Hertzberger: “My idea was based on a sort of basic unit, which you can multiply. You might compare this unit
with the room and the table shown in Van Gogh’s Potatoes Eaters, where people are having a discussion, eating food together,
praying together, with a lamp for focus.”

Bernd Upmeyer spoke with Dutch architect Herman Hertzberger. Hertzberger can be considered, along with Aldo van Eyck, as the main influence behind the Dutch structuralist movement of the 1960s. He believed that the architect’s role was not to provide a complete solution, but to provide a spatial framework to be eventually filled in by the users. The interview took place on February 17, 2016 in his studio in Amsterdam.


Bernd Upmeyer: In the 1960s you were one of the driving forces behind the Dutch structuralist movement, influencing a new way of thinking and a kind of revolution in architecture and city building. We have the impression that, today, we are once again in desperate need of a revolution in housing, in the design of floor plans, strategies for typologies, and in need of re-inventing and evolving the concept of the “domestic” and the concept of the “home” radically. How do we need to design houses today?
Herman Hertzberger: Houses should have a certain number of square meters and the rest should be flexible. Then, you can buy your kitchen or other functions and put them inside, according to your family, your age, and other considerations. That an architect should design every detail and, for example, the bathroom and the living room – that, you should forget. But the surface and the layout of a house should start with the smallest unit. Have you ever realized that the surface of the house is an indicator of someone’s wealth? Rich people have, for example, 250 to 300 square metres, average people have, in this rich country, something like 100 to 120, and poor people have 50 to 80 square meters. But I think that we have to go down to 30-40 square metres, maybe, to make houses affordable also in the future. I cannot say what houses will look like in the future, but one thing I know for sure: they should start from a small unit. They all should have something like a basic unit where you have everything basic inside, but with the possibility of extensions.

BU: What should this smallest unit include? The kitchen, the bathroom, or other functions?
HH: Both, of course. And if you want, you can also have a big bathroom with a Jacuzzi, and all of these elements should be able to be plugged in. It may also include simple parts like your bed, your dinner table or your television. That is it.

BU: And how big should this unit be?
HH: 30-40 square meters.

BU: A size of apartment that is very common in Paris.
HH: Yeah, and you are very happy when you get that kind of size there…

…the complete interview was published in MONU #24 on the topic of Domestic Urbanism on April 18, 2016.

Title: Domesticity
Project: Interview with Herman Hertzberger
Date: February 2016
Type: Commissioned interview
Topic: Domestic Urbanism
Organizer: MONU
Status: Published
Publications: MONU #24, P. 124-129
Interviewer: Bernd Upmeyer