Friday, September 12, 2008


The Netherlands was such a stimulating exploration of architecture and the built environment. Not only are so many of the new buildings pushing the envelope and broadening the discourse on modern architecture, the quality of life there is amazing. Between the trains and bicycles (and infrastructure that beautifully supports both of these), and windmills (new ones), small population and lower densities, it offered a great alternative to the hectic and dense cities of Paris and London. And often times, the built environment is just fun as so many Dutch designers have a habit of thinking outside the box and are able to get the durn things built.

In talking with a number of architects, there seem to be a number of factors that make the Netherlands such an interesting place right now in terms of the built environment. First, there has always been a very strict control and monitoring of the built environment. As with Amsterdam, the city has been able to maintain and develop its wonderful character only through close monitoring of each new structure and addition. Whether or not this is good thing depends on who you ask. But few can deny the exquisite charm of Amsterdam (at least the older part). But, it continues to this day, and it seems as if most people are well informed about design and built environment. I was describing to some folks the extreme nature of controls and rules in many suburbs in the US that really have nothing to do with design, but everything to do with social control, exclusion, security and property values and they just kind of shook their heads.

Another reason is that from the 70’s to the 90’s, the Netherlands was generally a welfare state with a professional class in control. Most of the post war housing was subsidized and there was not much variety within it. Uniformity was the norm. It is not that people didn’t have money to buy housing, there just wasn’t housing to buy. Now, the government is withdrawing, and there is much more choice in the market. There has been basically a pent up demand for individual choice, and user oriented designs. As a result, there are now a great number of innovative housing schemes focused on consumer choice while pushing new design boundaries.

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