A New Approach Towards Mass Housing: John Habraken Theory

john theory

Introduction 

Dutch architect born on October 29, 1928, is a theorist and educator. He has contributed to user engagement in mass housing and the inclusion of users and inhabitants in the design process due to his theoretical bent. He is widely known for his idea, articulated in the 1961 book Supports An Alternative to Mass Housing, of dividing a building’s physical framework into support and infill.

The book explains how participation by individuals is crucial and has a significant impact on design thought and design influence. In some ways influenced by the work of the Megastructuralists, it offers a strategy in which the state provided the infrastructure on top of and between which people might construct their own houses. Habraken further became a director of the Foundation for Architectural Research(SAR) in the Netherlands from 1965 to 1975which investigated the use of industrial manufacturing in mass housing and looked at the role of Architects within this. 

From there, in 1967, he decided to pursue a career as a professor at Eindhoven Technical University, where he founded a new department of architecture and served as its founding chair. Later on, while he was the department head at MIT, he also taught there. From there, he collaborated from 1987 to 1997 on the creation and development of an infill system for residential construction.

He created hypotheses along the way and put forth original, cutting-edge suggestions for how to improve people’s lives. His significant achievements have also earned him numerous awards, including the David Roell prize from the Dutch Prince Bernhard Fund in 1979 and the 1988 Creative Achievement Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools in the US.

John Habraken went on to write a book titled “The Structure of the Ordinary” based on his earlier research and interest in mass housing. In this book, he explores and investigates the laws governing the built environment as revealed by patterns of transformation. Currently, his interest is in trying to understand why architects do not know how to deal with everyday environments.

Approach And Principles of Mass Housing

Comprehension through the book Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing 

To begin with, a quote that best describes ‘ The architect has become a king Midas. Everything he touches becomes architecture. Everything he touches becomes something special.” 

  • John Habraken  

The book’s main goal is to clarify the relationship between the user’s role, the architect’s role, the community’s role, and the craftsman’s role in creating the dwelling and how these roles are connected to one another. It also outlines when one should stop playing a role and allow others to participate and interact, as well as when one should not participate and make all the decisions. What might come from doing this, and how crucial a role do individuality and collectiveness play in the construction of the dwelling?

The book proposes the framework of the above ideas and has illustrated them through diagrams. The proposal to distinguish the infill from the support- what users can individually decide in the housing process from what users share- has turned out to be feasible in practice. Natural Relation- is the interaction of people with their immediate environment.  

What is the job of the architect? Is the starting point for this theory’s development. And Habraken claims that it has absolutely no relevance. The two options for how housing should be differentiated were: first, the community doesn’t build but rather provides support; second, each individual can design their own home by utilizing an infill package. The community and the individual both need to take action, making both possibilities beneficial. As a result, the infill packages and support structures were created.

Mass housing
Photo from De Drager film on the left of diagram shows the community and on right the individual 

One of the Rotterdam dwelling designs was made in such a way that the concept of smaller entry courtyards and bigger garden courtyards that are recognizable with various types of partitioning possibilities is there. In the area, there were two different approaches: the first was a garden courtyard with a sizable public space in the center, and the other was on a much smaller scale, with gardens in the corners. This creates individuality.

There has always been an assumption about the term participation and what this implies is that the people are being allowed to participate but in reality, the people are given the built environment and told to accept and “participate” in that particular built environment. Choosing a scheme and making a clear statement of what needs to be fixed and what could be a variation develops a framework of variation rather than repetition. Where few details and proportions remain the same and the rest could be altered. 

A New Approach Towards Mass Housing: John Habraken Theory John Habraken went on to write a book titled "The Structure of the Ordinary" based on his earlier research and interest in mass housing. In this book, he explores and investigates the laws governing the built environment as revealed by patterns of transformation. Currently, his interest is in trying to understand why architects do not know how to deal with everyday environments. Mass housing,John Habraken
Photo from De Drager film space for the entrance same framework could be altered

In the same manner, the exercise where we start with the basic form and then add on the variations gives the idea of keeping the base the same, and adding variation also implies the mass housing exercises. 

