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Flexwoningen Oosterdreef

Created on 08-02-2024 | Updated on 09-02-2024

The Oosterdreef project in Nieuw-Vennep, Netherlands, is a great example of collaboration between national and local stakeholders to quickly provide housing solutions to combat the housing shortage that affects certain regions while at the same time innovating in planning and construction methods. This project exemplifies one of the most recent approaches in housing provision developed in the Netherlands -the Flexwonen model. The national government has launched an ambitious campaign to accelerate the production of housing across the country, and perhaps one of the most compelling aspects of the endeavour is to develop a more dynamic and responsive housing market that can meet both short-term and long-term demands. By supporting more efficient construction methods and making the housing stock more resilient, the Flexwonen model has spearheaded the government’s housing approach. In this context, the municipality of Harlemmermeer, along with Ymere, one of the largest housing corporations in the country, and FARO architects have come together to create a housing project that stands out for its innovative building techniques, planning process, design and community building approach.

The project consists of 60 one-bedroom flats arranged in low-rise blocks, featuring common spaces and facilities, situated on a temporary site over fifteen years. The project targets specific population groups often overlooked by the constrained social housing supply and facing difficulties in the private housing market. The project integrates innovative planning tools with efficient construction methods, thereby reducing construction time and addressing the urgent need for housing in the region.  

FARO Architects, Ymere, Homes Factory

Nieuw-Vennep, Netherlands

Project (year)

Construction (year)

Housing type
Multifamily housing: Flexwoningen (temporary housing 15 years), 60 flats

Urban context

Construction system
Prefab construction/movable




The soaring housing shortage in the Netherlands has prompted national and local governments to come up with innovative solutions to cater for the ever-increasing demand. The Flexwonen model is a response to the need to provide homes quickly and to foster circularity and innovation in the construction sector. The model is crafted to meet the housing needs of people who cannot simply wait for the lengthy process of conventional housing developments or cannot afford to remain on the endless waiting list to be allocated a home.

Flexibility is its main characteristic. This is reflected not only in the design and construction features of the housing buildings, but also in the regulatory frameworks that make them possible. The faster the units are built and delivered, the greater the impact on people’s lives. This dynamic approach, which adapts to existing and evolving circumstances of homebuilding, relies on collaboration between stakeholders in the sector to streamline the procurement and building process. All of this is accompanied by an integrated approach to placemaking, exemplified by the partnership with a local social organisation, the involvement of a community builder, the provision of spaces for residents to interact and get to know each other, the project's target groups and the beneficiary selection process.

Flexwonen can have a significant impact on municipalities and regions that are severely affected by housing shortages, especially those lacking sufficient land and time to develop traditional housing projects. Due to its temporary nature, homes can be built on land that is not suitable for permanent housing. This streamlines the building process and allows the development of areas that are not currently suitable for housing, both in urban and peri-urban zones. After the initial site permit expires, the homes can be moved to another site and permanently placed there.

Recent developments in construction techniques and materials contribute to raising the aesthetic and quality standards of these projects to a level equivalent to that of permanent housing, as the case of Oosterdreef in Nieuw-Vennep demonstrates. Nevertheless, this model, propelled by the government in 2019 with the publication of the guide ‘Get started with flex-housing!’ and the ‘Temporary Housing Acceleration taskforce’ in 2022 (Druta & Fatemidokhtcharook, 2023), is still at an embryonic stage of development. The success of the initiative and its real impact, especially in the long term, remain to be seen.

Analogous housing projects have been carried out in other European countries, such as Germany, Italy, and France among others (See references section). Although their objectives and innovative aspects resonate with the ones of Flexwonen in the Netherlands, the nationwide scope of this model, sustained by the commitment and collaboration between national and local governments, social housing providers and contractors, is taking the effects of policy, building and design innovation to another level.

Involvement of stakeholders

The national government's aim to establish a more dynamic housing supply system, capable of adapting to local, regional or national demand trends in the short-term, has prompted municipalities like Haarlemmermeer to join forces with housing corporations. Together, they venture into the production of housing that can leverage site constraints while contributing to bridging the gap between supply and demand in the region.  

Thanks to its innovative, flexible and collaborative nature, the Oosterdreef project was completed in less than a year after the first module was placed on the site. The land, which is owned by the municipality, is subject to environmental restrictions due to the noise pollution caused by its proximity to Schiphol airport, meaning that the construction of permanent housing was not feasible in the short term. Nevertheless, the pressing challenge of providing housing, especially for young people in the region, priced out by the private market, has led the municipality to collaborate with a housing corporation and an architecture firm. Together, they have developed a ‘Kavelpaspoort’ (plot passport), a document that significantly expedites the building process.

The plot passport is a comprehensive framework that summarises a series of requirements, restrictions, guidelines and details in a single document, developed in consultation with the various stakeholders involved. Its main purpose is to expedite the construction process. Its various benefits include helping to shorten the time it takes for the project to be approved by the relevant authorities, facilitating the selection of a suitable developer and contractors, and avoiding unforeseen issues during construction. The document is also an effective means of incorporating the voices of relevant stakeholders, including local residents before any work begins on the site. This ensures transparency and participatory decision-making. In Oosterdreef, Ymere, the housing corporation that manages the units, and FARO, the architecture firm commissioned with the design, played pivotal roles in drafting the document in collaboration with the municipality of Haarlemmermeer. Their main objective was to swiftly build houses using innovative construction techniques and to provide much-needed housing on a site that was underused due to land restrictions.

