There are projects that you just don’t know what to think of. Projects that are food for discussion.
Or at least raise some questions. Le Medi in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) is such a project. A new complex that I personally find beautiful, it gives me a true feeling of a city in spring, but that’s a matter of taste. There are much more interesting questions, like: is this an interpretation of multicultural building and/or multicultural living? Is there a market for these kind of living products? And if there is, what does it look like? And what kind of lifestyles fit in?
In 2002, the Dutch council for 'Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment' wrote an advice on multicultural building and living with the revealing name ‘Smaken verschillen (tastes differ)’. It describes the discussion whether and how you can or want to manifest the cultural diversity of the Netherlands in the built environment. In appearance, design and usability. On the basis of a research, the council establishes that there are several projects in the field of multicultural building, but that these are mainly focused on housing maps (open or closed kitchens, location of the toilet) and on group housing for the elderly. There is much less attention for the aspects identity, design and the environment. Le Medi is, however, an example of the latter.
Le Medi is situated in Rotterdam West in the district Bospolder-Tussendijk near the river Schie. It is a residential block of 93 private properties in which the outer houses enclose the neighborhood so to speak, and because of this, it resembles a medina. A couple of abundantly decorated gates give access to the inner part, and in the middle of this is a water square. The gates also provide a clear boundary between the common space and the public space. The architecture is iconic; it is a colorful entity with decorative elements and articulated frames around the windows. All in all a beautiful mixture of Moroccan, Spanish and Italian influences.
However, there are other notable characteristics. The six different house types are flexible to adjust and they are easy to enlarge with an extra floor and by extending the living room. The kitchen was deliberately not offered at the completion, because people prefer to choose their kitchen themselves (“cooking is trendy; a standard kitchen will never meet the requirements, and certainly not the requirements of these buyers”). Despite the fact that it concerns single-family homes, an owner-occupiers’ association has been established. The association is, among other things, responsible for the common car park and the control of the common space. Residents are responsible for the management themselves. With some help from the district, who annually makes their management costs available to the owner-occupiers’ association. There are also regulations, in which there are agreements on the use of color on the outside of the houses and on whether wall advertisement and dish antennas are allowed.
The main question is of course who is going to live in Le Medi. In the end, it didn’t yield the most predictable target group. About 60 percent of the residents are autochthon, and there are three Surinam and three Moroccan families. Or is this logical? Because why would a Mediterranean identity with a diversity of facades and enlargement opportunities only appeal to people with a Mediterranean past? (Not only Italian people eat in a pizzeria?)
You can also wonder whether all of this has got something to do with lifestyles and multicultural building. Is the different architecture and use of materials actually nothing more than a smart marketing strategy? Pronounced design as a powerful sales instrument to appeal to new groups of affluent residents? And what to think of the architecture? Is it an enrichment to the built environment? Or is it a bad “imitation of a Disney palace”? I personally think it’s a bold and successful project. It makes a change. Especially in a district that could use some good news. But you shouldn’t read more into it than that. In other words: you can call it ‘multicultural building’, but not ‘multicultural living’. For that, you have to go to the Afrikaanderwijk in The Hague or the Schilderswijk in The Hague. For who wants more answers to their own questions, you should look at the Dutch flyer published by ERA Bouw that’s worth reading (part 1 and part 2). This flyer offers insight into the history and the bumpy process of this new-construction project. An informative story and inspiration source for those who are involved with urban renewal.
The council for 'Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment' established that there certainly is demand for multicultural building and that the remunerating of other culture-related wishes will lead to an enriched housing market, but the providers are leading in this. After all, multicultural building deviates from the standard and causes the construction costs to rise. Besides, the average developer does show risk-avoiding behavior and cold feet when it comes to new products. All in all, the question is how many developers are independently willing to go off the beaten path to realize these kinds of living products. Not many, I would say. That makes the project in Rotterdam even more special. Anyone who is in the neighborhood should go take a look.
For who wants to read more:
ERA Contour (?) Le Medi: wonen waar de zon altijd schijnt. Part 1 en Part 2.
KEI (2010) Projectbeschrijving Le Medi.
Ebami Tom (2008) Identiteitscrisis. Archined.
Sabine Meier & Arnold Reijndorp (2010) Themawijk. Wonen op een verzonnen plek. Thoth.
Source Photos: www.lemedi.nl