First principles and project examples

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In 1972 the book, Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing, by N.J. Habraken, was published in English (1961 in Dutch). It is still relevant and extremely worthwhile. The author launched the following theorem:

A meaningful industrialization of housing development can only work if the individual resident has an equal say in the creation of his own home. No half participation and no reduction of the industrial production, but rather a new relationship between the producer and individual user in a new society: the end of mass housing development.

Four years after the book was published, a group of Dutch architects established the Foundation Stichting Architecten Research (SAR). They provided moral and financial support to the efforts to enable the development of base buildings. This led to two projects which resulted in the SAR 65 and SAR 73 publications, the new design methods for base buildings and urban fabrics respectively.

The work carried out by SAR was of fundamental importance. The SAR defined new concepts and useful rules for the design and realization of neighbourhoods and homes and assessed them in trials. The Foundation supervised some pilot projects and designs emerged for some products, for example for bathrooms. They were described in reports and in the international magazine Open House.

In 1984, the Foundation, Open Bouwen (Open Building), was launched with a resounding manifesto during the NWR Construction Fair in the RAI in Amsterdam. The time was ripe to have the SAR initiatives put into practice by an increasing number of participants: designers, contractors, building firms, producers, suppliers, consumers and government. The OBOM (Open Bouwen OntwikkelingsModel) or Open Building Development Model of the TU Delft, where practical research was being carried out, was closely connected with the Foundation Open Bouwen. The studies of pipes, utility construction and renovation are well known. Unfortunately, practical research on urban development was given very little attention.

These details make up the background of the Open Design Pocketbook. The first chapters of the book describe from level to level the experiences and insights on the basis of a number of projects. See them as examples of the first generation urban fabric, base building and fit-out projects. They belong to a build-up phase, a period of trial and development, a first large voyage of discovery based on a new vision.

The launch of the concepts base building and fit-out by Habraken is now over fifty years ago. Partly due to past experiences, it is now certain that Open Building is feasible. A great diversity of housing and a strong coherence seem to be possible for ordinary, low budgets. Building to meet actual demand in all its versatility was a success, due to the organization of the levels and the development of new projects. Where the Molenvliet­ housing project in Papendrecht in 1973 was still a ‘leap of faith’ on the basis of the theory, in latter projects experience led to further developments in processes and products. We now have an answer to most questions concerning technique, financial viability, the organization and legislation.

Projects reveal that, besides technical feasibility, there is also an economic basis for applications. In Keyenburg in Rotterdam and Berkenkamp in Enschede, the building costs did not exceed those of conventional housing development and the quality was good, the returns for the builder were normal and it was done without extra government subsidies. This gave Open Building a strong foundation for the future.

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