Homes to become the innovation motor
The development of new products in the area of fixtures and fittings is a wonderful stimulus. The four projects described in the Open Design Pocketbook were forced to use the first generation products. But since 1985 we have seen a new series of mounting elements at fit-out level. In the Netherlands, three systems distinguished themselves in the 1990s: Esprit, Prowon-Interlevel and Matura.
The innovations in the field of piping, one of the major technical issues, are interesting. Esprit introduced a so-called bubble floor, under which the pipes can be concealed, specially designed for bathrooms and kitchens. Prowon installed a fitted floor on screw pumps in a so-called variozone of 2.40m of the base building floor across the entire width of the living space. Matura applied a combination of a raised floor on foam tiles in the entire house for all the piping and so-called skirting boards at the bottom of inside walls for all the wiring. The pocketbook Inbouw Innovatie (Fit-out Innovation), included in the downloads, attempts to stimulate the development in the design of new fit-out elements via patterns. In the area of housing provisions there is so much more still to be designed. That will certainly happen once the demand for fit-out kits increases. The three systems mentioned have really stimulated a first new stream of products into motion.
Fit-out for sale
In every day practice we also see promising developments that are completely in line with Open Design. In May, 1993, the Utrechts Nieuwsblad reported that in 1994, the Amsterdam housing association, Het Oosten, would give the residents the interiors of its 15,000 rental properties the opportunity to purchase. For an average of € 10,000, the tenant could become the owner of all the doors, interior walls, central heating, kitchen, bathroom and tiling. If the tenant moved house his money would be refunded. It was then carried out in 1996 for the first 239 homes, including a mortgage option from Aegon that in those years was deductible until the Ministry of Finance withdrawal that possibility around 2005.
This Casco concept was thought up by the Board of the then Housing Association Het Oosten because most tenants acted like owners. Half of the homes were decorated to suit personal tastes with personally chosen hard floors, coloured wall tiles and fireplace. Ten percent had even carried out major renovations, complete with new kitchen, bathroom, central heating. In exchange for his investment, the buyer was given a reduction in rent of at least 25 percent, which according to Het Oosten was a generous compensation for interest and repayment of the purchase price. Due to the level of interest and the efforts of the residents of this DIY fit-out it was a great success! This is also repeated in later years in the Apeldoorn corporation De Goede Woning (The Good House) as expressed in the blog about it.
Base Building to rent of buy
Despite these encouraging facts and developments, there are still some questions to answer: Why are there not more base buildings? Why did the development come to an almost complete standstill in the 1990s? What is the outlook for the future? Why is there so much resistance to this application, when the methods work well and the building costs are not higher than normal? Why is ‘base-building fit-out’ still not commonplace in public housing? How will individuals deal with this, even if they are not in a position to pay for the entire house themselves, just the fit-out?
In the discussions at the start-up of a project, most developers and clients seem to believe it is good in principle but are hesitant because it is new. This hesitation is due to a number of reasons. Firstly, a housing association and a project developer do not need to make the design and execution process more complex with fit-out elements that they have never used before. Nor do they welcome the idea of involving individual residents in planning their home. They believe it is good in theory, but inconvenient at the same time. Clients still believe that it is not their task to directly involve residents in this way. They are afraid of excesses and odd floor plans that are unacceptable to subsequent residents. Quite understandable for someone who has never experienced it. However, the excesses are limited to one or two exceptions that can be changed later with the help of the residents. Research in Delft has provided data about the nature and frequency of changes by residents.
A second reason for hesitation is the assumption that if every resident has his own floor plan, building will be more expensive . Institutional clients like housing corporations and project developers are convinced that diversity and flexibility cost money. Evidence to the contrary in the projects Keyenburg in Rotterdam and Berkenkamp in Enschede were not always convincing. And where there was faith, the contractor quashed it due to a lack of experience or refusal to believe in it at the proposal stage.
The strong conviction and will of the client appear to be the most important forces for bringing about those base building projects, at least until the residents can take matters into their own hands and become the clients. Apprehension certainly subsides when the parties to a design remain open to the possibility of turning it into a standard project. Despite the greater involvement of private clients, considering future changes in land-based homes remains difficult, as does finding a corporation or developer as backup.
A third reason lies with the designers. They are unable to agree on the rights of residents to determine the layout of their homes. Changes in functions within a home is fine, but changing the layout – never. Architects feel responsible for the developed environment ‘from chair to city’. They have not learned to design specifically for you the user, but rather for an anonymous client, often an organization paying for the residential or office building. Even now, corporations and municipalities ask for residential floor plans to be assessed, as if the layout of a home were a professional job, not as basic as eating and drinking. The architect discusses his designs with directors at the conference table. The terms turn out to be much less of a hindrance than you would imagine. The Building Decree has simplified matters with its nationally rather than municipally applicable statements. And the utility companies – after the partial privatization of energy companies – now have the authority to allow adjustments. Whether or not they use it is the important question?
Urban fabric as area principle
Urban fabric can only be designed when designers and politicians are aware of the importance of consistency in the layout of public space, in other words, the space between the buildings. Often this awareness is lacking, although change is visible at municipal level. Usually the focus is on what generates money, the issuance of the building sites and the facilities for (car) traffic. People walk in new districts, unaware that they are lost between the buildings. ‘Modern’ urban development is still beautiful as a scale model from a bird’s eye view, or as a design picture to hang on the wall, but it is not designed by the people who will live or work there.
The application of the urban fabric method is therefore still in its early stages, but it has shown itself to focus on the final residents without losing sight of the importance of spatial and financial feasibility. The few examples, such as the Beverwaard in Rotterdam and Claeverenblad-Wildenburg in Leusden, are not widely known. Why? Urban developers design cities, not outdoor spaces that are pleasant and relaxing. After the Berlage en Oud era in the 1930s, increasing attention is being given to buildings instead of the space between the buildings. The landscape designers are interested in the purpose: functions such as traffic, parking, playgrounds and greenery. The character of spaces that are surrounded by buildings such as the courtyard, the street as a space, the boulevard and the square in particular, are not of themselves the subject of urban development composition. And that is precisely the difference with the ever popular inner cities where real estate prices show that many people believe it is worth living working and shopping there. Many a city believes it is doing the right thing when it comes to urban development, by choosing renowned architects and giving them as much freedom as possible for an artistic achievement and is surprised when the positive outcomes are not forthcoming.
Clients also prefer to focus all their attention on the building as an independent object. They do not realize that the immediate surroundings of their real estate will be less attractive due to the lack of quality of the immediate surroundings. The good, community ambiance that makes it attractive, just isn’t there; no one drinks a beer at the foot of a single building. You see this a lot in the many ‘brain parks’ along the highways of our city boundaries. No one hangs out on the street, simply because there are no pleasant spaces. Our urban development has, despite our technical talent, failed to fullfil its socio-cultural duty to create beautiful, natural spaces where people are at ease.