YOURS-MINE-OURS. The new joy of sharing

The concept of sharing is age-old and, in alliance with the activities of cooperation and exchange, the origin and guarantee (to date) of humanity’s success in its anthropogenic epoch.

Highly topical over the past ten years, the advance of web-based social media has opened up a completely new culture and economy of sharing, exchange and cooperation. At a breathtaking pace and in a hitherto unimaginable way, global macro and local micro digital networks from Facebook to Nextdoor and co. are transforming the world into the long-invoked global village. On its marketplace, people who have never met come together, though in most of their transactions they will never actually meet in person. They enter into virtual interaction and flag up their personal experience of the transaction on public web forums. Others, who previously knew nothing of their neighbours, meet for the first time, share and exchange real objects of everyday use with one another or arrange online to meet for the first shared TV evening around the corner.

The hype surrounding this new culture of boundless trust in exchange, sharing and cooperation in the social media world has long-since begun to fracture; it has been undermined, for example by the manipulated filtering and placing of offers and ratings on the net by way of Google, Amazon and Facebook, etc.

But despite this, instead of revolutionary resistance and non-compliance in the face of such misuse, there remains the desire to generate new life qualities by means of these previously unimagined forms of sharing, exchange and cooperation, which contradict the to date dominant maxims of individual consumption and ownership. Intelligent and targeted access to resources – using rather than owning – is the latest motto. In this context, the example of the drill has become almost iconic: I need a hole in the wall, not a new drill! This is not about revolution, black and white, good and bad; rather, it describes a process of transition from a to date purely individualistic ownership-orientated consumerism to a collaborative one, with all its ambivalences.

To go from social media to social design and trust design is no great leap in respect of terminology or content. Looking at the arguments arising from the ecological and economic crises of the day sheds new light on the question of a responsible and integrated design of our environment. The current model of “using rather than owning” originated in the 1970s, when it went hand in hand with a stark reckoning with the design of the “polished surface”. Planning, architecture and design should once again meet the interests of the people, their localities and environment, rather than the artistic formal and representative refinement of space, form and surfaces. Despite the mass dissemination of this idea and all international declarations about the limits to growth, consumer society went into turbo-drive, accelerated continuously, reinvented itself to the full after every crisis and consistently replenished the tables of plenty.

How deeply and permanently the new desire to share can transform from the inside the existing system of the resource-depleting consumer culture and whether the market will assimilate this current trend as a further modification of consumer consumption remains to be seen. It is, however, already obvious that both sides – consumer and market – have recognized this development as a new value chain, beneficial to their respective interests. It also seems clear that the collective or individual choice to “drop out” of the market and consumer society, which emerged in the early 1970s as a response to the first oil crisis under the motto “using rather than owning”, is simply no longer “in”.

For collaborative transactions between users, buyers and sellers, personal trust is critical – and an issue that arises differently and far more directly today in the context of web-based social media. This is best illustrated by inverse conclusion: A person who is awarded too few positive stars in the medial ratings system is permanently on trial – throughout the world. But a person who knows their way around knows that user names and email addresses can, like underpants, be changed at will. Put simply, these are transactions that take place on the global marketplace on the level of the World Wide Web, which can be made anonymous again at any point – as long as the individual in question does not happen to live around the corner from his or her virtual trading partner.

This year’s summer school builds on precisely this point. In close contact and “face to face” with more or less familiar – or close – cohabitants, the new desire to share, exchange and cooperate steps into completely new territory. It penetrates domestic life and the household, the smallest societal cell with the greatest closeness to the individual – the self – in direct confrontation with the partner, cohabitants and neighbours and the rooms and objects used. This subject-orientated closeness pre-sents completely different, more deep-seated challenges for sharing than the field of social media: What do we allow? What do you allow? What do I allow for us, together under our shared roof? The new domestic desire to share is about more than just a common basic level of trust in the home. The issue of closeness and intimacy is also examined in a new light. How much flexibility might a household that shares communally actually need or bear so that it satisfactorily adds value? And how can this generate and establish long-term models for the sustainable conservation of resources, which also work and grow across generations?

In this context, this year’s summer school focuses on the role designers can play in this process, the impulses and contributions – real and conceptual in spaces, objects and actions – they can bring to the new desire to share and the communal household.
The location of the summer school – the Bauhaus Dessau’s Masters’ Houses – thereby presents a specific challenge.

Designed by the then director of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius in 1925 and completed by the Bauhaus in 1926, the ensemble of Masters’ Houses represented the architectural vision of a new, emancipated way of living in the modern industrial age. The complex of Masters’ Houses is headed by a single-occupation villa for the Director, succeeded by three semi-detached houses. These were designed as homes with studios for the Bauhaus artists László Moholy-Nagy, Lyonel Feininger, Georg Muche, Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee and their families. In the Director’s House and the Moholy-Nagy and Muche Master’s Houses, the interior design also notably emanated the innovative spirit of “emancipated living” with “light, air and sun”. With a floor space of more than 200 square metres, the houses were equipped as “machines for living in” with state-of-the-art technical equipment and furniture from the Bauhaus workshops. They also came complete with household staff, all this shaping the ideal of a new, service-orientated and optimised type of housing and showing the public the ideal future way of living, to which they could all aspire. The rooms and their furnishings were tailored to the respective needs of the families and are still luxurious from a present-day perspective. The subject of sharing was thereby reduced to one caretaker, who was responsible for the whole complex, and the heating systems for the semi-detached houses, whereby a shared boiler in the basement heated both halves of a semi-detached house. Everything else was neatly separated from household to household and planned down to the last detail: from the walk-in wardrobe and electric water dispenser to the housemaid’s mop. The overt gesture of connection and interlocking, which the architecture signalises visually with its exterior horizontal balconies and orbital terraces, did not apply to the private household spheres. Rather, it expressed the ideal of the Bauhaus community and the gathering of all forces to work towards a common, large-scale creative goal.

Beyond the debates about flat or hipped roofs, the complex of Masters’ Houses still conceptually embodies the prototype representative of ideal housing and happy families in a single-family home, which in recent years has taken firm hold in the inner city in the form of the terraced home. In this respect, in their configuration and visual language the Masters’ Houses are quasi the symbolic in-verse of alternative ways of living for new, cooperative households in the twenty-first century, a topic which is to be addressed and re-programmed byway of example in this year’s summer school.