Missed part one of the diary? You can read it here.
We started bright an early and I was very much looking forward to meeting Jacqueline Tellinger, an individual key to the development of Almere. Jacqueline talked about the housing challenges they faced in the Netherlands: an ageing population and first time buyers struggling to take their first steps onto the housing ladder. It sounded all too familiar and very similar to the challenges in the UK.
Jacqueline’s vision for Almere was about giving people the control to build the homes they want to build in areas that they want to live “It’s about strengthening civic initiative”. We were very fortunate that Jacqueline agreed to give us a guided tour of Almere.
It is clear that MMC is well embedded in Almere – it is used in almost every property to varying degrees. I think the reason why it has worked so well here is two-fold; firstly because Almere started with a ‘clean sheet’ and there was an opportunity to start from scratch to deliver housing in a better way. Secondly, because the focus is on building homes to meet the needs and desires of homeowners - not building houses and then wondering who they might be suitable for.
We saw an area of Almere Poort where the plots- and permits- allowed for one-storey housing only. Jacqueline originally assumed that the plots would appeal to older homeowners, as they were smaller, cheaper and worked well for those who were less mobile. She was surprised to find that these homes appealed to a diverse mix of people including single people and those just starting out in their careers. The lesson? You cannot always assume what type of housing is best suited to an individual.
After lunch, we visited a Wikkelhouse – a home literally made of cardboard but not as we know it- These homes are sustainably produced and three times more eco-friendly than traditional houses.
The core of the house is fibre cardboard wrapped around a house-shaped mould. This is then covered with a breathable foil to make sure the cardboard doesn’t get drenched in the rain whilst allowing any moisture to get out. The outside stained pinewood then completes the house.
Whilst I sensed some members of the group (including myself) wondering if perhaps the Dutch had pushed the boundaries a little too far in using cardboard as a building material, the house was remarkably warm and sturdy and as its founder explained it had a minimum expected life cycle of 30 years. He also explained that really the purpose of the Wikkelhouse is to demonstrate what is possible, that there is so much more to explore with materials and housing. He certainly had a point.
We found out that London already has a Wikkelhouse on a rooftop in Hoxton, I’ll be looking out for this and more of them popping up when we get back to London!
After an inspiring and eye opening couple of days, we headed back to the airport, there was certainly a lot for us to reflect on.
Almere has taken full advantage of MMC and it is clear that the local authority, builders, architects, manufacturers, valuers and lenders had worked together to make this happen, putting homeowners in the driving seat. I can only hope that the UK adopts a similar attitude to innovation.