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Jongerenhuisvesting Kruisplein

Designers: Mecanoo

Strictly speaking, Mecanoo did not yet exist when the competition for flexible student housing was announced in late 1980. However, three architecture students from Delft University sent in a joint entry. They were Francine Houben, Henk Döll and Roelf Steenhuis. After building their design, they decided to set up shop as Mecanoo in 1984.

The competition was organized by the housing corporation Maatschappij voor Volkswoningen in collaboration with Aktiegroep Het Oude Westen (an action committee). This initiative had its roots in the urban renewal culture of the 1970s. "Building for the neighborhood" became the spearhead of municipal policy, and it led to large-scale urban renewal in Rotterdam's aging residential areas. Action committees among the residents of the affected neighborhoods insisted on a say in shaping the housing construction projects. It became a custom for the initiators to select the eventual winner of a competition, with the jury taking only an advisory role.

The theme of the competition was modifiable housing, the objective being to assure a flexible and varied supply of housing. The competition asked entrants to design a building with a variety of dwelling types, catering for different residents and household structures. The floor plans of the requested "neutral dwellings" were meant to avoid imposing clear-cut lifestyles or residential patterns and instead be flexible enough to allow for different use options.

The site for the proposed building lay in central Rotterdam, at the edge of Het Oude Westen district. Mecanoo took the irregular polygonal shape of the building plot as a starting point for their design. The oblong taller volume on the north, partly seven and partly ten floors high, matched the neighboring multi-level garage in scale. The lower block, consisting of five floors and with a ground floor occupied by shops, is curved in shape, performing an elegant turn towards the housing of Het Oude Westen. Adjacent apartments were made combinable by means of standardized breakthrough zones in the concrete walls, and party walls could be inserted to split up the larger apartments. The layout of individual apartments was made flexible by similar means.

The facades of the volumes are finished in salmon-pink and white plasterwork. A grid of bluish green concrete edges, covered by alternating parapet grilles forms a subtle rhythmic pattern on the facades. Unlike the brick and fascia-panel architecture that typified 1970s housing, Mecanoo's building has a pastel-colored exterior plasterwork and a clear site division which harmonizes with the existing surroundings. With this design Mecanoo introduced a new aesthetic and grandeur into social housing construction.


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