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‘A Generation is Growing up That Can’t Even Share a Single Facility’

Interview with Hein de Haan, CASA

Since the 1980s, architect Hein de Haan (b. 1943) has been involved in countless housing projects based on collective private commissioning, or CPC. ‘People often ask me how to go about it, and I hand them all sorts of information.’ De Haan is a missionary for CPC. Working out of CASA (Coöperatief Architectenbureau voor de Stadsvernieuwing in Amsterdam), a cooperative architecture firm specialized in urban development, he earned national recognition with Het Kameel (1984-1986), a new building complex comprised of 28 residential/work units in Vlaardingen realized within the sphere of the housing act. ‘This is one of the most true-to-form CPC projects because the initiative came entirely from the future residents. They didn’t start looking for a housing corporation until it was being put out to tender. The corporation was not amused at being called in at such a late stage,’ smiles De Haan.

Visiting the Vrijburcht, his most recent CPC project in Amsterdam’s IJburg district, where he also lives and works himself, we spoke with the doyen of collective building in the Netherlands about collective commissioning, Dutch regulations and current limitations…

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Luxury Architecture: Simplicity and Wealth

Interview with Jean-Philippe Vassal, partner Lacaton & Vassal

It’s fair to say the architecture of the French architect duo Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal is striking. Striking not because it relies on grand gestures, but in fact striking in its simplicity. Their approach to form and material is equally remarkable. In the work of Lacaton & Vassal, form and material are not allusions to deeper meanings, but the result of a clear balancing of cost against performance. A superficial interpretation would be that the architecture of Lacaton & Vassal is cheap architecture. In reality the architects are after the opposite. They argue their goal is an architecture with extra possibilities for use – extra potential, as they phrase it. But what constitutes this ‘extra’ in this seemingly so simple architecture…?


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‘I Think It Is Finished Now . . .’

Steve Baer on Building his Zomehouse

We started building our Zome in 1971 and had it up in 1972. Holly and our children, Audrey and José, and I lived on the site in a school bus during construction. I think it is finished now – 40 years later it certainly looks better and feels warmer than before.

Our Zome is a cluster of eleven exploded rhombic dodecahedra. The rhombic dodecahedron is the shape of the garnet crystal and the cell of a beehive. It has, instead of the cubes’ three zones, four zones and its floor plan is a tiling of hexagons instead of rectangles. Hexagons have three zones, forming in pairs six-sided figures. The zones are different lengths making different size rooms. The fourth zone is vertical, forming the walls. The rhombic dodecahedra are exploded to round them; we softened them by adding facets. They are intended to resemble fused soap bubbles which also meet with 120° angles. All matters of this geometry are covered in the Dome Cook Book that I published in 1968…

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‘Many of the Details We Use Have Served Us for Decades’

Interview with Peer, Thomas and Pieter Bedaux

In 1938 Jos. Bedaux (1910-1989) founded an architecture firm in Goirle (in the Dutch province of North Brabant), which is still in business under the name Bedaux De Brouwer. Detached houses and villas with a traditional and regional character, mostly in and around Tilburg, form a substantial part of his oeuvre. His later work also features neoclassical and modern elements; Tilburg University’s main building is a good example of the latter.

Two of Jos.’s grandsons, Thomas and Pieter, are now also working at the office as architects, while their father – Jos.’s son Peer – has just retired after a career spanning almost 40 years. Peer Bedaux successfully built on his father’s style, establishing what might be called a ‘product’. In fact, his sons now have an order portfolio that requires them to design ‘Bedaux houses’ as well. In the firm’s meeting room, designed by Jos., Peer, Thomas and Pieter Bedaux talk about the role of the past in the firm’s architectural output.

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Generalizations are Passé

Interview with Edwin Oostmeijer

The development of housing layouts is initiated from at least two perspectives, that of design and that of demand. The latter is perhaps the most difficult to fathom, for while it may seem obvious that what is built is what is needed, many people’s housing wishes appear scarcely to be honoured by the housing market: generally speaking the properties on offer continue to be based on assumptions regarding the ‘standard household’, an entity that no longer exists.

In order to gain more insight into the demand aspect of housing layout development, and to discover the extent to which innovation in layout is initiated by what buyers want, we talked to property developer Edwin Oostmeijer. Despite the limited number of projects Oostmeijer has realized to date, his approach has already attracted attention at national level: in 2006 he was awarded a Gouden Piramide (Golden Pyramid), the annual prize awarded by the Dutch government for inspirational commissioning in architecture, urban design, landscape architecture and environmental planning. We talked to Oostmeijer at the site of one of his most recent projects, Ithaka, in the Homeruskwartier in Almere…


The Evolution of Type A, B, C and further

Interview with Frits van Dongen

Over the past decades architect Frits van Dongen has gained a name as an ingenious typological innovator. His oeuvre displays a gradual and above all rational development towards optimum housing typologies. Van Dongen, however, describes himself in somewhat different words: ‘I’m a kind of street fighter too, which means I’ll battle endlessly to get a project right.’ This shows how important the actual construction of homes is to Van Dongen in the development of new ideas, for one dwelling type often proves the prelude to yet another…


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‘Privacy Is Something You Give to Others’

Interview with Benno Stegeman

In the 1970s Benno Stegeman Architects realized a number of housing projects in different parts of the Netherlands, whose design and architectural construction reflect a clear vision of a different way of living. The first of these, the Meerzicht Project in Zoetermeer, consisted of dwellings in limestone brick with distinctive orange-tinted domed skylights. The houses were arranged in irregular patterns along public walkways lined with planting. In the next project, designed for the Krekenbuurt district in Zwolle, the typology was developed to take parking and outdoor facilities into account. A third development of higher density, the Bergenbuurt Project in Capelle aan den IJssel, consisted of small apartment blocks clustered around traffic routes and, as before, areas of planting.

