Why building 120 identical apartments is not a good idea
If it were up to bow architecten, we’d do away with compartmentalised thinking. Literally. We’d abolish the practice of building monotone boxes for housing, work or shopping purposes, located in separate residential, business and retail districts. Because we believe that hybrid solutions are the way of the future.
Indeed, only a healthy functional mix can ensure a vibrant neighbourhood. Our advice: combine living, working, shopping, healthcare, sports and leisure functions as extensively as possible. Which is why we also caution: those who continue to design monofunctional buildings run the risk that these will become drab and unsightly faster than anticipated – take vast, grey housing blocks, deserted shopping streets (with no signs of habitation) and the desolate landscape of business parks at weekends, by way of example.
Avoiding the need to make modernisations after only a short period of time, due to unattractive, lacklustre buildings or falling demand, can be an important consideration in the planning of repurposing projects. It’s certainly something to bear in mind from an economic perspective. However, we prefer to go that one step further, by creating a functional mix that transcends and simultaneously factors in all considerations, not just the economic ones. Utopian? Impossible? We at bow architecten don't believe so – and we endeavour to prove this with our repurposing projects on a daily basis.
Experience often shows that by the time we finally achieve that perfect functional mix for a particular repurposing project, little of the original concept remains. Yet the project is stronger as a result – it’s supported by all stakeholders and all of the competing interests have been reconciled.
In the early stages of a repurposing project, each stakeholder has a specific goal in mind. ‘Incorporate plenty of open space,’ says the city planner. ‘Create state-of-the-art lofts in the former barn, and in the shortest possible timeframe,’ says the property owner or project developer. ‘Design a cohousing solution for the farmhouse, with plenty of communal interior space and a large, outdoor playground,’ say the cohousing group founders.
We take a step back. By taking a distance in the literal sense. Because distance provides perspective: what do other buildings in the area look like? What type of people and age groups live there? What are their requirements? And the key question: how can we repurpose them, not just for the needs of the present day, but also the needs of the future? Will there still be a demand for cohousing projects that are specifically geared towards young families? What will the future hold for this type of project some 40 years on, once those families have grown older? At bow architecten we incorporate the needs of tomorrow’s users into today’s designs. What will young families require as they grow older? We strengthen the project by opting for multi-purpose housing solutions. Or by leaving the options open. That way the project doesn’t stop with the delivery of the repurposed building, and can continue evolving in line with its users.
It turns out that we can achieve a healthy functional mix simply by reading the space: the building and its environment. We take that as a starting point for discussion - and gradually incorporate additional ideas. Until the open space that every urban planner dreams of, is meaningful open space. Because: what is open space without its users? What is open space without a function? We’ll perhaps end up with fewer lofts, but with an extra workshop or retail space instead. Rarely do we assign a repurposed building a single function, such as residential or retail.
The entire repurposing
process encompasses much more than simply renovating an old building (potentially demolishing certain sections and adding new ones) and assigning it a new function. All the pieces of the puzzle must fall seamlessly into place. At bow architecten, our strength lies in being able to step back from the detail and see the bigger picture. This helicopter view enables us to determine the requirements, which we set to work on with specialists in the field. That we collaborate with interior designers to create the finest lofts on the market goes without saying. But we also source the right experts to partner with on cohousing, student accommodation and care homes, or infrastructure solutions for senior citizens and those with a care need.
Our unique approach doesn’t necessarily make things easy for project developers or investors looking for quick, low-cost results. In fact, it can make everything slightly more complex in the short term. Over the longer term, however, our approach pays off on so many levels: sustainability, durability, quality of life, aesthetics - you name it!
Do you or do you know someone with former business premises or a derelict site that you don't know what to do with it?
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