Alte Pfeifenfabrik Schweina: A concept for the smart revitalization of villages
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Villages matter too
Life in European villages now-days is facing drastic changes, especially demographic ones. The birth rate is sinking, the average age of citizens is rising , and many people are moving into the cities, leaving often deserted areas. According to recent statistics, 44% of people in Germany would prefer to live in the countryside. This unfortunately remains a wish, because the countryside areas have many problems and not enough power to attract new people. Along with cities getting more and more dense and villages shrinking, we see that also many social challenges and multi-faceted disconnection from the more developed regions in the country are often the result. While on one hand it is true that cities pose major problems and they need specific attention, on the other hand villages and smaller towns shouldn’t be forgotten, which is why our proposal puts special emphasize on rural areas.
In this blogpost we bring the example of a German village, as an innovative approach to creating inclusive, sustainable and beautiful places also in the rural areas. The intent is that the case of Schweina, can then be transferred to other villages in Germany but also on the European scale, even if they don’t share the same built opportunities.
The case of Schweina: “Pfeifen und Holz” factory
Schweina is a district of the town of Bad Liebenstein in the Wartburg district in Thuringia. The town is only one hour away from Weimar, the place where Walter Gropius founded “das Staatliche Bauhaus” in 1919. It is here that we found a hidden, prominent site of craftmanship, long faded success and witness of tradition that has laid unused for many years : The well-known factory “Pfeifen and Holz”. The factory, which is founded in 1887, is located in the center of the village, and large parts of the buildings and interiors are built under the principles of the later Bauhaus with simple and clear architecture as well as straight lines, shapes and colors.
The district did not manage to transform the former success to today’s time so that the former symbol of pride has now become a daily monument to a now long period of crisis. In 2020, the site was acquired by the municipality with the aim of revitalizing the village center, giving it back this cultural heritage to society and shaping it into a Europe-wide symbol and lighthouse for a new era of innovative, inclusive, and sustainable rural living.
The vision of the project
The vision foresees many objectives tied together in one systematic approach. The focus is not only on the revitalization of the factory itself, but on how it and architecture in general can serve as a catalyzer to solve problems of different scales, from the village to the regional one. The aim is to develop the area in a way that it shows that the resigned citizens can be heard, pull-in new life and demonstrate that Schweina and any other rural area can become a lively place full of creativity and cohesion.
The local groups in Schweina are resigned and there is an urge to bring back the feeling of belonging and that they can become part of something and personally benefit from the emergence of new places. For this to become reality, new paradigms and methodologies for design are necessary – specifically a profound inclusive and participative and therefore, innovative design process. To make these newly developed design principles tangible and transferrable, a scientific approach is required that accompanies the design process and acknowledges the newly gained findings as well as extracts their major principles.
The achievability of the first two objectives depends on the actual attraction of people to the re-designed area of the factory. While the new design process itself should develop a strong and measurable pull-effect on the involved people and beyond, a social program is indispensable for the sustainable success of a site like this. Art, Culture and Education will be the core elements in terms of the area’s usage and the most relevant pillars for the social part of the proposal. We highly believe that art, culture combined with education can bring people together, strengthen democratic discourse, create identity, educate on important social topics, and reduce fear of globalization. The aim is to scientifically prove that such social program can tackle the challenges above mentioned, and that the gained knowledge can be transferred into similar contexts, despite not having the exact built resources that Schweina has.
When we talk about scientifically proving the success of methodologies and processes, we are aware that we cannot achieve them without the help of technology and data. The project foresees a clear strategy that enables communication, data collection during the design process, a systematic conduction of the social program and enriches the functions with innovative elements.
From the very beginning it was clear that the project needed to have a holistic approach in order to change the face of Schweina and create a new identity. Therefore, aside from the core elements mentioned above, a holistic program is outlined that even interlinks with a mobility concept and the tourism sector.
The groundbreaking research and innovations of the project
The ground breaking Research & Innovations of the project regard different aspects of it. Without doubt sustainability, revitalization of the rural area in a smart way as well, are innovative part of the project. What is the most novel in the project is firstly the research on re-inventing the way we educate and prepare students for the current fast-changing, digitized world- starting with the smallest. The concept takes up Friedrich Fröbel‘s idea of the kindergarten, brings it to the modern age and unites it with Bauhaus. Fröbel’s idea originated in precisely this region – in the spirit of the New European Bauhaus, this idea is to be thought from a design perspective, transferred to the new area, and supplemented by the aspects of diversity & inclusion, digitalization, and the correlation with art & culture.
An important topic of the project is the citizens participation, which should be higher than in regula design processes. This aspect, making use of the unifying power of art & culture, is a combination that is not entirely new, but still not fully exploited. The ground-breaking part of the methodology to be developed is the measurability of the impact of design, art and culture on the social development within a place like Schweina. While there is a lot of conceptual work existing on the combination of art & culture and design, a measurability and systematization of design principles that re-animate a lost place is ground-breaking.
Which are the major future usages?
A detailed target group analysis of the future users of the site with a particular focus on the current challenges Schweina is facing that are to be solves, brought to the conclusion that the greatest potential lies in attracting families. Therefore, the primary future functions and uses of the site were elaborated having in mind the special focus target group, and finding the functions that contribute to an attractive rural hub for families.
