Community Ideals

In an increasingly urbanised society, the availability of good quality, affordable housing is starting to seem like an unattainable idea. The Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, presents an alternative in Together! The New Architecture of the Collective. Communality has a long precedent and is quietly beginning to build traction again. The exhibition explores the history of the movement alongside outstanding current examples, and argues, through case studies, for the transformative power of this ideal when it is effectively realised.

Shortage of living spaces – and the subsequent proliferation of grossly substandard accommodation – is often considered to be a uniquely modern problem. Its existence, however, and attempts to tackle it, are shown here to stretch back as far as 19th century Switzerland, where Charles Fourier (1772-1837) invented the utopian phalanstères, communities in which everyone worked together for the common good. Similar movements spread throughout Europe over subsequent centuries. The fascinating longevity of cooperatives is the focus of the first part of the show.

It then moves on to think about incorporating these principles into the fabric of the contemporary city: what might this look like? The audience is invited to walk around a series of 21 large-scale models and experience it from the ground for themselves. Key issues include the necessity of economical architectural practices, and the aesthetic result of using a limited range of materials, which, based on the efforts displayed here, encouraged formal innovation. Visitors then explore an installed “cluster apartment” to immerse themselves in the physical environment of this mode of living, which questions the distinction between public and private space not only within the building, but also in terms of its relation with the outside world.

Finally, a number of case studies give an insight into important practicalities. La Borda, Barcelona, and R50, Berlin, amongst others, demonstrate the challenges that non-profit housing collectives face, and the ways they have sought to provide solutions, often seeking to change dominant ways of thinking about property ownership in the process. The work offered here makes a powerful case for integrating these factors into current planning and encouraging future schemes to consider the positive potential of shared spaces.

Together! The New Architecture of the Collective runs until 9 September. Find out more:

1. Wohnprojekt Wien, einszueins architektur, 2013 Foto: Hertha Hurnaus.