Since recently, I frequently drive through the new Delft residential area Harnaschpolder. Here, the (post) crisis housing construction shows itself in all its glory. On both sides of the provincial road, there are three-story single-family homes for which the residents were able to choose their own façades. This is in accordance with ‘living a la carte’, ‘wish living’ or any other marketing concept of the building developer. It has resulted in a street wall with different colors of brick and a diversity of window divisions and types of roof edges. Potentially, this could offer a rich appearance, but in reality it is a rather sad spectacle. The variation designs and materials in the house fronts is ultimately as limited as the brick slip façade finishing is thin. Moreover, behind the façades, all the hundreds of floor plans are the same and almost literally poured in concrete.
These kinds of neighborhoods would not be built if there would be no market for them. But one can wonder how future proof these monotonous residential areas are, full of single-family homes with mini front and back gardens. Despite the so-called freedom of choice, the houses almost all have the same grain size and are executed in a format that is extremely inflexible and material inefficient. Not so sustainable therefore and certainly not adaptable to changing wishes and needs.
The type of housing ignores the rising percentage of single-person households. In the big cities, this is already some 50 percent. The rise of single-person households is not strictly a phenomenon in the Randstad: it is expected that by 2040, more than 40% of all Dutch households will be single.
It’s about time to shake up the housing market with alternatives. Transformation from inner-city non-residential construction to urban housing with a wide variety of typologies is an inspiring answer. But above all, I would look for adaptive and therefore flexible building systems that can adjust to demographic shifts and changing housing requirements. And that also deal with raw materials and energy in a much more sustainable way.
Ronald Schleurholts, architect partner cepezed
Cobouw, April 9th 2019