Project’s target groups and selection process

Perhaps one of the most compelling aspects of the model is the diverse group of people it intends to benefit. The target groups of Flexwonen vary according to context and needs, as the municipalities are in charge of establishing their priorities. In the case of Oosterdreef, Ymere and Haarlemmermeer aim for a social mix that not only contributes to solving the housing shortage in the region, but also supports the integration process of the status holders. The selection of status holders, i.e. asylum seekers who have received a residence permit and therefore cannot continue living in the reception centres, who would benefit from the scheme, was carried out in collaboration with the municipality and the housing corporation. As most of these residents did not previously live in the local area, as the central government determines the number of status holders that each municipality must accommodate, the social mix is attained by also including local residents. In this case, they were allocated a flat in the project based on a specific profile, as the flats were designed for single people. The project, which comprises 60 dwellings, is therefore deliberately divided to accommodate 30 of the above-mentioned status holders and 30 locals.

In addition, the group of locals was completed with emergency seekers (‘Spoed- zoekers’) and starters. The emphasis that the project's focus on this population swathe emphasises its social function. Emergency seekers are people who are unable to continue living in their homes due to severe hardship, including circumstances that severely affect their physical or mental well-being, and who are otherwise likely to be at risk of homelessness. This includes, for example, victims of domestic violence and eviction, but also people going through a life-changing situation such as divorce. On the other hand, starters, in this project between the ages of 23 and 28, refer to people who long to start on the housing ladder, e.g., recent graduates, young professionals, migrant workers and people who are unable to move from their parental home to independent living due to financial constraints.

Finally, local residents interested in the project were asked to submit a letter of motivation explaining how they would contribute to making Oosterdreef a thriving community, in addition to the usual documentation required as part of the process. Thus, a stated willingness to participate in the project was deemed more important than, for example, a place on the waiting list, demonstrating the commitment of the housing corporation and local authorities to creating a community and placemaking.

Innovative aspects of the housing design

Although this model has been applied to a range of buildings and contexts, from the temporary use of office space to the retrofitting of vacant residential buildings and the use of containers in its early stages of development (which has had a significant bearing on the stigmatisation of the model), one of the most notable features of the government's current approach to scaling up and accelerating the model is its support for the development of innovative construction techniques. The use of factory-built production methods such as prefabricated construction in the form of modules that are later transported to the site to be assembled could help to establish the model as a fully-fledged segment of the housing sector. An example of this is Homes Factory, a 3D module factory based in Breda, which was chosen as the contractor. Prefab construction not only significantly reduces the construction phases, but also makes it easier to relocate the houses when the licence expires after 15 years, which contributes to its flexibility.

The architecture firm FARO played a crucial role in shaping the plot passport, which incorporated details on the design and layout of the scheme. The objective was to encourage social interaction through shared indoor and outdoor spaces, organized around two courtyards. These courtyards are partially enclosed by two- and three-storey blocks, featuring deck access with wider-than-usual galleries with benches that offer additional space for the inhabitants to linger. Additionally, facilities such as letterboxes, entrance areas, waste collection points, and covered bicycle parking spaces were strategically placed to foster spontaneous encounters between neighbours. Some spaces, such as the courtyards, were intentionally left unfinished to encourage and enable residents to determine the function that best suits them. This provides an opportunity for residents to get to know each other, integrate, and cultivate a sense of belonging.

Within the blocks, the prefab modules consist of two different housing typologies of 32 m2 and 37 m2. One of these units on the ground floor was left unoccupied to be used as a common indoor space. The ‘Huiskamer’ or living room according to its English translation, is strategically located at the heart of the scheme, adjacent to the mailboxes and bicycle parking space. Besides serving as a place for everyone to meet and hold events, it is the place where a community builder interacts and works with the residents on-site.

Construction and energy performance characteristics

The environmental sustainability of the building was at the top of the project's priorities. Off-site construction methods offer several advantages over traditional techniques, including reduced waste due to precise manufacturing at the factory, efficient material transport, less on-site disruption, shorter construction times and the reusability and circularity of the materials and the units themselves. The choice of bamboo for the façades also contributes to the project's sustainability. Bamboo is a highly renewable and fast-growing material compared to traditional timber, with a low carbon footprint as it absorbs CO2 during growth (linked to embodied carbon). It also has energy-efficient properties, such as good thermal regulation, which leads to lower energy consumption (operational carbon). This is complemented by a heat pump system and solar panels on the roofs of the buildings.

“The only thing that is not permanent is the site”

This sentiment was shared by many, if not all, individuals involved in the project whom I had the opportunity to interview for this case study. The design qualities of the project meet the standards expected for permanent housing. One of the main challenges faced by projects of this type is the perception, increasingly erroneous, that their temporary nature implies lower quality compared to permanent housing.

In this case, the houses were designed and conceived as permanent dwellings, the temporary aspect is only linked to the site. When the 15-year licence expires, the homes will be relocated to another location where they can potentially become permanent. They can also be reassembled in a different configuration if required, a possibility granted by the modular design of the dwellings.

Integration with the community

The residents were selected with the expectation that they would contribute to building a community and support the permit-holders to better adapt and integrate into the local community and surroundings. Ymere, together with a local social organisation, helps new residents in this process of integration. During the first two years following the completion of the construction phase, concurrent with tenants moving into their new homes, an on-site community builder works with residents to help them forge the social ties that will enable the development of a cohesive and thriving community. The community builder has organised a range of social activities and initiatives in collaboration with the residents in the shared spaces. These include piano lessons, communal meals, sporting activities and ‘de Weggeefkast’, or the giveaway cupboard, a communal pantry aimed at fostering a sense of neighbourly sharing and cooperation.


