How to build student residences quickly

13 Aug 2019 | News articles

The municipality of The Hague expects growth in the number of students in the city in the coming years and is therefore eagerly looking for housing (Nederlands Dagblad 12 April). You can read Harry van Zandwijk’s vision in the Nederlands Dagblad (published on Thursday 2 May 2019).

The municipality of The Hague expects growth in the number of students in the city in the coming years and is therefore eagerly looking for housing (Nederlands Dagblad 12 April). There is a serious student housing shortage: the municipality wants to realise another 3000 student residences by 2026. They come on top of the 1900 student residences which are already planned for 2020. The Hague is no exception. Cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam also suffer from a chronic shortage of student housing. In order to deal with this problem, the same solution is quite quickly being pointed out: build, build, build.

But randomly building student residences is not an option: construction sites are scarce and municipalities do not want to end up with a surplus of student housing over the next few decades. This is the problem of the housing market in a nutshell. Whether students, migrant workers or seniors, the housing market is so overheated that there is an acute need for every type of home. But no one can foresee what the housing market will bring us in the future. For example, the outflow of the baby-boom generation could, in the long term, drastically reduce the demand for houses. Falling house prices are putting homeowners and investors under pressure and can lead to a stagnating economy. In Japan nowadays even houses in good condition are given away for nothing because there are no buyers.

Flexible construction
In order to tackle the housing crisis of today and to ensure that no new housing malaise arises in the future, we need to look at (traditional) construction in a different way.
This sounds rigorous, but in practice, it doesn’t have to be. Modular or flexible construction can solve a large part of the problem. In this case, complete buildings are assembled on-site with the help of modules pre-assembled at the factory. This construction method is often 30 to 50 per cent faster than traditional construction. It is also easier to change the function of the building or to remove the building at a later stage. Residents need not fear to get poor quality. There is no longer a difference in quality with ‘normally’ built houses. Zero-on-the-meter homes, for example, can be easily realised through flexible construction. Many flexible buildings will also eventually remain in standing permanently.

Won’t the Netherlands then become monotonous, because the same type of homes is constantly being built? That concern is unjustified. There is already a wide variety of flexible buildings in
use in the Netherlands, ranging from energy-neutral homes to office buildings, from student housing to complete operating theatres. Today, the architecture and facade finishings are just as diverse as the potential applications of flexible construction. Not that all buildings in the Netherlands will have to be built modularly from now on, but with a large number of projects, this is simply the best option for reasons of speed and efficiency. Think of social housing or the housing of students, migrant workers and seniors.

Imagine if, in fifteen years’ time, the municipality of The Hague sees that fewer student residences will be needed or that it would be better if the land were to be used for a different purpose. Flexible homes can then easily be converted or relocated to locations where they are wanted. This means that buildings will be (re)deployed in a much more targeted way to places where they are really needed. In addition, the municipality of The Hague may be able to avoid time-consuming procedures by giving the houses a temporary status. This fact, in combination with the shorter construction time, ensures that
a sufficient number of student residences will be available well before 2026. And on top of that, the municipality is also operating in a sustainable manner.

This is a publication of the Nederlands Dagblad. The article can be viewed here.