Good design makes people feel comfortable, happy and like they belong. In the Netherlands we have always had a strong tradition of socially-led housing, and architects and designers continue to find intelligent solutions to bring affordable homes to market. In a post pandemic environment, as social capital increases, so does the desire for community-focused places that deliver multiple functions and offer more opportunities for inclusiveness and social mobility.
The global focus on health and wellbeing has impacted our design approach. In many instances wellbeing is now the primary consideration and new neighbourhood designs combine a mix of uses and active spaces to encourage conviviality and community, embrace nature and offer personal choice. Integrated neighbourhoods are about providing places where people can take part, watch or withdraw, yet always feel part of their community.
Our design for Westergouwe community centre in Gouda is a perfect example of this blended approach. When complete it will provide one of the largest, most flexible children's centres in the Netherlands, including a nursery and primary school for up to 1,500 children, a sports hall and community facilities, together with affordable apartments, united within a beautiful and inventive landscape setting.
The scale of the project means there is direct contact with the natural environment on all sides. The entire façade of the development activates the streetscape and connects inside and outside. Inside, the children’s centre is subdivided into four smaller ‘houses’ for specific age groups, set around a central heartspace, forming a safe place of high educational value where children can learn, play and explore. Each house can be re-imagined as an original educational space, such as a children's cooking area, a shop or creative corner. The sports hall and amenities are also set around this central heartspace, encouraging neighbourhood and school to come together informally. In this way, the building plays a connecting role in the social structure and wellbeing of all residents.
The community centre connects the entire neighbourhood and provides a context where both adults and children can feel comfortable, at ease and at home, rather than lost in a crowd. Nature-inclusive design and green views encourage healthy activity and invite the discovery of wildlife, supporting social interaction and providing a perfect setting to come together for a barbecue, a picnic on the waterfront or an evening stroll. And that’s what it’s about. Providing opportunities for people to engage and to do more or to do less, depending on their mood, agenda, or state of mind.
Of course there are challenges to overcome and agreements to make to create this kind of neighbourhood, but in my experience, combining multiple neighbourhood functions encourages collaboration between designers, occupiers, developers and educational institutions which not only makes the project more viable but also enables smarter collective decisions about wellbeing, sustainability, social safety and social cohesion.
These type of developments are becoming more and more common in Europe’s smaller cities and although we see elements of this approach in London’s larger projects, with the right design thinking, practical application and engaged partners, it is hoped that this integrated concept will become a vital element of London’s new neighbourhoods.