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.


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.