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13 April 2022

This is our house, if houses can be owned

Das ist unser Haus! | Burkhard Grießenauer, Daniel Kunle, and Holger Lauinger | SEELAND Medienkooperative E.D. | Germany, 2017 | 64 min. | German

[German | 00:64:00]

Members of the Mietshäuser Syndikat (Union of Rented Housing) describe the model of collective appropriation of space and present projects of widely varying approaches and settings of housing.

"This is our house!” says the solidarity model of Mietshäuser Syndikat (, Union of Rented Housing, through which economically disadvantaged groups can gain access to jointly owned housing. Common property, self-organisation, and solidarity are the values that define the Mietshäuser Syndikat, a society that brings together more than 160 housing projects of all kinds in both urban and rural settings. In the film, several members of the union describe the model of collective appropriation of space and present projects of widely varying approaches and settings, from single-family villas converted into multifamily housing through to rural housing estates, cultural centres, and productive spaces.

The city has become an economic game board, with housing turned into a real-estate product as an investment asset offering more security and even higher returns than other, more volatile financial products. Housing then becomes a right that is difficult to access, commodified like other essentials of life and subject to fluctuations in ever-present and all-powerful markets. And these markets extract profit from the collective effort that constructs and adds value to the city where such dwellings are located. Parasitising the public to benefit the private.

This struggle between public and private, and difficulty of access to housing is a constant in many of the world’s cities but it is by no means a problem that is unique to our times, and neither are the attempts to solve the problems which, both autonomous and state initiatives, have a long history.

Das ist unser Haus! presents one more of the workable solutions for access to housing, introducing the principle of communal ownership, halfway between private and public. The Mietshäuser Union, which is presented in the documentary, does not attempt to change the rules of the game. With its radically pragmatic approach, it aims to play by the same rules but with a totally different objective. It does not shun the concept of private property or the mechanisms of the capitalist system. Rather, it uses them and subverts them to strip them of their ultimate aim, namely the commodification of any type of good and even right. It therefore eliminates market value and prevents the transformation of housing into a product with which to do business and, in particular, to speculate.

In other words, it uses the tools of the system to shape a singular corporate structure, by means of grouping two companies. One is the Union and the other a housing society that aims to acquire and renovate buildings to create new housing, or to buy buildings where people are already living which, in both cases, would then be constituted as limited companies. The Union acts as an investment partner in the new endeavour, reserving the right of veto to ensure that the housing company cannot decide in future to sell the property to make a profit. The Union funds are accumulated over time with part of the rent produced by the housing companies after they have paid off the initial investment of purchase and renovations.

The difference with other investment funds is that the aim of the Union is not financial gain but to provide accessible quality housing for its members, giving them the peace of mind of having a long-term home without fear of being evicted at some point if the building is sold, or because of an unaffordable rise in rent, or for any other reason.

In this case, quality housing is not a gratuitous epithet. Since housing has become one of the main concerns of architects, moving outside the parameters of the real-estate market and its value system has often led to spatially and socially outstanding, and even pioneering solutions.

The industrial revolution produced notable examples of collective housing within the framework of entrepreneurial participation, including Le Familistère de Guise,[1] where the living conditions of the apartments were far superior to other similar ones of the time. The interwar period required the European avant-garde to turn its attention to the question of housing and to come up with solutions for the problems of unsanitary conditions and scarcity. With the motto “Great architects for small houses”, Adolf Loos headed the Vienna Settlement Office, working with people like Joseph Frank and Margarete Lihotsky[2] on projects in an effort to remedy the city’s serious housing shortage. Ever since then, public housing has been a laboratory[3] experimenting with innovative solutions in distribution of housing and encouraging new ways of inhabiting it.

Alternative formulas for access to housing and/or property have meant that this reformulation of habitation can be taken even further to produce, as a collective project, housing of high architectural quality.

Understanding housing from the collective standpoint makes it possible to explore spatial possibilities far beyond the mere notion of clusters of individual dwellings. Shared service facilities, accesses, interior and exterior spaces that permit and encourage socialisation of residents, extra rooms separate from the housing units but shared by them, and spaces for productive and/or cooperative commercial activity are some of the possibilities offered by housing conceived from the concept of collective ownership, “luxuries” that do not necessarily have to be financed with capital.[4].

If housing can be conceived from the collective perspective, with all the advantages that brings, we can also collectively conceive the city, the state, and the planet.

Then, perhaps, there would be no houses, cities, or planets belonging to anyone.


[2]    Margarete Lihotsky was not only Austria’s first woman architect, but she also designed the Frankfurt Kitchen, a modular system that would set the standard for domestic kitchen design with measurements and layout that had been studied with a view to simplifying work.

      Sigmund, Karl; Exact Thinking in Demented Times, New York, Basic Books, 2017. Chapter 2, “A Tale of Two Thinkers”.

[3]    Massad, Fredy (29 November 2021) Interview with Peris + Toral Arquitectes.

[4]    (21 February 2021) La Borda housing cooperative has been nominated for the 2022 Mies van de Rohe Award:

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