More affordable, better designed, and more sustainable; that doesn’t sound like the typical description of high residential living, but what if it could be our future?
It is no secret that people from Perth are hesitant when it comes to apartments. As buyers in Perth’s housing market we are given three choices; purchase an existing detached house, design a new detached house, or buy an existing apartment. With the first two choices the buyer is able to modify the building to suit his or her needs. Buying an apartment doesn’t allow for this flexibility. Apartments for sale in today’s market target the “average” Australian, but don’t allow for any flexibility beyond this narrow definition. But what if there was a way to bring the personable characteristics of a detached dwelling to an apartment?
A Baugruppen (the German word for “group build”) is an alternative delivery method for medium to high density housing. The Baugruppen process assists a group of people to become the developer in their own high density build, shifting the focus from the investors to the occupants. Baugruppens differ from other types of building projects because they are designed and developed by their future residents, according to their long term needs rather than investors who prioritise economic benefits.
In the last decade, Germany has seen over 1800 Baugruppen developments, and with their increasing popularity, the city of Hamburg is now setting aside 25% of its land for Baugruppen developments.  Compartiavley, in Perth City 79% of people would still prefer to live in a detached dwelling over an apartment.  The state government has acknowledged the negative impacts of our ever expanding suburbs, and has released a document in an attempt to combat urban sprawl. The Perth and Peel document has set a very unattainable infill target at 47% for new builds.  This will require a huge change in mind set as three quarters of urban development still takes places on the fringes of Perth. Evidently, Australian’s still see the large block ‘American dream home’ as the most desirable form of residence. To help tackle our sprawling city, we need to propose more inventive and strategic medium and high density designs which are more attractive to the Perth community, influencing them to reconsider apartment living. Maybe we should take a page from Germany’s book?
From a sample of 10 apartment complexes currently in construction in Perth, all offered the same one, two and three bedroom apartments, which feature very little diversity. (See Table attached below) This is because apartments are investor driven not occupant driven. This commercial model designs for the market norm to increase profits, minimize risk and guarantee sales.
So why is focusing on the occupants better? One of the major benefits is cost. In a traditional developer building scenario, the main costs can be broken down into the following;
- Land 15-20%
- Construction 45-50%
- Finance and Holding 8-10%
- Fees and Marketing 6-8%
- Developer Profit 15-20% 
With a Baugruppen scenario there is no developer and therefore no marketing costs or developer profits allowing for up to 30% savings. Cost savings create the opportunity to develop higher quality apartments with the same or a smaller budget. This was proven in a study of six self-build projects in southern England, which all resulted in significant financial benefits.
Focusing on the occupant is not the only benefit to a baugruppen residential design scheme. Another benefit of the Baugruppen is the variation. In a standard medium to high density build there are usually around 3 or 4 dwelling types or options, which mainly differ by the number of bedrooms. In contrast a Baugruppen build is custom fit to each of the different resident’s needs, and are able to change with the owner.
One example of co-op development that has achieved a high level of diversity is r 50 – ritterstrasse 50 gbr by Studioc Nicole Zahner, and Dimagb Matthias. G. Bumann. This newly finished build in Berlin boasts a flexible floor plan. Besides the central core each floor plan is completely different from the next. The structural framework around the exterior of the building allowed the owners to plan the interior of their apartment around their individual needs. Freeing up the floor plans allows spaces to be used differently, spatial configurations can be changed, and developed over time with the user. 
Unlike an investor driven development, co-op developments are focused around flexibility in the long term. Investor driven developments require rigid and repeatable floorplans which increase profits. Baugruppens with a flexible floor plan, can be rearranged to cater for growing families, changes in life styles and so on.
Another significant feature of a Baugruppen is design quality. In a standard development profit is the main driving factor behind the project. Investors aren’t going to waste money on high quality finishes if there are no prospective benefits. While in a design- led self-build, different residents can specify different finishes depending on their needs and tastes. The money saved on profit and marketing fees could be reimbursed back into the project to provide a higher level of design quality.
Big Yard by Zanderroth Architects, is arguably one of the most successful Baugruppen projects. Numerous articles have covered the architectural quality this co-op achieved. In the inner city Berlin an apartment block and a row of town houses face inwards to a shared private garden. The interior and exterior spaces flow together to promote social interaction and provide a quality space for its residents. The internal garden sets back the apartments, allowing ample amount of light to enter the units. The four storey town houses have been designed to have private courtyards, roof decks and dual vantage outlooks to promote cross ventilation.
