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:
- Essential experiences: your first (physical) necessities of life: food and shelter (protection).
- Social experiences: being with others and being alone.
- 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 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 liveable.
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.