The project predicts a mixed-use development, keeping in mind the idea of the “10-minute-town” as it was formulated by the Interreg Europe. This being a rising research field for urban environments will be transferred to a rural environment as an attractive alternative for families to stressful urban life and to find satisfactory habitat that gives kids and parents ways to unfold meaningfully.
Last but not least important, as mentioned in the beginning, the project wanting to be a lighthouse project, reflects upon creating sustainable solutions for the area. The proposal aims at being in line with the EU Green Deal and puts a high focus on sustainable and renewable mindset, tools and building processes throughout the entire project.
How to achieve such objectives?
A project of this size has a multifaceted complexity in terms of required budget, timing, and team. Hence, knowing that the overall vision will only unfold its full potential in a long-term perspective and with more funding to be organized, this proposal serves as a starting point that should help develop the most important features of the project and, more importantly, delivers a framework that lays the ground for the project to be expanded to the whole area, to enable living up to the holistic vision for the “alte Pfeifenfabrik” and to share the knowledge and ideas in a European scale so others can profit from it from the very beginning in a co-operative, co-creative way.
Thus, there needed to be a clear and distinguishable scope for this proposal that serves as starting point and enabling momentum. Being clear that there needs to be a visible and built result in the area as early as possible, one area was selected as an exemplary part where the programmatic framework can be based upon. Looking back at the analysis of the target groups and future usages, the requirements of the citizens and families and the development of a clear USP of the area, the elaboration has shown that, to attract families, the highest potential lies in the areas of childcare and educational services, so the highest focus for the first built result lies on the Bauhaus Kindergarten and the Hub for Art & Culture.
The outcomes of the first stage of the developments, are divided as shown in the image: the hardware part – the Bauhaus kindergarten; the software part – apps and tools that are used to deliver the project; the programming – the different programming thought to take place initially.
Projects like the “alte Pfeifenfabrik” face a complexity that is very hard to handle. Often, similar projects gather a lot of knowledge in the development processes but that unfortunately remains with the project team members and is not made available in a systematic way. Along with this, similar projects face organizational problems, with overwhelmed project managers, lack of experts and lengthy processes when setting up a project. Last but not least, such projects have a high demand for participation, but unfortunately often it is not easy to reach a large number of people.
Therefore, the project thinks of an easy-to-handle digital platform, that facilitates the genesis and programming for Schweina and that can easily be transferred to comparable projects.
The Bauhaus Kindergarten
There is an interconnection between the concept of the kindergarten and the Bauhaus from the very beginning of both concept’s genesis: The name of the kindergarten itself derives from the Bauhaus movement, which was born in the city of Weimar, Thuringia region. Thuringia is the same region Schweina belongs to, and the influence of the Bauhaus movement is noticeable in the entire region until today. Friedrich Fröbel on the other hand, the inventor of the kindergarten, also originates from Bad Liebenstein, the municipality Schweina belongs to.
The Bauhaus movement is a leitmotif to the project of the Kindergarten for the “alte Pfeifenfabrik”. While the Bauhaus Kindergarten doesn’t aim to become a new movement, the proposal still wants to bring back the history as a symbol and build upon these principles that were once innovative. Same way as the Bauhaus movement, the “alte Pfeifenfabrik” wants to combine the built environment with a social mission, and use art, architecture and craftsmanship as catalyzers to achieve this mission. As the Kindergarten will be the first built environment that, at the same time, fulfills a major social role, it will be the first exemplary place where the social role of the built environment “alte Pfeifenfabrik” is explored.
This is why the newly developed Bauhaus Manifesto for the Bauhaus Kindergarten in the “alte Pfeifenfabrik” is mainly based on four main pillars: Active lifestyle, Technology, Practical | Manual Work and (gender) Inclusion.
Expected impacts of the project
From a regional perspective, moving from a zoom-in to a zoom-out point of view, first of all there is the direct impact within Schweina as a district. The aim is to achieve an impact of improved citizen satisfaction by giving them a new habitat and to overcome longstanding social problems. This, in a very short-range field of impact, the project creates new polarities within the village, new attraction points – a lively hub arises, and life returns to the village.
Secondly, there is an impact to be expected that goes beyond the district of Schweina. The fully developed “Pfeifenfabrik” and also the levels before with the Bauhaus kindergarten at its core have that target to attract people from neighbour villages or from the town of Bad Liebenstein. Having a hub for art & culture and stepwise extending it to a centre for meaningful social life in the reach within only a few kilometres will significantly enhance the entire region.
The culture hub, with the kindergarten, youth and children school and ISoPA together with the farmers market which is one of the first ideas to be constructed, will become new attraction points for Schweina.
The expected regional impact of the project is not supposed to stop with crossing the boarders of the region or Bad Liebenstein as a city. There is an effect on the entire state of Thuringia targeted. Not only should the site attract dayvisitors that come to Schweina to witness the cultural heritage site in its new look, but also to stay there for some inspiration time, for art workshops or for temporary work with the community that is to be created.
On a nation-wide level within Germany, the impact will be to have a living example of a positive development of a rural area – and to have the toolset available to follow the good example of Schweina. This impact does not stop there but will be carried on to a Europe-wide level.