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Social Selection Drives Social Design

Social design has changed course in Dutch design city Eindhoven with a social housing corporation now selecting renters for a newly converted factory building.  Their criteria is “lifestyle”.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 22-08-2013

The growing design community in Eindhoven has once again taken over old factories once belonging to electronics giant Philips. The two majestic, white buildings now called “Anton” and “Gerard’ (after members of the Philips dynasty) radiate confidence in modernism and technology. The buildings remind one of the so-called Witte Dame in the city centre, now home to the Design Academy.

Bureaus Jo Coenen and Diederendirrix have turned the buildings into lofts, maintaining the industrial character, but combining it with some radical intrusions like the massive holes drilled through all stories in building Anton to create an impressive stairwell and give the building a communal space where people can meet.

Earlier this summer renters entered their lofts in the converted buildings. But the selection of who gets to rent the lofts has created some controversy.

The owner of the building is a social housing corporation, operating with financial support from the government. The semi-public corporation wanted to create a community in the buildings so it selected renters not only based on objective criteria like how long ago they've applied for an appartment, but also on “lifestyle” and “motivation”. Candidates had to explain why they wanted to live in a loft and what they were going to contribute to the area.

The corporation is the first to use this method of selection for a new project.

As a recent feature story in national newspaper de Volkskrant pointed out, the resulting population is entirely white, highly educated and working in the creative industries. One renter admits to feeling embarrassed after seeing a Morrocan boy in the elevator leaving her wondering why he was here.  It turned out that he was the pizza delivery boy.

The community does work, inhabitants testify in the newspaper story. A lot of collective activities are organized, like live music and BBQs on the roof terraces.

But regular procedures would not have resulted in such a community, claims corporation executive Jack Hock in de Volkskrant: “People would have ended up living here who did not want cultural activities in front of their houses.” The area, known as Strijp S, plays an important role in the Dutch Design Week organized in Eindhoven every autumn.

The population of the buildings might become more diverse in the future, but the corporation will continue with asking candidates about their motives.

Another corporation in Eindhoven is taking the social engineering one step further. Candidates for one of the 400 homes to be built next door at Space S have to become active now – come up with ideas, join meetings, bicycle tours or other collective activities.  In so doing they earn points that enable them to rent an apartment starting 2015. The public battleground for sharing ideas and showing commitment is Facebook. The group has already got close to 1300 likes (as of mid August).  

A letter to the editor also in de Volkskrant cynically compares these “communities” to “communes” of the past, and notes how these usually ended unhappily.

“May the ideas of the silly creators and participants soon die a silent death, while a fairer distribution, including integration, finds its way to Eindhoven,” the writer concludes.

Main image: buildings Anton and Gerard (Wikimedia)

Left hand side from top:
Stairwell in building Anton
Bathroom
The view
(by Arthur Bagen)

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