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Crate confinement

Today's student units are fully developed to suit minimal costs and space requirements and seem to be the ultimate answer to the ever-growing demand for affordable student housing in big cities. They exist of deep tunnels with no more window space than strictly necessary and a layout that allows living, sleeping, cooking and a bathroom on 20 to 35 m². An achievement in efficiency. They are realized in large numbers, up to 1,000+, in buildings up to twenty floors. The architectural variety is limited to omitting a unit on a corner or locally a funky color on the facade; but this hardly hide the monotony.

The clustering of the smallest possible units, in the largest possible numbers is a trend in urban living anyway; often with trendy living concepts and an inventive stack of functions. Your bed hangs above your desk, a staircase folds out, the kitchen and bathroom are intertwined in a wall unit. You could argue that this way more people can live in the city, with a lower ecological footprint. The high density also offers opportunities and space for communal functions such as restaurants, nomadic workplaces and roof terraces. It still oppresses me however; especially in the lockdown the walls will surely come at you.

And how future-proof is a neighborhood consisting of such massive small-grain units? In my experience, the most adaptive buildings are never the finest. The most flexible are spatial structures with a certain excess, larger spans, a free layout and sufficient daylighting. In The Hague, we have recently been able to convert a large sixties office building with these characteristics into an apartment complex with relative ease. Rich in daylight and with a wide variety of freely divisible floor plans.

The termite mounds of small cages can turn out to be a headache issue in the long run. Two units of 35m² should, in my opinion, at least be able to merge to one multi-room apartment of 70m². Why do we no longer build residential buildings as offices, with large, freely divisible floor areas, good proportions between facade and floor area and prepared for an endlessly changing future?