Alignment with project research areas

Design, planning and building (Highly related)

  • The use of industrialised construction techniques and innovation in the sector is a key element of the Flexwonen model promoted by the government. The team of architects has endeavoured to improve the overall design and look of the project. In the past, Flexwonen was often perceived as having a container-like appearance, mainly because of its temporary nature and the look of its earlier versions. The team has also paid close attention to the design specifications and materials to ensure they are on par with those used in permanent buildings.
  • The planning process was streamlined using the ‘Kavelpaspoort’, or plot passport. Collaboration between the various stakeholders involved in the creation of this document has sped up the process of obtaining planning permission. The use of these planning tools in combination with prefabricated modules has considerably shortened the construction phase.

Community participation (Moderately related)

  • Local residents were consulted and participated in the creation of the plot passport, enhancing the integration of the housing scheme and the new residents in the local community. Additionally, the project aimed to alleviate the local housing shortage, ensuring that some of the potential beneficiaries could be from the local area. During the design process, FARO, in collaboration with the municipality of Haarlemmermeer, held multiple consultation meetings to gather different perspectives on the project, which included sessions specifically inviting permit holders, one of the target groups of the project, with an architectural background to share their experiences and expectations regarding temporary accommodation. This facilitated a deeper understanding of their needs and expectations and helped to identify potential design solutions. Key considerations centred on the value of shared spaces and communal areas that invite residents to linger. Notably, one participant in the sessions was later employed by the architectural firm and ended up playing a pivotal role in the design and construction of the project.
  • The design has left the definition and use of the courtyards open so that future residents can decide on their functions. Recently, residents held meetings with the housing corporation managing the project to discuss various options and determine the features to be incorporated into the courtyards.

Policy and financing (Highly related)

  • This project became feasible due to policy breakthroughs at the national level, aimed at creating a more dynamic housing market capable of responding more rapidly and efficiently to the overall housing shortage.
  • Flexible policy instruments and regulatory frameworks enable local governments to access funding and expertise, facilitating the broader implementation of the model across the country.
  • The potential for reusability of the housing stock after the initial licence expires, coupled with shorter planning and construction phases, helps alleviate financial constraints and mitigate the risks perceived by housing actors in the past. This contributes to making a stronger case for such housing projects.

Design, planning and building

Community participation

Policy and financing

* This diagram is for illustrative purposes only based on the author’s interpretation of the above case study

Alignment with SDGs

1. No poverty: End poverty in all its forms everywhere (Target: 1.3; 1.4; 1.5)

Access to affordable rent and a secure tenancy for up to 15 years can have a significant impact on residents’ finances, particularly benefiting young people and permit holders. (Highly related)

3. Good health and well-being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages (Target: 3.4; 3.9)

Securing a roof over one’s head, especially for emergency seekers who would otherwise be homeless or living in a potentially threatening environment, and the sense of control over one's living conditions, have a positive impact on the person’s wellbeing, as expressed by the interviewed residents. (Highly related)

5.  Gender equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls (Target: 5.a)

According to a survey conducted by the Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History in EU Member States, 45% of the 1,500 Dutch women surveyed have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Additionally, one in five women has been physically abused by their partner or ex-partner and 3% have avoided their own home in the last year due to the fear of violence. These compelling statistics underscore the importance of providing a home for victims of domestic violence, which includes a significant number of women. The project targets emergency seekers, which includes this group of people. (Highly related)

7. Affordable and clean energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all (Target: 7.1; 7.2; 7.3)

The achieved energy efficiency is due to the use of prefab construction methods and energy-efficient materials and technologies such as heat pumps and solar panels. This comprehensive approach helps reduce both embodied and operational carbon emissions. (Highly related)

11. Sustainable cities and communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (Target: 11.1; 11.3; 11.7; 11.a; 11.b)

While environmental and economic sustainability are key focuses of the project, equal attention has been given to social sustainability. Collaboration with local actors, along with the introduction of a community builder, ensures cohesion among new residents and the broader community. (Highly related)   

12. Sustainable consumption and production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns (Target: 12.5; 12.7; 12.8)

The construction methods and planning processes involved were intended to reduce waste and accelerate the project’s construction. (Highly related)

13 Climate action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (Target: 13.1; 13.2; 13.3)  

The resilience of this housing model is underscored by the fact that units can be relocated and reused. Innovative industrial construction methods hold significant potential to enhance the capacity of housing providers to respond promptly to climate shocks and emergencies. (Highly related)


Druta, O., & Fatemidokhtcharook, M. (2023). Flex-housing and the advent of the ‘spoedzoeker’ in Dutch housing policy. International Journal of Housing Policy, 1–18.

Bouw flexwoningen aan de Oosterdreef in Nieuw-Vennep van start. (2022, March 5).

Expertisecentrum Flexwonen. (2019, January 18). Handreiking aan de Slag met flexwonen!. Handreiking Aan de slag met flexwonen! –

FARO Architecten. (2023, February 20). Flexwonen Oostertuin, Nieuw-Vennep: 60 Tijdelijke Woningen. FARO Architecten.

FARO Architecten. (2022a, October 27). Flexwonen Nieuw-Vennep in de Volkskrant. FARO Architecten.

FARO Architecten. (2022b, December 13). Minister de Jonge Bezoekt flexproject Oostertuin in Nieuw-Vennep. FARO Architecten.

