattern of tall, compact buildings. Innovative projects, like that of Christian Bauer in Steinsel, exploit this idea by using the spaces between these small houses that are just four metres apart. However, I firmly believe that micro-housing cannot prevail as the main solution to our urban challenges. Rather, it is positioned as one option among others, allowing, for example, the younger generation to access a form of individual housing without opting for large residences, an approach that the 21st century is encouraging us to rethink.”
What about multigenerational housing?
F.H.: “Even though the concept of housing three generations of a family under one roof seems far removed from the current dynamics of our ever-changing society, the idea shows its merits when it allows people of different generations, such as people elderly and students, to cohabit. In such a framework, not only does everyone benefit from enriching coexistence, but real synergies are created, meeting the needs and aspirations of each person.”
What about flexible architecture? Is it a possible solution in the context of a housing crisis?
F.H.: “Flexible architecture is not a new concept, but it is gaining relevance in our current context. It focuses on standardised, prefabricated and reusable elements, while offering various housing typologies capable of evolving according to needs. To achieve this flexibility, it is crucial to have generous spaces, such as high ceilings, well-spaced structures, and clever organisation of ducts and circulations to easily allow modifications. When it’s done well, it’s a remarkable achievement. For example, for an emerging neighbourhood like Metzeschmelz, this flexibility offers an opportunity for adjustment as needs become clearer. What we must remember is that cities, like their architecture, are never static. They are constantly moving, evolving. Thus, in a place like Metzeschmelz, rather than fixing everything from the outset, openness to diversified approaches to development could prove wise.”