Until the end of September a small site on the edge of Leidsche Rijn has been turned into a settlement of alternative, transportable, flexible ‘dwellings’ grouped under the name Parasite Paradise. On show is much of what has been designed in this field in recent years. An opportunity not to miss!
Now that it's the holiday season, a large portion of the population voluntarily resides in conditions that fall well short of standards that normally apply to housing. Crammed together in minimal, poorly isolated 'dwellings' of cotton or thin plastic, and with little or no access water or electricity supplies, people have to make do with miserable sanitary facilities. And all for no other reason than to escape the drag of daily life and to experience nature outside for a few weeks. What's more, holiday makers abandon their claims to privacy and willingly share communal amenities – worlds away from the highly private lifestyle they are accustomed to outside the holiday season.
Thirty years ago the architect Frank van Klingeren saw this phenomenon as evidence of a demand for minimal dwellings in residential settings offering much more in the way of collective amenities – that is, if regulations weren't to prohibit such forms of living.
'As less and less of what's outside the home belongs to us, everyone wants more and more for themselves inside the home. But that only makes housing more expensive, which in turn leads to a further decline in communal amenities. It's an endless spiral. At the other end of the spectrum there is the campsite, where every home (called a tent) costs a tenth of what a real house costs. What's remarkable is that, with just 20-30 square metres of tented space at their disposal, campers feel much happier than they do in their 120-square-metre flat on the eight floor in town. Far happier, for otherwise they wouldn't be camping at all, and certainly not for two or three weeks at a stretch. Indeed, if the choice was theirs they would camp all year round. But alas, the paternalism of the housing regulations reigns supreme.'
Van Klingeren can thus be called the first advocate of deregulated housing and of what's known as 'lite urbanism'. But the recent liberalisation of housing policy is all about private initiatives that focus on individual dwellings and not on the collective urban experience or provision of public amenities. Van Klingeren was interested in the very opposite, in combating the decline of the public domain. The wave of privatisation has continued unabated since the 1970s, and nothing ever came of the campsite residential model advocated by Van Klingeren.
Be that as it may, minimalist, nomadic accommodation has lost none of its appeal. It surfaces with stubborn regularity – in neighbourhoods like De Fantasie and De Realiteit in Almere, in a renewed appreciation of boathouses and garden allotments, and in countless small-scale initiatives throughout the Netherlands. Many of these individual 'dwellings' now form a temporary settlement on a site next to the new Leidsche Rijn residential development. Brought together are almost all the recent examples of nomadic, autarkic, lightweight and recycled dwellings from at home and abroad. Among them are the fully transportable farm by Atelier van Lieshout, the ParaSite by Kas Oosterhuis, the Light Building by Kempe Thill, the Marquee by Eduard Bohtlingk, the extended version of Miele Spaceship by 2012 Architects, and another twenty or so. It all makes for a worthwhile initiative, albeit a temporary one. For don't think that Leidsche Rijn has a genuine, regulation-free enclave. Over the next few years the organising agency, called BEYOND, will place a few parasites in Leidsche Rijn, among them Nomads in Residence by Bik van der Pol. A laudable initiative for sure. But the fact that almost every expression of domestic freedom on display came about within the framework of subsidised art schemes, including this exhibition and the planned 'permanent' parasites themselves, tells its own story. Genuinely anarchist, parasitic living is reserved for squats, is permanent only as long as the riot police aren't deployed, and doesn't marginalise itself by acquiring the label 'art'. For the time being, holiday accommodation, like the holiday itself, will remain an incident – enjoyable, inspiring and refreshing while it lasts, but successful only because of the respite it offers from comfortable everyday life.