Editorial DASH #14 – From Dwelling to Dwelling

A growing awareness of the necessity to use resources and social capital more sustainably has put the transformation of existing housing high on the agenda of developers and architects. In the Netherlands, attention is mostly focussed on postwar residential buildings, which for technical reasons alone are due to be refurbished.

But the assignment is not just a technical one: changing dwelling habits mean that the space and configuration of the existing housing stock no longer meet current requirements, while from a sustainable, practical or cultural point of view, the buildings are worth keeping. When current target groups require truly different dwelling arrangements, the challenge becomes even more interesting. In the ‘clash’ between old and new housing programmes, social changes suddenly become apparent as coagulated images of time.

At the level of the city, or something as elusive as ‘the memory of the city’, transformation as an alternative for demolition and new construction can also have a positive effect.

Although topical, this objective is not new. For centuries, social changes have been entwined with changes in the housing stock: former palaces have been transformed into residential buildings, patrician and merchant houses have been split into apartments, small working-class houses have been merged into larger family homes.

This DASH puts the current objective in a historical and international perspective. In the opening essay ‘Unplanned Adaptation as a Development Strategy’, Flora Nycolaas, from a personal perspective, shows that, in contrast to Aldo Rossi’s theory about permanent and transient urban structures, residences are actually the most stable functions of the city because of their capacity to change. Now that the average number of occupants per home has dropped dramatically over the past century, Nycolaas also speculates about the size and importance of the transformation challenge we face.

In ‘Housing Bricolage’, Fabio Lepratto describes various recent European examples in an effort to clarify the similarities and differences in approach and scale. His aim is to create an iterative ‘toolkit’ for transformations, which architects can use to work on the existing housing stock as bricoleurs, in the definition of Claude Lévy-Strauss. A specific case concerns residential buildings that have been listed as monuments because of their cultural value. The extent to which such protection limits transformation or offers chances is the topic of Lidwine Spoormans’ essay ‘Our Daily Heritage’. In his essay about growth and change, Dirk van den Heuvel examines the reciprocity between architecture and society, which Jaap Bakema recognized in the palace of Diocletian in Split and translated to his quest to design ‘efficient frameworks’, in which residents would be able to tinker with their houses on their own. The question of which framework encourages ‘tinkering’ and which framework is actually experienced as a straitjacket is not unambiguous.

An interview with Marius Heijn, developer at Era contour and responsible for the concept behind ‘Een Blok Stad’, discusses the  preservation of parts of a city by renovating the building shells, while the interview with architect Gert Jan te Velde takes a look at the changing role of the architect, who has less and less opportunity to start from scratch, but is asked to create an intelligent continuation of what already exists.

The project documentation varies from historical examples such as the palace of Diocletian in Split and Albany in London to recent projects in the Netherlands and Europe. Using ‘before’ and ‘after’ drawings, the scope and influence of the transformations are discussed in detail.