Employment agency Alescon, operating in six municipalities in the province of Drente, is attempting to change the prevailing view of the sheltered workshop as a place to be pitied into an active company that puts people first. The agency's building department is working to expand its range of activities, previously limited to simple maintenance work, to include the manufacture of products. DAAD Architecten from Beilen has been brought in to help with the development of these Alescon products.
The buildings occupied by Alescon in different villages are themselves important products. Smaller workplaces are closing as a result of reorganisations and the buildings are available for redevelopment. Construction is being carried out by Alescon itself according to designs by DAAD. The focus is on market sectors normally ignored by property developers, such as housing for first-time buyers. This strategy also boosts the appealing image of the company as an active and social enterprise.
The development of products not tied to locations also focuses on market niches. The aim is not to set up big assembly lines but, rather, to offer workers a pleasant and tailored working environment that prevents stress. Three products are now at different stages of development in a process involving DAAD Architecten, industrial designer Peter Stut, project initiator Wouter Hoogland, and graphic designer Loek Kemming.
The first holiday home is under construction in Norg. In contrast to standard holiday homes, this 100-square-metre house is a simple flat-roofed oblong structure. Part of the volume is enclosed, though not by a solid wall or roof, to create an outside space that can be added to different rooms as desired. The timber-frame structure is clad in wood.
The Mobile Cottage is some 35 square metres in area and is a modern take on the mobile home. It is more of a standard product than the holiday home is, but it can still adapt to meet occupant needs. The cottage consists of a basic unit that can be transported by road. Various modules can be attached to the unit, among them an entrance module, sleeping recess, and closet. The deck at the short end of the Mobile Cottage can be drawn up to form a shutter when the cottage is unoccupied. The exterior is finished entirely in wood. The idea is that cottages are 'guests' in the landscape and exert as little impact as possible on their surroundings, which is why the deck and modules are attached to the unit. Currently under study is a completely self-sufficient cottage that requires no external infrastructure and leaves no trace when it moves location.
Alescon is also producing a standard workmen's hut. A new hut is currently being designed, again with an eye on a niche in the market, to provide temporary space for a cash desk, gatehouse, information point at events and so on. The hut will be fitted with various components that can open or fold out to facilitate different uses and do away with the image of a cheap shed. The workplace staff at Alescon are elaborating the design in close co-operation with the team from DAAD, and new ideas are tested directly in full-scale mock-ups.
The development of these products is clear evidence of the changing role of architects, who are increasingly asked to do other things besides design buildings. The exhibition currently on display on the ground floor of the DAAD office illustrates the change. The office works in constantly changing formations on a variety of commissions that include landscape plans, renovation schemes, environmental impact studies, one-off pieces, urban buildings, dwellings on existing buildings, and products. Those who visit the exhibition will learn that, despite all the new developments, the traditional image of the architect remains the same: that of a generalist who, in complicated procedures and in collaboration with many other professionals, is the only one who surveys the whole situation and directs the entire process. It's a role that's been written for DAAD.