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Editorial Dash #12-13

Last year, during a DASH seminar held in Delft in the summer of 2014, Charles Correa held an ardent plea for an architecture of affordable housing that starts  from space and openness, rather than bulk and density.

In his mind, models for large-scale and affordable housing were all too often based on the maximization of numbers, while the need to make space for an everyday life in which living and working can be combined, and growth and development remains possible, was  forgotten. The opposites he articulated highlight the dilemma of affordable housing: despite the often massive economic and spatial pressure in the cities, how can city dwellers that have no or a limited income be protected from having to live in a minimal provision in which there is no room for the creation of businesses and social networks?

Cities in the Global South are expanding fast due to rapid population growth and unprecedented immigration from rural areas. At the same time, the demand for affordable housing is also increasingly difficult to meet in the developed West. The major cities in this part of the world are so successful and attractive that housing is likely to become unaffordable. The current influx of immigrants and refugees make the shortage of affordable housing even more pressing.

This edition of DASH focuses on the issue of affordable housing design as an architectural challenge. DASH traces the global search for models for large-scale and affordable housing. Articles and plan documentations give an apparently kaleidoscopic and fragmented picture of this development, but on closer inspection there
are a number of continuous lines to be discerned in the ways the issue is dealt with. The essays and projects span 150 years and five continents and show the  trong international dimension that the issue, characterized by confrontations between concepts developed elsewhere and specific local conditions, has had for  decades.

The results of these exchanges have been highly diverse, ranging from minimal sites-and-services approaches to grand and detailed megastructures. The success of projects has also varied widely. The Victorian Peabody Estates built to replace the London slums remain virtually unchanged 100 years later; other  projects disintegrated mere years after their completion, some stand vacant and some are to be demolished. The results of models based on growth and
change over time are also as diverse as they are unpredictable.

This issue, a concise DASH world atlas of affordable housing, is the beginning of a large, long-term research and educational project at the department of  Architecture of the Faculty of Architecture and The Built Environment at Delft University of Technology in which analyses of models and realized projects from the past and the present are connected to an exploration of the possibilities of the future. While working on this publication, we received the sad news that Charles Correa died on 16 June 2015. His manifesto for the city and a conversation with him held shortly before his death form the heart of this DASH. We dedicate this edition to Correa and to his enduring significance as a source of inspiration and advocate for what is still the world’s biggest spatial design challenge: the creation of cities that are accessible to everybody and in which there is place for everyone to live and work.

 

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Editorial Dash #11

The cover of this issue of DASH shows a home interior that was exhibited in Berlin in 1952, at the exhibition ‘Wir bauen ein besseres Leben’ / ‘We’re Building a Better Life’. In this model interior, which was designed like a brilliant white laboratory, American actors showed the audience that had flocked to Berlin how you were supposed to live in this kind of house. An expert in a white coat, who towered above the drab audience, was on hand to explain the house, and what the actors were doing.

Like no other picture, this photograph shows how the housing interior has been seized upon in the modern era as a tool in emancipatory and political processes (from both the outside in and from the inside out) that have dramatically changed the dwelling landscape. With the rise of mass housing in the previous century, dwelling undeniably became an architectural task, and the interior has played an important role in this process.

Yet one can also ask whether the home interior can indeed be seen as an architectural project. After all, within the four walls of one’s own house, the resident will go his own way, unseen and undisturbed, with the walls separating the private from the public. The house is furnished and customized to one’s own needs, and is decorated with the paraphernalia of everyday life and the memories of the past. Despite this personal dimension, history has shown that the home interior has also always been linked to representation, and that makes it by definition an architectural assignment: just think of the interiors of large houses and noble palaces. The rise of mass housing over the past 100 years concentrated on dwelling as an architectural task, and that created the space for the home interior to also be an architectural assignment, one that has since overtaken the noble elite and the decorative. Nowadays it seems that every interior is considered an ‘architectural’ project, or better yet a ‘design’ project: just take a look at any magazine kiosk to see how dwelling consumers are inundated with information on the latest trends. The interior seems more than ever to have become an instrument by which an individual presents himself to the world, much in the way that fashion is also such an instrument.

For DASH, this focus on the home interior is interesting because (in)explicitly formulated ideas about the interior always play a role, and always have done, in the design of homes; this is true not only in the design of private houses, but also of mass housing. The transfer of these ideas primarily took place, and still takes place, through the interiors themselves, which are publicized by the media (books, magazines, newspapers, television, films, exhibitions, department stores, catalogues, home design blogs). Some of these interiors are specially made to express a specific view about dwelling and architecture. In this issue of DASH, we explicitly focus on these exhibited home interiors, which we call ‘interiors on display’. We examined
15 of these rooms from the last century: interiors that were never inhabited, but that were exhibited at exhibitions and fairs. In most cases, the interiors were broken down, and only live on in the form of drawings and/or photographs. Leading up to this documentation, five essays and an interview offer different perspectives on the idea of the interior as an architectural assignment, as a commercial object and as a tool in creating artistic, avant-garde and cultural reflections on society. This issue of DASH thus presents a small cross section of more than 100 years of dwelling, in the context of the rapidly changing (Western) society, and shows how these developments have been architecturally projected onto the interior.

