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10.25.2011
Review> Dwelling on Home
John Hill on DASH: Delft Architectural Studies on Housing and the reinvigoration of residential architecture.
A housing development in the Oude Haven area of Rotterdam.
Courtesy NAi

DASH: Delft Architectural Studies on Housing
Lara Schrijver, Elain Harwood, Dirk van den Heuvel, Pierijn van der Putt, Dick van Gameren, Christopher Woodward, eds.
NAi in association with Delft University of Technology, €35

In the introduction to the inaugural issue of the journal DASH – Delft Architectural Studies on Housing, the editors assert that “the Netherlands has built up a housing tradition that is renowned throughout the world.” I would definitely agree with this statement, having worked on multi-family residential projects spanning from the American Midwest to Asia where modern and contemporary Dutch precedents were mined for inspiration. Yet the editors further contend in the first issue that repetition of tried solutions has become the norm, leading to “stagnation in the development of Dutch residential architecture.” DASH can therefore be seen as a call for a reinvestigation of the typology and for a consideration of overlooked issues, “such as those related to density, privacy, and mobility.”

The periodical, which started in 2009, coincides with a dramatically slower pace of housing construction just about everywhere but China, be it market-rate or state-sponsored projects. In this regard DASH offers the potential for education and discovery that could influence architectural design in housing whenever it picks up again. At least this is the optimistic view.

To date, five issues of the journal of the Chair of Architecture and Dwelling at Delft University (TU Delft) have been published, at the rate of two a year. Each issue tackles a specific theme—in order: New Open Spaces in Housing Ensembles, The Luxury City Apartment, The Woonerf Today, The Residential Floor Plan, The Urban Enclave—through an even mix of long-form essays and case studies. The former are penned mainly by locals, but the latter pulls projects from the Netherlands and beyond, though the ratio depends on the issue’s theme. For example, “New Open Spaces” draws exclusively from Dutch housing, but “The City Luxury Apartment” ventures elsewhere in Europe and overseas to North and South America for notable examples, which is fitting given the lack of this tradition in the Netherlands.

The case studies, what the journal appropriately labels “Plan Documentation,” include floor plans, sections and other diagrams drawn, and colored in the same manner. While this consistency, perhaps a product of TU Delft’s student labor, aids legibility and makes comparison across pages and issues possible, it also points to a reliance on the floor plan as the source of difference in housing. Certainly the sizes and relationships of rooms, distributions of unit types, building footprints, circulation paths, and other plan factors are important, but by their nature these drawings exist out of context, separate from many of the issues DASH aims to overcome. Hence the essays help to fill that void. With its balance of essays and projects, each issue can be read alternatively as a healthy dose of academic history and theory or an architectural stroll through various floor plans. Sometimes these two strands overlap, particularly when essays and case studies share a building in common; this is a rewarding experience, such as the latest issue’s essay on and plan documentation of the Adelphi (Adam Brothers, 1768–1772) and Barbican (Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, 1955–1982), both in London.

These examples point to another commendable aspect of DASH: case studies are culled from recent projects to centuries long gone (the majority are 20th-century projects), so inspiration and influence are allowed to leapfrog across time instead of following the common yet outmoded belief in linear progression, cause and effect. The Adelphi prefigures, through its system of “streets in the air” by the River Thames, the visionary yet unrealized urbanism of Le Corbusier and Antonio Sant’Elia but also mundane developments like Chicago’s Illinois Center, which is decked over former rail yards. It is a cautionary tale for similar projects—Hudson Yards immediately comes to mind—that contend with industrial voids on expensive land.

Keeping the focus on the latest issue, The Urban Enclave presents large-scale projects from the 13th century—the Groot Begijnhof (community for unmarried women) in Belgium—to recent, realized Dutch projects by OMA and de Architekten Cie—respectively Chassé Park in Breda and Funen Park in Amsterdam. In between are modern urban renewal projects from last century, like the Barbican, which is also described as “a remarkable and unique piece of city-building” in an essay by Elain Harwood. Of course such an appraisal would not be shared by über-traditionalist Rob Krier, who is interviewed a few pages later. Such is DASH that positions are not taken. Instead projects and essays cover a large spectrum, reflecting the multitude of approaches to analyzing and designing housing today.

John Hill

John Hill is a New York-based architect and writer, and the founder of archidose.org.