Summer School: Let's Be R€al - A New Collective on the Block

Independent School for the City

Summer school
19.07.2021 - 30.07.2021

About the Programme

A two-week studio exploring new development strategies for collective affordable housing in Rotterdam with architect Alfredo Brillembourg, experience designer Tessa Steenkamp and Crimson, taking place from 19 - 30 July 2021. While city centres all over the world are increasingly popular for living, working and tourism, housing has become scarce and real estate prices have skyrocketed. In Rotterdam, like in many other cities, it has become extremely difficult to find an affordable house. Although coming from a long tradition of rent controlled social housing in the Netherlands, the neo-liberal policy of recent years has left housing corporations paralyzed and curtailed their possibilities to invest. This has led to a structural shortage of affordable housing, especially in the city centres. Project developers and real estate firms jump into this gap, with standardized living-as-a-service concepts for single or double households such as the Student Hotel, OurDomain or Change=, which combine micro apartments with communal facilities and data-driven services for those who can afford it. Other developers move towards so called ‘friends-concepts’ in which one house is suitable for two single households, each with their own lease. The living room, kitchen and bathroom are shared while the bedroom is private property. Most of these concepts only offer solutions for a limited amount of people and a short period of time. People who are seeking to build up a life in the city and who are looking for long term housing solutions, are often forced to rent for top marked prices, which is only within reach for the lucky few. Others have to find a house on the city’s fringes or in neighbouring towns, which might eventually lead to segregation. ‘Let’s get real!’ explores -as realistic as possible- if it is still possible to create neutral living spaces for affordable rents. We will do so by means of a collective effort. Participants will form a collective of would-be inhabitants who together model the financial and programmatic conditions as a starting point for an alternative development strategy. Can we target a mixture of populations and programs? Can we share facilities? Can we combine people with and without money? Can we submit our labour to ‘pay’ in kind? Can we use new models to diversify instead of standardize? And most importantly: which digital and financial development strategies can we develop to create affordable and attractive collective housing? For this studio, the Independent School for the City will collaborate with architect Alfredo Brillembourg and experience designer Tessa Steenkamp of the Urban Think Tank. We will build upon their worldwide experience of developing affordable housing, the UTT-research on the Torre David in Caracas, Venezuela, the housing in Kayelitsa, Cape Town, as well as the work of the School’s co-founders Crimson Historians & Urbanists in Hoogvliet, the Netherlands. This studio will research the reconfiguring of property, capital and the Future of First Step Housing, where all relationships can be explained in terms of a collective horizon. It aims to incorporate meaningful social programs that enliven the potential project with the sociological best practice in design and housing. The goal of this studio is not the aesthetics of a building, but is much more focused on the development of strategies that make the development of collective affordable housing possible. A background in architecture is not necessary, but an affinity with housing is, as well as with active participatory engagement. Skills in communication, finance or political lobbying might also come in handy! During the first days of the studio, participants will be introduced to the Rotterdam housing market, its contemporary challenges and its affordable housing legacy. In a relatively short period of time, we will get presentations of possible financial models and discuss which model we will use. We will then collectively develop a speculative sketch design and programme of requirements for a mixed-use community of about 80 households and additional facilities on a given location in Rotterdam. Each person will bring in his own requirements and (financial) capacities and contribute to the collective sum of wishes and limitations. Using these data in an UTT-designed modelling platform, the participants will then combine the programmatic puzzle with the constructive framework of the building. The course will result in a proposal: a prototype for a collective building including a spatial design, a financial model and ideas for the social life and interaction of the collective. The presentation will include an illustrated ‘letter to the mayor’ as a collective manifesto to explain what is needed to truly realize affordable housing in Rotterdam.

Who's Coming

This studio is open for everyone, for designers and architects as well as historians, journalists, anthropologists, artists, and housing developers.

About You

The course is subject to Corona measures. We will determine in May 2021 whether the course can take place. You can register for this studio by sending an email to For practical reasons, a maximum of 15 participants can take part in this course.

About Us

The Independent School for the City is a platform for urban professionals to explore the complexity and contradictions of the global city. Social Sciences, Economy, Planning, Design, History and other "urban studies" are brought together in a trans-disciplinary community of learning. The school has deep roots and a strong presence in the city of Rotterdam and is part of a wide and diverse international network of practices and institutions. It is rooted in the practice of Crimson Historians & Urbanists and Z.U.S of combining a critical, activist approach to the city with effecting real change through architectural and planning projects. Blurring the line between critique and practice, research and policy and a strong belief in an incremental instead of a tabula rasa approach to city planning.