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Germany to tackle refugee housing at Venice Biennale

Dagmar Breitenbach (with dpa)
March 10, 2016

Where can incoming refugees be housed when they arrive and how does housing impact integration? The German pavililon will get more political than ever at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale.

Container settlement German pavilion at the Architecture Biennale in Venice 2016, Copyright: Architekten BDA Feldschnieders + Kister/DAM
Image: Architekten BDA Feldschnieders + Kister/DAM

"Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country" is the title of the German offering at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale, and it's fitting in that the German exhibition will take a close look at the explosive political issues surrounding the integration of refugees and migrants.

Where and how should the refugees be housed, for instance, and what does the refugee situation mean for the housing market in Germany?

Organizers presented their plans for the German pavilion Thursday (10.03.2016) in Munich. The 15th International Architecture Exhibition, also known as the Architecture Biennale, takes place from May 28 to November 27, 2016, in various venues in Venice, under the title "Reporting from the Front." Eighty-eight participants from 37 different countries will be presenting entries.

Germany's 2014 pavilion, titled "Bungalow Germania," was a to-scale model of the former chancellor's bungalow is Bonn, which served as the German capital during the Cold War. This time, the entry is even more overtly political.

From refugee to immigrant to 'new German'

"A large portion of the refugees that are now arriving in Germany will stay for the mid-term, and some of them will become immigrant - that is, new Germans," Peter Cachola Schmal, director of the Frankfurt-based German Architecture Museum (DAM) and general commissioner for the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale, told German news agency dpa. "The aim is to find out which factors benefit the integration of immigrants in a city and which factors hinder it."

In view of the current refugee situation, "Making Heimat is a very topical and hotly debated theme," German Building Minister Barbara Hendricks said. "The German Architecture Museum's concept can be embedded in the current sociopolitical context and deals with issues, initiatives and discussions that play important roles in the areas of building and housing in Germany today."

With an eye on the more than one million asylum-seekers that came to Germany last year, various drafts for refugee housing are on the agenda. The German concept is based on the hypotheses mapped out in "Arrival City," Canadian journalist Doug Saunders' bestseller on migration, transformation and new urban spaces.

Examples of integration: Offenbach to Munich

The pavilion organizing team also plans to float ideas on what city planners can do to successfully help integrate migrants, looking to cities like Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt, and Offenbach as examples.

While Offenbach will be highlighted in particular as a role model of successful integration, Schmal explained that Thursday's presentation was held in Munich for a reason.

"In Munich, people have prepared and drawn conclusions, for example from the Yugoslavian War. In the municipal offices, structures have been created that make it possible to build, to establish the technical ramifications, and to present it to the public in such a way that it is met with acceptance." Scores of refugees fled to southern Germany, and to Munich in particular, during the Yugoslavian Wars in the mid-1990s.

General Commissioner Schmal added that he is convinced that residential building will prove an important criterion for successful integration.

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