Substracting Speculation

This is an extract of the doctorate thesis titled: "A mereological reading of the works of Ludwig Hilberseimer", chapter 5: "The Punctualization as architectural method"
by Daniel Köhler, year 2015.

Already in his early theoretical texts Hilberseimer speaks against land speculation and therefore against a planning role of the plot as the ground for architecture. The architectural interventions Hilberseimer’s try to overcome the plot as ground. In his early designs Hilberseimer calls for the merger of small-scale plots to provide housing collectives. Property is not defined by individual floor plots per house, but first as a consolidated common property. The large city is no longer extended individually from house to house, but by means of satellites. Large City Architecture here refers to the consolidation of plots, its impact on the size of the resulting "Großform" and the independence of architectural elements from land-speculation.

The clearest strategy for the dissolvement of plots can be found in the late plan studies at IIT, studies on the reorganization of the city. Here, Hilberseimer and his thesis students used one strategy repeatedly: The subtraction of street segments. Based on the existing and mostly closely meshed network of streets, they are extracted in steady, temporal sequence. The interruption of the street space creates the famous Cul-de-Sacs, the dead ends and the tree-like layout of the settlement unit. In terms of spacial planning, this intervention has far-reaching consequences for the American city. In a rasterized city the plots of land are clearly defined by its boundary, the boundary lines of the streets. The rasterized subdivision of the city thus produces convex plot figures.
By subtracting an edge and street segment plots are at first consolidated. Mostly oblonged or L-shaped plot contours arise. But if one extracts more street segments dead end streets emerge. Therefore the plot contour becomes non-convex and thus not clearly attributable anymore. The previously clear defined convex demarcation transforms into a continuous, free space through the elimination of streets. With the blurring of plots the ground loses its necessary unique affiliation for speculation and thus its meaning. The subtraction of the street disempowers the economic speculation on the plot as ground of the city. What is left to speculation are the architectural elements themselves. Thus, one of the first demands Hilberseimer achieved: from the speculation of the plot to a speculation of the commonplace object, which will bring the quality and specific articulation of the object to the foreground.

From the beginning on, Hilberseimer understood city planning as a political tool. As a planning tool, city planning sets the framework for economy and not vice versa. A political demand so becomes a spatial planning requirement for the reorganization of the industrial city. The urbanistic conclusion of the reorganization is a political-economic promotion of object instead of land speculation. The apartment becomes an economic object itself. In order for the apartment to be an object, it must be able to break away from the plot.
If the soil is no longer the ground of the city, architecture must be economically grounded in other ways. Hilberseimer’s approach is the transformation of architectural elements into economical products: to utilities, which are determined by their intended use. The apartment and its qualitative properties themselves are to be regarded as an economic product.
The title Vertical-City should be just that: the vertical organization of the city, rather than a horizontal speculation over the plot. The ground of the building is no longer the land parcel, but the structure of the cells, of the rooms, the houses in the city. The later Settlement-Unit is the formulation of previous planning requirements. Demands for the architectural organization describe the settlement according to its mass and as an economic product. The economic value of the house is created by its disposition in a settlement. Speculation loses its immovable mobility of reference. While in the Cartesian localization of the plot speculation is transferable and interchangeable here, through the concatenation of the neighborhoods, speculation is intransparent. The value of the architectural object is speculative, unique and non-transferable by its specification as overdetermination through composition.

Lab for Environmental Design Strategies
Austin, London, Innsbruck.