Open Design and Buildings

Open Building is a worldwide principle founded over 50 years ago. Now is has been implemented in parts worldwide in laws, methods, building practice and education. Starting in The Netherlands and Japan other countries joined like Switserland, Finland, USA, Korea and China. But almost all other countries have it ingrained in buildingtypes like shopping centres and offices, but not as much in homes. It is the only know principle where home users ara able to have the main saying on how to live at home. See for the general outline or download the history written by prof. Stephen Kendall.

ETH Zurich published this research paper on Open Building as the basis for Circularity in homes of Remko Zuidema. The paper was presented at the Open Building Congress on 11th of September 2015 at ETH Zurich and was the first time Circularity, material value and stakeholder choices came together in one principle for the buildings of the present and future.


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.

Open Design as basis

These details make up the background of the Open Design Pocketbook. The first chapters of the book describ 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.

First examples mainly in The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, there are now tens of thousands of homes where ‘base building fit-out’ aspects are applied with the SAR methods and Open Ontwerpen (Open Designs), even though those homes are not all built consistently as ‘base building fit-out’ projects. The housing complexes have a large variety of layouts and have been realized in many municipalities.[i]

Some projects are designed as technical base building structures where the residents have not determined the layouts. Other projects, such as in Purmerend and Dordrecht are aimed at future changes with a Bruynzeel fit-out package. There, Open Building innovations were used in the flexible sleeve for vertical pipes. The development is progressing step by step. The supportive foundation, Open Bouwen, stopped at the end of the 90s in the belief that all its objectives had been achieved. Unfortunately, 25 years later, we see that the position of the resident who is not a home owner has not improved much when it comes to having an influence on daily living pleasure.

Many Dutch architects were working with the principles or are still applying the principles[ii]. Large construction companies[iii] are also playing a part in the development through research and applications. Recent projects in Collective Individual Commissions on the subject are in demand. In the Netherlands, primarily the series Solid-projects, carried out by the corporation ‘Het Oosten’ in Amsterdam, are known. Ultimately, the numbers 1 and 2 on IJburg and 11 in Oud-West were realized. Find more on these projects on the website of the BRIQS Foundation.

International expansion

In other countries they have also been busy. In 1979 in London (Adelaide Road) Nabeel Hamdi and Nick Wilkinson were the first to work with the distinction ‘base-building fit-out’. The principle was also applied in developing countries. In China too, Professor Bao Jia Sheng in Wuxi did something similar in the early 90s, as did Huang Hui and others in Peking, Changzhou and Taiwan. In Japan, Seiji Sawada has been working on the KEP (Kodan Experiment Project) with different groups since 1973. In 1994, the project NEXT21 started in Osaka. Eighteen houses were rebuilt in seven years, including facades, based on the wishes of the residents of the new era. The employees of the client and owner, Osaka Gas, lived there at that time so they could provide immediate feedback on their experiences. Japan went the farthest by far, introducing housing construction legislation that makes the distinction ‘base-building fit-out’ mandatory for government funded housing development. On that basis, more than a half million homes have been approved for realization since 2009. Find more on these projects on the website of the BRIQS Foundation.

In Belgium, Lucien Kroll applied the SAR methods to the construction of a student residence in Louvain la Neuve. The Keyenburg project served as the model for 87 homes from the Parisian architect Coutris: an official Open Building experiment that had a follow-up in 1992 in Cergy Pontoise with 105 homes. From the Miljöö 2000 contest in Helsinki in 1993 and 1994, four winning designs were realized on the basis of Open Design. Over the last 20 years, there have been major developments in neighbourhoods and buildings in Helsinki, like an entire city district that has been in progress since 2013. See more on these projects as free member of the Briqs website.

Numerous projects have been completed. Not only are meetings held in almost every country in the European Community to discuss Open Design but all over the world SAR and Open Building have become familiar concepts, more so than we realize in our own country! In the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Chili, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, China, Indonesia, Australia etc.. Also, for several years, The Institute for Housing Studies (IHS) in Rotterdam has included the Open Building in its course material. In the European Commission the concept has been accepted, however it has not been put through legislation. In addition, the technical universities of Eindhoven and Delft have added Open Design to their programme and up to about 20 years ago, the ministries of VROM (Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations) and Economic affairs promoted the research.

