DASH #14 – From Dwelling to Dwelling

Radical Housing Transformations

Following the largescale production of new buildings in the second half of the twentieth century and the lull of the economic crisis, a new practice is emerging. Finding ways to reuse the existing building stock plays an important part in this. In the quest for a more sustainable use of resources and social capital, this focus on the transformation of the existing housing stock is a promising task for architects and
developers. In the Netherlands, all eyes are on the postwar housing that, built in the reconstruction period, is due for an overhaul on technical grounds alone. This challenge is not new. Social change has gone hand in hand with adaptation of the housing stock for centuries. This DASH brings the current challenge into historical and international perspective, with essays that shed light on the subject from different stand points as well as newly documented examples – from Diocletianus’s palace in Split to the Albany apartment complex
in London and recent projects such as the klus huizen (DIY houses) on U.J. Klarenstraat in Amsterdam.



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.


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Unplanned Adaptation as a Development Strategy

Frederik Hendriklaan 22, a townhouse in The Hague’s Statenkwartier or States Quarter, was built around 1900. The house has a floor area of approximately 300 m2. In the initial phase it was probably inhabited by a family, possibly three generations and staff. Shortly before my parents bought the house the ground floor was used by a physiotherapy practice. When we moved in, the treatment and waiting rooms were changed back into a living room en suite with the kitchen in the narrow nave. On the first floor a small room and the bathroom occupied the narrow section, with a large room to front and rear in the wide section. The upper floor consisted of several small rooms.

In the 1980s two couples lived there. As recent graduates they were not yet in a position to finance such a large house independently, so decided to purchase the house together. Two kitchens were installed in the en suite rooms, one on the ground floor and one on the first floor. The kitchen on the ground floor was converted into a bedroom; the bathroom was moved into an extension in the garden. A compact bedroom and bathroom were realized on the first floor as well. This gave both couples an autonomous residential unit. After a few years there were so many offspring that the house became too small. One family moved to a house around the corner; the other stayed put. The kitchen on the first floor was removed.

A townhouse, from student housing to single-family dwelling. From the outside there has been little change to the house’s appearance, except for the addition of two attic windows; internally, it has undergone substantial alterations.


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Housing Bricolage

Tools for Manipulating Post-War Collective Housing

Among the many forms of architectural and urban transformations of the existing city, the rethinking of modern mass housing built throughout Europe after the Second World War has become a crucial topic in the contemporary debate. Over the last 20 years, we have seen numerous projects focused on redesigning such spaces to accommodate current needs and lifestyles, in terms of spatial, functional and aesthetic endowment, as well as environmental requirements. These numerous and widespread experiments have also been encouraged at the EU level: first, with the URBAN Initiatives (1994), later with the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities (2007) and with the Toledo Declaration (2010), intended to promote common objectives for rethinking the city’s urban and environmental qualities – starting from its housing spaces. The urgency of action has recently been reaffirmed by UN-Habitat through the ‘Urban Revitalization of Mass Housing’ competition (2013), launched as part of the Global Housing Strategy. Often, buildings have prematurely deteriorated as a result of using new experimental construction techniques based on reinforced concrete and prefabricated structures. Moreover, typological uniformity and resistance to variation limit the capacity of buildings to adapt over time, this translates also into aesthetic seriality – today seen as excessive homogenization. Also, considering the urban scale: (1) functional zoning quickly revealed its limitations, (2) the dilation and fluidity of open spaces have often proven to be incapable of stimulating density of relationships, (3) the monumental scale of architecture has repeatedly created uncomfortable environments, and (4) the poor relations with the surrounding context have strengthened the sense of marginalization. In the end, this extreme schematicism – combined with seriality and absence of distinct architectural accent – today offers a great potential for transformation. It provides designers with a fairly generic basis capable of  embodying new architectural inputs, with the aim of rethinking spatial qualities of what has been inherited from the past. These  experiments now underway generally seek to achieve a greater mixité (social, functional, typological, etcetera) with more variable uses of public and private spaces, a higher degree of urban complexity, an appropriate relationship between different scales and an effective articulation of open spaces. By combining more radical or measured changes in each case, a creative process can be developed giving a new character to the buildings and existing urban landscape. Traditional, modern and contemporary elements thus become part of a dialectical process that enables us to rewrite a scenario where contemporaneity itself filters into the palimpsest of the modern city. This is possible, in part, by recovering some elements that typically belong to the traditional city. In other words, moving beyond modernity offers an original synthesis that generates new forms of housing. Hence, the study and interpretation of morphological and typological variations aims at highlighting several recurrent architectural and urban mutations – where former ideas of living are adapted to contemporary needs by ‘correcting’ the original projects.


