A ‘wonderful chaos’, liveliness and a broad range of opportunities for bumping into your neighbours. Architect Piet Blom (1934-1999) was one of the most ardent champions of this idea. He elaborated it in a series of drawings, models and brochures entitled ‘Living as Urban Roof’, an investigation of a new community model, integrating all the functions of urban living. A selection of drawings from this series is on display in the Rijksmuseum from 9 November.
The housing stands on pillars above the ground, and beneath this there is a collective space where urban and community life can evolve and flourish. With his ideas about ‘homes as an urban roof’, Blom was taking a stand against the rigid separation of functions and the belief in rationality which had determined the structure of the early post-war residential districts.
In the late 1960s, the Dutch government was having to deal with a growing wave of complaints concerning the facelessness of post-war residential developments. By way of a response, the Ministry for Housing and Spatial Planning introduced the ‘Experimental Housing’ subsidy scheme in 1968.
In 1969 architect Blom submits his Kasbah residential project for Hengelo for the new subsidy scheme. His proposal is accepted. Blom designs a residential area composed primarily of two levels, raised dwelling units on columns that form a continuous urban roof. The space below the columns is illuminated by openings in the ‘roof’; it was a large, communal area providing parking lots and space for recreational activities. Blom hopes that the development will inspire community interaction. His design achieves three to four times the residential density of an average suburban estate.
Each dwelling consists of a basic unit with living room, kitchen and bedrooms on a separate floor. The bedroom floor overlooks the living room via a mezzanine and could, according to Blom, also function as a studio or student unit. By adding rooms or doubling the basic unit, the dwelling could be of sufficient size to accommodate families. Although initially intended for the centre of Hengelo, the project ends up being built in the suburb of Groot-Driene between 1972-1974.
Blom is given the opportunity of realising the same ideas in the much talked-about Kasbah project in Hengelo. And does the same with his design for the Blaak housing project in Rotterdam, also known as the ‘cube houses’ which are completed in 1984. But Blom’s concepts fail to become mainstream. They remain incidental projects with eye-catching designs but which don’t inspire policy makers to adopt a different construction regime. Blom is too much of a radical outsider for that – his designs are provocative, but not game-changing.
Since 2013 Het Nieuwe Instituut and the Rijksmuseum have operated a co-curatorship programme for the Rijksmuseum’s twentieth-century displays. Every three months a new selection is made from Het Nieuwe Instituut’s archives, with a focus on two periods: the avant-garde movements of the 1920s and 1930s, and the 1960s and 1970s. The Rijksmuseum takes care of the conservation, and where required restoration, of the drawings. Earlier selections have included works by Piet Blom, Hendrik Wijdeveld, Gerrit Rietveld, Jan Duiker, and Brinkman & Van der Vlugt.