Master Thesis von Vanessa Espinosa Ureta

In a context where we have to go faster day by day, where technology is part of each moment of our lives and where we are used to planning our days in advance, what happens with those persons who cannot follow this rhythm? What happens with those who cannot even plan their next hour, what are they going to eat this afternoon or where are they going to sleep this night? Homelessness triggers quickly these and many more effects in a person’s life. But, first and foremost, homelessness implies the violation of one of our most basic human rights: housing.

While Germany’s state revenues are significantly growing, the unemployment is at its historic low and the country is being considered one of the richest European countries; Germany is also facing its record in the rise of homelessness on 150% since 2014 (according to the statistics presented by the BAG Wohnungslosenhilfe e.V. on November 2017). On 2016, there were about 860 000 people homeless in Germany and the forecast for 2018 is a tremendously discouraging increase to 1,2 million people living in this situation.

There is no denying that many people all over the world, including the media, politicians, religious entities and so on, have discussed about homelessness over and over. The question is: are we really working on the causes or on the effects? Understanding the causes, analyzing the system, recognizing our duty and proposing long-term solutions would be part of solving homelessness. On the other hand, what most of the governments do is the opposite. The investment is done mainly on the effects and on trying to manage homelessness through temporary emergency shelters, soup kitchens, etc. The problem is that being homeless means being in a permanent emergency situation which transforms temporary support into daily support.

We are normally used to thinking that architects should only make functional buildings, that designers should decorate, that social workers are the only ones responsible for helping individuals to cope with their problems. But what if we talk about a systemic problem as it is homelessness? When a problem is so complex that tackling it from one single discipline is not enough. It is necessary to work all together with a holistic view, understand the roots, co-create in the same level with all the actors involved, ideate, prototype, fail, iterate and implement a solution. That is Service Design.

One of my main motivations to bring this topic to the table and work it through the lens of Service Design is the current context of the field. This is the moment when Design is more connected with the people, organizations, policy-makers and the development of our cities. So, what if we take advantage of this situation to bring value through design and achieve something meaningful and creative?

What happens when we eliminate the daily struggle from a homeless persons’ life? The Initiative Bauen Wohnen Arbeiten (IBWA), is a unique organization located in the district of Ossendorf in Cologne. They are working directly on solving homelessness providing affordable and permanent residence to 140 individuals with limited resources, families, students and formerly homeless people. They all form a community building, living and working together.

I believe this Initiative is a milestone that should be replicated, and that is exactly the goal of my thesis project: to help the organization to work on a second group of buildings, compile and visualize a case study which becomes easy to replicate and share it with decision makers and other organizations interested in doing something similar.