[i] like the cities of Arnhem, Ridderkerk, Almere, Dronten, Vlaar­din­gen, Utrecht, Nieuwegein, Houten, Hoofddorp, Pijnacker, Rotterdam, Dordrecht and Enschede all in The Netherlands.

[ii] De Jong en Van Olphen, Kapteijns, Benraad, Van Yseren, Reijenga en Postma, Wissing en Krabbedam, Vreedenburg, ARO, Treffers en Polgar, INBO, Patijn, Wauben, Van Randen, Van de Seyp, Rijnboutt, Groosman, Van Hezik and others.

[iii] Elementum, Nevanco, Intervam (now BAM), Wilma (now BAM), Van Wijnen, Era (now TBI) and Dura.

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. More on those projects at our examples page.

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? In many examples on the page you will see how it works out. 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 fullfill its socio-cultural duty to create beautiful, natural spaces where people are at ease.

Open Design is not a system nor method

Let’s go back to the core of what Open Design and Open Building, Open Buildings – and ultimately Open Development – actually is. It is not a system or method. Certainly, in the context of Open Building new methods, techniques and products have been created. These are being continuously developed and renewed. They are the means. Open Design is a principle, a planning principle that clarifies and facilitates a great deal. It is a general, natural principle that can be recognized if you look at the changes in developed areas that have been around for longer. That is why Open Design is also called a vision, a way of seeing, an insight. Design is based on the vision that you can align supply and demand meaningfully if the design process is based on the living social stratification: the distinction in the distribution of the decision making power between households, organizations and municipality in their respective domains: living, construction site, district.

The goal of Open Design is to bring living conditions closer to the people. It’s about creating environments that meet the need: environments where people can really exist, live and work creatively. Essentially, the idea is to build so that human experience and development is supported and inspired. That is why pivotal questions: what supports people’s experience inside and outside of their own domain? And: what experiences are desirable? are what designers need to discover when they talk with their clients, or in other words: that is what future residents must discover so that they can decide in good time how their house should look.

Three types of experience are important here:

  1. Essential experiences: your first (physical) necessities of life: food and shelter (protection).
  2. Social experiences: being with others and being alone.
  3. Life experiences: development of your awareness and how you want to express yourself in the world.

The human experience of living

There is still very little known about the relationship between the deeper human experiences and the developed area, yet this relationship should be an essential element for architecture and urban development. The shape of your room, the roof above your head and the town square almost exclusively arise from rational, material and commercial considerations. The emotional world, the connection to the Earth and the cosmic consciousness are hardly given any attention in the design process, and so they lack a lot of quality!

In our current culture of building and living, the focus is initially on physical wellbeing. The provisions are based entirely on that. Working with the language of ‘patterns’ is, as the examples in the book illustrate, a good way of discussing social and existential issues. This helps put the quality issues concerning the human functioning principle into words and images. Open Design allows you to organize patterns per design level and limit them to the level being addressed at the time of the design, realization and maintenance discussion.

Up to now, the principle of organizing in different levels can be applied to every activity related to the developed area. That is why we develop methods and techniques that make it easy to use the level distinction in every field: designing, implementing, financing, monitoring and managing. The more fully you apply the principle, the higher the return for building, housing and working. In other words: the more accurate the response to the demands of the market will be. For example, when we make a constructional distinction in base building and fit-out without giving residents a say in the matter, the effect will be much less. That also applies when we fail to apply open management, open financing or open legislation. Therefore, we will examine these aspects in more detail.

Open management

Open building management is a form of management in which we apply the level distinction. A household manages the fit-out, a housing corporation manages the base building and the municipality or district council the urban fabric. Each one manages its own domain. That also applies to renovation.

