Akcan book probes relationship between citizenship and public housing

Berlin Public Housing
Photo by Esra Akcan

Open Architecture: Migration, Citizenship and the Urban Renewal of Berlin-Kreuzberg by IBA 1984/87

By Esra Akcan, associate professor of architecture and director, Cornell Institute for European Studies

De Gruyter | Birkhäuser 2018

Author’s note

Esra Akcan
Esra Akcan

Exploring the implications of the concept of “open” as a common metaphor in the era of global connections, and as a foundational modern value (albeit prone to contradictions), this book defines open architecture as the translation of a new ethics of hospitality into design process. In particular, it exemplifies the inclinations towards open architecture (or the lack thereof) in the context of the discriminatory housing regulations of an urban renewal development in Berlin’s immigrant neighborhood Kreuzberg.

Giving voice not only to architects and policy makers, but also to residents through oral history and storytelling, the overarching theme of noncitizen rights to the city allows for a joint discussion of the history of the twentieth-century public housing, the participatory, postmodernist, and poststructuralist architectural debates, and the contradictory relation between international immigration laws and housing.


In this tour de force from one of architectural history’s leading lights, Esra Akcan narrates the contemporary architecture of Berlin via a series of strolls through the urban landscape. Her critical reflections on the status of the noncitizen in the built environment gives us a theory of open architecture and helps extend our thinking on issues of pressing contemporary concern - democracy and human rights. By giving voice to often-silenced noncitizen residents and rare insights into the intimate spaces of the refugee resident, the book traverses multiple disciplines, making it an indispensable reference work for Architectural History, Urban Studies, Migration, Refugee and Critical Border Studies, and German, Turkish and European Studies.

Kader Konuk, Professor and Chair, Turkish Studies, University of Duisburg-Essen

Under the rubric of an Open Architecture, this book provides a substantial survey and critique of the IBA reconstruction of Berlin in the 1980's. Akcan proceeds to incorporate into her history of Berlin's International Building Exhibition a demonstration of the incompatibility between democracy and the professional prerogative of individual design.

Kenneth Frampton, Professor, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University

A breakthrough work that combines deep research, interviews with the inhabitants of new and renovated apartments, with an incisive architectural critique of spaces, historically, and in use. A brilliant combination. This is what architectural history should always aspire to – a model for all future studies.

Anthony Vidler, Professor, The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, The Cooper Union