FARO Architecten. (2023, January 19). Permanente Kwaliteit Flexwoningen Oostertuin. FARO Architecten.

InforMeer. (2022, September 9). Flexwonen Oosterdreef Genomineerd. Gemeente Haarlemmermeer.

Nilan Netherlands. (2023, June 5). Nilan compact S: Ventilatie Warmtepomp: Flexwoningen. Nilan Netherlands.

Redactie de Architect. (2022, July 18). Arc22: Flexwonen Oosterdreef, Nieuw Vennep - Humanex/Faro Architecten. de Architect.

Rooyakkers, E. (n.d.). Van plan tot oplevering: 60 woningen klaar in 2 jaar. Aedes Magazine.

Woonbedrijf. (n.d.). Flexwonen Snel een woning, met een tijdelijk contract. Woonbedrijf.

Ymere. (2021, March 29). Huurhuis Nodig? Snelle woning is aantrekkelijke optie. Huurhuis nodig? Snelle woning is aantrekkelijke optie.

Ymere. (2021, November 17). Gemeente Haarlemmermeer en Ymere Werken Samen aan 60 flexwoningen in Nieuw-Vennep. Ymere.

Ymere. (2022, September 2). Gezocht: Gemotiveerde Huurders voor Nieuwbouwwoningen oosterdreef. Ymere.

Similar projects in Europe

Arquitectura Viva. (2020, December 14). Modular Housing for Refugees, Berlin.

Graftlab. (n.d.). HEIMAT2. GRAFT.

OCHA. (2021, February 3). Housing for Migrants and Refugees in the UNECE Region: Challenges and practices.

Related vocabulary

Design for Dissassembly

Industrialised Construction

Social Sustainability

Area: Design, planning and building

Design for Disassembly (DfD), also referred to as Design for Deconstruction or Construction in Reverse, is the design and planning of the future disassembly of a building, in addition to its assembly (Cruz Rios & Grau, 2019). Disassembly enables the non-destructive recovery of building materials to re-introduce resources back into the supply chain, either for the same function or as a new product. Designing buildings for their future disassembly can reduce both the consumption of new raw materials and the negative environmental impacts associated with the production of new building products, such as embodied carbon. DfD is considered the “ultimate cradle-to-cradle cycle strategy” (Smith, 2010, p.222) that has the potential to maximise the economic value of materials whilst minimising harmful environmental impacts. It is therefore a crucial technical design consideration that supports the transition to a Circular Economy. Additional benefits include increased flexibility and adaptability, optimised maintenance, and retention of heritage (Rios et al., 2015). DfD is based on design principles such as: standardised and interchangeable components and connections, use of non-composite products, dry construction methods, use of prefabrication, mechanical connections as opposed to glues and wet sealants, designing with safety and accessibility in mind, and documentation of materials and methods for disassembly (Crowther, 2005; Guy & Ciarimboli, 2008; Tingley & Davison, 2011). DfD shares commonality with Industrialised Construction, which often centres around off-site prefabrication. Industrialising the production of housing can therefore be more environmentally sustainable and financially attractive if building parts are produced at scale and pre-designed to be taken apart without destroying connecting parts. Disassembly plays an important role in the recovery of building materials based on the 3Rs principle (reduce, reuse, recycle) during the maintenance, renovation, relocation and reassembly, and the end-of-life phases of a building. Whilst a building is in use, different elements are expected to be replaced at the end of their service life, which varies depending on its function. For example, the internal layout of a building changes at a different rate to the building services, and the disassembly of these parts would therefore take place at different points in time. Brand’s (1994) Shearing Layers concept incorporates this time aspect by breaking down a building into six layers, separating the “site”, “structure”, “skin” (building envelope), “services”, “space plan”, and “stuff” (furniture) to account for their varying lifespans. DfD enables the removal, replacement, and reuse of materials throughout the service life of a building, extending it use phase for as long as possible. However, there is less guarantee that a building will be disassembled at the end of its service life, rather than destructively demolished and sent to landfill.

Created on 18-10-2023

Author: A.Davis (ESR1)


Area: Design, planning and building

Industrialised Construction, also referred to as Modern Methods of Construction in the UK (Ministry of Housing, 2019) and Conceptueel Bouwen (Conceptual Building) in the Netherlands (NCB, n.d.), is a broad and dynamic term encompassing innovative techniques and processes that are transforming the construction industry (Lessing, 2006; Smith & Quale, 2017). It is a product-based approach that reinforces continuous improvement, rather than a project-based one, and emphasises the use of standardised components and systems to improve build quality and achieve sustainability goals (Kieran & Timberlake, 2004).  Industrialised Construction can be based on using a kit-of parts and is often likened to a LEGO set, as well as the automotive industry's assembly line and lean production. Industrialisation in the construction sector presents a paradigm shift, driven by advancements in technology (Bock & Linner, 2015). It involves both off-site and on-site processes, with a significant portion occurring in factory-controlled conditions (Andersson & Lessing, 2017). Off-site construction entails the prefabrication of building components manufactured using a combination of two-dimensional (2D), three-dimensional (3D), and hybrid methods, where traditional construction techniques meet cutting-edge technologies such as robotic automation. Industrialised construction is not limited to off-site production, it also encompasses on-site production, including the emerging use of 3D printing or the deployment of temporary or mobile factories. Industrialised Construction increasingly leverages digital and industry 4.0 technologies, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), Internet of Things, big data, and predictive analysis (Qi et al., 2021). These processes and digital tools enable accurate planning, simulation, and optimisation of construction processes, resulting in enhanced productivity, quality, and resource management. It is important to stress that Industrialised Construction is not only about the physical construction methods, but also the intangible processes involved in the design and delivery of buildings. Industrialised construction offers several benefits across economic, social, and environmental dimensions. From an economic perspective, it reduces construction time and costs in comparison to traditional methods, while providing safer working conditions and eliminates delays due to adverse weather. By employing standardisation and efficient manufacturing processes, it enables affordable and social housing projects to be delivered in a shorter timeframe through economies of scale (Frandsen, 2017). On the social front, Industrialised Construction can enable mass customisation and customer-centric approaches, to provide more flexible solutions while maintaining economic feasibility (Piller, 2004). From an environmental standpoint, industrialised construction minimises waste generation during production by optimising material usage and facilitates the incorporation of Design for Disassembly (Crowther, 2005) and the potential reusability of building elements, promoting both flexibility and a Circular Economy (EC, 2020). This capability aligns with the principles of cradle-to-cradle design, wherein materials and components are continuously repurposed to reduce resource depletion and waste accumulation. Challenges remain in terms of overcoming misconceptions and gaining social acceptance, the slow digital transformation of the construction industry, high factory set-up costs, the lack of interdisciplinary integration of stakeholders from the initial stages, and adapting to unconventional workflows. However, Industrialised Construction will undoubtedly shape the future of the built environment, providing solutions for the increasing demand for sustainable and affordable housing (Bertram et al., 2019).

