Despite the economic crisis, the past few years have seen a surprising increase in the construction of new student housing in the Netherlands. This has been prompted, first and foremost, by demand from the National Campaign for Student Housing, which wants to realize 16,000 new living units for students in the period 2011-2016.1 And as a result of the ongoing internationalization of higher education, universities are competing to attract the best students and researchers with high-quality facilities and attractive housing. Finally, the crisis has stopped construction work in many other areas, so that even parties that were not previously involved are now turning towards the still lucrative market for student housing.
The completed developments look nice on the outside, with attention to material and detail – a huge departure from the often grey, concrete hulks built to combat the student housing shortage in the 1970s. The material luxury inside is equally conspicuous: instead of simple bedrooms with shared facilities, most of the units are independently equipped with individual kitchens, bathrooms and toilets. This ties in with the internationalization, with demand (and a corresponding budget) for independent and often furnished units. That these are also within most Dutch student budgets is facilitated by the system of housing allowance that subsidizes independent, but not shared accommodation. In short: by building more expensive accommodation more money can be made while students get more ‘luxury’.
This individualization of facilities also leads to the loss of the associated communal programme: as soon as the need for sharing disappears, there is no longer any economic incentive for building communal spaces, which are often difficult to manage. The result is a stack of galleries or corridors with a simple repetition of identical, single-cell living units. Any thoughts about the social life that might be cultivated in such a building are often conspicuously absent.
This may be the biggest difference with the earlier projects in the Dutch tradition, in which the concept of ‘student accommodation’ was synonymous with living in small communities, where rooms and facilities were shared with housemates. This essay traces the origins of student housing as a design brief in the Netherlands and explores the principles underlying some early projects, in order to throw light on today’s design briefs and output…
- The Landelijk Actieplan Studentenhuisvesting 2011 tot 2016 is an agreement signed in 2011 by the national government, universities and colleges, knowledge-based cities, student housing bodies and students to reduce the existing student housing shortage during this period by 16,000 units.