„Westside Story“

As I was originally planning to focus this blog on a comparism between Germany and Switzerland, respectively a place to point out swiss behaviour, a blogpost by a fellow student in my cultural studies-class caught my attention. She was writing about a local mall in Berne, called Westside and how odd she was feeling inside because of the architecture. To be honest, I felt the same way. But it was not only that made me feel uncomfortable.

The mall is situated in a rather „bad“ part of Berne („bad“ in terms of a swiss point of view, it would be an average quarter in Germany), outside the city center. This area once was constructed as a big building project in the 70s that aimed to give different classes a place to live. It is a mixture of apartment buildings (in different sizes) and family homes that should have been available for every income. Nowadays the quarter is mainly inhabited by the middle-class, along with students and senior citizens in special retirement homes as rents in Bümpliz are relatively low.

In between the predominitely 70s architecture the mall looks like an alien ship that has recently landed. Its architecture is boxy and enormous compared to the surrounding houses. Different materials are trying to structure the outside, especially with the help of wood and glass. The mall stands in strong contrast to the concrete and tile buildings around it, only a few modernised ones fit the style of Libeskind’s planning.

On the inside everything is enormous and alien, too. With its polished floors, lightflooded hallways and high ceilings, the mall has an extremely posh look which also stands in opposition to what someone would expect in Bümpliz. The architecture promises glamour that the quarter can’t come up with. It exaggarates the gap between high and low-culture, and between rich and poor.

But why would anyone place a building like that built by a famous architect in the middle of nowhere?

The answer is gentrification. Formally known „bad“ parts of cities are undergoing changes in terms of inhabitants, infrastructure and rent level. At first a shopping mall like that may seem like an opportunity to offer citizens an improved infrastructure as well as an enhancement of their quality of living, but the longterm goal of city planning looks different.

With those improved conditions a quarter becomes interesting to different kinds of people. Many houseowners seize the chance to renovate and modernise buildings to lift them to a better standart as well. During this process the old renters have to endure the reconstruction process or move flats. This also makes it possible for landlords to rise the monthly amount of rent significally and get rid of unwanted renters because the old ones are not able to afford their old flat anymore. In this process certain groups of people are leaving a quarter, too, like seniors and students, and others move in. Step by step a quarter changes and develops towards an upper-class quarter whilst surpressing the middle-class.

In Bümpliz especially families with children and rich senior citizens seem to be the targeted new inhabitants because along with the mall a huge pool was built along with flats for seniors. Berne answers to a new trend of families and seniors to prefer living in cities instead of villages.

The new mall therefore is not only a new „place to be“ in Berne, but also a way of restructuring the city without the neighbourhood realising it at first. Slowly the middle-class will vanish from this area to locations offering cheaper rents. What know looks like a knew highlight for Bümpliz is acutally the starting point for restructuring and change. What else would bring Berne to assign a famous architect on a far too huge mall in the middle of “nowere”?

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