Conceptual Cross Section, Superlofts, Amsterdam, Mark Koehler Architects

Conceptual Cross Section, Superlofts, Amsterdam, Mark Koehler Architects


 We tend to build based on short term needs and rigid formulas that require top down decision making and centralized control. Rather than evolving and adapting, our buildings and neighborhoods become obsolete and require wholesale replacement before their potential lifespan is achieved. Buildings and urban neighborhoods need to be designed for change, thus inviting broad participation at different levels and inviting continuous transformation over time. This extends the life of the built environment, fosterers adjustments meeting individual needs and evolving building uses and ensures resilience while reducing the carbon footprint.


We advocate the creation of a resilient, adaptable built environment that supports continuous transformation based on internationally recognized principals of Open Building.

Open Building is a movement among design professionals, public officials, builders and clients, aimed at assuring that built environments at all levels of intervention – from buildings to urban districts - can live and flourish for a long time. This is not an isolated aspiration: We all love to live in and visit places that are alive, coherent yet varied, and that have lasted for generations if not centuries because they gradually adjust to new circumstances. Today, this means that built environments have to be consciously prepared to endure. This requires planning for change – not predicting the future but making provisions for what cannot yet be foreseen. This is one of the most important things we can do for future generations and for the resilience of our built environment.

 The Open Building approach guides the design of change-ready residential, educational, healthcare, mixed use projects and urban neighborhoods. The approach is already conventional in office buildings, shopping centers, laboratories and in urban fabric. Housing, healthcare and educational facilities are next. 

 Characteristic of the Open Building approach is the separation of design tasks. One task is to design what is shared (often called ‘core and shell‘ or ‘base building’ or ‘the urban design’), planned to last for many generations. The second task is to design independent dwellings, or functional units in non-residential projects, or individual buildings in neighborhoods, that can change over time without disrupting what they share. These two tasks can be undertaken by the same party but only if clearly distinguished, or by separate parties which is normal in the passage of time. This is essentially an infrastructure model of the built environment, quite familiar to urban planners and designers. Open Building carries this way of seeing and organizing built environment into the very fabric of buildings.

 These values are important in all project types and address both new interventions and the incremental transformation of what already exists . But because finding a balance between change and permanence can be contentious, cooperation is needed among those exercising control, including ordinary citizens, the professions and public interests. Tendencies toward standardization must be balanced with the many varieties of life and work, as well as evolving individual and social preferences. The built environment is a living organism, after all, and needs nurturing and cultivation to be resilient and to sustain itself.

 In multifamily residential projects, the Open Building approach assures the independence of each dwelling. This should be a familiar aspiration, because independent detached dwellings are preferred everywhere in the world. In Open Building theory, a dwelling is not something to be produced and sold but is an act. When a household moves in, a dwelling is created, whether it is in a trailer, a house, a new apartment building, or a space made available in a converted industrial building. Independent dwellings come alive and mirror the natural variety of a people in any given place and time. Their variations thrive in the context of shared architectural and urban themes, patterns and systems, and with rules of the game shaped for the common good.  Residential Open Building has lagged because making dwellings independent in multifamily projects is difficult and controversial. But we now understand how to overcome the difficulties. 

 In non-residential Open Building, where planning for change is equally important, the emphasis needs to be placed on units of control that make sense with each project type. For example, in large, complex and multi-story educational or healthcare facilities, reconfiguring functional units on one floor should be possible without disrupting uses on adjacent floors. Installing new equipment attached to various electric power and communications systems should not necessitate demolishing floor, walls and ceilings. Change is normal at several levels and needs to be planned for.

 This is where the idea of INFILL or FIT-OUT comes in. Fit-out is already conventional in office buildings and shopping centers but not yet in residential projects. INFILL is everything decided by or for an independent dwelling in a multifamily building or a unit of occupancy in non-residential projects.  A complete INFILL will include everything behind the front door and may even include part of the buildings’ façade. INFILL is everything making that space habitable, including walls, wires, pipes, and equipment. The space may even be rented, and INFILL purchased. The distinction has to do with clearly disentangling the parts and spaces associated with each ‘level’ of intervention (the commons on the one hand and the independent dwellings on the other hand). 



 Solid, well-located and well-liked ‘everyday’ buildings are being reprogrammed for uses other than those they were designed for all the time or reconfigured to enable continuing usefulness. In some cases, the new uses make an easy fit. Sometimes the fit is more difficult and expensive, but in all cases, someone has done an economic evaluation and has decided to convert or make significant adjustments in layouts rather than demolish and build new. Office buildings are being converted to residential use; parking garages are becoming commercial space; warehouses are turned into mixed use buildings; shopping centers are being converted to other mixed uses including civic functions; apartment buildings and condominiums are being reconfigured with new unit mixes and floor plans, and sometimes flipped from leased units to owned units and vice-a-versa; and the density and even uses in residential neighborhoods are changing. 

 The question is can we ignore any longer the need to design resilient buildings and districts from the outset that facilitate these processes?



In order to promote resilience and adaptability, we call upon the design, construction and building product manufacturing industries to adopt Open Building – to adopt practices that make variety efficient. We seek the support of regulators, planners, developers, builders and professional designers of all disciplines to support incentives and best practices that will help make the needed shift in practice.