All three developments continue to be very popular with residents and house hunters today, largely, it seems, due to the unity of the architecture and the quality of the communal spaces. What lies behind this success? Is there something we can learn from these ventures that might be useful for future residential projects? We put the question to Benno Stegeman (b. 1930) himself, still active as an architect and currently working on housing develop-ments for central as well as peripheral urban sites…


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Junk Space You Need

Interview with Alex van de Beld

For many people the term woonerf conjures up an image of 1970s housing characterized by outmoded ideals from a bygone era. Over the decades, the awkwardly meandering structures, the bare outdoor spaces, the cluttered effect and the non-descript architecture have come under attack. A few examples have retained their appeal, but on the whole, the term, once so influential, has come to stand for stuffy, drab structures, which find little favour with town planners today. Not everyone subscribes to this view, however. Onix Architects is one of the few firms in the Netherlands openly promoting the notion of the erf (yard) as a concept for shared living. Its architecture and terminology combine nostalgic references to small-scale living, rural communities, barns, and so forth with modern forms of communal living. For example, it has taken the typology of the erf and transferred it to a sheltered home zone or woonzorgerf, where people who need care share a sheltered environment thus allowing them to live independently for longer. The ideas were developed in a study called ‘Nieuwe erven: een onderzoek naar kansen voor een zorgeloos dorpsleven’ (New kinds of erven: an investigation into opportunities of living a carefree village life), which was published jointly with DAAD. In Almere another erf development was conceived around a group of veranda houses; in this instance the erf had no shelter function. We asked Onix architect Alex van de Beld about the erf concept and how he believes it can be developed today…



New Elan for the Apartment

Interview with Huub Smeets

The luxury apartment plays a modest role in the history of Dutch housing. Since the early 1990s, however, there has been a growing interest in stacked dwellings as a satisfactory alternative for street-linked dwellings. In addition to increasing
appreciation for the luxury apartment as a form of housing, the strategic value of this typology is also gradually becoming recognized. After all, stacking potentially offers interesting solutions for such topical issues as density and inner-city housing. Vesteda has grown since the late 1990s into one of the specialists in the field of luxury rental apartments in the Netherlands. Under the guidance of CEO and Chairman of the Board Huub Smeets, the company has completed bespoke projects in Maastricht, Eindhoven, Amsterdam and Rotterdam over the past several years…

In New York, You Can Never Predict Who Is Going to Live There …

Interview with Winka Dubbeldam

As a housing type in the Netherlands, the apartment is not immediately associated with luxury. In various parts of the world, however, this combination has a long tradition. Cities where skyscrapers and high density are the norm clearly see the stacked form as a way of fulfilling the housing requirements of their diversified residents. Dutch-born architect Winka Dubbeldam lives and works in New York, where she and her firm ArchiTectonics have designed, among other things, various dwellings and residential buildings for the higher sector of the market. The Greenwich Street Project (2004) combines a renovated and heightened old warehouse with adjoining new construction in downtown Manhattan. It  comprises 25 apartments for loft-style living with shared facilities…


Small Enough to Be Public

Interview with Sjoerd Soeters

Without a doubt, Sjoerd Soeters’ work is among the most distinctive and most colourful in Dutch archi­tec­ture. His archi­tectural output appears to admit little nuance: you either love or loathe Soeters.

Opinion on his urban designs is less divided. Projects such as Java-eiland in Amsterdam, Haverleij near ’s-Hertogenbosch and Zwanenwoud outside Heerenveen have garnered wide­ spread admiration. The spatial contrasts in Soeters’ town plans are particularly striking. Working at various planning levels and within both an urban and a more rural context, Soeters has shown that he knows how to success­ fully mix private housing and public space. We spoke to him about the reactions to his designs, the ideas inspiring his work, his role models and the precon­di­tions for a successful link between public and private spaces…


Never Move House Again?

Interview with Ton Schaap

For a long time urban design in the Netherlands was the preserve of anonymous civil servants. This approach was abandoned in the 1980s when a number of urban designers in local authority employ made a name for themselves. It was also at this time that urban regeneration came to an end and a new challenge presented itself: calling a halt to the urban exodus.

Against the backdrop of these developments, urban designer Ton Schaap began his career at the city of Amsterdam’s Department of Physical Planning. In the years that followed he contributed to the development of the Eastern Docklands Area and he became one of the country’s most controversial urban designers. It was while ­ work­ing on the design for KNSM-eiland, Java-eiland and Borneo-Sporenburg that Schaap stumbled upon new solutions by involving architects at an early stage of the design process. One of the important innovations here was the introduction of publicly accessible blocks. Schaap also drew on this typology in his urban design for IJburg. Yet this time round he had to conclude that the new public space has its limitations too. We talked to him about the history of the publicly accessible block, its advantages and disadvantages and the future of this typology…