 

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Editorial DASH #10

Student housing is back on the agenda. At breathtaking speed, politicians, developers, architects and constructing parties are trying to reduce the serious shortage of residential space for young people and students that currently exists in almost all Dutch university towns. And in these times of malaise in the construction industry, new players are now also lining up to get a piece of the pie, alongside the traditional housing foundations and corporations…

The concept for this new architectural task is often simple: identical, independent units with their own mini-kitchen and minibathroom are the building blocks that are stacked and connected until the building envelope has been filled to the desired level. They feature a communal entrance, bicycle storage space, and perhaps a few facilities, and often a striking façade to assert a unique identity.

This is an efficient industry that allows large numbers of units to be built well and quickly. This architectural task is as topical as it is timeless. Ever since educational institutions began attracting young people from a wider environment, housing and education have gone hand in hand with a period of personal and intellectual growth. Through the centuries, various models have arisen for this purpose, in different countries and in different cultures: from students living with professors or in lodging houses, to the Anglo-Saxon college and campus, or the continental, urban residential buildings that were often under the auspices of religious institutions.

The twentieth century added a wealth of inventive solutions, after the explosive growth in the number of students made new construction a large-scale job for architects worldwide. The design of the individual rooms and the way they formed a communal residential environment for students have repeatedly led to solutions that are both culturally anchored and innovative. The result is an exciting and constantly growing variation in accommodation buildings for students, based on a multitude of ideas.

In this tenth issue of DASH, the editors want to draw attention to a sliver of this abundance. First of all, to once again study the selected plans and the ideas that go along with them, and to unlock these for a modern audience. Several recent plans and interviews with currently active players connect theory and history to today’s practice.

At the same time, seeing as there are once again so many opportunities, this publication is an appeal to continue considering the job of student housing in its full breadth, and also to contribute to the development of new models of student housing (beyond merely the required numbers) that have been expressly designed for today.

 

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Editorial DASH #09

The many housing exhibitions of the past 100 years attest to the ongoing search for the ideal home. Housing exhibitions are an excellent example of research by design. They are manifestos that try to give answers to current social issues and introduce new ideals, but at the same time they also present concrete housing designs. The temporary or permanent presence of the object itself – the dwelling or the residential building – makes the housing exhibition an exceptional instrument. Actually building these experimental designs at full size not only makes them visible, but also enables them to be visited, by both peers and laymen. And finally, they are subjected to the ultimate test: actual habitation…

The many housing exhibitions of the past 100 years attest to the ongoing search for the ideal home. Housing exhibitions are an excellent example of research by design. They are manifestos that try to give answers to current social issues and introduce new ideals, but at the same time they also present concrete housing designs. The temporary or permanent presence of the object itself – the dwelling or the residential building – makes the housing exhibition an exceptional instrument. Actually building these experimental designs at full size not only makes them visible, but also enables them to be visited, by both peers and laymen. And finally, they are subjected to the ultimate test: actual habitation.

This issue of DASH provides an overview of housing exhibitions from the past, present, and future. Their corresponding reflections and manifestos are also considered in further detail. Many themes still appear to be very current, and a number of ideals appear again and again in different forms.

The Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) in Hamburg, which is still open, is organized around a number of themes. Some of these themes are familiar from previous exhibitions, such as the adaptable home, affordable housing and the urban-planning anchoring of housing and residential buildings. But there are also themes that have emerged in recent years, such as the sustainable home (minimal use of energy and materials) and homes on the water (climate change). IBA Hamburg is the final part of the project documentation in this issue of DASH, which shows a wide panorama of approaches in ten different projects. Of these ten projects, nine can still be seen, and are still inhabited.

A number of essays examine the motivations and positions of some of the most influential housing exhibitions. Two exhibitions from the early 1930s, the time of the Great Depression, provided a platform for architects to show solutions for homes that could later ‘grow’, after having initially been built using minimal resources. This is an idea that remains remarkably current, considering the ongoing financial crisis. And in 1930, the Stockholm exhibition introduced a new approach to housing that has exerted a great influence for decades, both in Sweden and far beyond. The famous Hansaviertel in Berlin (Interbau, 1957) is still known as an exemplary showcase of various housing types, but it also turns out to have propagated an explicitly political programme. In the early 1990s, the BouwRAI neighbourhoods in Almere tried once again to turn residential building into an architectural statement.