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Cast in Concrete

Growth and Change in Jaap Bakema’s Oeuvre

Jaap Bakema’s work and position were marked by an unshakeable belief in society’s engineerability. In his many lectures and publications he also noted a number of reservations about decision-making processes and life itself as the greater reality outside architecture’s; his optimism nevertheless seemed to know no bounds. Not only when he formulated answers to the questions of the housing shortage and the major planning issues of his own era, but also when he explained his vision of a possible future beyond the year 2000, in the twenty-first century. When Bakema wrote down his ideas for the presentation of the Netherlands at the World Expo in Osaka in 1970, he unreservedly stated about his own small country bordering the North Sea: ‘A country is planning its own change’, after which a series of catchwords painted an image picture of a hypermodern country that fearlessly embraces the future, even moulds it to its will, from water management to energy policy, from knowledge economy to open society. Visual elements in Bakema’s narrative were ‘the water, the skies, the light’ and ‘grass, corn, flowers and houses’, such as these were to be found in the work of Rembrandt, Mondrian, Van Gogh and even Provo.


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Our Daily Heritage

Conflicts and Opportunities When Renovating Residential Buildings Listed as Monuments

In the Netherlands there are few people who build their own homes. The majority of the population lives in a house that was built in the past. Designed and made with different ideas, for families with different wishes and habits to ours. The adaptation of homes for current times is therefore normal and necessary, and is a continuous process. In his book How to Make a Home, Edward Hollis compares the way in which people occupy a house with a cuckoo’s habits. This bird has made a speciality of taking possession of another bird’s nest and adapting it to its own needs. People alter, decorate and furnish in order to turn the house they encounter into a personal little nest.
However, other rules apply when this concerns a special ‘nest’. If a dwelling or residential building is listed as a monument, it is protected in
the public interest because of its cultural-historical value. A home with a monumental status cannot simply be altered to meet  contemporary residential preferences without further ado; the building (or sections of it) are ‘frozen’ in the past. This seems to be incompatible with the human desire to modify and appropriate a home. Does protected status stand in the way of habitation?



Causing a Neighbourhood to Reach a Tipping Point

A conversation with Marius Heijn, ERA Contour

In the 1970s and 1980s it was usual to demolish outdated nineteenth-century blocks of housing completely and replace them with new-build, certainly in the social sector. The results of this operation are still clearly evident in every major Dutch city. That approach is at odds with a development that has increasingly taken shape over the last decade: the drastic renovation of existing residential buildings and
housing blocks to guarantee a suitable fit as well as appeal to new target groups. This new approach couples preservation of existing architectural qualities with the ambition to respond to the desire for increasingly individualized homes. Not individual in the sense of separate or detached, but individual in the sense of meeting someone’s unique wishes. The magic word in this market is freedom. Freedom in size, configuration and materials. In brief, the freedom to optimally determine what you are investing in as a buyer. As an operator
in this market, developer and building contractor ERA Contour has devised the ‘Een Blok Stad’ concept. This concept eradicates the risks that are associated with self-build or Collective Private Commissioning (CPC, known in Dutch as Collectief Particulier  Opdrachtgeverschap), but allows for each dwelling to always be the outcome of individual choices. In order to fathom out the questions to which this concept provides an answer, it is useful to think about the genesis of the idea behind Een Blok Stad – One Block of City.


Anyone Can Build New Houses

Interview with Gert Jan te Velde, VanSchagen Architecten

Not so very long ago, renovation or wholesale maintenance of post-war housing was not an activity you could use to distinguish yourself as an architect. After all, the task was primarily technical in nature. There was no honour to be gained as an architect unless it involved a residential building by a famous architect like Rietveld, Van Tijen or Brinkman en Van der Vlugt, or so it seemed.

That situation has thoroughly changed. Nowadays there are even architecture prizes to be won for transformations of apparently generic architecture of the post-war reconstruction era. Or, as the jury of the Amsterdam Architecture Prize 2015 worded it: ‘The Klussen aan de Klarenstraat project represents the current period . . . an example for the disposition of residents, architects, corporations and financiers.’ The jury’s selection of this project sends a clear signal. The sphere of activity of architects is widening. Architects are not only working on what is new; they are also focusing on the question of how to facilitate a new use of the existing. It is this question that intrigues the Vanschagen architecture firm. With the existing city as its most important field of work, this office has developed into one of the specialists in the field of repurposing. The project ‘Klussen aan de Klarenstraat’ – which you might translate as ‘Doing up Klarenstraat’ – demonstrates that it is possible to transform an unpopular building typology in a difficult location into popular. Reason enough to speak to them about what the architect’s role is (or could be) when considering radical forms of reuse for existing structures.


Plan Documentation

Plan Documentation From Dwelling to Dwelling

Traditionally, architecture is not only about the production of new buildings, but also about the adaptation of existing ones. Consulting the history of architecture teaches us that there are countless fantastic examples of buildings that have been radically transformed over time, for example Roman theatres and stadiums that were transformed into squares and residential complexes or, more recently, industrial or religious heritage that acquired a new, residential destination. The transformation of buildings originally designed for habitation is a very special task.

