In the early 16th century, the German merchant, mining entrepreneur, and banker Jakob Fugger almost single handedly contributed to the economic boom of Augsburg, the third largest city in the Bavarian region of Southern Germany. In 1521, Fugger established a walled enclave in the city—also the second oldest in all of Germany—for its poorer residents to find housing in exchange for one Rhenish guilder per year, equivalent to .88 euros in today’s currency.
Celebrating its 500th anniversary this year, that enclave, named the Fuggerei in honor of its founder, is officially the oldest social housing complex in the world, where the annual cost of housing remains the equivalent of one Rhenish guilder for every one of its 142 housing units. In recognition of the half-millennium achievement, the Fugger Foundations have commissioned MVRDV, the Dutch architecture firm with a long list of innovative housing projects, to design a pavilion that will debut at the plaza in front of Augsburg town hall by May of next year. “In our current times of housing shortage, climate crisis, social inequality, and isolation,” MVRDV expressed in a press statement, “the sustainability-oriented and people-centered concept of the Fuggerei provides a global role model, and offers a response to the great social and ecological questions of our time.”
The design of the pavilion is literally a twist on the long and narrow gabled buildings of the Fuggerei, using cross-laminated timber (CLT) to contort the half that points toward the social housing complex in a 27-foot cantilever. A sloped tribute will be placed in the cantilevering half as a seating space for the lectures, presentations, and other events relating to the anniversary and the future of social housing. “From the very beginning,” Fugger Family Senior Council member Alexander Graf Fugger-Babenhausen explained, “the Fuggerei has set standards that have the power to positively change society and provide an innovative answer to urgent social challenges. The Fugger idea is for everyone, it knows no boundaries. We invite the world to be part of this anniversary.”
In addition to the pavilion, members of MVRDV will present their own visions for Fuggereien through the development of a “Fuggerei Code” for the future of social housing in locations far beyond Bavaria.
“MVRDV has a long history with housing projects,” said MVRDV founding partner Jacob van Rijs. “In fact, one of our first realised designs was for a housing project in Amsterdam, called WoZoCo. Since then, we have designed all kinds of housing, all over the world, from Madrid to Tianjin. But the fascinating history of the Fuggerei makes it unlike anything we’ve worked on. It goes to show how diverse housing can be as a topic of exploration; no matter how many approaches you imagine, there are always other ways.”
The 500th anniversary celebrations began two days ago on August 23rd, and a full program with a livestream can be found at this link.