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    Baugruppen takes root in Australia

    Branko Miletic

    When translated from the original German, ‘baugruppen’ literally means a ‘building group’. As a home-building concept, the baugruppen movement started in the German capital of Berlin, but now has found fertile ground in Australia - specifically in Western Australia.

    Getting back to the concept, with baugruppen, a group of like-minded people get together to fund and build their own (usually) apartments - thereby deliberately cutting out the developers.

    It’s a relatively simple idea whereby it’s not so much about cutting out the middle men as it is about plugging up an ultimately unnecessary profit sink.

    Some have labelled it bulk buying houses at wholesale rates thereby allowing members to save significant amounts of money on their homes - with figures of up to 30 per cent savings being quoted.

    There is some merit in this idea - as mentioned, the costs are lower, the focus on sustainability tends to be stronger, there is more potential for diversity in design and there is safety in numbers.

    If a member or members of the building group pulls out, there are plenty of other candidates waiting in the wings to jump into the saddle.

    In Western Australia, the concept has even managed to get government backing, with LandCorp and The University of Western Australia (UWA) recently announcing they are working together to deliver Australia’s first housing development project delivered via the ‘baugruppen’ process.

    According to LandCorp, which has made a block of land available to purchase for what will evenually be a 'building group', the research project will be led by Geoffrey London, professor of Architecture at the UWA, and if successful, could be replicated nation-wide as a truly modular and low-cost alternative to the way we currently build homes. 

    For cities like Sydney and Melbourne, where housing affordability is huge issue, baugruppen could well prove to be a positive development.

    According to Greg Morrison, the CRCLCL’s Living Laboratories coordinator and professor in the Faculty of Humanities at the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute (CUSP), the concept of baugruppen will become increasingly valuable as Australian cities become more densified (with more infill developments), and as we move to a shared economy.

    “It provides an opportunity for people to own their apartment but also receive the benefits of shared and cooperative form of housing, including reducing the time they spend maintaining their property, enjoying a higher standard of modern housing, and social benefits and decreased isolation,” Morrison said.

    There have also been other similar initiatives announced recently in Victoria like Brunswick’s Nightingale project, where a group of architects banded together to design a sustainable and ultimately profitable urban development.

    Meanwhile Sydney also seems to be catching the baugruppen bug with Allen Jack+Cottier currently working with 16 different owners who own a waterfront site. 

    According to Michael Heenan, Allen Jack+Cottier, CEO, Principal, Design, "To make this a successful process, is not for the faint-hearted. Herding cats comes to mind."

    "A very tight contractual arrangement, a very clear financial plan, and the very best architectural planning and legal advice is essential. Although a focus on liveability and sustainability is the goal, it must have a very clear profit objective to ensure comfort, stability and flexibility throughout the long process of delivery," he says.

    "The benefits for the city and apartment typologies are enormous. The involvement of Geoffrey London in researching this approach from an urban design, sustainability, liveability together with his intensely focussed understanding of the issues would seem to be a precursor to successful baugruppen framework," says Heenan. 

    According to the GBCAs head of market transformation, Jorge Chapa, these types of concepts are a welcome addition to the push for more sustainability in the built environment.

    “We are always on the lookout for interesting models of delivery that can improve amenity, affordability, and sustainability. Models like baugruppen, or the Nightingale model, are innovative mechanisms to involve the future community in their development," says Chapa, adding that, "These are exciting developments, and we are heartened by their initial takeup here in Australia.”

    The concept of baugruppen promises not only cheaper and greener housing – it is all about providing control and skin in the game for the members of the development group.

    As an urban renewal concept, it looks on the surface as being quite disruptive and even revolutionary, but as a pathway to greater focus on sustainability in our build environment, it looks equally as promising.

    “The attractiveness of a cooperative approach can encourage more people to invest in compact and high-quality housing, which has a lower demand for energy and greater energy efficiency,” noted Morrison.

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