‘Then the parking garage has to go away’

Artist’s impression of the housing project in Arnhem.Picture H2A Architects.

It started six years ago with the cheerful excitement of making plans, says Theo Waegemaekers. The retired company doctor (68) walks into the vacant lot on the Nieuwe Plein main road in Arnhem, around the corner from the city’s main train station. He points around. His building collective, the Cohousing Arnhem association, is to realize its own dream of living in this prime location. At least that’s the point.

The association wants to develop a sustainable residential building with 33 apartments according to the Danish model for co-housing, a concept where privacy and closeness must go together. Everyone has their own apartment, but there are also many shared facilities, from the meeting place to the workplace.

It will be a monster job, which was quickly clear to the association. An architect with experience in sustainable housing projects was contracted. A process director, specialist in complex group projects of this nature, was also appointed. And also a smart calculator for building costs.

The party was in the summer of 2020. Treasurer Waegemaekers and his colleagues defeated five other building associations in a tender for the right to buy and build on the municipal land. For the fixed price of around 1.5 million euros, the plot of more than 850 square meters is theirs.

The construction world was already in full swing at that time. Interest rates were heading for record lows. Developers had plans over and over again, fighting over personnel and building materials. Home buyers were willing to pay more and more for the scarce homes.

Cheaper bricks

But at the end of last year, interest rates began to rise. Inflation skyrocketed. The Russian invasion of Ukraine also triggered an unprecedented energy crisis at the end of February. This small construction project in Arnhem was also confronted with the plagues that affect construction throughout the Netherlands.

A few weeks after the Russian invasion, the association submitted its final design to the contractor plus a cost estimate. The design had already been adjusted slightly with an additional seventh floor on the building. With the benefit of six apartments, it all became a little cheaper.

The contractor quickly came back with his verdict. The prices of bricks, glass, wood and other building materials had risen further: ‘It doesn’t work like that.’

The initiators of the housing project in Arnhem with treasurer Theo Waegemaekers on the far left and architect Peter Groot on the right.  Statue Marcel van den Bergh / de Volkskrant

The initiators of the housing project in Arnhem with treasurer Theo Waegemaekers on the far left and architect Peter Groot on the right.Statue Marcel van den Bergh / de Volkskrant

The association wondered how to cut further. Yes, there may still be an additional subsidy, for example in construction for seniors. But no, the association wants to build for all age groups, not just for wealthy elderly people. Beginners with a 1st mortgage should still be able to get a place.

It may be possible to cut back on material, such as expensive bricks, but options are limited. ‘We are of course bound by the conditions for the price,’ says architect Peter Groot from H2A Architecten, who has teamed up with Waegemaekers on the construction site. “The council’s welfare committee is also following along. It’s also good, because nobody wants to go back to the sparse architecture of the seventies’.

The provisional answer is to scrap the underground parking that was previously mandated by the municipality. The new city council wants to reduce the parking standard for new developments from one parking space per household to ‘zero’. So Cohousing Arnhem can probably make do with a much smaller, semi-submerged car park with 0.3 parking spaces per

The new design is now with the contractor, Hendriks Bouw from Oss. He is still busy with the calculations, but also looks at developments in the housing market. After all, the company has declared itself willing to take on the risk of a limited number of unsold apartments. There are currently thirteen for sale.

Waegemaekers takes another look around the construction site covered in wood chips. ‘It will be very exciting now. But we still assume that we can set up something very special here.’

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