Financialized Berlin: The Monetary Transformation of Housing, Architecture and Polity

Anne Kockelkorn (2022)

Architectural Theory Review, Online first

Abstract. A financialized real estate market is both an abstraction of global capital flows and a localized driver of gentrification. Under this premise, architectural form and urban design become a performance of contradicting value formations. Drawing on the methods of urban history, geography, architectural criticism and performative writing strategies, this paper develops a theoretical perspective on the architecture of financialized rental housing based on a relational understanding of architecture and social space. The paper’s point of departure is the financialization of Germany’s social rental housing stock. Recent housing projects undertaken in the metropolitan region of Berlin by the real estate investment companies Vonovia SE and Deutsche Wohnen SE serve as case studies. The analysis identifies five strategies for cost-optimization that, taken together, outline the characteristics of an ideal city of financialization which promotes the destruction of social cohesion in the interests of shareholders.

Extract: “Perhaps the most important tool in increasing the asset value of the housing stock, however, is to ensure a continuous increase in rents. This can be achieved through the strategic assessment of rent-gaps, which is a core driver of gentrification, as demonstrated by Laura Calbet i Elias. Continuously rising land prices and rental indexes are not only drivers of gentrification, but also represent a favorable business environment for the future increase of value. Another instrument for securing rental increase is the modernization of amenities—that is, the comprehensive renovation of housing in order to increase its energy efficiency and comfort, the costs of which, unlike maintenance, can be passed on by raising the rent. Modernization can also be combined with ‘patrimonialization,’ such as the targeted renewal, staging and commodification of cultural heritage, as described by the sociologists Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre. This approach figures among the strategies of Deutsche Wohnen SE as exemplified by the modernization of the former railway housing estate in Elstal, fifteen kilometers west of Berlin, in keeping with heritage requirements for the preservation of historic monuments; or the modernization of the housing estate Onkel-Toms Hütte designed by Bruno Taut in Zehlendorf, labeled as an ‘architectural jewel’ on Deutsche Wohnen SE’s website.” (p. 13)

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