The ten projects documented in this DASH show that the transformation of dwellings into dwellings is a topical phenomenon, but not a new
one. Against the background of a wide range of projects from different periods that involve different forms of habitation, this issue presents
a rich variety of design options and solutions. The projects are arranged by the years of their documented transformations.

Diocletian’s Palace in Split (KR) shows how even after 15 centuries of transformation, the fragmented structure of an ancient dwelling for one man and his court continues to play a symbiotic part in the daily life of a contemporary city.

The Proveniershof in Haarlem (NL) shows how smart conversions and internal transformations allowed a secluded, century-old courtyard building to adapt to the requirements of the different periods.

Due to changing economic conditions, the transformation of the Melbourne House in London (GB) into the exclusive Albany led to surprising new forms of habitation; the personality of the original building continues to be important to the many new residents as well.

That the transformation of existing buildings can also serve an urban purpose by maintaining the character of the public space is shown by the Corso XXII Marzo project in Milan (IT). Here, behind remnants of existing nineteenth-century façades, the most radical transformation in this issue of DASH was carried out. Adding an extra floor behind existing façade openings created unconventional and spatial interiors.

The transformation of the Minor Seminary Hageveld in Heemstede (NL) illustrates how the preservation of both the large scale and the distinguished appearance of this early twentiethcentury collective residential and educational building in a park-like setting ensured its appeal to the individual residents of luxurious apartments that were realized here after the transformation.

Conversely, the inner-city project Een Blok Stad in Rotterdam (NL), which apparently had no distinctive qualities left at all, shows how an approach that involves different architects highlights the potential of mixing the old with the new.

The incremental transformation of inner cities at the level of the individual dwelling is illustrated by Herengracht 249 in Amsterdam (NL). The dwelling is exemplary for the way history, heritage and innovation continue to go hand in hand.

The recent renovation of the Justus van Effen Complex in Rotterdam proves that the transformation of heritage can also involve a subtle combination of restoration and redesign.

The projects Panelák in Rimavská Sobota (SL) and Klarenstraat in Amsterdam (NL), finally, each in their own way convincingly show how the transformation of post-war housing can almost seamlessly introduce new qualities and target groups into an existing urban context.

The projects in this DASH have been redrawn in their situation before and after transformation, with new additions drawn in brown over the black lines of the preserved building parts. The illustrations also show both the old and the recent situation. Where taking new photographs was not allowed, we used existing photos by the architect or a selling party. For helping us obtain information we would like to thank the following people: Dr Katja Marasovic´,Noord-Hollands Archief, housing association Ymere, Archivio Storico Civico di Milano, Mr Gianni Celada, architecture office Kbng, architecture and design practice Studio Shift, Hebly Theunissen Architecten, Emma Architecten, gutgut architects and the municipal archives of Rotterdam and Amsterdam.


With contributions by:
Enrico Forestieri, Arjan Hebly, Annenies Kraaij, Jurjen Zeinstra & Willemijn Wilms Floet

Ana Luisa da Fonseca, Axel Beem, Davida Rauch & Carlyn Simoen


Diocletian’s Palace

Split (KR)

In the year 305, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletian stood down as the emperor of the Roman Empire of his own free will – unheard of in ancient times – to retire to his recently completed residence on the Adriatic coast, near the fishing village of Asphalatos in present-day Croatia. During his 20-year reign, he implemented some major strategic innovations including economic and military reorganizations and the separation of the Roman Empire into a western and an eastern part, with two equivalent emperors (Augusti) and two successors
(Caesars) sharing power: the so-called tetrarchy. From his byzantine capital Nicomedia (currently Izmit in Turkey) he had been overseeing the construction of his palace: strategically located between the two empires, protected by a mountain range and an ocean, and not far from his presumptive place of birth Salona.



Haarlem (NL)

Entering the sheltered Proveniershof via the Aspoort on a beautiful summer’s day, one is likely to find residents sitting outside their homes or having a picnic on the grass of the communal courtyard. In the winter it is quiet and empty. The buildings look anything but streamlined: alignments and right angles are crooked, the widths of the dwellings differ. But the whole is united by the brickwork façades, the uninterrupted row of gabled roofs, the rhythm of the wooden doors and window frames and the communal garden. The inner angles
arouse curiosity: the terraces and entrances seem to be built directly against other façades in complete disregard of the monumental pilasters and blind niches that are part of an older, classicist façade composition. This speaks of a long history.



London (UK)Sir William Chambers and Henry Holland

Since the radical renovation of the eighteenth-century Melbourne house on Piccadilly (London) into flats for single gentlemen in 1802, the complex, renamed Albany, has had a special reputation. It is an exclusive, desirable and, at the same time, somewhat infamous enclave in the heart of London, with a long list of famous inhabitants from the world of politics and culture.