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nieuws  06-11-2023 

Designing imaginative and intricate residential floor plans




This article was published in our magazine Nook Architectural drawing. Read the full article below:




The latest issue of Out There, the bookazine published by architecture firm De Zwarte Hond, is an appeal for better residential floor plans. Nook spoke to architect LISA VAN DER SLOT, a driving force behind the publication, along with architects WILLEM HEYLIGERS and SOU FUJIMOTO, who all designed residential projects showcasing imaginative and intricate floor plans in diverse dimensions.


Because of the housing shortage, there are now plans to build a
million houses, but they must not lead to cookie-cutter housing.

Lisa van der Slot


What insights have you gained from this project on floor plans that you didn’t have when you started?

Lisa: Several. We studied the housing map from 1890 to now. You can see the moment of time reflected in the floor plan. For example, in the 1930s, materials were scarce but labour was cheap. Back then, homes were delivered with good built-in cupboards, lots of rich detailing such as stained glass windows or beautiful en suite doors.

Secondly, when we started the project, we felt that floor plans in the Netherlands had become more and more unitary and we were able to confirm this. When drawing floor plans, architects and developers think very much in terms of the standard family. However, a quarter of houses are occupied by parents with children and three-quarters are occupied by singles, cohabitants, or people who sometimes have a child because they have a co-parenting arrangement. So the standard doesn’t exist and people’s needs have changed as well. Some people see their home as a place to retreat to rest and reflect. Some want very wide-open living, while others really enjoy living in the city and settle for a smaller living space. The diversity is quite broad. We are missing that in the floor plans now.

The third insight is that, as an architect, you can’t do it alone. I quite believe that any architect can design beautiful floor plans, but to actually get them built you have to work together. You need the support of the municipality, a developer, and a broad team of specialists to experiment with the floor plan together and turn it into something special.


Is the current housing crisis also a crisis of quality of living?

Indeed, despite plans to build a million homes by 2035 due to housing shortages,

we shouldn’t resort to ‘cookie-cutter housing’. We should not start building a lot of houses without thinking carefully about the quality of these houses, as is also a big part of the problem. Floor plans that are tailored to residents and users contribute to the quality of living. The human scale seems to be forgotten in floor plans.


In Out There you wrote that architects have let housing associations and developers take the lead when it comes to floor plans. How did that happen, and how can architects regain that role?

First of all, by opening the conversation. It regularly happens that whoever is going to develop or build the houses approaches an architect with the floor plan already under their arm. The architect is then asked to design the facade, and that’s it. But residential quality is much more than just designing a facade. In that sense, we [at De Zwarte Hond] do feel that, in the profession, sometimes too much attention is paid to the exterior and too little is spent on the interior and how it will be used.


Are architects more interested in designing the exterior than the interior?

I dare not say that, but I’m left with that feeling. For example, an architect can stir up discussion about whether built-in cupboards will be in the houses. I live in a street in Rotterdam with many houses that are rented out for one year to international students. In August, there are piles of rubbish on the street with all sorts of IKEA cupboards and beds. And in September, vans drive en masse into the street to deliver newly ordered IKEA beds and cupboards. This is a terrible shame. The built-in cupboards of the 1930s have now lasted almost 100 years. It’s quite an investment to deliver homes with fitted wardrobes, but if you look at the whole lifespan of such a wardrobe, it saves material and, in the long run, money. We think there isn’t enough attention given to this in construction budgets and their distribution. An architect can help decide how the money is allocated. Henk Stadens [architect-partner at De Zwarte Hond] is currently collaborating with a furniture builder to research how to reintroduce this quality in a cost-effective and sustainable manner.


Nook requested Lisa van der Slot to design a floor plan for a space where she’d want to live using only 53 square metres per person, the average living area for residents in the Netherlands:



Why is there less focus on floor plan design in architectural education?