Baugruppens also provide the chance for a higher level of shared amenities. In Perth, the norm is for every apartment to have their own laundry. Instead of having a small and dysfunctional laundry tucked away behind some closet doors, why not have a few communal state of the art washers and dryers? Instead of trying to squeeze in a large entertainer’s kitchen into a small apartment that might only be used once or twice a year for entertaining, why not provide a larger shared recreational kitchen in the building for shared use?
Ten in One by Roedig.Schop Architekten, not only features a large communal deck area that can be rented out by the occupants for entertaining, but also provides a guest suite for visitors. This means residents don’t have to buy a house with an extra bedroom “just in case”, instead guests can use the private accommodation on the top floor of the building. By creating joint amenities residents are able to acquire higher quality products and free up space in their dwellings for other functions.
In a traditional investor led development sustainability is rarely thought about because the main focus is restricting upfront costs. Even if solar power is cheaper down the line, the investor wants the cheapest initial price, because he or she will not be living in it in the future. In a Baugruppen scenario the focus is on the occupants’ future within the building, allowing a larger focus on sustainable design.
An environmentally conscious self-build group could easily incorporate environmentally friendly construction methods, energy supply, passive heating and cooling and water recycling. Weg Linienstrasse 23 by BCO Architekten is a great example of a passive energy Baugruppen. Utilising grey water systems for recycling water, photovoltaic solar panels, and heat recovery ventilation, this build offers more environmental initiative compared to other investor driven builds in Australia.
An interview with a resident from a Baugruppen in Freiburg Germany reinforces the positive outcomes of a resident led design scenario.
“You learn a lot about yourself and about your prospective neighbours, your future neighbours, during this whole planning period, which is much smoother, very beneficial – if you buy from an investor, you buy a flat and you don’t know the person who’s moving in next door at all– it could be someone that you absolutely despise after six months. Within the self-building group, that’s very difficult, because these difficulties will raise their heads much earlier.” 
In Perth we currently have one Baugruppen currently planned for the City of Fremantle, although it is still in the development stage. This new way of development has yet to be tested in our city, and will have to be tweaked for our culture and lifestyle. For example, the communal garden in Big Yard may be a stretch for Aussies who love the privacy of an individual back yard. The communal garden might have to be traded in for semi private courtyards. But the benefits of shared amenities like a laundry would provide better facilities to people who would normally not able to afford it. The high level of customisation is something we have yet to see in our apartment market, and is definitely a selling point of the Baugruppen life style. The German group build could be a great solution for tackling our urban density problem by providing cheaper, sustainable and higher quality of design to medium and high density living.
 Collins, Nick. 2016. “Baugruppen In Germany – A Collaborative Approach To Affordable Housing”. Blog. Beacon Pathway. http://beaconpathway.blogspot.com.au/2016/06/baugruppen-in-germany-collaborative.html.
 London, Geoffrey. 2017. “Baugruppen At WGV”. Presentation, Community Presentation Fremantle Fibonacci Centre.
 Brown, R. (2007) Identity and narrativity in homes made by amateurs, Home Cultures, 4(3), 261–285.
 Ring, Kristien. 2013. Self Made City. 1st ed. Berlin: Jovis.
 Ring, Kristien. 2013. Self Made City. 1st ed. Berlin: Jovis.
 Iqbal Hamiduddin & Nick Gallent (2016) Self-build communities: the rationale and experiences of group-build (Baugruppen) housing development in Germany, Housing Studies,31:4, 365-383, DOI: 10.1080/02673037.2015.1091920
|Development||What they offer|
|Vantage Perth||1,2,3 bedroom apartments||No flexible spaces|
|Cirque Mount Pleasant||1,2,3 bedroom apartments||No flexible spaces|
|Fringe On William||1,2 bedroom apartments||No flexible spaces|
|26 Charles South Perth||1,2,3 bedroom apartments||No flexible spaces|
|Verdant||1,2,3 bedroom apartments||No flexible spaces|
|Grandstand Claremont||1,2,3 bedroom apartments||No flexible spaces|
|Backburne Claremont||1,2,3 bedroom apartments||No flexible spaces|