Gentrification is killing Berlin's techno scene

A 2012 techno night in the Teufelsberg ("Devil's Mountain"), a former US National Security Agency (NSA)-run listening station, in western Berlin's Gruenewald forest. Image: Getty.

Gentrification. It's all well and good in principle: improving areas with renewal and rebuilding. But it can also have a pretty dark side with increased property values, and the displacement of lower income families and businesses.

Gentrification stands still for no man. Alternative lifestyles are swept aside, interesting and distinctive areas are suddenly everywhere, and the capacity for cultural production is massively reduced.

Take Berlin. Berlin is an extraordinary place. Most people understand its Cold War history as a divided city, with capitalist west and communist east facing each other off over a wall. But less familiar are the underground and alternative scenes which have characterised the city over decades, centuries even.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 people from east and west felt the relief of being freed from political oppression and cultural and social separation. Young people in Berlin had never known anything different than this divide, and the new unified state felt great. People wanted to celebrate this freedom together; they wanted to party.

The fall of the wall also opened up a whole array of large official buildings, including former industrial and military spaces, which were left redundant and ready to be reclaimed by the city. These buildings were typically dark, solid and functional spaces, standing for an authority which no longer existed.

The newly united city was the perfect playground for party goers with the wealth of abandoned buildings up for grabs and ready to be put to good use. This was the landscape from which techno emerged in Berlin. The city now started beating to a different rhythm. New clubs and party venues sprung up all over, changing the landscape and reunifying communities.

A new dawn

As with the other scenes before it, techno was well hidden. Music was played “in clubs that were not owned by anyone in districts no one was responsible for, in buildings that did not exist according to the land register”. As techno DJ Clé put it: “We lived at a time when normal people slept.

The location of clubs during the period was clustered, but their distribution fluid. As it should be with alternative underground scenes: clusters of venues constantly shift, evade capture, move with the times.

But as the new Berlin has started to settle down, the techno scene has changed to reflect this growing confidence in a new identity – providing fixed venues for clubbers.

The most notorious of all the clubs is housed in an old power plant. Berghain, often referred to as a “techno cathedral” is widely considered one of the world’s best nightclubs. But in rising in popularity and prominence, Berlin’s underground world has lost some of it’s earlier sparkle. With “authorised” techno clubs now the norm across the city.

Tourists – the so-called “Easyjetset” – come from all over Europe to join locals in pilgrimage to these “temples of techno”. And the music has its authorised heritage too. With old 1980s samples worked into contemporary techno compositions.

Inside the 2012 techno night at the the Teufelsberg ("Devil's Mountain"), a former NSA listening station. Image: Getty.

The threat of renewal

As Berlin emerges from the dark days of the 20th century, and as the process of gentrification spreads like a helix across the city, from the centre out into the suburbs, so the places associated with these scenes inevitably come under threat. As districts are “modernised” to make way for new homes and redevelopments, the options to find alternative locations for these underground scenes diminishes. The gentrification process means places associated with alternative scenes are being closed down and scenes pushed to the margins.

And herein lies a problem. This significant history is also hidden from those responsible for managing the city’s future – its planners and politicians. How can they promote or understand the significance of something they will probably never see?

Underground heritage remains an important ingredient in Berlin’s cultural landscape, but it is under threat as the city continues to reinvent itself as a modern European capital.

Blake Baxter’s (2004) track is an homage to the many techno clubs that have faded into history.

No one is suggesting the clubs and venues should all remain preserved as fixed points in a vibrant and changing city. The vital ingredient here is the capacity to sustain these alternative scenes, underground and hidden from view in plain sight within the city.

This underground heritage seems essential to social and cultural sustainability. To deny it here, in Berlin of all places, is to deny the city’s capacity to attract and sustain alternative lifestyles, compromising Berlin’s very identity.The Conversation

John Schofield is head of archaeology at the University of York.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.

Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.