Shared Layers of History – Urban Phenomena of Post-Communist Cities #9

After the fall of communism, we had to learn how to shop and sell, how to build and how to lead an everyday life in a completely new realm. It does not matter if we are in Belgrade, Warsaw, Berlin or Bratislava – our cities are layered with history and scarred with the changes

One cannot understand the post-communist attitude towards sharing without knowing the twisted history and numerous transformations involved in the perspective. Presented here is our selection of socio-urban phenomena that helps explain – and hopefully offers a more detailed picture of – today’s public spaces.


The “service” sector of the residential buildings contained the premises that could not be incorporated functionally into flats: coal cellars in the basement mirrored by drying areas and lumber rooms in the attic, with laundry and ironing rooms usually situated on the ground floor. The assignment and upkeep of these premises were among the manifold duties of the concierge. Common spaces were created on the wave of improving living conditions in the post-communist realities of the communist countries, and it was also very much related to the policy of the changing roles in the family and the allowing of women to go to work (on the same wavelength were established canteens, milk bars, Crèches and kindergartens). This is, in spite of appearances, a very important topic; in comparison with Western Europe, many women from this part of Europe were active.

Unfortunately, in most of the post-communist countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, one of the free market’s repercussions is buying out these common rooms and adapting them for flats. This way the co-op gets more income because they are increasing the renting space – again money rules the market. However, a tendency has started to change the thinking of this matter. People have realized that these ideas for sharing in communist buildings might be quite handy.

One of many examples of such investment, proposing up to 10% of shared spaces, is Berlin’s Coop Housing at River Spreefeld, which was designed by the collaborative team of Carpaneto Architekten, Fatkoehl Architekten and BARarchitekten in 2013. A low-cost residential building open to the neighbourhood and city, with a strong percentage of shared and communal spaces that proposed a joint ownership for long-term affordable rents. The individual and communal terraces offer a much-used compensation for the “loss” of open spaces to the public. Moreover, the common spaces take up to 10% of the whole surface: guest rooms, fitness, salon, play areas, storage, laundry, terraces and a music and youth room. In addition to conventional units, there are six cluster apartments that provide a communal living structure for groups of 4 to 21 people where the inhabitants share a bathroom, kitchen, living room and a terrace. The ground floor is largely open to the public and includes a carpentry workshop, a catering kitchen, studios, a day care centre, and a co-working space. Available to non-residents are Option Rooms – unassigned, unfinished spaces for community, social or cultural projects.

The residential population is quite diverse. It is multigenerational and multicultural, which was made possible by people both with and without money. In exchange for the required equity capital, users could carry out needed construction work within their dwellings on-their-own. Rents start at a level on par with government subsidized housing, without having received this subsidy which has helped many of the Spreefeld residents, who could not otherwise afford to live in the city centre under today’s conditions. As planned from the start, participation has focused on collective concerns, uses and spaces.

This article was published in Magazyn Miasta / Cities Magazine # 1/17  – our special international issue released as a part of Shared Cities: Creative Momentum (SCCM) project. You can read more about the project here. You can download PDF version of the issue for free here.

Main photo: U. Zscharnt, Fatkoehl Architekten