Cities and buildings are in constant need of renewal.
They need to be updated to changing demands societies and technologies evolve. Typically we think about cities growing and expanding with newer buildings and higher skylines. Cities build up and out.
But there is also the opposite of that. For instance, think of Detroit, which recently announced the demolition of whole urban areas, most of which were already partially vacated due to the long-lasting economic stagnation in the Motor City. The same is happening in Germany, where after reunification East German cities have lost up to 50% of their inhabitants.
In our office we are involved in renewal ideas for Dessau, which is the city where the Bauhaus movement had its most important moments in history – a city which is plagued by lack of investment and has suffered a loss of 45% of its population in the last 20 years.
The city is taking part in the IBA 2010 project, of which my firm HWKN is also participating. In our urban concept, we propose a new type of city center that is formed by a Loop, connecting key scenographic and historic elements in a city that is losing mass. The Loop acknowledges deficits in Dessau, such as an eroded inner-city area, guiding people around them and providing a consistent and refined experience for the people of the city again. We also propose to demolish a couple of massive old housing blocks and replace them with architectural jewels, infusing the city with an updated identity in a time of contraction.
With our work in Dessau, we have leaned that renewal does not need to be based on an idea of newness and addition – it can also be about less. Most importantly, it is about tuning the architectural and urban infrastructure to adapt to the necessities of a constantly evolving context.