Florian Bart

From de Beemster in the Netherlands,
currently living Rotterdam (NL)

‘Care is connection. It’s interaction that nurtures solidarity. Care is acknowledging opportunities in what is currently overlooked and unused. Care is seizing these opportunities to transform the unused into something usefull wherein solidarity can
flourish.’







The Elevated Commons



Cities are places with an abundance of strangers. People can live individualistic lives without having to get to know any of the neighbours around them. The freedom that comes with it is one of the great strengths of a city, however, it can also be regarded as a burden. Although I have friends living throughout Rotterdam, I hardly know any of my close neighbours. I don't believe there is a lack of will, I believe there is a lack of space where me and my neighbours can meet. I live on the third floor without any outdoor space. Harsh facades and streams of traffic often dominate city streets making them inhospitable for neighbourly interaction. I have found that there is one major unused urban space in my neighbourhood, Het Oude Noorden, that offers a lot of possibilities: flat rooftops.

With this project, I would like to demonstrate how the elevated levels of Het Oude Noorden can enhance neighbourly interaction by transforming flat rooftops into common space. By creating a second layer on top of the city, these common spaces will interfere with the existing public and private spaces. In this way, they soften the harsh edges of the city and improve a spatial complexity through which more spontaneous encounters can occur.  

The elevated commons are flexible and temporary structures that are in a continuous change according to the needs of the neighbours. They appear when necessary, change when needed and disappear when they become obsolete. I designed a set of architectural elements that are multi-purpose and multi-interpretable. This way, they can facilitate the changing use and programming of the common space. Ultimately the common spaces aim at bringing together a variety of neighbours through a shared need. By occupying the elevated levels they optimise the use of the urban fabric and generate spaces where neighbourly interaction can flourish.











































Hi, I’m Florian. I live in Het Oude Noorden, a vibrant, multicultural neighbourhood in Rotterdam. I live on the third floor in a spacious room that has a great view. However, I don’t have any outdoor space and the street below my house is dominated by cars and people to comfortably make use of it. Therefore, I hardly know any of my neighbours. I experience a lack of space in which I can meet neighbours on a regular basis.








Personalisation


If I look around in my neighbourhood, I notice that especially over the last view months (Covid-19), more and more people have started taking ownership of the public space around their houses. They started personalising the public space around them by putting benches, flower pots and plants in front of their facades. The personalisation of the public space creates a space in which interaction can take place. It transforms the facades into borders; porous edges that encourage a greater variety in interaction, and also simulate for different groups to come together (read more about borders here). This kind of personalisation helps to soften the facades of the city. 




































Facades itself, are harsh edges that can make street live inhospitably. They form a boundary where interaction ends. Interaction occurs on both sides of the edge but fails to cross or dissect it. 
















However, the main problem I face is that I don’t have a street to personalise. Therefore, I also can’t easily take ownership of it. On our trip to Derviçan, I learned how the villagers had overcome the harsh edges they faced (click here to read more about). The structure of the village is build up by walls that sharply divide public and private life. To my surprise, the contrary was true. 














They created semi-public and semi-private spaces to soften the harsh edges the walls had formed and enabled interaction between neighbours both on the street level as well as on elevated levels. Porch benches, balconies and rooftops functioned as a second layer of interaction spaces within the village that nurtured a strong social bond between the villagers.






Look at Derviçan and Het Oude Noorden through my eyes >





































The interaction occurred in the street, from the street to balconies,
from balconies to other balconies, 
from balconies to rooftops, 
from rooftops to rooftops and
from rooftops to the street.








I started to notice that there are barely any possibilities for neighbourly interaction in the elevated levels of Het Oude Noorden. I’ve encountered only a couple of building where balconies are on the street side of the building.



























Most facades of  buildings are harsh boundaries that block any kind of interaction. In many streets, there are little to no spaces on the street side that encourage interaction.










This made me realise that perhaps we, city folk, are too focussed on trying to  improve life on the streets while life on elevated levels seemed to be completely closed off and neglected. Of course, I know street life is important, but only a small percentage of people live on the street level. The majority lives on the second, third or fourth floor. So where does that leave them? 