In the two interviews, this thread is extended to the present, and into the future. MoMA’s continuing tradition in New York of exhibiting full-size homes is investigated, and the plans for the (now cancelled) IBA 2020 in Berlin give insight into the housing issues that are relevant today.

The housing exhibition seems to be a phenomenon that has not lost anything in terms of topicality. There is no other physical or virtual alternative that truly allows visitors and residents to experience a sense of spaciousness and functionality. The exhibitions that were researched and documented in this issue of DASH together form a testament to the ongoing importance of this type of research, especially at a time when new forms of development, construction and housing are once again receiving a great deal of attention.

With this current issue, DASH is making an appeal for new exhibitions that will give this quest both direction and form.

 

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Editorial DASH #08

In the study Living in Space and Time. In Search of Socio-cultural Trends in Housing (2009), one of the aspects the Council for Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment drew attention to was the increasing interest in living with other like-minded people, in a privately managed residential domain or otherwise. According to the Council, this demand for smaller environments or microhabitats, where living, working, care and recreation are combined, will rise in the coming years. Now that house-building is stagnating in the Netherlands as a result of the economic crisis, some town and city councils are trying to jump start construction by encouraging future occupants to develop and design houses themselves, as a group. This method – ‘collective private commissioning’ or ‘CPC’ – bypasses the traditional developer, who is no longer able or prepared to run the risks of new-build in the present climate. In this way, housing that is more demand-driven and concentrates on specific requirements can be developed.

Supporters of CPC often cite an increase in scale and the corresponding limitation of costs as an argument for choosing this development strategy. However, there are other motives besides economic for developing a housing block as a group. The opportunity to design a house and living environment entirely in line with one’s own wishes and ideas is the most important. As the examples show, CPC projects are eminently suitable for special programmes and also for experiments with house floor plans and the way dwellings are linked. In order to give the designing discipline its say in the topical debate about CPC as well, this DASH dives into the question of what CPC can mean for housing design. Which opportunities does collective private commissioning provide for the realization of special programmes, housing types and architectural expression?

In his article, Dick van Gameren discusses different historical and modern Dutch projects that were realized via CPC and investigates the historical and possible future role of small-scale collective private commissions for construction and architectural practice in the Netherlands.

In an article about Baugruppen (building groups), Vincent Kompier and Annet Ritsema relate how a strong CPS tradition in Germany has led to interesting and innovative housing architecture.

Pierijn van der Putt demonstrates that the direct collaboration between the future occupants of Eindhoven neighbour-hood
’t Hool (1972) and the firm Van den Broek and Bakema was responsible for a unique design that represents the living require-ments of a new middle class, at the level of both the neighbourhood and the individual house.

In the interviews, architect and CPC champion Hein de Haan, and Frank van Beek and Frank Veen from property developer Lingotto have their say.

Finally, the project documentation presents 11 model projects that demonstrate the ways in which a CPC construction can have an effect on the architectural design. With the help of analysis drawings, aspects such as how the houses are linked and the collective programme are made visible. By including examples from abroad as well as Dutch projects, the project documentation additionally sheds light on the differences between CPC traditions in the Netherlands, North America and West-European countries.

 

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Editorial DASH #07

Forty years after the first oil crisis and the Club of Rome’s controversial report Limits to Growth, environmental awareness and sustainability are starting to become an integral part of construction practice. The new shortages of energy and raw materials precipitated by the rise of new economic superpowers like China are partly responsible. In addition, the United Nations climate conferences and Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth have helped make the public at large aware of the negative repercussions of our way of life.

Construction is responsible for about 20 per cent of total carbon dioxide emissions and 30 per cent of energy demand; this ranks it alongside the chemical and trans-port industries among the biggest polluters. Sustainability is therefore one of the most significant issues for designers and architects, as well as a challenging field for innovation and research. Yet simple solutions are not easily available. A wide range of approaches are now being demonstrated in practice, from the idealistic-holistic and politically engaged to the pragmatic and commercial. At times these approaches complement each other; at times they frankly conflict.

Take for instance the much-discussed Cradle-to-Cradle philosophy of American architect William McDonough and German chemist Michael Braungart. Energy supplies, remarkably enough, are not an issue within Cradle-to-Cradle thinking as long as this energy is generated sustain-ably and the cycle of material flows are well organized without exhausting natural sources. Superuse, the name given by the 2012Architecten bureau to its approach to material recycling in architecture, is paradoxically at odds with the Cradle-to-Cradle concept. From McDonough and Braungart’s perspective, such an inventive form of recycling begins at the wrong end of the system and Superuse is nothing more than a further degradation of materials in the various cycles of reuse. There are many other conflicting approaches: in counter-point to Danish architect Bjarke Ingels of BIG, who advocates a new hedonistic architecture that, free of Protestant guilt, exploits the opportunities of reuse and energy management to the utmost, we find the inter-national movements of eco-village and Transition Towns, which propagate new definitions of social responsibility through alternative lifestyles and forms of good governance.

