Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Student Housing Spaceboxes at the University of Utrecht

While touring the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, we learned about a really innovative design for student housing called the Spaceboxes. These housing blocks were invented by the architect Mart de Jong, and they represent a really great example of "prefab" architecture that is efficient, flexable, affordable, and aesthetically pleasing.
The Spaceboxes consist of colorful prefabricated boxes that are made of a durable plastic which was traditionally only used in airplanes and ships. The use of this strong and durable material is a great example of how modern architecture is beginning to branch out and use materials and techniques that have been traditionally employed by other industries. Each commissioner gets to choose their complex's color and arrangement; the Spaceboxes can be stacked up to 3 storeys high, and are connected in a grid pattern with each storey made accessible by a prefabricated staircase that attaches to the side of the complex. Each Spacebox has an interior space of 18 square meters and comes furnished with all a student could need, including furniture and internet connection.
I thought that this project was really sucessful in the way that it handles the need for compact living in student dormitories. The Spaceboxes have been used on campuses all over the Netherlands since their invention, a fact that I feel is a testament to their great design. The boxes are all of the same shape and size, but still manage to avoid monotony by their bright colors, patterns, and the large windows that allow students to personalize the exterior view of their personal space. The units are densely packed, but it manages to create a social feel that is more friendly than cramped. The units are also sited on a plot that is close to the University buildings and provides ample room for parking bikes: a very important vehicle in the Netherlands. These dormitories are something that I feel could be employed in the United States with success; the Spaceboxes are mobile and much more easily replaceable than traditional dormitory buildings, and the self-contained nature of the boxes makes for a cozy space that is individual and personal and yet still facilitates social interaction between neighbors.
Who wouldn't want to live in such a great space?
Location: University of Utrecht
Name: Spaceboxes
Architect: Mart de Jong of design office De Vijf in Rotterdam
Janis R. Fowler

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