According to the curators good conditions for successful integration are given when a spatially rather small-scale, easily accessible and cheap structure exists. Photo © Florian Thein, 2013
Offenbach am Main, the city with the highest proportion of foreigners in Germany, fulfills according to curators the function of an "Arrival City". Photo © Jessica Schäfer
The "Dong Xuan Center" in Berlin-Lichtenberg is officially a Vietnamese wholesale market - but here you can also just buy a pair of jeans or have a hair cut. Photo © Kiên Hoàng Lê
The example of the "Dong Xuan Center" shows that there are different ways to help the new arrivals gaining a foothold. Photo © Kiên Hoàng Lê
The DAM Biennale Team: Oliver Elser, Peter Cachola Schmal and Anna Scheuermann.
Photo © Kirsten Bucher
Responsible for the design of the catalog and the exhibition design: The Berlin Studio "Something Fantastic" (Leonard Streich, Elena Schütz, Julian Schubert). Photo © Zara Pfeifer
Arrival country. Home country.
by Adeline Seidel
Mar 10, 2016

Only recently, Federal Minister of Building Barbara Hendricks called for an additional 1.3 billion euros for house building and urban development, because there was, she said, a lack of affordable homes. Hardly a surprise, as in recent decades precisely such dwellings have been sold off one after the other. And now, with the influx of refugees, conditions in the housing market are becoming even more acute. This explosive mixture of low supply and high demand has triggered the current debate on: How do we want to live in our cities? What spaces support integration? How and where can affordable dwellings be created?

Making Heimat

This is exactly the starting point of Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) in Frankfurt/Main, which, represented by Peter Cachola Schmal, Oliver Elser and Anna Scheuermann, has been appointed the General Commissioner for the German Pavilion at this year’s Architecture Biennale in Venice. The exhibition design is being handled by Berlin’s “Something Fantastic” studio.

Entitled “Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country”, the intention is to make a down-to-earth contribution to the debate, which has at times been overly fierce. “We want, however, to talk about phenomena, not about groups of people,” explains Oliver Elser. “In the context of ‘Making Heimat’ we want, as it were, to speak of two different states. The one is the current situation with over one million refugees and the questions that arise in the framework of an architecture biennial: What consequences does this situation have for architecture and urban design and how should we tackle this? And the other state is the focus on ‘Arrival country: Germany’.”

First module: a project database

Two states, two modules for making homes: For the current requirements for homes Deutsches Architekturmuseum has teamed up with the magazine “Bauwelt” to create a “Refugee Housing Database” (click: The database launches on March 11, 2016 and will initially feature 45 projects; others will be added later. The spectrum ranges from temporary lightweight halls for 300 persons through to projects that provide permanent low-cost housing – and not just for refugees. To make comparisons easier, the projects are categorized by size, cost and other “hard facts”, which, or so the press release states, are not irrelevant when it comes to “providing a basis for local and regional decision-makers”. The database brings together answers to the question of what approach others have taken and is not meant to culminate in a classic exhibition of “panels” describing model projects in the German Pavilion in Venice.

Second module: hypotheses and phenomena

In the German Pavilion itself, module no. 2 – the phenomena of “Arrival country Germany” will then go on display. The theoretical basis is the popular reference work by journalist Doug Saunders: “Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History Is Reshaping Our World”. “Arrival City”, Oliver Elser explains, is essentially a look at a situation, a different look at statistics: “If I consider a ‘bad’ district then it may be that in fact it hardly changes down through the years. But the inhabitants as a rule do change, and move on.”

Offenbach am Main, the city with the highest proportion of foreign residents in Germany, functions as the arrival city in the RhineMain region. It offers cheap rents and yet is favorably located, with jobs near at hand – and the fluctuation in Offenbach is high. Arrival cities are not therefore necessarily places where you arrive and then stay. Rather, they are cities that function as first immersion points. Anyone speaking with the Offenbach Municipal Council finds out that the city is constantly acquiring new inhabitants – which definitely poses challenges for the city. If the integration machine functions well, then people move on. “Statistically speaking,” comments Elser, “Offenbach is permanently stuck at a lower level than all surrounding districts, but it does promote individual careers. And that’s the point.”

How does successful integration happen?

The curators believe that there are good prospects of integration succeeding if the spatial fabric is made up of lots of small, easily accessible and affordable segments that enable you to establish your own life. Offenbach am Main thus underscores one of the eight hypotheses that the curators propose, in close collaboration with Doug Saunders and on the basis of his book for “Arrival country Germany”. There will be actual examples to underpin the hypotheses and journalistic documentation to flesh them out, offering visitors insights into various situations and phenomena.

To avoid the Romantic appeal that informal structures on occasion exert on urban planners and architects, Elser continues, the selection consciously features examples that exhibit a certain ambivalence. For example the “Dong Xuan Center” in Berlin’s Lichtenberg district. After the Wall came down, when the residential status of Vietnamese immigrants was far from clear, it was approved as a Vietnamese wholesale market, and yet the Center is anything but a wholesale market. Here, you can buy a hundred pairs of jeans, or just one pair, you can get a haircut or have a meal. The Center has a reputation for being one huge mafia event. “Well,” argues Elser, “sadly there are criminal sides to it, yes. And it is definitely not an example of how a government-subsidized, smoothly functioning integration project can take place, with the energetic involvement of lots of social workers. But it does show that there are different ways of helping the arrivals get on their own two feet.” Precisely such phenomena need to be explored if the idea is to have a discussion on how urban structures could or should develop going forward.

15th Venice Architecture Biennale
from 25 May to 27 November 2016