In order to demonstrate the various basic principles and possibilities of a sustainable architecture of housing, this issue of DASH is devoted to the eco house. As architectural design is the focus, the discussion primarily concentrates on architectural invention rather than on the application and integration of today’s highly advanced (and often expensive) technological remedies, such as climate-control installations. The house by Carlos Weeber in Curacao is one of the most evident demonstrations – a comfortably interior climate is achieved without the use of air conditioning, but through principles of cross-ventilation, shade and natural cooling. The organization of the interior climate by dividing the home into zones produces special typologies that are characteristic of the eco house, from the hippie architecture of Earthship and Dome to cozy, middle-class conservatories in the back garden.

What links the studies and designs presented is the idea of an ecological approach to the issue of sustain-ability in the broadest sense of the word. Thinking about housing and ‘habitat’ in terms of ecology is relatively new in the history of architecture. Scottish biologist Patrick Geddes, who specialized in slum clearance and urban planning, was the absolute pioneer in this area. Thanks to his ground-breaking work a concept like habitat became common parlance in modern planning and architecture. Etymologically speaking the terms ‘ecology’ and ‘housing’ are closely connected via the Greek oikos, which means home or household. Ecology or the eco house (which is therefore really a pleonasm) has come to symbolize an approach in which housing is understood as a composite of processes and systems (social, economic and cultural) that together form the human living environment. Living patterns and building production are a self-evident component of this; the individual house is both the outcome and the support of these processes and patterns.

This look at the eco house builds on the work of a special MSc studio, ‘The Greenhouse Effect Studio’, organized by the Chair of Architecture and Dwelling of Delft University of Technology in association with Jacques Vink, Piet Vollaard and Thorsten Schuetze in 2009-2011. Jacques Vink and Piet Vollaard, as guest editors, also worked on the organization of this issue of DASH; in their essays they discuss aspects of the typology of the space and the production of the eco house. Machiel van Dorst takes a more detailed look at the aspect of lifestyles and sustainable housing. Daniel Barber presents part of the history of the eco house and demonstrates its connections to new lifestyles, technology and architectural invention. Jean-Philippe Vassal and Steve Baer address the experimental as well as the everyday improvisational aspects of the eco house.

What consistently emerges is that while there are identifiable general principles and conventions, these can only lead to a specific result in the project and within the specific conditions of the project – from climate to available means, time perspective and scale, etcetera. As such, each eco-house reformulates the question of sustainable housing; it is always an experiment with often unexpected improvisation or inspirational prototypes as its result.

One of the most speculative questions in the sustain-ability debate is the question of style. What does sustain-able architecture look like? The most provocative answers are based on the tradition of functionalism, according to some one of the forerunners of ecological thinking in architecture and planning. In this view, ecologically friendly architecture does not have an innate form; it can adopt any ‘style’, because the point is the effective organization of processes and systems. This can be done with a neo-classical look or in a modernist style. Nevertheless, we know that functionalism and modern architecture, as an language, also involved inventions, more than half a century after Paxton’s 1851 Crystal Palace, when all the ingredients for a new architecture were already in place. This is why the question of a formal idiom that communicates the values of sustainability keeps coming to the fore. When you leaf through the many glossy magazines and coffee-table books featuring fantastic ‘sustainable’ and ‘green’ villas, you sometimes get the impression that sustainable architecture is already a standardized practice. When you look at the pioneers, however, you realize that nothing could be further from the truth and that the most radical forms of sustainable architecture are still to come.

 

 

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Editorial DASH #06

The lion’s share of both social and commercial housing is produced without the ambition to be innovative. This is nothing new, but as more and more commissioning is done by market parties and nearly everyone is paying lip service to the ‘articulate consumer’, attempts to reflect what is deemed to be familiar and recognizable, be it a new ‘garrison town’, a ‘1930s’ neighbourhood’ or a ‘castle’, have risen exponentially in recent times.

Architects, too, seem to be more and more interested in an architecture of housing that references images from the past rather than the future. Some recent publications go as far as to speak of a new trend in architecture that rejects the insidious and dogmatic rise of modernism in the profession. It seems to be touching a nerve: reactions from either side are heated and dismissive, with the two camps engaged in what seems to be a black-and-white polemic that leaves little space for nuance. But what surprises most is the implication that this debate is new.

