“Reinventing the Ground Floor After 50 Years”

An article written by Arjan Gooijer, Gert Jan te Velde & Klaas Waarheid, all three architect at Van Schagen architecten. An important cause of poor housing and living quality in the post-war Dutch residential areas is the unattractive appearance and mis-use of the plinths of many residential buildings. The post-war areas have been developed from abstract urban conceptions at a district level with merely programmatic targets. The daily use of the dwelling, surroundings, and streets were regarded as less important. But precisely in the everyday use a good plinth is of crucial importance. Fortunately, we can still change things that are 50 years overdue.

“In order to include the high-rise in this urban set-up, a new programme and image has been developed for the plinth of the Florijn-building. By expanding the ground floor space has been created for a new programme of atelier dwellings, entrances, business space and patio dwelling in the ‘plinth of the building.”

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p225a 65-1a_Vissenkommen_old Rotterdam Pendrecht NL BEFORE - CREDIT Stijn Brakkee

BEFORE: Vissenkommen Pendrecht, Rotterdam ©Stijn Brakkee
p225b 65-1b_Vissenkommen Rotterdam Pendrecht AFTER - CREDIT Stijn Brakkee
AFTER: Vissenkommen Pendrecht, Rotterdam ©Stijn Brakkee
Cover image:  AFTER: Schuilenburg, Amersfoort ©Stijn Brakkee



“Japan: The Machiya Concept”

For this article Birgit Jürgenhake tells the story of Machiya’s. They are wooden townhouses, with different variations built throughout Japan. Ma means ‘space’ or ‘between’, chi means ‘road’ and ya means ‘shop’. So in other words: a space along the road with a shop. A machiya is usually a dwelling with a shop situated towards the street. The machiya first appeared in the 11th and 12th centuries when merchants in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, used tables to display their products in front of their house. Eventually the shop was built into the living space with patio gardens bringing light and nature into the relatively small and long house. Although some machiya houses are protected as Japanese heritage, many are disappearing.

“Today machiya are part of the old city centres and streetscapes are filled with them, creating a beautiful and lively urban area, with modern high-rise towering next to them.”

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p161 46-1_Machiya Japan Nozomi Birgit Jurgenhake


“Turning Buildings Inside-Out, Outside-In”

For this article John Worthington, architect and co-founder of DEGW, has been interviewed about this vision of semi-public spaces. He thinks of a ‘public realm’ as open 24-hours a day; space which is owned, governed and managed by the community. ‘Semi-public space,’ on the other hand, is generally located on the ground floor and available to the public at the owner’s discretion; the space is owned and managed by the landlord. You can think of a department store—an original semi-public space. You only go in if you’re interested to go in, but then you’re not really required to purchase anything. Effective semi-public spaces are permeable with multiple entrances to allow through routes, which allow users to navigate the footprints of these often very large buildings.

“We know we have to use space more effectively; we know we have to intensify our use of urban land. The conversation has started, there are enough exemplars to show how places can be enhanced—change is afoot!”

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p150 _Kingsplace London UK 2 - CREDIT David Rudlin via www.climaxcity.files.wordpress.com

King’s Place, London (architect: Dixon Jones) ©David Rudlin via Climax City
Cover picture: ©The Style Examiner



“Embedding Buildings”

Marlies Rohmer is a urbanist, architect and founder of Architectenbureau Marlies Rohmer (AMR). Rohmer explains in this article how they embed social plinths in their designs. The plinth is one way to embed a building in the city, to ensure that it is part of the street. It’s the point of exchange between architecture and city, between private and public. In our architecture we emphasize this and encourage this interaction and flow between the inside and outside and the connection between city and building. However, there are other ways to embed buildings in the city- the plinth is only one.

“It’s not only these larger spaces that are important to embed a building in the city; it is also about smaller places that form the layers between city and building. This layering creates a passage between public and private.”

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p106 33-3 Borneo Island Amsterdam hybrid zone  - CREDITS Bert Nienhuis via Marlies Rohmer Architecten©Bert Nienhuis via Marlies Rohmer Architecten
Cover picture: ©Scagliala and Brakkee via Marlies Rohmer Architecten

“Designing from the Street”

An article written by Ton Schaap, urbanist at the City of Amsterdam, who focuses on the urban public realm. As humans we are focused on meeting other people, for which we need the urban public realm. In that domain the human scale is important as well as the vibrancy of the place – both are provided by plinths. A city that has a better public realm, will be more successful in the long run. This refers not solely to the plinth but to the whole design of the street and public spaces; street and plinth need each other.

“My inspiration for urban design and plinths comes from the European city before the mass use of the car. Plinths are often assumed to be non-residential. But most of the high density urban areas in Amsterdam are residential. These attractive areas are to be found in the European city areas from before the 20th century.”

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p101a 23-4b_OHG_PICT0067 hybrid zone Eastern Docklands Amsterdam NL Ton Schaap.jpg

New urban housing with plinths in the Eastern Docklands Amsterdam



“Close Encounters with Buildings”

An article in our book written by Jan Gehl, Lotte Johansen Kaefer and Solving Reigstad, architects and urban design consultants at Gehl Architects. This article has first been published in URBAN DESIGN International (2006) and was summarized with permission of Jan Gehl.

Historically, town emerged as a result of the exchange between travellers and vendors, selling their wares from booths. Booths became buildings and the pathways became streets. Many urban functions moved indoors. Urban buildings have become bigger and correspondingly introspective and self-sufficient. What we want from the ground floor of urban buildings is different from what we want from the other storeys. The ground floor is where building and town meet, where we urbanites have our close encounters with buildings, where we can touch and be touched by them.

“If the ground floors are interesting and varied, the urban environment is inviting and enriching. If the ground floors are closed or lack detail, the urban experience is correspondingly flat and impersonal.”

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Small units, many doors