Open legislation

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Remarkably, the central government places more demands on private domains than on public spaces. Even standards for the relationship between paving and greenery, for example, can be quite loosely applied both in the private and public outdoor areas.  And that while there is so much value to be found in the public domain if we look from the perspective of water management and warming up of cities by retained heat (heat-island effect). Even the distance between buildings is bound by just a few rules.

At the fit-out level it’s a different story: free floor plans under the residents’ own responsibility were impossible in the past and still meet with bureaucratic resistance. Demands relating to minimum height for inside doors and spaces, the diameter of a wheelchair circle behind the front door of the house still limit the layout. Oddly enough no difference is made between what is possible for the base building in the (distant) future and what has been realized by the resident himself. To bypass the obstacles of the rules at that time, two construction teams of the projects described used the designation ‘experimental housing project’.   That meant they were exempt from the prevailing Regulations and Tips and Rules of the Model Construction By Law. These days it is more difficult to get such freedoms around the Building Act because of the powers the national government has.

A great number of design regulations for the layout set minimum dimensions for spaces on the basis of functional quality requirements. If the property becomes your domain, you should have complete responsibility for the layout and furnishings. The distinction between ‘may become’ – from the potential of the base building – and ‘being’, is of great importance, but missing in current regulations. The projects show that residents are quite capable of deciding the layout themselves, certainly assisted by 3D visualizations or a full size model you can walk through in the factory. These days, for a number of fit-out manufacturers in Japan that has become standard practice. In addition, the costs are calculated automatically for you before you order.

Safety and hygiene were the last criteria on which the municipalities wanted to assess the fit-out floor plan, but the guiding eye of the base building owner actually made that unnecessary. You the resident, together with the manager, can arrange that perfectly well, also for future changes. In fact, every manager wants to set the quality standards in the context of his own philosophy as the landlord of the base building, with or without the fit-out. The fit-out level is so well planned that the government does not need to be involved at all!

The quality requirements for fit-out products form a positive exception in the current consumer protection. These are not put together during a project but are applicable when the manufacturer puts his product on the market. Quality standards for products are covered in EU consumer legislation, elaborated in the basic concepts of producer responsibility and precaution. This covers not just electrical installations, but also the effect of harmful substances that are processed in the materials, such as PVC, poly chlorinated polypropylene, polyurethane, polystyrene and poly-acrylic in profiles, pipes, fillings, adhesives, coatings and paints. The enormous environmental impact and risks, the significant amount of energy required to produce them, the toxic fumes and radiation, the technical disturbance of electromagnetic fields, the absence of negative ions in the air – all of these are considerable in modern homes and offices. In retrospect, suspected harmfulness can also be taken into accound in manufacturer liability, something that is completely missing in the national building legislation.

At base building level, the constructions and the common spaces must comply with normal regulations. In general, the new health demands of both people and the environment apply here, particularly because the base building is expected to last a long time and, in case of harmful effects, it will be difficult to improve or replace it later. Particularly the major financial interests and impact on the users and the surroundings of a building make this undesirable.

It is important that the municipality assesses the building density which is determined with the design of the base building. The new question with the research is related to the freedom of parcelling out: how can you assess the capacity of the base building if the number, and thus the size, of the homes in the building vary and are therefore not known? What is the difference for the community when, for example, as in Molenvliet, 106 homes are being re-parcelled into 123 units, incidentally, with the same floor area and surface area? Is it possible for these last two giants and their interrelationships to be the criteria used to assess the programme? This is the same basis on which offices and shops are calculated: the gross floor area of the base building. This gross floor area must correspond with the number of parking spaces and the green area in the neighbourhood.

Perhaps it is more important for the municipal housing policy that within a plot of land a certain development density, and thus a certain floor area, is achieved instead of an exact number of houses of certain dimensions being permanently fixed. Actually, flexibility in the size of homes allows you to respond to demand and that is certainly interesting for a sustainable housing policy. In addition, fixing, and then later adjusting the parcelling out, can result from formal consultation between the owner of the building and the municipality. So a certain density and a flexible housing policy are achieved simultaneously.

The additional benefit is that during parcelling out the surface areas of houses do not rise in huge leaps but in gradual steps. It is then possible to create homes with a variety of dimensions and allocate or sell the units that you, the manager or developer, believe are wanted by the market at that time.

Designers and their clients no longer need to design housing on the basis of sophisticated regulation that will not be built in the end. They can design more freely on the base building because they know that every corner of the space to be allocated can be utilized one way or another.

In the Open Design vision it’s about the size and quality of the habitable space. If a particular space is to be used for either sitting or sleeping, then a minimum surface must touch on a facade in order for it to have sufficient light and ventilation. In other words: a specific residential programme requires a minimum facade length, depending on what is needed; as a result, the base building must be less deep. This is an interesting subject for further research into base buildings, because how do you discuss this from the perspective of urban fabric and fit-out by other interested parties?

The ratio facade/surface area is influenced by the opening (the front door on the facade requires relatively little facade length), the form (corners require more facade) and the average number of layers per property (a multi-layer home with an interior staircase requires relatively more content). This is a new approach that eliminates many layout regulations without losing quality.

At the time of parcelling out and assignment of houses the core surfaces of het units are important in relation to the nature and size of the households. These are different in the private sector than in social housing. For that, household categories and classes, with related residential programmes, are distinguished. Each programme requires a minimum core area for which you need to know the type of opening and number of layers. A home with a front door on the facade and a home with an inside staircase require more traffic space than a porch flat. In practice, the municipal and corporation assignment policy ultimately determines the size of the inhabitant density in a base building.

In Enschede a new method was used then to determine the quantitative programme of requirements. Housing corporations and municipalities jointly determined the target group of the project and divided it over various household categories. Each category has its own housing programme consisting of a particular combination of standard functional areas. They discussed the situation of a few features with the client, namely eating, cooking and bathing. If these functions do not necessarily need to lie on the facade, the house may be deeper and therefore cheaper per cubic meter. NB: ‘as standard’. Of course, in a free form floor plan the resident has the right to place these functions on the façade, perhaps at the expense of a bedroom. The client will also want to add his own size preferences to the standard dimensions for the various functional areas. In Enschede it turned out that the entrance to the house needed to be at least 120 x 120 instead of 120×90. Once the average standards for every household category are determined, then the quantitative housing programme is ready.

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