This return to the architectural past is not a new phenomenon. At many moments in the history of architecture, designers have harked back to old styles and building methods: in protest against prevailing views, as a means to innovation or out of sheer nostalgia for past times. This harking back has seldom gone unchallenged. Attempts to replicate old forms in contemporary materials, especially, have often provoked derision in the field, be it the early nineteenth-century Gothic Revival, the work of the Delft School in the twentieth century or today’s ‘new traditionalism’.

Through the essays and project documentation in this issue, DASH seeks to place today’s debate in a broader perspective. Again, this is part of a long tradition: from the theoretical underpinnings of the Arts and Crafts movement by Charles Robert Ashbee and William Lethaby, the writings of M.J. Granpré Molière, to the postmodern reorientation on the past during the 1970s and 1980s (see, for example, ‘De hang naar het verleden in de architectuur’ (The predilection for the past in architecture), Wonen TA/BK, no. 16 (1978); ‘La Presenza del Passato’ (The presence of the past) – the title of the first Venice Biennale in 1980 and the critical regionalism of Alexander Tzonis & Liane Lefaivre and Kenneth Frampton in the 1990s). In different times and under different circumstances, the relationship to the architectural past keeps coming up for debate.

In the opening article Dick van Gameren traces the parallels between several historical approaches from the previous century, which are also explored in the project documentation. This is followed by a number of essays that take a closer look at various periods from that archi-tectural past. Wolfgang Voigt describes the work of the ‘traditional modernist’ Paul Schmitthenner in pre-Second World War Germany, while Cor Wagenaar argues that both the traditionalists of the Delft School and the early modernists saw themselves as an inevitable product of history. In a comparative study of Italian neorealism and the working methods of Alvaro Siza, Nelson Mota examines the relevance of critical re(gion)alism in this era. An interview with two generations of Bedaux architects and a critical analysis by Dirk Baalman of the nineteenth-century concept of ‘character’ in architecture mark the transition to the plan documentation, featuring work by Baillie Scott, Schmitthenner, Van Wamelen, Roggeveen, Ridolfi, Spoerry, Mecanoo, Krier, Bedaux and West 8/AWG.

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Editorial DASH #05

Large-scale urban renewal is often associated with the radical visions of the avant-garde in the first half of the twentieth century. This association often carries a negative connotation. The wanton demolition involved in projects such as Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin and Hilbersheimer’s Hochhausstadt is a source of criticism.

These proposals were propelled by an optimistic faith in the idea that the world could be designed to order, an aversion towards the stagnating traditional city and – later – the reality of the devastation wrought by the Second World War.

After the war, a fierce debate began to emerge among the protagonists of the Modern Movement. The ideas on the renewal of the modern city advocated by CIAM were critically examined and rejected by a new generation of architects. Team 10 presented itself as the new avant-garde, with a discourse centred on the living environment (the street, the neighbourhood).

Yet the compulsion toward large-scale projects did not wane – only the strategy changed. Team 10 concentrated explicitly on large-scale (expanding) structures laid over the existing city. In these ideas the paradigm of radical renewal was just as prevalent as in Le Corbusier’s and Hilbersheimer’s revolutionary projects. The concept of the megastructure found many adherents beyond Team 10 as well, in the work of Piet Blom, for instance.

Only a handful of these plans ever made it off the drawing board. Jane Jacobs’s books in hand, opponents were soon fighting urban modernization projects tooth and nail. The modernists’ ideal of reshaping society became anathema, so much so that critics were able to dismiss the colossal concrete structures of one project that was built, the Barbican in London, as totally passé by the time it was completed.

A look at the past, however, reveals that large-scale renewal projects are not unique to the Modern Movement. The challenge has been approached in a variety of ways throughout history, including by practitioners of classical urban design. Time and time again designers have attempted to improve cities by imbedding their visions of the ideal city in the existing urban fabric. This resulted in enclaves within the city – with their own structure, arrangement and internal world – that, although they were formulated as critiques, are complements to that city.

A link to historical models of ideal cities can be traced via such precursors as the Groot Begijnhof in Leuven. These models, which now also include the modernists’ urban ideal, remain a source of inspiration for the construction of large-scale projects in the existing city to this day. Recent projects in Amsterdam – from the GWL site to Funen Park – demonstrate that this challenge is not merely very much alive, but in fact seems to be experiencing a boom.

