Practices of Valuation and Futures of Empty Buildings

Alpermann, H.

Relationale Modi des (Be-)wertens und Gebäudezukünfte in Halle-Neustadt / Practices of valuation and futures of empty buildings


Sites of Value: Architecture and Valuation
HU Berlin
Berlin, Germany (online)

In the early 2000s, numerous state-owned buildings in Halle (Saale) as in many other Eastern German cities and towns, were emptied as a result of the restructuring of the state and administration in the aftermath of the collapse of the GDR. Since the city was subject to severe shrinking processes, the use and thus the preservation and maintenance of the buildings could in many cases only be ensured by the state authorities.

Officials from the municipality and the federal state had to decide how to (re-)distribute state institutions among the excessive number of vacant buildings and thus about the possible futures of buildings. But how to decide what buildings are worth to be put to use (in German administrative language there is the expression of “einer Verwertung zugeführt zu werden” meaning that a building is guided to a change of its value with the purpose of exploitation) and to be preserved? At that time, numerous studies were commissioned to evaluate the existing architecture (condition, flexibility, suitability for a particular use), prioritize certain buildings over others and to assess how strategies could be developed to ensure that buildings intended for preservation, i.e. buildings that had already been attributed value, could actually be preserved.

Based on archival material from the municipal planning office in Halle (Saale), I am tracing interactions of the biography of one of such empty state-owned buildings, the Hochhausscheibe C and planning practices of valuation, revaluation and exploitation of formerly produced architectural and site value. In 1999 for example, the deputy wrote in an internal letter that the employees should work out an “argumentation line” in preparation government officials why the city administration wanted to keep this particular high-rise and why they thought a demolition would be wrong at this location (internal letter, 21.04.1999).

Which criteria of valuation are developed in practice and how do these practices relate to the materiality of the building? And how are the un-/re-making of potential futures for the empty building and the processes of valuation and devaluation of its
materiality related? Drawing on literature that focuses on the interaction of social practices and materiality in a building’s becoming (cf. Silver, 1994; Ford, 2001; Yaneva, 2009;
Jacobs et al., 2011) I look at relational modes of architectural valuation (cf. Chee, 2006) in everyday urban planning practices. Within Repair and Maintenance Studies and other sub-disciplines of the broader field of Science and Technology Studies, both technological success and technological failure have gained special analytical attention (Jacobs et al., 2007). In a similar way, I am exploring practices of valuation that make buildings ‘succeed’ and thus contribute to their endurance.