At urban fabric level, the municipality preserves the quality of public spaces, the green areas, the paving, lighting, furnishings and public pipelines. In case of renovation, the municipality together with stakeholders, takes care of the building complexes that arose separately, so that the dialogue between the owners of complexes and the municipality leads to a strengthening of the district. In this way we improve play areas, traffic and the spatial composition by adding a building here and there or, if necessary, by removing one.

Parcelled out land falls outside the government urban fabric management but the municipality wants to encourage and check that the domain of the base building is not soiled or abused, in violation of the agreements. For a housing manager, a foundation or corporation for example, it is important that the allocated living space remains leasable or sellable. This means that the structure of the building must be properly maintained: the lobbies, lifts, facades, roofs, main pipes, in short, the entire base building. The organization does not interfere with the management of the fit-out section, i.e. everything behind the front door; that is the responsibility of the residents. In fact, Open Management is the obvious choice since the real estate section retains its value thanks to continuous input from the residents in their own domain. The property can continue to follow and respond to the living needs.

The resident takes care of maintenance and replacement of fixtures and fittings, of course with all the financial consequences. He takes responsibility for changes, in the same way tenants in office buildings have done for years. A base building manager may have a certain interest in residents maintaining the interiors of the houses properly; he will certainly want to encourage residents and lend them a helping hand. After all, a dilapidated building is not much value to him. Particularly the last two projects described in the Open Design Pocketbook show that residents treat their fixtures and fittings with care because they feel that with their own layout, the (rented) house has become much more their ‘own’.

Renovation principles 1 on 1

A logical consequence of that is ‘cell-wise renewal’: renovation of the fit-out per house, separate from the renovation of a base building. The most important benefits are:

  • only the home that needs it is renovated;
  • the (new) residents are immediately involved;
  • for every home a completely individual layout can be made;
  • the whole change /renewal takes place in less than two weeks;
  • during the renovations the house – certainly the building – remains livable.

According to the OBOM report Open Building Neighbourhood Renewal (in Dutch), the level distinction provides significant benefits, also in the renovation of post war neighbourhoods. After a few test cases in Voorburg calculations show that this method of renovation is economically superior to working per block, with no discomfort to residents.

Financing of levels

Open Management is closely linked with Open financing: a separate financing based on the level distinction. In the nineties the SAR already researched this topic and recognised the wise implications. Within a neighbourhood financed by the municipality, the various investors and managers have the right to finance their investment in the base building in their own way. But, at the parcelling out stage in development areas, agreements are made about categories of financing. This is, of itself, not a new development. Within a base building, residents can decide for themselves about how they want to finance. That is new.

To explain this way of financing, let’s take a normal municipal extension. Let’s follow the main plan of the levels of decision making. The difference in the number of years that a fit-out lasts relative to a base building means that the repayment terms also differ. In addition, there is very little residual value after repayment of fixtures and fittings, while a base building, the supporting structure and foundation, technically has a much longer life span than the usual financial terms of 30 to 40 years. A base building can be seen as an investment while with fixtures and fittings it is more a case of an expense that is completely written off. In Japan, a technical life span of 200 years has been determined by law for a base building included as the basis for a government contribution.

City Level (urban fabric)

At city level, the community invests in common amenities. In between, the urban fabrics for different neighbourhoods are developed. For each neighbourhood, a budget of the exploitation is drafted which includes a contribution from the city on the expenditure side for the land acquisition and the inter-neighbourhood facilities; within the neighbourhood for its own planning, construction and management of the urban fabric, such as ground works, artworks, paving, drainage, lighting and greenery. The income side includes the proceeds from the allocation of land to individuals and institutions, according to the parcelling out of the urban fabric plan. Each neighbourhood is a development domain and therefore has its own exploitation, with extremely long investment periods, maintenance and depreciation. This makes it possible to give local officials, councillors, residents, workers and/or owners insight into what is happening financially. The plots to be parcelled out are the new domains at base building level.