DASH 5 is the product of an investigation into large-scale housing projects in the inner city, both historical and contemporary. Essays by Dirk van den Heuvel and Lara Schrijver examine divergent ideas related to large scales and the city, based on the work of Piet Blom and of Oswald Mathias Ungers, respectively. Elain Harwood analyses the evolution of the notorious Barbican in London, and Christopher Woodward charts the creation, in the same city 200 years previously, of the Adelphi, often cited as an inspiration for the Barbican. In an interview, architect and urban designer Rob Krier expounds on the historical models he uses for his urban renewal projects.

The planning documentation contains a selection of urban enclaves old and new, extensively analysed and documented with drawings and photographs. The focus of the analysis is the urban structure of the enclave itself and the way it connects to the surrounding city.

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Editorial DASH #04

The concepts ‘standard’ and ‘ideal’ are inextricably associated in housing design. Efforts by various architects in the twentieth century to create standardized and affordable dwellings produced an endlessly varied series of ideal homes, some of which were built, others not. While large-scale housing is based to a high degree on optimization and repetition, residential floor plans have nevertheless proven to be the subject of continuous development. Roughly speaking, two approaches can be distinguished: on the one hand, the search for new typologies familiar to us from modern architecture, and on the other, the search for typological invention, which takes the conventions of existing house building practice as its starting point.

The recent collapse of our economic growth model has given renewed relevance to the call to reformulate housing ideals. With less money available and companies, government agencies and consumers avoiding major risks, the most obvious prediction seems that we are on the threshold of a new austerity. The question arises, however, whether it is actually advisable in these circumstances to fall back on existing standards. Now is perhaps the moment to develop new standards for the residential floor plan. At any rate, the present crisis will certainly compel architects to undertake a new search for better fitting solutions.

In this fourth edition of DASH we explore a possible direction in which these solutions might be found. Using classic and lesser known projects from inside and outside the Netherlands we study the oscillating movement of the residential floor plan, and the topical question of how to relate individual solutions and large-scale stacked housing developments. Although mass customization has for some time been the magic charm for banishing the spectre of twentieth-century mass production, ‘standard’ solutions are still common in day-to-day building practice. This begs the question of how and to what extent differences can be usefully incorporated in mass housing.

In contrast with the worlds of music or the visual arts, thinking in terms of differences in the housing sphere appears of relatively recent date. The avant-garde in both socialist model societies and the many versions of the welfare state long regarded mass housing as the pre-eminent way to express equality. The turning point came during the 1970s. In the preceding decade architects such as John Habraken had developed a body of ideas now designated visionary. To meet the (changing) wishes of residents, he differentiated two levels of decision making and responsibility in accommodation, which he associated with two architectural terms, support and infill. The commercial interests of system builders were partly responsible for the fact that Habraken’s idea of according residents a central role in housing proved too ambitious. Nevertheless, his fundamental revision of time and hierarchy in the construction process is proving more relevant than ever in the current debate on flexibility and durability.

However international the approach taken by late twentieth-century architectural discourse towards the city and the language of architecture – in which the (residential) floor plan was virtually ignored – difference-oriented thinking in mass housing was chiefly adopted in Dutch architectural practice. It is possible to point to two clear, almost simultaneous moments when this began, namely the Kruisplein competition for youth housing in Rotterdam and the design for the IJplein housing estate in Amsterdam-Noord. These projects mark the start of a development that would culminate in the 1990s in an unprecedentedly successful period in Dutch architecture – better known as SuperDutch – in which the scenographing of differences through typological recombinations constituted an important gain.

On the world stage the iconic event of the 1990s was, of course, the fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the prying open of a housing policy taken to extremes. The brutal confrontation between totally standardized Soviet mass housing and the custom design of free-market thinking raises the question of whether a ‘best of both worlds’ is not conceivable: a form of housing that meets individual demands while profiting from the production and scale advantages associated with standard house building.

 

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Editorial DASH #03

I believe that in twenty years’ time it may be possible to turn this into a tourist attraction . . . with catchy slogans such as: The Tanthof: its chaos, its vitality, its hustle and bustle, its variety, its multiple objectives. The Tanthof: tantalizing, in the Nietzschean sense of the word, in all its frivolity.

Rem Koolhaas in 1990, on the Tanthof neighbourhood in Delft.1

Exactly 20 years ago, Rem Koolhaas predicted the rediscovery of the Tanthof, a woonerf or home zone in Delft, in his infamous diatribe against the era’s neo-modernism, How Modern Is Dutch Architecture? The prediction was no more than an ironic, perhaps even sarcastic interjection in his Philippic, aimed at riling young colleagues such as Mecanoo or DKV. Although Koolhaas’s prophecy has not come true (yet), the ‘cauliflower neighbourhoods’, the derogatory label now attached to the suburban developments from the 1970s and ’80s, are undeniably due a reassessment. The fact that the neighbourhoods and houses are falling into disrepair and the composition of the population is changing, is putting them back on the radar of institutional managers and policymakers. The first few studies and surveys have already been carried out, but the fate of this collection of mass small-scale developments and planned everyday happiness has yet to be decided.

