Conversation with Erikjan Vermeulen about living smaller in exchange for more communal facilities

In the USA, five projects with the Urby housing concept, designed by Concrete, have now been realized. Several projects are in the pipeline. The core of the housing concept is that residents get smaller homes in return for more communal facilities, such as a coffee bar, a gym and a library, where people can work ‘at home but not from home’.

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The houses at Urby are somewhat smaller by American standards, but very functional, explains architect Erikjan Vermeulen from Concrete in the podcast. For example, the houses are already equipped with built-in wardrobes, from floor to ceiling, there is already a kitchen, the lighting is already in the ceiling, the curtains are already hanging… you really only need to bring a bed and a chair, he says. the large window sections are simply very spacious homes.

Urby usually involves ensembles of residential buildings. Each ensemble is located in a different urban environment and responds to this in its architectural processing. On Staten Island and in Harrison and Stamford, residential buildings are up to five stories high. In Dallas and Jersey City, the residential buildings really rise, to almost seventy stories.

Although the projects are very different in appearance, the houses inside are roughly the same. In each project, these homes, their interior design and finishing are further refined. It is an iterative process, explains Vermeulen. The same applies to the common facilities at the residences. These are also always organized and arranged in a similar way. And it is also being refined further and further.

An example of such sophistication. In Urby’s first projects, you enter through the coffee bar. Very cozy. But on the projects, Concrete discovered that some days you also want to go home without having to talk to the neighbours. That is why the coffee bar is located next to the entrance of Urby’s latest projects. Because the doors are always open, you can still experience the dynamics of the coffee shop, but you can also just walk past it.

Beton always organizes the further common facilities around the entrance. It is Vermeulen’s experience that only if these facilities are clearly visible and are properly integrated spatially will they really be used. He also finds the connection with the garden important. That is why Beton always designs a garden room where it is possible to read and which opens onto the garden through French doors.

In terms of facilities, it is naturally about fitness rooms, sometimes also a swimming pool and a library where people can work ‘at home but not at home’, where it is important that it is located near the coffee shop. And then it continues in the larger projects with restaurants, yoga rooms, gyms and the like. In the plinth of the buildings, and certainly on the corners, space has often been made for shops. Urby avoids national chains and really focuses on local entrepreneurs.

In the podcast, Vermeulen emphasizes the connection with the neighborhood several times. It is designed in different ways, both programmatically and architecturally. And to really make that connection, the coffee shop is always available to the neighborhood.

The West Residence Club
To keep the housing at Urby affordable, the projects are not located in the city center, but near a ferry, subway or train station with a direct connection to the city center. For example, the Staten Island projects in Stamford, Harrison, and Jersey City are all within a 15- to 45-minute drive of New York City.

Meanwhile, in New York City, in Manhattan itself, Concrete has also designed a residential building. It is not Urby, but a number of lessons from it can be seen in the project. There is also a library in the yard. The project has been dubbed The West Residence Club.

There are also many communal facilities in this residential building. Some of them have found their place on the building’s roofs. These include, for example, sports fields, an outdoor kitchen, a swimming pool and a large roof terrace.

Vermeulen is very proud of the fact that he succeeded in building the building’s brick facade with bricks made up mainly of waste. In the end, he calculated that 260,000 kg of waste was processed in the facade.

In the middle of our street
In the Netherlands, Concrete is now involved in the start-up In the Middle of our Street (MOOS). As with Urby, and previously with CitizenM and Zoku, it is a concept that is already very well thought out at the base, but also improves further with each project.

The basis is a modular wooden building system, in CLT, with which compact apartments can be realised. At least three idiosyncratic choices were made in this concept.

The first is that the wooden modules have a concrete floor. This forms a solid foundation for the houses in the factory and greatly reduces noise transmission between the houses. The concrete used is recycled and comes from New Horizon.

The second choice is that apartments basically consist of two modules, where one module contains the smaller rooms and all installations and pipes, and the module next to it is kept open.

The third idiosyncratic choice is that the living area in the open module is made larger than the width of the module. This was done by taking a strip from the second module and placing the kitchen exactly there lengthwise. From the living room, the kitchen lies in a wide niche. In the larger homes, niches can even be created on both sides of the living room.

In the podcast, Vermeulen elaborates on this living concept. The first construction projects are now being prepared.

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