Created on 09-11-2023

Author: C.Martín (ESR14), A.Davis (ESR1)


Area: Community participation

From the three pillars of sustainable development, economic, environmental and social, the latter  involving social equity and the sustainability of communities, has  been especially neglected. Ongoing problems caused by conflicting economic, environmental and social goals with regard to the processes of urbanisation continue. underpinning economic growth that contradict principles of environmental and social justice (Boström, 2012; Cuthill, 2010; Winston, 2009). Research on sustainable development highlights the need for further investigation of social sustainability (Murphy, 2012; Vallance et al., 2011). Social sustainability has been interpreted as an umbrella term encompassing many other related concepts; “social equity and justice, social capital, social cohesion, social exclusion, environmental justice, quality of life, and urban liveability” (Shirazi & Keivani, 2019, p. 4). A vast number of studies have been dedicated to defining social sustainability by developing theoretical frameworks and indicators particularly relevant to urban development and housing discourse (Cuthill, 2010; Dempsey et al., 2011; Murphy, 2012; Woodcraft, 2012). However, with a lack of consensus on the way of utilising these frameworks in a practical way, especially when applied to planning, social sustainability has remained difficult to evaluate or measure. Consequently, planning experts, housing providers and inhabitants alike understand social sustainability as a normative concept, according to established social norms, and less as an opportunity to critically examine existing institutions. Vallance et al (2011) provide three categories to analyse social sustainability, development, bridge and maintenance sustainability: (a) social development improves conditions of poverty and inequity, from the provision of basic needs to the redistribution of power to influence existing development paradigms; (b) the conditions necessary to bridge social with ecological sustainability, overcoming currently disconnected social and ecological concerns; and (c) the social practices, cultural preferences as well as the environments which are maintained over time. Maintenance social sustainability particularly deals with how people interpret what is to be maintained and includes “new housing developments, the layout of streets, open spaces, residential densities, the location of services, an awareness of habitual movements in place, and how they connect with housing cultures, preferences, practices and values, particularly those for low-density, suburban lifestyles” (Vallance et al., 2011, p. 345). Therefore, the notion of maintenance is especially important in defining social sustainability by directly investigating the established institutions, or “sets of norms” that constitute the social practices and rules, that in turn, affect responsibilities for planning urban spaces. A conceptual framework that appears frequently in social sustainability literature is that of Dempsey et al. (2011)⁠ following Bramley et al. (2009), defining social sustainability according to the variables of social equity and sustainability of community and their relationship to urban form, significantly at the local scale of the neighbourhood. In terms of the built environment, social equity (used interchangeably with social justice) is understood as the accessibility and equal opportunities to frequently used services, facilities, decent and affordable housing, and good public transport. In this description of local, as opposed to regional services, proximity and accessibility are important. Equitable access to such local services effectively connects housing to key aspects of everyday life and to the wider urban infrastructures that support it. Sustainability of community is associated with the abilities of society to develop networks of collective organisation and action and is dependent on social interaction. The associated term social capital has also been used extensively to describe social norms and networks that can be witnessed particularly at the community level to facilitate collective action (Woolcock, 2001, p. 70). They might include a diversity of issues such as resident interaction, reciprocity, cooperation and trust expressed by common exchanges between residents, civic engagement, lower crime rates and other positive neighbourhood qualities that are dependent on sharing a commitment to place (Foster, 2006; Putnam, 1995; Temkin & Rohe, 1998). In fact, “the heightened sense of ownership and belonging to a locale” is considered to encourage the development of social relations (Hamiduddin & Adelfio, 2019, p. 188). However, the gap between theoretical discussions about social sustainability and their practical application has continued. For example, the emphasis of social sustainability as a target outcome rather than as a process has been prioritised in technocratic approaches to planning new housing developments and to measuring their success by factors which are tangible and easier to count and audit. Private housing developers that deal with urban regeneration make bold claims to social sustainability yet profound questions are raised regarding the effects of gentrification (Dixon, 2019). Accordingly, the attempted methods of public participation as planning tools for integrating the ‘social’ have been found to be less effective - their potential being undercut due to the reality that decision-making power has remained at the top (Eizenberg & Jabareen, 2017). Therefore, social sustainability is not a fixed concept, it is contingent on the interdependence of the procedural aspects (how to achieve social sustainability) and substantive aspects (what are the outcomes of social sustainability goals) (Boström, 2012). From this point of view, social sustainability reveals its process-oriented nature and the need to establish processes of practicing social sustainability that begin with the participation of citizens in decision-making processes in producing equitable (i.e. socially sustainable) development. As a dimension of sustainable development that is harder to quantify than the economic or environmental aspects, the operationalisation of social sustainability goals into spatial, actionable principles has remained a burgeoning area of research. In such research, methods for enhancing citizen participation are a particularly important concern in order to engage and empower people with “non-expert” knowledge to collaborate with academic researchers.