In professional circles it is certainly the done thing to dismiss the architecture and planning from this era as one big mistake. Some people are even calling for a large-scale reconstruction effort, similar to the one targeting post-war neighbourhoods. But at the same time there are signs of a nostalgic revival among the generation that grew up with the aesthetics of cosiness, sunken seating areas, railway sleepers and washed gravel stones in the garden. The 2004 NAI exhibition and publication The Critical Seventies, in which the so-called ‘new twee’ was quite prominent, was an early expression of this revival.

Although there is an inner-city variation on the woonerf, it is probably not too much of an exaggeration to describe the woonerf as the most important Dutch contribution to the international debate on urban and suburban sprawl in the twentieth century. Building on American and Scandinavian models, the 1970s woonerf became the preferred alternative to the era’s large-scale planning around high-rises that fostered the new post-war dependence on cars. The blue traffic sign with playing children, a house and a small car represents the iconic image of the aspiration for pedestrian-friendly and small-scale residential areas.

In order to understand the nature and quality of the woonerf neighbourhoods, we need to develop accurate methods of analysis and interpretation. Preliminary attempts, such as those by Ivan Nio, Nynke Jutten and Willemijn Lofvers, show that quality and reputation depend in no small measure on the interaction between the architectural design, open space plan, long-term management and residents’ involvement. The design of the transitions between the private and collective zones is often subtle and understated. The articulation of the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘everyday’ is what makes the architecture of the woonerf special and distinctive – especially in this day and age when design and lifestyle have become so important – but it also constitutes its most vulnerable aspect.

Closer scrutiny of the phenomenon suggests that the woonerf escapes facile and unambiguous typological definitions. Although one of the key principles underlying the woonerf is the redefinition of the place of the car in our living environment, this has resulted in extremely diverse solutions. Some forms offer a mix of traffic users, but there are equally successful examples in which the car is barred from the collective outdoor spaces. Likewise, our assumption that the woonerf was, to some extent, the product of the exchange between sociology, planning and architecture – so passionately adhered to at the time – rests largely on misunderstandings and myths.

If the rise of neo-modernism and the rediscovery of the urban block meant that for some time the woonerf was taboo in Dutch architecture and planning, the recent Vinex neighbourhoods show signs of modest re-interpretation, of a renewed critique of the production of anonymous, suburban living environments. Surprisingly enough, the woonerf phenomenon continues to inspire contemporary architects to create interesting new variations on comfortable, suburban living with modest forms of small-scale collectivity.

This issue of DASH examines the now classic 1970s woonerf and explores its historic precursors. The specific domestic lifestyle that complements collective, suburban living will be looked at as well as interesting contemporary projects that breathe new life into the ideal of the woonerf.

  • B. Leupen, W. Deen and Chr. Grafe,Hoe modern is de Nederlandse architectuur? (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 1990), 17.
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Editorial DASH #02

In today’s economic climate with housing production at a record low, it might seem odd to devote a publication to the luxury city apartment. Yet over the past few years, this very sector is where there have been surprising innovations in housing design. While the bulk of product-ion entails the repetition of a few standard floor plans considered adequate, we see interesting indications for the future in projects for more expensive city apartments.

A serious look at innovations regarding the city apartment is justified, if only because an important part of the housing task has shifted to the densification of existing urban space. First, we can observe that the emphasis on social housing in the twentieth century came at the expense of housing typologies for those of the middle class who led an urban lifestyle. While social housing typologies are efficient and economical, they hardly offer anything in common with, for example, having a professional practice at home, putting up guests for a shorter or longer period, or distinguishing between private and public spaces within the apartment.

Second, we are seeing the rise of new urban lifestyles, such that even in a country like the Nether-lands with a relatively undeveloped tradition in apart-ment construction, there is a real demand for more expensive city apartments that are bigger and more luxurious than the standard three-room flat. Since the 1990s, new groups of professionals have been eager to live in the city, including internationally outsourced ex-pats, but also families with two working parents who would rather not move to the suburbs for a child-friendly environment. Moreover, there are the empty-nesters, active seniors without children, who want to return to the city in order to enjoy the high level of services.

The liberalization of the housing market in the Netherlands has offered both opportunities and fresh obstacles. New players are trying to break into the market with contemporary housing concepts (serviced apartments in the high-end sector) but at the same time it seems that there are hardly enough incentives in a tight market to truly innovate. In the Dutch situation, it still remains a fact that producers and municipal governments determine what is to be built and that the housing consumer comes off second best. In soft housing markets like in Berlin, this proves to be very different, just as it is in cities with a rich tradition of apartment construction, urban lifestyles and private development, such as New York or Brazil.

