Utrecht, the Netherlands, 2009
In collaboration with Adam Scales
As it has been described and publicized the larger issues of the ‘problem wijk’ of Kanaleneiland are clearly non-architectural and non-urban design based. They have to do more with the socio-cultural and economic status of the current inhabitants. However, it is our belief that architecture and urban design can and in this case do play a pivotal role in providing the framework within which either fruitful or degenerative relationships develop. We believe that the organization of space influences the manner in which social and economic behaviors take place. It is in these terms that we hope to make architecture and urban design that can take part in making the regeneration of this area possible.
The point of departure for this project was to identify one of the most defining physical features of this neighborhood – its modernist plan and architecture - as being both one of its most detrimental aspects but also offering the greatest potential for regeneration. The original open airy spaces in which the buildings were located has over successive generations of renter and ownership become almost totally characterized by fences, under utilized gardens and the over arching hegemony of the car and its infrastructure. Therefore the spaces that exist now are primarily of two types: totally internalized private dwellings and a monotonous public field that offers little to its inhabitants. This polarization of space discourages beneficial participation and/or interaction of the residents.
Despite its shortcomings, the robustness of the rational grid and fixed pattern of buildings provides the ultimate possibility for maintaining clear structure while allowing a wide diversity of environments to co-exist. The grid is made to function for its inhabitants by injecting specificity into its divisions. Existing and potential future functions are collected and condensed; some spaces are intensified in their use and performance while others are degraded in terms of their level and type of activity. In all cases diversity and specificity of function are increased providing many more opportunities for civic life and social encounter to take place.
In parallel with the re-visitation of the urban grid, the buildings have been left in their original locations but stripped down to their essential grid structure and then reworked to provide greater complexity and specificity in the types and forms of inhabitation they provide. In this way a wider diversity of dwelling types is made available for a broader demographic to move into the area and for the current inhabitants to grow and evolve in their own neighborhood.
From the masterplan to the individual unit a new hierarchy of private, group, common and public spaces is introduced in-between the current public - private divide; inviting, supporting and at times demanding varying degrees of involvement, belonging and ownership. It is in this way that we believe architecture and urban design can best participate in and contribute to the social economic regeneration of the area.