Similar to Derviçan, I believe the elevated levels are the answer. With this project, I would like to demonstrate how we can enhance neighbourly interaction by transforming flat rooftops into common space. Het Oude Noorden is home to a lot of buildings that contain flat rooftops, until now a huge unused urban space. The common spaces can function as a second layer of interaction spaces within the city and can open up rooftops and the facades around them to improve neighbourly interaction. However, before a rooftop is completely functioning, we need to go through a couple of steps.







Motivation


//    Promotion by the municipality

The municipality starts promoting the possibilities of creating a common space for a street, building block or segment of the neighbourhood.  The common spaces aim to bring together different groups of people within a segment of the neighbourhood. The neighbourly interaction ensures a certain level of social control and care between the neighbours and for the environment surrounding them. A self-sustaining level of care between neighbours will increase the overall wellbeing of the neighbourhood, benefiting the municipality.



//    An emerging need

Neighbours start to realise the possibilities of the common spaces and get motivated to act. You can apply to the municipality, either as a household, different households, a street, building block or segment of the neighbourhood. It could be that different households or buildings in the same street apply without them knowing, then it's the role of the municipality to bring these two groups together.




























Formation


//    Defining the needs and programming of the common space.

For a common space to be successful, it needs to satisfy the needs of the neighbours that want to participate. If not, the common spaces will be unused and get neglected. Therefore, the neighbours need to define their own needs and discover the needs that they have in common with other neighbours so they can work towards a shared ideal. The different needs of neighbours can for instance entail:


a common garden                               a playground
a shared creche                                   a cafe
an event space                                     a launderette
a beach                                                 a cinema
a stage                                                   an art room
a shared home office                           a farm



//    Form a Common Rooftop Committee

If the needs are defined, a committee must be formed. If neighbours are enthusiastic about the common space and want to be involved in the process, they can apply to become a voluntary member of the common rooftop committee. In the ideal scenario, the common rooftop committee represents the variety of people (meaning different cultures, races, backgrounds, social levels, etc.) that are participating in the common space to ensure that all needs and wishes are taken into account. The committee must have a minimum of three members. The maximum can depend on the number of people the common space is for and are willing to participate. The municipality oversees and supports the process of the formation of the common rooftop committee making sure it well represents the neighbourhood.






Negotiation


//    Finding a suitable location

The urban space that is most suitable for the common spaces is flat rooftops. Currently, flat rooftops are an unused space that offers a lot of possibilities when it comes to creating more places for interaction. Many post-war buildings have flat-rooftops but not all of them are suitable. Unfortunately, many roofs are built to be just roofs, diminishing possibilities of growth and alternate use. Besides that, not every rooftop owner wants to participate in the common space.


very difficult

There are terraced houses without a flat roof, each a different owner. Multiple families from different houses want to create a common space together. The only possibility to be part of a common space is to join another one or to include people who own a flat roof.






medium

A building block containing a flat roof, with an owners association. In most building blocks, the apartment is the only thing people own themselves. The rest, like the roof and the general staircase is shared. If multiple families want to create a common space, they would have to agree on this with the owners association of the building. If they agree, the common space can take place. If not, there is no possibility to do on top of that building. They would have to look for a different location or join another common space.



For common spaces to emerge on a building, an additional structure must be placed on top of the existing roof. This will ensure that there is no noise pollution coming from the common space to the apartments situated underneath. If the roof has loadbearing walls, the base of the common space can be attached to the existing structure.


Load Bearing Roof
no additional support needed


Non Load Bearing Roof
additional support needed
















Difficult

There are terraced houses, with a flat roof, each a different owner. Multiple families from different houses want to create a common space together. For multiple families to enjoy the common space, it must be larger than the roof on a single house. Therefore, they would need adjacent houses to be in on the common space. If not, they either need to persuade the people who didn't want to join in the first place or settle for a small common space.



