Ben van Berkel is an architect who aims to restructure the way we think about housing. His contributions to the field include the stunning Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, as well as huge scale housing projects in Asia such as the Masterplan Eunma Housing Development in South Korea. Not only has he brought iconic landmarks to the industry, but also innovative theory in practice. He works through UNStudio, the architectural firm he founded in 1998.
He recently opened the World Architecture Festival with a seminar on housing. The talk explored the dimensions of what van Berkel and his practice refer to as ‘efficient living’. It’s a holistic approach that considers every aspect of what it is to live in today’s society. From Individual houses with serene surroundings, to apartment blocks towering over busy cities, the firm apply the practice in every context.
When considering efficiency, often we think of sustainability and energy usage. Whilst these are integral parts of van Berkel’s vision, they exist within an all-encompassing ideal. His ideal includes practicality, a co-existence with nature, and using space in a way that ensures a high quality of living. A home should not just be a bed to sleep in but rather a space in which your work and home life can develop and change.
Architecture can affect our psychological state enormously. With this knowledge van Berkel builds homes that we can function in most efficiently. A sense of integrated nature is one way which he provides this; homes that reflect their environment. Another is dynamic and flexible use of space; providing spaces for family to socialize, as well as opportunities for individuals to disappear.
Van Berkel also considers space in a very practical manner. There are over 1 million empty square meters of unused office space sitting in Amsterdam. Such space could be transformed into housing for thousands of residents. UNStudio have completed several large scale housing estates. Van Berkel prefers to call them ‘neighborhoods in the sky’ rather than apartment blocks. They offer a community in which residents can thrive with plentiful space for social interaction.
No matter how big the project (some having 7000 people in one tower), the overall ideal of efficient living remains.
It’s certainly refreshing to see designs that accommodate for thousands of homes, whilst keeping the humane element of housing alive. To see more on the topic of housing, check out our article on the World Architecture Festival.
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