Renew without changing: When architecture is more than just the building

KAW Architects (‘The Co-operative Architectural Workshop’) is a forward-thinking architecture firm in the Netherlands, which has placed social and urban renewal at the heart of its projects.

When the company celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, AluK Netherlands interviewed Mark Koopman, a partner at KAW Architects, who discussed the firm’s innovative approach to architecture and his own inspirations.

Here are a few of the highlights; you can read the full interview in French and Dutch.

Tell us about KAW’s history.

Our agency was founded in 1976 in Groningen, and arose from a group of people with ties to the squatters’ movement. At that time, young people at an early age went to live by themselves which created a huge demand in the housing market. At this time, KAW focused on the urban renewal and redevelopment of vacant squats and warehouses. Thinking and acting in the interest of the people prevailed. This philosophy still plays an important role in KAW. We are seen as a social agency and are often switched on when the job involves more than just architecture.

How does your philosophy work in practice?

Corporations engage us for an assignment that encompasses more than just architecture but also involves meeting with residents. We literally have people sitting around the table to discuss what’s going on.

KAW does a demographic analysis of trends in a neighbourhood, looking at how the composition of people could look in the future and whether the housing stock meets these forecasts. This leads to a renovation, demolition, or new build job. By doing proper research, you can achieve your aims with relatively little effort.

Where do you get your inspiration?

In principle I get my inspiration from what is already there: renew without change. By that I mean that you often have to do less than that you are inclined to do. I get inspiration from existing elements ‒ for example, you often see a lot of craft-like masonry, particularly with different patterns. If we refurbish a neighbourhood, then I try to take inspiration from the neighbourhood itself.

KAW is now 40 years old ‒ has its approach changed over the years?

As architects, our ambitions lie with the environment and we want to take our responsibility for it. We see it as our duty to take this into the design of a building. As we stand at the end of our lives, we want to say we have had a contribution to this. We think about how we can build smarter and how to be more accessible to people.

We also want to be more active internationally; our need to internationalise arises from the idea: ‘what we can do as an agency for people around the world?’

Read the full interview in French or Dutch in AluK Today.

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