It could be because of the complexity of the issues we’re facing. I am on the jury of the Archiprix this year, and many projects are about circular building and the climate crisis. Perhaps the floor plan is not the most burning issue or sexy theme. There are also offices – fortunately, we do not – that design a floor plan parametrically. Then the computer starts from the minimum to generate what a floor plan should look like. Perhaps the feeling has crept in that floor plans are not or are less a part of the architect’s job, which has led to diminishing interest in them in education.


What is important when designing a good floor plan?

It’s vital to see from the user’s perspective and anticipate their potential needs. Of course, you can’t do that completely, because every person is different, but try to see through the eyes of the user how they move through the floor plan. Consider how the space might be utilised, the perspectives it offers, and its adaptability. Floor plans customised to residents enhance the living experience. Designing a floor plan is not some kind of puzzle you solve, because you design them for human beings who are going to live there and need flexibility to adapt the homes to their taste and needs.


Jeroen de Willigen writes in Out There, “There is something abject about designing a floor plan to figure out how people should live.” Do you agree with him?

Yes. He believes it might be presumptuous to determine how people should live. However, this shouldn’t deter architects from designing thoughtful floor plans. Rather than imposing a rigid lifestyle through a fixed layout, a floor plan can be spacious, inspiring, adaptable, and present various living options. It’s about opening up as an architect. Irene Cieraad, an anthropologist at TU Delft, remarked in our magazine that a large proportion of architecture students grew up in a detached house, often somewhere in the countryside, and then [as architects] they start thinking about how a family is going to live in a flat. Architects are not all-knowing, but you can design a home for residents by empathising with the user, listening to their needs, and accepting influence from others. As an architect, you have to function like a sponge that absorbs all kinds of information and then knows how to turn it into a building. Thus, opening up is very important. [Thierry Somers]


Out There is published by architecture firm De Zwarte Hond and edited by Lisa van der Slot and Henk Stadens. Cover illustration by Nadia Pepels.







“We design a floor plan as if it were our own home and look very carefully at how to create as much living space as possible and as little hallway as possible”.

Willem Heyligers




[floor plan]

MVRDV designed the building, including the floor plans. However, the Valley’s owner, the Rosenbaum family, wanted to turn it into high-end free-sector rental housing and asked us to redesign the floor plans.


Originally, the floor plans for the flats contained a lot of square metres of hallway. From the bedroom, you always had to go through the hallway to the bathroom, and a three-bedroom flat had only one bathroom. So we converted the floor plans from three bedrooms to two bedrooms and two bathrooms as an example. We also increased the square metres of living space. The focus was comfort comes first: the living area must be in line with the size of the apartment.


We upped the luxury level as well. For the flats, we designed kitchens and bedrooms with wardrobes up to the ceiling and walk-in closets, and fitted all the high-end Modular lighting. All that’s left for the tenants to do is to lay down the flooring and place their furniture.

There are a total of 198 rental flats in the Valley. Unique drawings were made for almost all of them, with the exception of 24 smaller flats measuring around 50 square metres with a loggia on the glass facade, which have almost identical floor plans. All apartments in the Valley have a loggia and a balcony, or several balconies, and we took into account how daylight enters, being very different with a broad variation in angles and a big difference between the corporate facade and the Valley facade.


We conducted a radical transformation of the layout in a relatively short time, because construction had already started. It was an incredibly complicated process with shafts, concrete structures, and cantilevers already in place that we had to take into account. Sometimes we wanted holes in other places, and we worked very closely with MVRDV, the installers, and the structural engineer in order to achieve that.


The art of designing a good floor plan is thinking from the inside out. When big architecture firms design luxurious high-rise residential complexes, you see that they think of the building from the facade and then start working on the interior, which has become something of a residual. There seems to be less interest in designing the interior at big firms – they consider it less important. We are an architecture firm that designs both interiors and exteriors, and we really think from the user’s perspective. We design a floor plan as if it were our own home and look very carefully at how to create as much living space as possible and as little hallway as possible. A floor plan can be a complicated jigsaw to solve, but we really enjoy doing it. [Thierry Somers]




This article was published in our magazine NOOK Architectural Drawing. You can order NOOK here










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