Architecture & Design talks with Michael Heenan, CEO and principal, design, Allen Jack+Cottier Architects about whether the Baugruppen model can be applied to the Australian market, the various implications from a legal and financial perspective, and its relationship to both sustainability and modular building.

A&D: Is Baugruppen the way forward to help address the housing shortage in places like Sydney?

MH: "The Baugruppen model is an alternative that will show the way in better environmental performance of the building, better community use of the building and better use of sites, but it’s not scalable enough to make a difference."

“It will be extremely difficult to get a Baugruppen together in Sydney because the pressure on sites is extreme, thanks to the huge demand for housing, record prices, large investments and foreign investors with a lot of money to invest.”

“For the Baugruppen model to succeed in Sydney, it has to move to another phase. This would require existing owners’ corporations to come together, form their Baugruppen and look to develop their land more than it’s developed now.”

A&D: Does Baugruppen promote a more sustainable built environment?

MH: “Without doubt it does-especially in comparison with the standard approach to development. Baugruppen represents a better approach to environmental responsibility, characterised by fossil-free operation and high star energy ratings as well as shared facilities such as gardens, laundry and common spaces.”

“Property developers have deeper pockets that allow them to take a longer-term view. Profit is the motive for developers whereas building groups that come together have a broader and more sustainable outlook on life including making a social and ecological contribution to the neighbourhood.”

“A developer is forced to be more environmentally sensitive; a Baugruppen chooses that as their raison d'ĂȘtre.”

A&D: What are the challenges from this “collaborative living” housing model? 

MH: “A project that would require a group of people to put their life savings on the line for as long as three years from start to finish, can expect some tension on the way, underlining the need for a legal framework for Baugruppen.”

“The success of the Baugruppen model in Australia hinges on a “mental shift” on the part of councils, governments and banks.”

“For example, even if everyone puts in $200,000, and the group saves up to 20 percent on developer’s profit and marketing costs, they still have to borrow the rest; this also means the bank has to fund a disparate group of people.”

“Strata laws governing Baugruppen, the process is quite straightforward with no complexity and like any other strata building, with the strata plan incorporating the specifics.”

“However, it’s important for all stakeholders to come to a common understanding early in the process so that each group member’s future entitlement is locked in right at the beginning and included in the development application.”

A&D: Does modular construction make Baugruppen easier to implement?

MH: “Having recently completed a modular building, it definitely makes life easier. For instance, modular bathrooms are better in quality, design and longevity compared to a traditional bathroom. Besides, they are much better to get on-site.”

“Baugruppen represents a larger variety of apartments, which may not fit with the prefabricated modular bathroom concept. The middle ground would be to provide a core of services and allow each owner to vary around it.”

“I see a strong future for modular construction.”