In the DE DRAGER film, it was also discussed upon the timelessness of the building and the combination of technological advancement to the derivation of simplicity. The architect of the SOLIDS building, Dietmar Eberle, said that –  

“To analyze a contemporary building or existing building stock based on its life cycle requires an understanding that a building today represents overlapping of 5 different time frames. Unfortunately, the current discussion persists in building all technical sub-systems together. Those sub-systems often have completely different life spans. Building with entangled subsystems, therefore, requires relatively costly investment to extend their useful life span. Combining these highly technological demands with the openness of the structure poses perhaps the most difficult intellectual task. Even now, when it is in front of you- it looks amazingly simple, but simplicity is deceptive.”

Additionally, the solids building has a vacant space at the ultimate end with columns. Individual freedom within a group framework is a large-span structure. This building’s design, which is referred to as the future of architecture, is not only beautiful but also functional. The functionality is determined by the users, while the architects supply the overall structure. In addition, the architect claims that it is necessary to determine what responsibilities fall under his purview or which one exemplifies architectural constraints? What duties do users manage, exactly?

A New Approach Towards Mass Housing: John Habraken Theory John Habraken went on to write a book titled "The Structure of the Ordinary" based on his earlier research and interest in mass housing. In this book, he explores and investigates the laws governing the built environment as revealed by patterns of transformation. Currently, his interest is in trying to understand why architects do not know how to deal with everyday environments. Mass housing,John Habraken
Photo from Arquitectura Viva  

Example of Infill Package theory 

Through the case of Nemausus Housing by Jean Nouvel, France in the year 1985

It is a low-cost housing project located in a French city in the south near the Mediterranean Sea. The main objective of the project was to have a constant transformation and should be low cost. The project was driven mainly by the quest of how can one have individuality and choice of design to some extent and also have a relationship with the neighbors. To build a fixed structural system and allow the flexibility for the users to create their own homes is the concept that relates to the infill theory of John Habraken. 

There are mainly two buildings with parking on the ground floor semi-buried and three upper floors of apartments. In total, there are 114 housing units with simple types of duplex and triplex. On average, each dwelling is 91m2, with additional types of spaces on both sides. 

The design is done in such a manner that every dwelling gets a chance to design its interior and furniture as they desire. Only the services such as washrooms are fixed to a particular position and some other features such as staircase in case of duplex or triplex dwellings. 

infill theory
Photo from Research Gate  

Flexibility in the Indian Context- Reinterpreting Support Theory  

The theory of support allows a lot of permutations and combinations of its application in India. However, the major difference would be the Indian Context, along with climate, culture, religion, and economy.

Prefabrication techniques are hardly ever used in the building of homes. Since skilled labor is inexpensive, rather than a shortage of infrastructure, industrialization in the construction sector is restricted to the manufacturing of raw materials. When compared to the costs of conventional plastered brick construction technologies, the prefabrication system appears expensive when considering the population of India. Does this bring up the issue of whether the mass housing system still exists in India? Therefore, standardization of mass housing in India is effective due to the simplicity of management systems when dealing with mass construction utilizing identical components, not because prefabricated elements are more cost-effective.

The design, tender, material procurement, construction management, and supervision processes are made simpler by unit repetition. The other distinction is particular in character but significantly affects the ultimate type of house. According to Indian bye-laws, every room in the house must have access to the outside. Ventilation through the courtyard is allowed as long as it meets a few requirements for minimum sizes. This goes against the support idea. Additionally, unless the entranceway is a ventilated space, only single-zone depth dwellings are feasible.

To maximize the perimeter area of a given built-up area, dwelling blocks are often square plan types or thin elongated plan types with central circulation cores.

Case- 

Udayan, Bengal Ambuja Housing Development Ltd. by Architect B.V.Doshi and Mandala Design Services. 

Built up Area- 186000 sq. mts

Unit Size- 45-700 sq. mts

The project does not take direct inspiration or theory of the support but has similarities in many ways. The support system in this building is a concrete frame structure, vertical circulation cores, and strategically located service ducts. The ground floor is used for parking and intermediate terraces are used as public spaces. The infill structure consists of conventional plastered brick partition walls and is hence practically inflexible. There total of 26 variations of infill layouts.

housing
Photo from Housing Service 

Conclusion  

The theory of John Habraken is a very simple approach towards understanding and giving the rightful role of Architect, Owner, and Craftsman in order to build a beautiful home, where one fills satisfaction in participating in the process and also can establish a special bond not only with the architect and craftsman but also with the very house that they want to convert it to home and bring their personalization and reflection of individuality’s culture though that. 

With this approach, the amalgamation among the individual and community is also understood and respected from time to time. With this, the nourishment and union stay for a much longer period. 

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