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.