Different case studies of decolonized areas in Europe Research and project analysis
Decolonization refers to the undoing of colonialism, the unequal relation of polities whereby one people or nation establishes and maintains dependent territory over another. It can be understood politically or culturally. After WWII, Europe and Middle East saw how borders changed and new occupation forces came to Germany or France, for instance, or in the Palestinian territories.
In the divided Europe, the occupied spaces limited mostly to military barracks, while in the new born Israel the occupying force built both military bases and civil neighbourhoods and constructions, with high security systems and conditions. Starting in the ‘70s and specially in the last decade, this situations have changed progressively:
In the one hand, Germany has recovered many Kasernes that were in French, British and American hands and has launched rehabilitation programs for this areas and the reuse of the facilities. Some have become Universities or cinema academies, others new residential areas
Israel, in the other hand, has abandoned some of the military and civil settlements, leaving buildings and whole complexes empty and without use. The DAAR Decolonizing Architecture group has developed some projects in different spaces, as an attempt to convert and adapt this colonizing and imported architecture to the local traditional needs.
History sometimes offers sudden and unprecedented opportunities, where one has to improvise and also understand architecture not only as something useful but also as a symbolic and cultural matter. Opportunities as this desoccupation and decolonization can happen in very diverse places and have therefore a big range of responses and approaches, depending on the location, the space itself, the needs or the symbolic load.
The example of the Vauban quartier in Freiburg is the one that most close is to the idea of sustainability. A group of locals built an organization to manage the development of the new neighbourhood with their ideology and ideas. Now it is a carbon 0, green neighbourhood, where cars can only cross some of the paths, rainwater and solar energy is collected, with big green areas, a car sharing scheme…
Anyway, any project run in a decolonized space and trying to reintegrate it will be looking for a social engagement, reacceptance of the space in the rest of the city and life.
The scales of the decolonized and readapted spaces depend basically of the left space itself. They range from isolated barracks and buildings to whole neighbourhoods/former bases or even whole cities when this spaces are all-over and integrated in their grid, as happens in the Ludwigsburg film academy.
A big variety of programs can be developed in these areas. While many projects rely in public investment and institution, such as Universities and education facilities, academies, community centres… others are sold or given to private investors and develop residential complexes both refurbishing old buildings and barracks and using the left spaces to connect the areas to the city by urbanizing them.
The new neighbourhood in the Vauban Kaserne, in Freiburg, located in a former French military base, is one of the best examples of how to integrate and retake the barracks by the local people with a big success. 5000 inhabitants moved to the area and 600 new jobs were created. Construction began in the mid-1990s, as the French left in 1992. Some hippies and anarchist tribes squatted the old structures for several years, a group who won the rights for four out of the 20 barracks. At the same time a group which came to be called Forum Vauban was pressing the City Council to develop the site in an eco-friendly way. The remaining 38 hectares were acquired by Freiburg City Council. This collaboration between the Council and Forum Vauban led to the masterplan with its car-free concept.
Most of the individual plots were sold to Baugruppen (co-housing groups) whose bids were assessed against criteria favouring families with children, older people and Freiburg residents. Some Baugruppen were formed by architects, others by prospective residents planning varying elements of self-build. Some of the other plots were sold to private developers. Another part of the site was developed for student dormitories for the University of Freiburg. Some former residents of these structures have taken up residence in a diverse assortment of cars, vans, and retired civil service vehicles, forming what has been named Wagenplatz.
Other infrastructures as the German submarine port of Saint Nazaire are now used for special events and community uses, and also left as much as they originally were to preserve the history and memories of the place.
One of the first and most important points when a structure is left is the decision of the ownership. They usually pass to public hands, mostly to the city council to which the area belongs or the state. But sometimes the rights pass to organizations or groups, or even to the former owners, and often are sold to private investors. It is a fundamental decision, as it can lead to very different uses, projects and futures.
How to use the existing structures is also a big issue. One has to deal with the history and memory of the place and its meaning for the inhabitants, so the attitude of the projects can range from a very basic refurbishment to a big development and where the shape of the urbanity and buildings are changed.
In Israel the projects try to use the main structures but muting the elements that are clearly not local, as the double gable roofs (not needed in this climate) or making the different units together by using light structures, trying to make clusters as in the traditional Arabic cities.
Vauban densified intensely the former base and changed its shape with very strict sustainability rules and policies.
Challenges and Opportunities
Although the variety of opportunities and challenges that this spaces offer is very wide, there are a number of important questions to answer before giving them a new use. What to do with this spaces, and whom they belong to are the first things that have to be clear. The potential and opportunities that this areas offer are huge and a big challenge is always to know what the area needs and how they will be integrated in the rest of the city. For this aim sometimes borders have to be demolished, the areas densified, and new activities must be inserted while they keep the historic character and try to absorb the local culture and life.
This said, the biggest challenge is to deal with the history and meaning of the place, both symbolic and cultural, how to make it human, integrate it in the life of the city and people.