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)


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This is the story of two housing schemes that depict the spirit of their times in terms of habitation tenets. Their walls and the spaces between the buildings indicate two different, perhaps even opposing, understandings of the relationship between the city and the dwelling and, by extension, between the citizen and the inhabitant. Both stand in Amsterdam, a global city with exorbitant real estate prices and a housing market that struggles, to say the least, to cope with the demand. Yet, both are embedded in diametrically different local contexts. Their scale is antonymous, and so is the sense of containment they transmit to the passerby, in this case, embodied by the author of this post. Conveniently for the purposes of this reflection, both have also been praised, at their respective times, for their architectural qualities. Both were worthy of being considered for the prestigious Mies van der Rohe award; one was shortlisted in 1988, and the renovation of a block of the other took the honour in 2017. However, it is prudent to admit that this might be the comparison of three housing projects, not two. The first is a CIAM-inspired mass housing-led development that offered the solution to the provision of new housing units and increased the footprint of the city in the sixties; the second is a low-rise, high-density, neighbourhood-scale housing scheme of the late 1980s that turned to the street and shared spaces as the foci of human interaction; and the ‘third’ is a 2016 built manifesto for renovating as an alternative to the wrecking ball.   The turbulent story of the Bijlmer Housing provision is a major societal need and therefore it has always been a major driving force in the development of cities, innovation of building technologies and improvement of people’s quality of life. The outstanding need for providing mass housing that many countries in Europe faced in the second half of the XX century was only a surmountable challenge thanks to breakthroughs in building techniques and new paradigms in the way city planners and architects approached the project of bringing about solutions to the housing shortage. The Bijlmermeer neighbourhood, in south-east Amsterdam, exemplifies this zeitgeist in design, planning and building that was prolifically replicated in many cities around the world. When it comes to modernism, in architecture one word immediately comes to mind: functionalism. As its name suggests, its main feature was the division of functions. There should be a place for living, working, studying, shopping, socialising, connecting with nature, and so forth. All these activities were mediated by the automobile, the great ally of Le Corbusier’s machine for living in,  and to a lesser extent, public transportation. The result was a series of nodes of activity that connected by avenues and highways would leave enough space for nature. A greenery that for the modernists was more about visual enjoyment, an oasis thought to be contemplated from the living room of one of the housing units on a high storey of a uniform-looking housing block, reflecting the victory of man over nature, than to be incorporated into the city to accessed directly and casually at ground level.   Some of these influences can be witnessed in the spatial configuration of the Bijlmer, as it is known colloquially. The characteristic heaviness of the volumes, surrounded by the now green areas and small bodies of water, is emphasised by the height and length of the blocks and the modular façades created by the use of precast concrete panels, state-of-the-art technology at the time, and by the deck access, featured by the once glorified streets in the sky. However, the project never reached the expectations or matched the grandeur with which it had been conceived. The utopian dream rapidly turned into a nightmare, the area was not desirable anymore, and the housing corporations that managed the complex at the time were struggling to fill empty units that did not cease to increase due to the constant tenant turnover. A long-lasting process of renewal and redevelopment of the neighbourhood led by the local government aimed at unleashing the promised paradise that never materialised began and some blocks started to be demolished and replaced with lower-rise housing. As though the scenario was not bleak enough, an unfortunate and catastrophic event took by surprise the Bijlmer residents on an October night in 1992, a plane crashed into one of the blocks, causing the deadliest aviation accident in the Netherlands with at least 43 casualties.   Good design doesn’t have to be expensive Built in 1987, Haarlemmer Houttuinen Housing was designed by Herman Hertzberger. This housing complex epitomises a paradigm shift that became apparent in the residential built environment in the late seventies and eighties. The large volumes of the Ville Radieuse laid the foundation for a countermovement in design and city-making that returned to relationships between functions and space that are more aligned with the organic development and mix of uses of the mediaeval urban layout. The street becomes the urban living room, a space for socialising that had to be reclaimed from the fast pace of the automobile. Hertzberger incorporates the notion of human scale as a prime consideration in the arrangement of volumes that are noticeably smaller in scale, and malleable at the discretion of the user. It is rather a matter of enabling the users the opportunity to shape their own living environment through possible spatial configurations. The Diagoon housing in Delft (1967-1970) is a preceding experiment that undoubtedly influenced the architect’s approach to this project, which is set in the centre of Amsterdam in a more constrained urban context, with a busy street and an elevated railway on one side acting as a boundary, and the rest of the city with its characteristic lower building profile and tightly packed streets on the other. This dual nature of the site is articulated in two types of façades with distinctive characters, the north is more self-contained, with no balconies or direct access to the blocks in response to the heavily transited road. By