Easy

A building block containing a flat roof, owned by a company or corporation. This would mean that the apartments are rented. If multiple families want to create a common space they would have to ask if the company or corporation is oke with it. If so, not many people can go against it because the company or corporation has the final word.













































By creating a second layer on top of the city, these common spaces will interfere with the existing public and private spaces. In this way, they soften the harsh edges and improve a spatial complexity through which more spontaneous encounters can occur, both on the elevated levels and the street level.

//    Creating Accessibility

After the base structure is finished, it’s time to create accessibility with stairs. Different types of stairs interfere with the public and private space around them to a greater or lesser extent. The stairs connect street life to the common space. Therefore I believe it’s a good thing they provoke a bit. The stairs help soften the harsh boundaries facades form and can even be a space where interaction can take place. From the street level to the stairs, on the stairs themselves, from the stairs to the passing houses, or from the stairs to the common space. 


Spiralling Staircase

The spiralling staircase is a space saver. It takes up about half a parking spot and interferes barely with the public space around it.


Egress Staircase

The Egress Staircase takes up about 1 parking spot. It’s a set of stairs on which you could easily cross one another and even have a chat on the landings. Also the space beneath the first landing can be for a bike stand.


Bridge

If two commons spaces next to each other want to for one common space, the bridge could help function as a connection between the two.


Straight Run-Landing Staircase

The straight run-landing staircase takes in 3 parking spots. It’s size interfere’s the most with the public and private space around it. It does not only function as a stair but also allows activities to take place under the staircase. For instance, for a bike stand where everyone in the street could put their bike combined with a seat. It would a place where people can regularly run into each other.









Creating


//   set of architectural elements

The elements are multi-purpose and multi-interpretable. The elements are provided by the municipality. The Common Rooftop Committee chooses the elements according to the needs of the neighbours. If the needs change and other elements are needed, the Common Rooftop Committee can return the elements to the municipality and get new ones in that do satisfy the needs. The returned elements can be used to start up another common space.



Small Block

50 x 50 x 50 cm




Medium Block

50 x 150 x 50 cm




Large Block

200 x 200 x 100 cm


Larger Holed Block

300 x 300 x 50 cm




Extra Large Block

300 x 500 x 50 cm




Extra Extra Large Block

1000 x 600 x 25 cm


Frame

250 x 250 x 250 xm




U-frame

200 x 200 x 5 cm




Shed

300 x 300 x 300 cm



















I see the elevated commons as flexible and temporary structures that are in a continuous change according to the needs of the neighbours. They appear when necessary, change when needed and disappear when they become obsolete.

























//    Personalisation

Like on street level, personalisation on elevated levels helps to take ownership of the space around you. Choosing the set of elements is the first step of personalising the common space. The second step occurs when people start using the elements and arrange them in the way they prefer them.




Laundry + Daycare

There is a shared laundry space where you can hang your clothes in the fresh wind. The Daycare is run by fathers and mother that each take turn in sitting the children so the rest of them can go to work. 


Cinema + Eventspace

Weekly cinema nights where every household shows their favourite or must-see film. The shed functions as a bar by night and a cafe during the day. 



Common Garden

These neighbours don’t have an outdoor space themselves and wanted a garden which they can care for and relax in.





Maintaining


After the start of the common space, it’s the task of the Common Rooftop Committee to keep the common space running. The commitee must have a monthly meeting wherein they discuss the ins and outs of the common space, other neighbours are also invited to join. If the needs of the neighbours change or if a lot of new neighbours join the common space, the committee has to look at if common space still satisfies the needs for the majority of the neighbours. The Municipality has a meeting with each Common Rooftop Committee at least once a year, to see if both the common space itself as the committee is still functioning properly and if they still represent that part of the neighbourhood.

There should be at least one caretaker that just opens and locks the common space every day. Not to really take care of the space, because that’s a collective task. By day the common space is generally open for public, but to keep a private character to it, it’s best if there are limited times make use of the space. It’s up to the neighbours themselves until what time.






















Ultimately the common spaces aim at bringing together a variety of neighbours through a shared need. By occupying the elevated levels they optimise the use of the urban fabric and generate spaces where neighbourly interaction can flourish.