Iconic Houses in The Netherlands - The Diagoon House

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Posted 20 July 2021

The Culture of Living - Interview with Robert von der Nahmer

Robert von der Nahmer in his Diagoon House in Delft, Netherlands. Photo Jörgen Caris. 

Robert von der Nahmer is an architect and the owner of the Diagoon House in Delft, an experimental home by Herman Hertzberger and a member of Iconic Houses. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague and the Academy of Architecture and Urban Design in Rotterdam, he was an architect at Alkemade & Von der Nahmer and the multidisciplinary design agency ProForma while also teaching widely, including at the Academy of Architecture and Urban Design. He lives in the Diagoonwoning in Delft. The perfect expert to present the video on experiments with space, as part of the 2021 online conference Pioneers of the Dutch Modern House.

Could you tell us briefly what your video is about?
The theme of this episode is the search for architectural and visual ways to guide and intensify our experience of space and time, and experiments involving these. It's about what we call wooncultuur in Dutch – the culture of living in our homes.

What new insights did making the video lead to?
The video shows five houses. With each house, the underlying motive is to intensify the spatial experience. These five homes show how differently the various designers have handled this, and the range of solutions they employed.

If you look at current home architecture, what form of living appeals to you most – or least?
I’m most attracted to what you might call ‘light’ forms of collective living – those that offer room for dynamism and flexibility in the degree and manner of collectivity. People don’t commit themselves for life, but for a certain period of time, for example. You cannot enforce connection with the community, but you can create the architectural and urban conditions for it.

What contemporary home would you most like to see in real life, and why?
I’d love to see the house and studio that Undercurrent Architects built next to, and underneath, a 19th-century railway viaduct in London – because of its location, form, construction techniques and spatial qualities.

Archway Studios, Undercurrent architects, London, UK, 2008-12  

What do you think we need to remember in designing houses today?
The Netherlands has set the goal of one million new homes in 10 years. Once again, the solution is to build standardized, fast and cheaply, with little room for creativity and no room for experimentation. It is sad that so little attention is being paid to past experiments that are still functioning. They could teach us lessons that might lead to future-proof solutions and prevent us repeating past mistakes. The Netherlands has a rich and important history in the field of spatial planning and public housing. We should draw on this for the current housing challenge of a million homes.

Is there anything in your house that you would change if you could?
Ideally my home would be a little wider and deeper, giving a little more freedom of layout. But that’s a consideration that fits the present time, when people have more stuff.

Your house is 50 years old this year. Do the advantages of living there still outweigh the disadvantages?
After 50 years, there was a lot of overdue maintenance. In addition, the house needs investment to get it to a contemporary level in terms of insulation, energy consumption and comfort. Nevertheless, the enjoyment of living here still far outweighs these costs. All these interventions have brought the physical lifespan of the house back into line with its cultural lifespan.

How has the pandemic changed home and our attitude to it?
Working from home may well remain part of daily life, yet this isn’t taken into account in current housing production. I see no typological developments in this area, neither in a practical sense with regard to layout, nor in terms of the consequences for our way of living. Insights into this changing residential culture seem to be there, but they haven’t been translated into concrete housing solutions yet.

Click here for the teaser Experiments with Space.

Jane Szita

Curious about the Iconic Houses Online Modules?
Watch the recording of this module through our WEBSHOP.
Check out the full program of lectures and five-part series of thematic videos about the Pioneers of the Dutch Modern House HERE.

Posted 20 July 2021