“Zilverzijde” Social Housing
88 social housing units, 27 terraced houses and collective parking garage
Radical Tabula Rasa
In 2006, Atelier Kempe Thill is commissioned to design Block 10 in the Moerwijk neighborhood of The Hague with eighty-eight apartments and twenty-seven terraced houses as the result of a negotiation procedure by Vestia, the largest building corporation in the Netherlands.
Moerwijk is a typical restructuring area with residential buildings from the nineteen-sixties, as also exist in many large cities in the Netherlands. Also here, the city and housing corporations agreed on the comprehensive demolition of the entire area rather than renovation of the existing buildings.
Commissioned to create the new urban development plan required was the firm KCAP, whose project is fundamentally based on the existing street and block structure. What is distinguishing here—as in the majority of comparable planning situations—is the fact that it is not possible to change the street grid due to the new necessary infrastructure, as well as the fact that such a large-scale operation would have to be realized in smaller steps of 150 to 250 residences. For this reason, the new development adheres nearly exactly to the old building lots, but with a substantial difference: the depth of the buildings has been increased from nine meters to approximately thirteen, and a new mix of apartments and terraced houses is created in place of the original development, consisting exclusively of apartments. The apartments thus stand on the edge of the area and form an “urban border,” while the terraced houses are located in the more intimate interior of the grid.
KCAP originally envisioned retaining two of the three-story apartment blocks in the heart of the area as a witness to the original urban development plan of Willem Marinus Dudok. Based upon feasibility studies conducted by the housing corporation, these last two structures were, however, also approved for demolition in the end. Suitable renovation with the combining of apartments as well as the corresponding acoustics and energy efficiency would have exceeded the maximum budget. The ground plan and the building structure were also not appropriate for the planned changes.
The impressive planting of the courtyards and the carefully composed trees on the streets (magnificently blooming ornamental species) were also sacrificed to the bulldozer, so that after fifty years everything was virtually started again from scratch on the basis of a consistent tabula rasa—and indeed with the fascination for the virgin, bare sand area that is so typical for the Netherlands, and in which one is able to dream up new buildings like a new beginning of life.
What is moreover remarkable is the economic logic of such a large-scale operation, which ultimately makes the entire current production of residential buildings in the Netherlands seem like an increase in luxury. Such an operation is only then feasible when approximately two times the amount of living space is built up once again. Finally, however, only the same number of residences as before will be built despite a doubling of the area. In addition, approximately only half the number of people will live in these new apartments compared to fifty years ago.
A Collective without Collectiveness
The new design for Block 10 is conceived by KCAP as meaning an apartment development along Erasmusweg, which is the main street leading to downtown The Hague, and also an area of terraced-house development situated behind the apartments. The buildings along Erasmusweg serve as a noise barrier for the surrounding area to the back while also functioning as a city boundary.
According to Atelier Kempe Thill’s analysis regarding both the required parking space and storage space for the apartments, which should also be situated on the ground floor, it becomes clear that it would be necessary to assume that the space between the two buildings would be filled completely with parking space. Building an underground parking garage would be uneconomical due to the high water table. As an alternative (and similar to the residential building project in Amsterdam-Osdorp), Atelier Kempe Thill proposes covering the parking space with a green roof deck, which it envisiones as a terrace for neighboring apartments as well as a communal area with opportunities for children to be able to play. Generous openings in the deck are planned in order to make it possible to ventilate the garage naturally. Building such a large residential complex from scratch thus offers the chance to create a generous, collective inner courtyard.
The discussions regarding this idea that Atelier Kempe Thill conducts with the housing corporation are worth noting. It quickly becomes clear in the meetings with Vestia that the combination of terraced houses with apartments would lead to social differences between the residents, which would make any shared use of the courtyard inconceivable. Vestia is of the opinion that second- and third-generation Turkish and Moroccan immigrants who have achieved prosperity would live in the terraced houses, that large, first generation families from Turkey and Morocco would probably live in the subsidized maisonette apartments, and that retired Dutch citizens would prefer the upper floors. According to this assessment, none of the target groups would be interested in sharing a single courtyard with the others. The design desired is thus one that guaranteed a generous coherence optically while clearly separating the residents of the two sections spatially, since they would otherwise—according to the conjecture—only disturb each other.
Access balcony Remains Access balcony
Residential housing development in the Netherlands in the nineteen-sixties and early seventies, for instance the well-known Bijlmermeer in Amsterdam, is mostly characterized by long, anonymous balconies for accessing the individual residences. This form of access is by far the most economical since the passageway in the form of a prefabricated slab of concrete need only be suspended on the exterior of the building structure without actually being part of the isolated building structure.
Due to the anonymity of an access balcony and the fact that the residents are completely exposed to the weather before reaching the elevator or stairway, the access balcony is—especially when it is quite long—one of the main criticisms expressed with respect to the residential building architecture of late modernism. Atelier Kempe Thill begins its work on the design of the new apartment building with this awareness and proposed various two-story apartment typologies with other forms of access. The housing corporation, however, come to the conclusion that only one-story apartments are desired. Two-story maisonette apartments need be reduced to the absolute minimum since this target group would clash with the retired Dutch residents, who must become accustomed to old age and infirmity. One-story apartments, which are per definition wheelchair-accessible, could, however, only be accessed in the given situation by means of an access balcony, which automatically results in a building typology that is nearly exactly the same as that which was so severely criticized in the sixties. This situation was, nevertheless, accepted. In order to upgrade the access balcony socially and architecturally, Atelier Kempe Thill proposes combining the actual balconies of the apartments directly with the access by enlarging it to some extent. This combination is particularly appreciated in the case of apartments for the “55 plus” generation since it facilitates more social contact.#socialhousing