Open Building and Users’ Agency: Early and contemporary experiments in the Netherlands

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific


This presentation discusses the notion of ‘Open Building’ through its conceptualizations and implementations in the Netherlands since the 1960s until today. It focuses on the place of dwellers’ agency in the development of residential open buildings to investigate the potential of users’ empowerment.

The term ‘Open Building’ was popularised by Age van Randen, professor of Building Technology at TU Delft’s Faculty of Architecture in the 1980s. It synthesised the principles developed in 1961 by John Habraken in his theory of ‘Supports’ (Dragers) and is based on the duality of structure and infill. In the post-war context of consumerism and industrialization in construction, Habraken proposed a radical transformation of the mass housing building industry that aimed at public participation and freedom of choice for the user. Supports, durable and collective, were to be delivered by the industry, whereas infill, changeable and individual, could be tailored by the inhabitants. The SAR-group (Architects’ Research Foundation) further developed these ideas, while others proposed variations, among them Jaap Bakema in Eindhoven (City plan, and growing houses) and Hertzberger in Delft (Diagoon houses).

Even though the paradigm shift as sought by Habraken didn’t happen, there has been a consistent experimentation with Open Building concepts, with more intense production triggered by the crisis of 2008. Bottom-up initiatives, housing corporations and private developers alike have tested new arrangements between clients, builders, architects and municipalities to make their projects financially viable, while searching for new housing products. Projects such as Solids (Fretton, Eberle), Superlofts (Koehler), or Patch22 (Frantzen) present a range of different ownership models and typological configurations on the promise of supporting new ways of life and fostering sustainability. For the first time, the notion of Open Building is carried forward by practice rather than theory. However, these contemporary implementations do not seem to achieve the social agenda that originated the term; they have to operate within a context of real estate speculation and gentrification that exclude classes of dwellers instead of empowering them.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventAHRA 2020: Housing and the City (Online): 17th Annual International Conference of the Architectural Humanities Research Association - Nottingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 19 Nov 202021 Nov 2020


ConferenceAHRA 2020: Housing and the City (Online)
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Open Building
  • User’s Agency
  • Supports and Infill


Dive into the research topics of 'Open Building and Users’ Agency: Early and contemporary experiments in the Netherlands'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this