Construction Site Level (base building)

Every ‘building owner’ develops his own project. The expenditure side includes the cost of the land (in which all the costs of the higher levels have been processed) and the costs for preparation, building, maintenance and management of the base building. The incomes side includes the proceeds from the allocated indoor units: homes, offices, shops, schools etc. Each building site has its own exploitation with a medium term investment, maintenance and depreciation. Therefore the financiers can be explicitly informed of how the base building will develop economically in the coming years. As collateral for the loan, the base building is transparent in terms of value, reducing the risk of the money lender. The indoor units to be allocated stem from the parcelling out of the base building and form the domains at fit-out level.

Fit-out Level

Every household, business or institution makes its own fit-out plan. In the purchase price or rent of the base building space each contributes to the provisions of early mentioned levels and adds to that its own planning, installation and maintenance costs of the fit-out. These investments are relatively short term: fixtures and fittings have a life span of less than 25 years. The economic life span may be equally long, but certainly not longer.

Ownership relations

By distinguishing levels in Open Design interesting ownership relationships arise. Now it is mostly about economic ownership, sometimes known as commercial ownership. What is most important is legal ownership. The way in which legal ownership is currently anchored in national legislation makes it very expensive, complicated and inflexible to arrange a division in ownership according to the split, fit-out (resident) and base building (other). As described, the allocation at every level is the transition to the next level of design and management. The ownership may follow that difference and can repeatedly be used as collateral for extra external financing. We parcel out in domains – areas – that as an existing situation, are each the starting point for the next initiator. However, it is not only possible to buy or sell these areas but also to lease or rent. The client who plans to create something in the newly allocated domain ‘rents’ the ‘situation’. What we create ourselves, the added value, we own.

For instance, on the three levels described, urban fabric, base building and fit-out, this means that a municipality can continue to be the owner of a parcelled out plot of building land, and can lease it to a developer/manager. The developer/manager then becomes the owner of his base building on the leased land and thus the owner of the living space, office space etc. allocated by him, which he then leases to a user. This user is the owner of the fit-out kit that he has installed. Finally, a family may decide to lease out a room, where the ultimate lessee and occupier is the owner of the furniture he puts in it.

The first benefit of this approach is that the land that is physically shared, also stays in common ownership. Thus the social trend towards right of use over ownership can be filled. Businesses or housing corporations rent parts of the common property to place their own property on or in it: a residential or office building. Shared property is redundant because the boundaries are transparently drawn.

A second benefit is that speculations on ‘situations’ are prevented. The land is no longer an article to be traded, only that which is put on it. What you bring in naturally appreciates in value when the location becomes more attractive, but the pure appreciation in value of the land is for the community. In this way, a powerful municipal policy in the area of urban development and environment reaps particular benefit. But this tool has not really been recognized by politics in the last ten years.

Private vs Public domain

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!

Different quality requirements

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.

Habitable space in size and quality

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 program is ready.

Integration of the aspects

Open Design contains all aspects of the origin and change to the developed environment. The basic idea, the identification of scale levels, is then found in all aspects. The scale levels penetrate all disciplines: initiating, designing, budgeting, finance, implementing, assessing, managing and of course the utilization itself. This is living in the broadest sense of the word, for which it is all intended. More on those projects at our examples page.

With the first project, Molenvliet in Papendrecht, the principles were tried out at both urban fabric level and at the ‘base building, fit-out’ level. The motivation for the design was mainly idealistic. The main objective of the plan was to give a new dimension to living in social housing. The ensuing experiences with planning at the levels of urban fabric, base building and fit-out, led to the following conclusion:

The benefits are available to every single participant in the process, each in his own area: client, manager, user, resident, designer, builder, manufacturer and government. There are no losers. That is the great surprise confirmed by the idea.

The benefits for every participant increase in as much as everyone in the process consistently applies the principle of level distinction. This requires creativity, transparency and leadership. That was the case every time because none of the participants was familiar with the new idea. The main argument of this result is that it seems that Open Design, Open Building, is a natural economic principle. Open Design makes it possible for those who have an interest in it, from their position in the process, to build to suit actual demand. Open Design is nothing more than recognizing a natural principle and systematically taking it into account.

For many detailed project sheets and much information contact the BRIQS Foundation.

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