Hein de Haan came to the front door that led from the street down a hallway into his office where the conversation began.
The Front Door would be a topic of discussion when talking about the cohousing community here but for now he was keen to talk about the lovely community he has become deeply connected with in south-west China. The Mosuo live in a small village located in the Sichuan Province and are overtaking us with the renewable energy. They are matriarchal and have no word in their language for “war”. It’s a foreign concept. He spoke enthusiastically showing photos and smiling a lot.
A cup of coffee took the conversation to cohousing and the creation of Vrijburcht Cohousing Community.
Hein explained how the Collective Private Development –’CPO’– works there. It’s a form of partnership providing access to cheap finance from the government at an interest rate of maybe 1% to 4.5%. He said Germany’s cheaper still. A person can buy an individual house from the builder at the start, based on individual financing.
Students in container housing with all the facilities for each person are deprived social contact causing problems as they lose their social skills.
At Vrijburcht Community (pronounced ‘freabruc’ and meaning Free Castle) there are fifty-five houses designed by Hein de Haan, referred to by some as the Anarchist architect, who also lives there.
There is a Theatre which is also for meetings, a commercial restaurant for the whole neighbourhood that has a bar and hosts live music, a commercial sailing school and a Children’s Day Nursery which is also privately owned.
Hein was disappointed it became a business believing the community should have managed it themselves and they are now saddled with a lot of commercial rules and are very institutionalised.
The Cafe is very well set up and frequented by the residents and locals.
He was seeking affordability but was squeezed between government financing, market forces and the timing and the economy and of course, by people’s expectations. However Vrijburcht is there today and somehow he managed to get the waterfront apartments allocated to the single mothers and their children. Some people were trying to explain to him “Hein, these are premium apartments. You don’t understand. You’re wanting to put the single mothers and children into the premium apartments? Don’t think you understand.” “You’re right,” said the unorthodox Hein, “I don’t understand!”
The Theatre was fully equipped with theatre lights, an audio-visual media room, electric mirror ball and more and created space for many of the roles in the community. An expensive place to install but part of Hein’s grand vision. Meetings, theatre, community events and events for the neighbourhood are held there and some are helping to subsidise it. There was a small kitchen too for catering, facilities for the public and a guest room also incorporated.
(photo from website)
In effect this was the hub of the community as it fairly well filled the function of the Common House. What was missing was the Common Room with Common Kitchen and Dining Room space.
The community need to share meals together bubbled through and so instead of a Common Room residents had adopted the Glasshouse for common meals. With a maximum of sixteen these were by nature more intimate and people bring their own food.
In addition the community made good use of the wider deck area – south facing in the northern hemisphere to catch the sun – sitting and relaxing, having parties there, eating together (again more pot luck), kids playing and people socialising – weather permitting of course.
And the open green space is there to be enjoyed too.
The cost of the neighbours housing is considerably dearer.
A Gymnasium with walking machines and other exercise equipment was also available and a Workshop for people to bring things in, service cars, and make things and prepare and this was where the Sailing Club stored all their gear.
Hein said a lot of children had been born here. He said the total number of people in the community is less than a hundred and by the way, “half of Amsterdam front doors are single people”.
The land on which the community is built is totally reclaimed sitting on sand and mud and more sand. In 2000 it was still a lake two meters deep. The material to build the island initially squeezed and displaced the mud beneath and it took a while to settle before boats could easily access the shore. The concrete piles had to be driven up to 22 metres into the sand. A bicycle bridge was built across the water. The lake was dredged, a small dyke to provide some sanctuary for the wildlife was established and sailing and boating encouraged.
Hein’s twenty-four metre, flat-bottomed ketch, Avance, was proudly moored on the community’s jetty until changed family circumstances forced it to be sold. Hein considered living on it but eventually reluctantly opted for his ground floor corner apartment in his community.
In Holland squatters houses have, over the years, been legalised and in the process get taken over by big housing associations which then have to really renovate and rework the spaces.
When talking about the committee structure, Hein spoke about the “union of owners” and a board to do the work and manage the finances including the Sinking Fund which, for example, would fund the replacement of a roof in thirty years, etcetera.
The fee was based on design. For example, Hein included in the design that the windows up top (which might have cost more initially), required less long-term maintenance whereas window frames on ground floor were wooden but when they need painting, scaffolds would not be not required.
The fee was based on square meters. The resident could decide how much space they wanted to allocate to housing versus working space and whether or not they needed car-parking space and all this helped determine the fee and council rates.
Hein explained that having a front door for work and another front door (on the inside for the community) for home created two addresses. This also helped prevent cuts in social security money which for seniors was €1000 per month sometimes supplemented by some paid work. In a community this was enough to live on. He said it works out better financially to share a house and there should be a housing number, a letterbox and doorbell per person.
Most common apartment size was 96 square metres and the single person unit is not so much smaller.
Hein said that regulations around energy are very bad there and discouraged investment in solar panels. He said that sustainability generally is very poor and that Holland is the home of very big companies and there is a lot of bureaucracy preventing innovation.
For example when Steigereiland was being created on the reclaimed land there was potential for a gas hub to be established for the neighborhood. But one company owns the city heating and owns all the pipes and you are obliged to connect through them. This blocks all innovative thinking.
Holland is twenty-fourth out of twenty-seven countries on the sustainability ladder. Lithuania is overtaking.
Hein is not too worried about sea level rise. He believes that Holland will take a century to sink 80 centimetres.
Hein describes himself as an architect specialising in Collective design and is deliberately not on the board. He adheres to the school of thought that says “Never be the guru of your own community. Move on to the next project” so as to be as autonomous as possible.
Hein’s work has now taken him into initiatives working with an informal network in Amsterdam. They are focussed on supporting development that will try to keep the price per square metre for young people coming in as low as possible. Working with a community that is forty years old, situated outside the city on the west of the harbour, Ruigoord (pronounced Rowhort) – meaning Raw Place – was once part of the sea.
The initiative promises to be affordable. It involves building new places there for €30,000 with no ground cost involved at all. They are buying up cabins from the building industry downturn for €12,000 each. And, of course, there are some extra euros required for building the roads in and community facilities.
The anarchist architect is very excited about this radical new and highly innovative project.
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