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interview ISSN 2175-6708


Entrevista com o arquiteto holandês N. J. Habraken; sua teoria de Suportes é explicitada alinhada com a abordagem do movimento Open Building. Objetiva-se entendê-la em prol da sua possível aproximação com o contexto da arquitetura contemporânea brasileira

Interview with Dutch architect N. John Habraken; his Supports’ theory is made explicit aligned with the approach of the Open Building movement. It aims to understand it in order to make it possible into the context of Brazilian contemporary architecture

Entrevista con el arquitecto holandés N. John Habraken; su teoría del Supports se explica en consonancia con el enfoque del movimiento Open Building. Su objetivo es entender el posible acercamiento al contexto de la arquitectura contemporánea brasileña

how to quote

NASCIMENTO, Denise Morado. N. J. Habraken explains the potential of the Open Building approach in architectural practice. Entrevista, São Paulo, year 13, n. 052.04, Vitruvius, dec. 2012 <>.

Denise Nascimento: Your Supports’ theory has been seen as a breakthrough in architectural practice, beginning from a critique of the mass production and of the exclusion of the user in the decision-making processes about housing. Although the debate has been provoked in the 1960s, we still have some countries, such as Brazil, implementing social housing programs strongly associated with the construction sector, where a typologically rigid, generic and repetitive unit house is presented as a product to be purchased, not as a process to be built and transformed along time. Also, far away from having shared productive processes between those involved. What are the real possibilities of transforming this scenario considering that the architects, inserted into the knowledge field of architecture, appear to be prisoners of the force mechanisms imposed by the building industry and the public power?

N. John Habraken: I do not think the situation in Brazil is basically different from that in other countries. This question is so general and also so basic that a good answer is only possible at the end of this interview, when various concepts and mechanisms have been discussed in some depth. But I can indicate a few principal issues that may point to more detailed discussion later.

The supports proposal is to re-introduce the inhabitant to the professional and political decision making process wherever he/she is excluded. This is important not only for the inhabitant but also for the quality of the built environment as a living and autonomous entity.

This is, in itself, not a technical or architectural question, but one of a shift in control among the players. To introduce the inhabitant in the game, all players must change their ways. People are always reluctant to give away control. Moreover, adopting a new way of working is always difficult at best. People do not know how to work in the new situation, which makes them feel insecure.

There are, of course, many instances where the user is already recognized as a decision making agent. For instance large commercial office buildings offer empty floor space to be fitted out by occupant companies who hire their own architect. Shopping malls offer empty space to retailers to take care of their own interior design. In suburbia the free standing house owned by the occupant can change. Owners of apartment buildings will change their dwelling over time one way or another. In the informal sector people build their own.

But even in those examples, professionals still do not see the potential of this approach for new technology and a different architecture. Neither see those who pursue a more sustainable environment that a bottom up process in which occupants can take initiative is the major condition for their success.

It is true that architects do not have power but must serve their clients. But if they would see the potential of this basic idea, they could explain to their clients and other professionals the commercial and ecological advantages of it.

DN: In order to initiate a deeper discussion about the mechanisms and concepts presented by the Supports’ theory, you could start explaining how you propose the resident reintroduction in the decision-making processes related to housing and urban space.

NJH: I have no particular proposal to make on how professionals must act to re-arrange the distribution of control of built environment that is necessary to make built environment healthy and long living. That would be presumptuous. Only practitioners who understand the local situation can do so in a realistic way.

Take, for instance, the recent “long life housing act” passed by the parliament in Japan which rewards technical adaptability for reasons of sustainability. The idea of such a law had never crossed my mind. But it was inspired by the impressive record of Open Building projects done in that country over several decades. The new law’s purpose was durability of housing stock but the result is also a way of working that enables individual adaptation of dwellings to user preferences.

For another example: The economic advantages of Open Building have been Studied first by Karel Dekker, building management consultant who could initiate them in practice as member of the board of a housing corporation in the Dutch town of Voorburg in the eighties. More recently Frank Bijdendijk as director of an Amsterdam housing corporation initiated a path breaking project based on his understanding that user adaptability makes possible long term investment for the base building which, in turn, allows a higher initial investment for higher quality architecture.

In these examples as well as others, we see professionals applying their expertise to real world situations that they understand thoroughly, which gives their initiatives credibility. In the last decade or so, virtually all new Open Building projects were initiated or supported by people in practice for commercial reasons. Those are the kind of examples that can have an impact on things. In turn, the explanations of the people in practice on what they did contribute to our theoretical understanding of the issue. It is this exchange between research, theory, and practice that is only beginning and must be stimulated.

So the short answer to your question is: Inform practitioners about the potential of the Open Building approach in practice and inform researchers about what happens in practice. That mutual information is the best stimulation for innovation and change.

Supports (English edition 1972) [Habraken’s archive]


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original: english



052.01 Introdução

Entrevista a César Augusto Naselli

Omar Paris


Visita a Christian de Portzamparc

Maria Cau Levy and Helena Guerra

052.03 Introducción

Entrevista a Jose María Ezquiaga

Leandro Medrano and Manoel Doval


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