I recently had the pleasure to be part of the 2017’s second edition of Garage Cafe at Garage Rotterdam. It was fantastic to have the chance to talk to so many people and get so many reactions.
I had planned to have video from this occasion, unfortunately the quality of the video I took has let me down so I will add it here as text for those who were unable to participate at the event.
My name is Corina and I am an architect. I’m going to tell you today a little bit about a project that I have started last year. The project is called Archi-Re and it is based on 3 core concepts: Review, Refine, Redesign.
Now to tell you the truth, this project was born out frustration. A lot of frustration. I was looking for a new place to live and as most people do, I went online and started browsing available websites.
I found myself sifting through confusing layouts and illogical spaces. I have been told many times that the Netherlands is a small country and thus many compromises have to be done. And that makes perfect sense. I mean, there is no space, there is no space. What can you do? (Maybe just build another island, but that’s a different story!) However, finding for example a tiny toilet where you literally bump into the walls when trying to use it in the same apartment with a corridor that is so spacious you could do the walls, the tango, or whatever other dance you might fancy is not a compromise. It is rather illogical.
I kept finding various “compromises”, like for example having spacious apartments with decent enough master bedrooms and gigantic living rooms but with tiny itsy bitsy secondary bedrooms. Take for example, this apartment. It was completed in the year 2001. The master bedroom is 20 m², however the two secondary bedrooms on the left are 7 m² each. Isn’t that kinda mean? … And it actually becomes meaner when you realize that the living room is 75 m². 75 m² is a whole another apartment in itself. So why would you make a 7 m² bedroom when you have 75 m² available for a living room?
I have also found many examples in which variation is done just for the sake of variation. This two apartments are in the same building which was completed in 2005. The apartment on the left has a basic layout. The distribution is central done through the hallway. Nothing complicated, nothing fancy! The one on the right, however has an additional hallway which takes space from other functions and turns it into unusable space. It also adds additional circulations that serve no purpose, like traveling through the bathroom, secondary bedroom and hallway to reach the toilet. I do have to admit that the first time I saw this apartment I could not help but picture somebody running for dear life at 3 AM through half of the apartment to reach the toilet. Isn’t that unfriendly? And does the fact that the building offers a variety of layouts compensate for the inconveniences of the residents?
As I kept finding puzzling spaces which were really frustrating I knew they could be done better, more effectively. I started drawing and put things on paper. Well, at least a digital one.
I focus mainly on residences that have been completed after the year 2000. I do at times play with layouts completed prior if they spark my interest, however for research purposes I focus on residences completed after 2000. That is because I could never judge a construction done in the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s and at times, even the 80’s. There were different historical issues and a different cultural and sociological background. I personally love seeing how different countries reach completely different views and approaches based on the influence of: history, culture and society. I think that is rather fascinating.
So as I was researching this factors in the context of the Netherlands, I learned that at some point in time the Dutch government has passed on the responsibility of building and developing residential areas to private investors. Now, I’m not saying that this is where the issue is. I am saying that this is one of the bigger and the more obvious elements in today’s situation. Most of the time, most (not all, but most of them) private investors handle this rather like a production line. You know, just like making a phone, a computer or any other item. They prioritize the number of apartments / residences and parking places that they can shove in to the plot. And that is done to the detriment of the layout of the apartment itself which ends up as an after thought.
And so I wanted to know if there were better versions. If the layouts presented would have been the only versions, then yes, there would be no issue. If I wouldn’t have been able to find better options I would have said, yeah sure, that is the best option available. But I found more effective layouts, better ways to use the space available and friendlier layouts within the same parameters. So the question is why compromise? In a country that is complaining about the lack of space why compromise when there are more effective ways to use the space?
We talk about how important food is. We talk about how important the chemicals in our food are, in our clothes, in our environment. There are so many movements that are focusing on where the clothes were made, in bringing awareness, who’s making them, what they are using, who’s getting paid, how much they are getting paid. (And that is great!) We talk about meditation, about sport. About the nasty effects of stress. At work, at home. And generally, in life. We’re talking about the importance of the materials that are used in construction, the quality of the air and so much more. We don’t seem to be talking that much however about the importance of the spaces that we use and that we choose. You don’t choose your office! Well, most of the time at least, but you do choose your apartment! I am not talking here about the materials that are being used and the technology that is being used like staircases or fancy things that entice you to move more, or to go for a walk or be more outdoorsy. I am talking about how the spaces impact us on a psychological and physical level. We have literally replaced Mother Nature with architecture. We have created a secondary environment with a constant impact on us and our lives.
And some people do say that architecture does not have an impact on human behavior. Which is something I beg to differ. Every single thing that we interact with has an effect on us. Every action has a reaction. Every word, everything that we see creates a conscious or an unconscious reaction. However, most people are never taught to understand themselves and their reactions, so these are mostly on a subconscious level. So if everything in our lives has an impact on us, how can architecture not have one?
So my question is what do our choices in architecture say about us as people and as society and how, and most importantly how can we use architecture to make people thrive?Click To Tweet
The Q&A has been fantastic. Many people reacted and had questions and that has made me really happy. So thank you.
One of the in particular stuck with me. I was asked if what I am saying is not just good architecture versus bad architecture / good architects versus bad architects. And to its bare core it is indeed about good architecture and bad architecture. However, in the moment in which one or more “mistakes” are perpetuated at a large scale it stops being about good architects versus bad architects and it becomes a school of thought. And the only way to change that is to bring awareness.