Can we build affordable housing faster?

Can we build affordable housing faster?

Jörg Ziolkowski in conversation with Sandra Pfister from Deutschlandfunk

At the "80 Seconds - New Building" event in Berlin on May 11 and 12, 2023, Jörg Ziolkowski discussed new neighborhood concepts and their contribution to better housing right from the opening panel. If the German government's coalition agreement to build 400,000 new apartments per year is to be followed, a new apartment would have to be built every 80 seconds.

Sandra Pfister from Deutschlandfunk spoke with Jörg Ziolkowski in Berlin about his assessment of whether and how we can build affordable housing more quickly.

The interview, which has already been broadcast in the "Wirtschaft am Mittag" series, is available as an audio recording on the Deutschlandfunk website.


Sandra Pfister, Deutschlandfunk: The federal government wanted to build four hundred thousand apartments. Every year. But that doesn't work out because, according to their own calculations, one apartment would have to be completed every 80 seconds. But that is illusory, because building loans have become more expensive, building materials have also become more expensive, and permits take a long time - all of which is hopeless? The Federal Minister of Construction, Klara Geywitz, has invited builders, banks, real estate companies and architects to Berlin for two days to find solutions. I asked Jörg Ziolkowski what he thought the solution would be. He is an architect in Cologne and also at the congress, and there he sought out a reasonably quiet corner for the conversation. I asked him: What would be the most important adjustment screw for him to make things happen faster?

Jörg Ziolkowski, ASTOC Architects and Planners: The problem is that we are only partly in the driver's seat when it comes to the processes. My perception is that the bottlenecks are more likely to be on the approval side and, unfortunately, are currently still to be found in the supply chains for construction products and the people who are supposed to install them. We need to make the administrative processes, i.e. the approval procedures, more efficient. And here, unfortunately, the topic of digitization is a very urgent one, because in fact, in the administrations, I believe, work is still done very traditionally, if I may put it that way.

SP: As long as things don't move faster, because we've been hearing about this desideratum for a very, very long time, it's easy to get talked into such hopelessness. Do you see anything else where you yourself have more room for maneuver than architects?

JZ: What has really been a major concern for us as architects in recent months is how to deal with existing buildings, i.e. many of the buildings that could be converted to residential use are actually located in inner-city areas, for example the derelict department stores that we have just seen in the media. Of course, this means that we won't end up with forms of housing that are one-to-one with what we have called housing for the last 100 years; instead, innovations will probably be needed. But on the other hand, it naturally has the potential for innovation if you want to put such buildings to residential use.

SP: So commercial real estate is turning in the direction of residential real estate? Another keyword that is often mentioned now is serial construction. This is also emphasized again at the conference as a way of making construction more affordable. What exactly does that mean?

JZ: Basically, the real estate industry always looks a bit enviously at automotive construction. This means that construction is modularized and, above all, prefabricated in large parts. [The fact that these components are prefabricated in controlled climatic conditions naturally has advantages in terms of energy savings. From our experience, however, it does not bring any cost advantages. Of course, prefabrication also requires a certain amount of effort and, above all, investment on the part of the construction industry. On the other hand, it has to be said that the renaissance of timber construction is leading to a strong push for prefabrication from this side. Then you end up with serial construction.

SP: So it would be faster, possibly, but it won't necessarily be cheaper, if I understand you correctly. How much potential does that have?

JZ: That is our perception. When we plan residential quarters, and we're talking about residential quarters with more than 160 or 160 apartments, we start with 700 apartments. But the approach, of course, when you plan 700 apartments, is first of all a modularized one from our side, so that we can tackle it efficiently. In the end, however, we have to say that we will again build more traditionally. This means that the modularized idea, which is permanently present in our planning, is increasingly lost in the planning process and is perhaps also somewhat related to the building traditions that we have here in Germany and what our construction companies can offer their customers, so to speak, which means that the topic of modularization, serial construction, is simply not yet located there. If we look to Holland or Scandinavia, we see that the industries there have already mastered and implemented precisely this tradition and that these building forms really do lead to good living and working conditions when they are built in series.

SP: If you take the motto of your conference seriously, that a new apartment should be created every 80 seconds, and actually we talk at length about where the obstacles lie everywhere. There are very, very large chunks that have to be cleared out of the way. When you are with your colleagues, with the developers, with the real estate group, what do you draw hope from?

JZ: Everyone in the real estate industry wants to build, that's how we earn our money, and at the moment the general conditions are just not as favorable as they were three or four years ago. We can all assume that the general conditions will change again, that the supply chain problems will disappear, that the issue with the interest rate situation will change. I also believe that our clients will have to learn a little bit to perhaps scale back their yield approaches that they were driving in the fat years. Unfortunately, I have my doubts as to whether we will achieve the four hundred thousand apartments in the new construction sector, or rather I have no indication that we will be able to do so.

SP: Jörg Ziolkowski, architect from Cologne. Thank you very much.


The photo of Jörg Ziolkowksi was kindly provided by "80 Sekunden - Neues Bauen". It shows him on 11.05.2023 on the podium of the event in the Belgium Hall in Berlin.