Distinctive characteristics of the luxury city apart-ment include high-quality finishing of the building’s façades and lobbies and of the interiors of the dwellings. ‘Starchitecture’, which particularly in New York resulted in interesting housing projects and now is associated with the ‘years of greed’ leading to the credit crisis, is only a derivative of this desire for distinction and quality. Other important characteristics are differentiated floor plans, a variety of collective facilities, and the offering of highly diverse services. Historically, these characteristics can also be found in the production of the nineteenth century and the period between the wars.

A paradoxical aspect of the luxury city apartment is that it embodies one of the most important ideals of modern housing construction at the beginning of the twentieth century – namely, collective living with shared facilities. However, there are two important differences to be noted with respect to the utopian workers’ palaces of yore. In the first place, the new collectivity is combined with a carefully designed and guarded privacy: the collective domain must never come at the expense of the private. In the second place, the luxury apartment emphasizes management and services which increase living comfort and guarantee the safety of the residents. A doorkeeper or caretaker is a matter of course in the projects documented here. Good management and excellent services are a primary condition for successful collective living.

From a social point of view, an aspect of the luxury city apartment that undoubtedly is hard to swallow is that it negates the dream of an egalitarian society still cherished by some politicians, planners and architects – with the Brazilian situation and its extreme differences between rich and poor as the corresponding nightmare. Nor do the essays, interviews and projects presented here offer any solution for this. The idea, however, is to draw lessons about how to make spacious and comfortable housing, also, if possible, for the market of less luxurious housing.

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Editorial DASH #01

New Open Space for Living

This inaugural issue of DASH is dedicated to a relatively new phenomenon in the Netherlands: the introduction of public space inside the housing block. In itself, the combination of housing and public or collective space has a long history. The Dutch almshouses of the 17th and 18th centuries are a beautiful, historic example.
But it was not until the advent of the car in the 20th century and the demise of the street as an urban meeting place that the quality of the immediate surroundings became an issue in debates on the modern city. What is new about the projects assembled here is the deliberate deployment of a pedestrian, public space with a dis­tinctive, architectural identity that paves the way for a con­ temporary style of building and living. Not only does this new open space meet the demand for a high-quality public space, it is also a response to various autonomous developments, such as new life­ styles, market-oriented project development by private parties and a demand for high-density construction coupled with ground-accessed homes.

Besides historical continuities in the discourse on the modern city and living, we can also see some clear differences and ruptures. For example, the projects discussed here no longer revolve around the collective courtyards that sought to emancipate the working classes, such as those known from the Amsterdam School or archi­ tect Michiel Brinkman’s well-known Spangen block in Rotterdam. Nor do they revolve around the classless, informal atmosphere of the residential street, home zones and the urban renewal from the 1970s. But perhaps the greatest rupture lies in the transformation of the Dutch residential block. Whereas its traditional typology creates a strict division between private and public space – between the courtyard with its private gardens, balconies and clotheslines and the street with its repetitive patterns of houses, windows and entrances – the new open space actually opens up the block. But this time the intervention is not aimed at creating room for a collective domain, as in the aforementioned historic examples, but at accommodating a new relationship between the public and the private. The strict division between public and private disappears and makes way for a new ambiguity within the housing block: a tension between the public and private domains. The open spaces of these blocks are now accessible to various groups of urbanites as well as to the residents. And the developments are no longer only focused on the interior, the collective, but also engage with the adjacent public domain. The tension between the individuality of the homes, the collective and the ‘outside world’ lends this new open space an ambiguous character.

In each new project this tension between the public and the private calls for different, often inventive solutions. The architectural expres­sion of the new open space therefore changes with each project. That said, a number of recurring issues suggest solutions for this new open space. These are the triad ‘home – public space – city’, in conjunction with such everyday things as parking spaces, front doors, the design of front and rear and the way in which the blocks engage with their surrounding urban fabric. But paramount here is the architectural articulation of the transitions between public and private.

Although sociological and economic planning aspects play an important role in the deployment and meaning of the new open space, this study aims to formulate the architectural questions at stake. DASH thus inserts itself into the tradition of design analysis as developed at Delft University of Technology since the 1970s. Two of the leading publications to come out of this research tradition are Raumplan versus Plan Libre by Max Risselada, which was republished recently, and the Atlas of the Dutch Urban Block by Susanne Komossa et al. Both contain the main ingredients of the Delft-based research into design analysis: careful comparative analysis of the architectural design within its historic and theoretical context. This way DASH hopes to enrich and expand the architect’s design tools, and boost the day-to-day practice of design.