contrast, the collective and social side of the complex is placed on the south façade, within the urban block and in a street that has been deliberately safeguarded from vehicles, except for the ones of the residents. This narrow street creates a façade and an urban front that is a world away from the hustle and bustle of its counterpart. Different layers are woven by the use of seemingly ordinary elements of the building. The stairwells that lead to the units on the first storey of the blocks, for example, become a place in itself in conjunction with the pillars that support the balconies that oversee the ground floor terraces, urban furniture and the ubiquitous bike racks that residents have decorated with flowerpots that in some cases have flourished to become urban gardens. Most of the accesses and social spaces of the dwellings are connected to some extent with this shared space and the transition between the public and the private is underpinned by the architectural elements that seamlessly set territorial boundaries. Everyone is a few steps from the ground level so the connection with the street is always present. This is accompanied by the surrounding immediate context composed of housing blocks that have opted to follow a similar approach and pocket parks with playgrounds for children complementing the general neighbourly feeling of a place that is located right in the city centre.   Kleiburg, a second chance for the Bijlmer In 2016, Kleiburg, one of the surviving blocks in the Bijlmermeer, was to suffer the same fate as other parts of the massive estate designed by Siegfried Nassuth in the 1960s, namely to be bulldozed and redeveloped. Due to the scale of the project and probably after years of underinvestment and lack of maintenance, it was very expensive for the housing corporation that managed it to retrofit it. This modernist brainchild was about to fall victim to the same approach to placemaking that its architects defended decades before: creating a tabula rasa.   A campaign was launched to save the block and a competition was announced to find out what could be done with the building. In the end, a consortium was selected for its innovative and, above all, affordable approach to retrofitting it. The bigger interventions were focused on correcting flaws in the original structure through purposeful design interventions aimed at reviving the integration of the volume into its surroundings. As highlighted earlier, how a building lands at the ground level and the spaces created by this interaction can have a profound impact on the activities and events that the space between the buildings afford to its inhabitants. In the case of the Kleiburg, a series of poorly conceived underpasses and the use of the ground floor were deemed the culprits. These areas that passed from being envisioned as spaces of congregation and social encounters, to only being used for storage purposes had cut the building off from its context and increased the sense of isolation, anonymity and lack of human scale; that have been linked with perceived or actual higher criminality, anti-social behaviour, and vandalism. Today, the storage rooms have been relocated to the upper levels, closer to the units they are allocated to, and the ground floor lives through infill units that were added in addition to the newly revamped underpasses more clearly announced by a double height and integrated into the pedestrian and cycle paths that criss-cross the site. Elevators have been located in central circulation points and the interior distribution to the flats has been updated to work more efficiently. The interiors of the dwellings have followed a DIY approach reducing the upfront costs that new residents had to cover in favour of a greater agency in deciding for finishes and fittings. Residents can plan according to their budget reducing waste and avoiding extra costs. It is important to note that not the entire Biljmermeer followed this approach, the rest of the blocks are still social housing and are managed by a housing corporation.   The experience of traversing both projects is clearly different. While walking through Haarlemmer Houttuinen, there is a strong sense of place, the pedestrian street is welcoming and it is evident that the residents are in control of their environment, and that they look after it, which in turn explains why it feels alive. A fact that is supported by the sense of containment and positive space that the ensemble creates. The woonerf or living street, a quintessential Dutch way of understanding and experiencing public space, is very much present here. In the case of the Bijlmer, the feeling is almost the opposite. The area is less densely built-up and the blocks look more like a large cruise ship; one perhaps reminiscent of the S.S. Patris, on which the fourth CIAM between Athens and Marseille was held in 1933, where the Athens Charter was discussed and outlined, later to be published by Le Corbusier. Something has changed, however, the blocks still stand, but more like a tree, like those that now thrive nearby, with stronger roots connecting them to the ground and the neighbouring cityscape. In both schemes, the edges and transitions between the public and private spheres have been laboriously crafted to enable a set of relationships that put the experience of the space from the human scale standpoint at the forefront. In 2017, the renovation of the Kleiburg won the Mies van der Rohe Award, a recognition that good architecture does not have to be prohibitively expensive and that there is huge potential to be unpacked in many buildings that sit empty or are being left to rotten.   Further reading ArchDaily. (2017, March 2). DeFlat / NL architects + XVW architectuur. ArchDaily.   Fundació Mies van der Rohe. (n.d.). Haarlemmer Houttuinen Housing. Eumiesaward.   Fundació Mies van der Rohe. (n.d.-a). DeFlat Kleiburg. Eumiesaward.   Himelfarb, E. (2018, November 13). How Bijlmer transformed from Amsterdam’s no-go zone to the city’s most exciting ’hood. The Independent.   Olsson, L., & Loerakker, J. (2013, April 26). Revisioning Amsterdam Bijlmermeer. Failed Architecture.   Wassenberg, F. (2013). Large housing estates: Ideas, Rise, Fall and Recovery: The Bijlmermeer and beyond. IOS Press.              

