Levels and TIME.JPG


 Built environment has always been self-organizing. …Despite our increasing ability to effect large-scale change and our escalating ambitions, built environment follows its own laws. … Eventually, we must engage the environment’s terms, not just our own intentions. … The idea that a living environment can be invented is outmoded: environment must be cultivated. This requires proper use of levels, judicious articulation of territory, and creative applications of types, patterns, and thematic systems. It must also ensure well-modulated distribution of control, compatible with an increasingly mobile and informed humanity. After all, it is by the quality of the common that environments prosper and by which, ultimately, our passage will one day be measured. (John Habraken, from The Structure of the Ordinary: Form and Control in the Built Environment, MIT Press, 1998)


Open Building is a term that was coined in the mid-1980’s in the Netherlands (Open Bouwen in Dutch), some twenty years after John Habraken proposed the Support/Infill concept for housing (Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing, 1961), and after the publication in 1965 of design methods for housing based on that concept, developed at the Dutch SAR (Stichting Architecten Research or Foundation for Architects Research). A number of successful experimental projects had already been built in Europe. By this time also, developments toward Open Building were taking place in Japan and interest in the theory and practice of Open Building had grown internationally. Research was initiated in the mid-1980’s at the Technical University Delft by the Open Building group under the direction of Professor Age van Randen, to explore practical measures needed to fully implement the Support/Infill approach, focusing on technical, regulatory and financing issues.


The Support/Infill concept was based on the principle that the user should have a role in the housing process. Unless the inhabitant is part of the process, uniformity and rigidity inevitably result: housing would be sustainable and renewable only when a clear separation was made between what was shared (the Support) and what was decided per individual occupant (the Infill). The user needed a clear scope of control, and the community also needed a clear role.


The questions facing those advocating and using an Open Building approach – across project types and scales of intervention - were and remain: 


1.    How do we design (as well as regulate, fund and manage) a coherent and resilient urban fabric, when individual building projects are initiated by independent actors and will change over time; and 

2.    How do we design (and regulate, fund and manage) buildings when decisions about uses and their floor plans are not known, and are usually decided by someone other than the building’s architect, and will inevitably change?