De Boele – Housing Reform in Zuidas

Project

The aim of the AMS MID-CITY Complex Projects Graduation Studio at the TU Delft was to develop design solutions that will be suitable for the conditions of Amsterdam in 2050. Individual architectural interventions were created as part of urban group strategies. This project points out risk factors that might decrease the social sustainability of the Oud-Zuid/Zuidas area, proposing a scheme that could reduce the damage.

Zuidas, the new business district located in-between Oud-Zuid and Buitelveldert, is likely to expand rapidly by 2050. Therefore the affordable blocks in Buitenveldert will inevitably be replaced by new development, which will then cause the forceful displacement of their residents to the peripheries of the city. The resulting intensified spatial segregation will only allow elite groups to live in areas of economic and cultural interest, which can lead to societal frustrations, and is unsustainable on the long-run.

Seeing as how, currently, social housing does not cater for this issue, the question arises: can the process of increasing socio-spatial segregation be reduced through a new collective and collaborative housing typology that shifts the power relationships between the elites and lower middle-class people towards a more equitable arrangement? Could the residents of Buitenveldert stay in their area as Zuidas extends, and can a cooperative living and working arrangement be applied that is mutually beneficial for them as well as for the newly arriving elites?

The project rethinks the typical classical dwelling of Amsterdam in the 1700s, where members of the elite and working class would reside in one building. It also puts social justice at the forefront by abolishing the hierarchical social arrangement of this precedent. Half of the housing stock would be lent to lower- income residents on a permanent basis, who could then become part of the developing city and run businesses/services in place; while the other half could be rented temporarily by elite expats.

The building mixes public and semi-public amenities on the ground floor with adaptable housing solutions on the upper floors. The ground level has a flexible, open structure made of concrete, containing public functions for the neighbourhood and services for the residents. The dwellings on the upper floors allow for personalisation, and are connected by a succession of streets and courtyards that enable spontaneous social interaction without forcing it. Collective space has an important role in the design, as the success of this project relies heavily on residents being able to collaborate.

Overall, this scheme questions the socially segregated housing solutions of today, and proposes an alternative that puts human cooperation at the forefront of the design. The building accommodates a fresh take on the organisational systems that make up the social structure of residential buildings in Amsterdam today. It also enables and empowers lower middle-class groups, while simultaneously providing expats in the neighbourhood with an opportunity for quick settlement and better integration opportunities.

Interview

What prompted the project?

Investigating socio-spatial fragmentation, and in particular processes of integration and segregation in relation to architecture are key interests of mine. I started researching these subjects the year prior to my graduation, which resulted in my Architectural Theory Thesis titled “Spaces of Isolation – The significance of equitable architecture in relation to the current refugee crisis” (2017). This was an exploration of the role of architecture in relation to the complex and turbulent political, social, and economical factors at play. It sparked my interest in finding more tangible solutions for minimising social polarisation and improving social sustainability, focusing on cities in The Netherlands. This Graduation Project therefore builds on the themes of my Theory Thesis by experimenting with new organisational and design strategies for creating more socially just housing solutions for marginalised groups in the future in Amsterdam.

What were the most important parameters you considered when developing the project?

I put a lot of emphasis on research in order to try and determine the appropriate design approach for different scales: the city, the neighbourhood, the building, and individual dwellings inside the complex. Contextual analysis, including relevant knowledge of social, historical, spatial, political, and economical conditions was therefore the most important starting point in developing the brief and then the design itself. Ultimately, I tried to investigate and apply strategies that are sustainable not only in technical terms, but also in a social and economical sense. The project became human-centric, and social justice came to be its main guiding theme.

Did you confront yourself with the residents?

Yes – conducting interviews was important in determining in how current residents experience their living environment. This was especially useful in the initial research phase, as it showed the need for better mobility routes, more amenities, as well as improved public spaces on site. Housing in Buitenveldert today is close to the city centre, but it is cut off from it by spatial barriers, such as the A10 ring road. It has an ageing housing stock, which in its character differs highly from classical Amsterdam dwellings, and also contrasts greatly from the neighbouring business district. Much of the available public space is made up of car parks, which are becoming more and more obsolete. Green areas are overgrown, and waterfronts are inaccessible. These are all factors that were taken into careful consideration in the design proposal for 2050.

How and to what extent do you think that this approach can be applied to other scenarios and cities?

This particular design was developed to be highly context-specific, but at the same time, the foundations for its social structuring are more universal. For example, the clustering of apartments inside the complex was based on natural community sizes for encouraging better cooperation between residents. With regards to minimising prejudice and increasing social justice, sources such as “The Social Animal” by Elliot Aronson, and the works of theorists like Nancy Fraser and David Harvey were consulted – the resulting combination of psychology, social sciences and architecture can, and in my opinion should be more influential in a wider context.

The project is as much a social experiment as it is a spatial one, and as such it would also require the appropriate governmental and financial contribution, which could be difficult to acquire in different contexts. The Netherlands is famous for its a stronger-than-average support for social initiatives when it comes to housing in comparison to most other European locations. Consequently, it was not too difficult to imagine a future scenario where a scheme similar to this one could be backed up by the government.

What prompted the language of representation of the project?

The visual representation is aimed primarily at revealing the different atmospheres within the building where the proposed social and economical functions would be located, while also explaining the project from an operational perspective. This is why the main axonometric drawing, plans, technical drawings and diagrams are kept clear and simple, while the sections, elevations, and collages are much more expressive in nature.

What defined the different interior and exterior views you selected to reveal the project?

The interior and exterior views were chosen to display the transition from the most public spaces of the building – such as the shops facing the main axis of our urban plan – to the most private ones – e.g. rooms within the apartments. This is in order to show the changing character of the building that is provided by its flexibility, as well as the relationship between different functions. Transitional semi-public spaces, such as green corridors, the main park, streets and courtyards form areas for the residents that they can modify to suit their needs. They play a key role in providing a positive spatial platform for interaction within the building, therefore I felt they had to be given the right amount of emphasis in the drawings as well.

How important was the drawing as tool for the development of the project?

My research often merged practical and theoretical methodologies, and to express both, clear graphical illustrations were practical and necessary. Making explanatory diagrams of my theoretical findings made it easier for me, as well as for my audience to grasp the core ideas behind the design.

In the initial contextual group research phase, mapping played a key role in observing and critically reflecting on the current urban conditions of our site. During my individual research and design stages, drawing allowed me the right amount of flexibility to clearly represent ideas with precision and on different scales, all within a tight time schedule. On an architectural scale, analysing different housing typologies through graphical means meant I could develop a very detail-oriented approach that I could then apply to my design as well. Finally, when it comes to my end products, I spent the most time making my visualisations as I felt they would communicate the character of the design the best.

What is for you the architects most important tool?

Working on this project, my most important tool was critically reflecting on existing conditions, which led me to question situations that are considered given. Socio-spatial segregation within cities is more than common, however, it could be advantageous to use the interdependence that different income groups have on each other, and therefore create more diverse, economically cooperative, and socially more sustainable neighbourhoods. Housing has been reinvented countless times when it comes to architectural expression, but not so much when it comes to the social and operational constructs within. Critical observation helps start discussions that can perhaps lead to fruitful solution-finding – this project is an attempt at starting such an exploration.

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