John Habraken

Individual – Netherlands

1928 onwards

John Habraken is a Dutch architect who has researched mass housing and strategies for the participation of users and residents in the building process. He is best-known for his concept of separating the physical infrastructure of buildings into support and infill, developed in the book Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing, which was first published in 1961. Supports advocated an approach where the State provided the infrastructure on top of and between which people could build their own housing, influenced in some respects by the work of the Megastructuralists. Habraken took this further as director of the Foundation for Architectural Research (SAR) which investigated the use of industrial manufacturing in mass housing and looked at the role of architects within this.

In breaking up the provision of housing into a number of different components, each of which would be tackled separately, Habraken's solution lies between what Nabeel Hamdi has termed the 'provider paradigm' and 'support paradigm' in his book, Housing without Houses. Whilst in the provider model housing is seen as a physical and technical problem that can be solved through mass production and regulation, in order to ensure quality and standards, the support model acknowledges the dispersed nature of resources in society, focusing instead on social infrastructure. This is considered an issue of management and resource allocation, as exempilfied in the work of organisations such as Habitat for Humanity or the Community Design movement of the US. In Habraken's method, the large-scale physical infrastructure is designed and built by the technicians-architects, engineers and construction companies-working with the State, whilst the infill is provided by a small-scale, individualised approach. This allows users to have a meaningful participation in the design of their homes, can accommodate self-building and is a highly flexible building model that can be adapted as required. Habraken's approach is complemented by those of John Turner and Colin Ward, both of whom focus on the social and economic aspects of housing provision with a similar model. There are also echoes of this in the work of DEGW on office design, where they adapt the idea of support and infill to fit the life-cycles of office buildings.

Other Work

N. J Habraken, Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing (London: Architectural Press, 1972).

---, The Structure of the Ordinary: Form and Control in the Built Environment, ed. by Jonathan Teicher (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

References About

Koos Bosma, Dorine von Hoogstraten and Martijn Vos, Housing for the Millions: John Habraken and the SAR 1960-2000 (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2001).

John C. Carp, 'Design Participation: New Roles, New Tools', Design Studies, 7 (1986), 125-132.

Nabeel Hamdi, Housing Without Houses: Participation, Flexibility, Enablement (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991).

---, 'Supporting humanity: Housing for the millions, John Habraken and the SAR (1960-2000) [Book review]', Architectural Review, 209 (2001), 101.

Bernard Leupen, 'The Frame and the Changeable Dwelling', in Frame and Generic Space (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2006), pp. 150-197.

John Worthington, 'Habraken Supports: An Alternative Explanation', Architects Journal, 157 (1973), 1101-1103.


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