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)

Secondments, Reflections

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Towards flexible and industrialised housing solutions

Posted on 24-02-2023

Near the end of 2022 I had the chance to complete my first secondment of two months at La Salle, in Barcelona. This was a great opportunity to understand how the municipality of Barcelona, architecture firms and industry partners are developing more flexible and sustainable housing solutions that can accommodate new family structures and different ways of habitation.  Furthermore, it became the perfect occasion to reconnect with the state of the industry in my home country, increase my network of contacts and work hand-in-hand with my co-supervisor Nuria Martí.      Within the Spanish territory, Barcelona is the city leading change with innovative housing solutions, promoting the creation of non-hierarchical and resilient distributions, and incentivising the use of industrialised construction through public competitions. This change of paradigm is not only increasing the current affordable housing stock, but is integrating new actors in the decision-making process through participatory practices.    The main goal of my secondment was to develop a case study assessment methodology that would combine a taxonomical classification of the building systems and highlight the design strategies for each of the building layers (structure, façade, access and circulation, services and internal dividing elements). Ultimately, correlating these criteria with the type of customisation offered in the domestic space. Besides helping me establish the parameters to compare and classify the housing case studies, the interviews to practitioners also shed some light on some of the challenges ahead.   Support and infill   Habraken’s (1961) critical response to mass housing proposed an approach in which a dwelling should encourage adaptation and become an instrument to empower the user. This approach took into account different needs and time horizons dividing the building into 2 groups: the long-life components that constitute the communal structure, and the short-life components that respond to individual needs and can be modified without hindering the overall integrity of the system. This concept is strongly related to what Steward Brand (1995) proposed with his ‘Shearing layers of change’, which emphasized these layers to be differentiated according to their particular lifespans. Building upon the mentioned authors, Bernard Leupen (2006) suggested that it is precisely the permanence of the frame (known as support in the Open Building movement) that enables the generic space to be altered, extended or used in a variety of ways. More recently, Jeremy Till and Tatjana Schneider (2007) conveyed the idea that “the most productive approach to prefabrication for flexible housing is probably not one that invents new systems from scratch, but one that assembles existing prefabricated elements in an adaptable manner.”   My research is therefore using a set of case studies to analyse the design strategies, construction system and level of industrialisation per building layer, identifying those that belong to the support, and defining the type and degree of customisation offered to the infill.   Non-hierarchical spaces   Due to the increasing variety of family structures and the pressing need to design resilient dwellings that can be adapted to future needs, recent housing developments in Barcelona are proposing non-hierarchical distributions. Spatial polyvalence is essential to enable the flexibility for user customisation (Hertzberger, 1991). Flexibility has become a prerequisite for today’s collective housing solutions and, moreover, it is a strategy that promotes gender equality in distributions. Gender equality seeks to break with the traditional role division in the domestic space and promotes the involvement of all family members in the household tasks, for example by bringing the kitchen to a visible and central position as opposed to secluded and closed-off (Montaner et al., 2019).   An example of a non-hierarchical, flexible and gender-equal solution is the award-winning 85 social housing units in Cornellà by Peris + Toral Arquitectes which proposes a matrix of connected rooms that allow the user to inhabit the space in multiple ways. The 3.6 x 3.6 module promotes porous distributions, non-linear circulation, and adaptability throughout time. This is also the case in the Illa Glòries by Cierto Estudio, which I was lucky enough to interview while on my secondment. Aiming to create versatile homes that can be adapted to the tenant’s changing needs in a simple and reversible way, the connections between adjacent spaces are multiplied while the corridors are removed. A central room ‘rótula’, makes it possible to create diagonal visual connections and increase the circulation possibilities while conferring independence to the surrounding rooms. This matrix of non-hierarchical rooms creates a dynamic housing aggregation system, where the limits of the flats have the potential to vary and different layouts are possible.   Industrialised public housing   In order to promote the use of industrialised construction methods, the IMHAB (Institut Municipal de l’Habitatge I Rehabilitació de Barcelona) has created several public housing competitions where the architect, the consultants and the construction company had to work collaboratively from the early stages of the design. Some of the objectives the IMHAB sought to achieve through these public competitions were the acceleration of the production processes, the reduction of the carbon footprint, the increase of the quality of the buildings and shortening the execution time. The resolution of the proposals shows a growing interest in the use of engineered timber components such as CLT or glulam. The design teams highlighted several benefits in using this material as the reduction of the embodied emissions, the lower costs of foundations due to a lighter structure, or the increased precision when prefabricating components with computerised numerical control (CNC). Additionally, companies as 011h are collaborating with design teams to digitalise their kit of parts in such way that the data can be utilised throughout the entire process of design, manufacturing and assembly. This high level of digitisation requires a greater coordination between stakeholders on early stages of the design and could become a tool to provide mass-customised dwellings at an affordable price.   However, the slow adoption of digital technologies, limited wood suppliers, and the strict Fire Safety and Acoustic regulations in Spain, have become major barriers when using engineered timber in housing. To comply with the regulations, most of the projects had to incorporate wet screeds after the dry construction, hindering the possibility to disassemble the components for future reuse or recycling.   Flexible housing solutions   Flexibility is necessary to allow for the customisation of housing in the short term and ensure the adaptability in the long term. The way architects and industry professionals define the built environment impacts enormously on the transformation capacity that housing has to incorporate different needs over time. This flexibility is tightly linked to dimensions, design strategies and construction systems, and can contribute to a democratisation of design by integrating new voices in the process. Barcelona turned out to be an extremely useful secondment to understand how some of these strategies and construction systems are implemented in practice.     References   Brand, S. (1995). How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built. Penguin Books.   Habraken, N. J. (1961). Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing. Routledge.   Herman Hertzberger. (1991). Lessons for Students in Architecture. 010 Publishers.   Leupen, B. (2006). Frame and Generic Space. 010 Publishers.   Montaner, J. M., Buron, J., Mira, A., Valiño, V., Prats, M., Font, G., Ventura, N., & Palay, J. (2019). Flexibilidad e igualdad de  género en la vivienda.   Schneider, T., & Till, J. (2007). Flexible housing. Elsevier.

Author: C.Martín (ESR14)



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