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Repeated living cells

In 1959, a youthful and inspired Herman Hertzberger made a sensational study model using matchboxes for the journal Forum. This model shows a stack of ‘living cells’, the units residential buildings are made of, according to Hertzberger.

The architect says that while a detached single-family home is perhaps every Dutch person’s ideal, it is not a realistic option. There is simply not enough room in the Netherlands, so we have to stack. By repeating a single basic unit, the matchbox model does emanate a certain monotony.

However, the linking of boxes also stands for variation in house building, prompting surprising encounters among people. This makes the design a critique of the tedious house building practices of the 1950s, which no longer enabled people to meet each other and build meaningful relationships. The editors of Forum even called the Netherlands a country that was all but uninhabitable because its houses were so lacking in inspiration. The stairs of run-of-the-mill flats have to be quiet and flats with walkway access are too narrow for people to meet, except to bump into each other.

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