Housing & Care Cooperatives in the Netherlands: Spatial Diagrams of Cluster Living

Key terms: housing cooperatives, protocols, care in place, cluster living, threshold, district.

Gianna Bottema


The dissertation Housing & Care Cooperatives in the Netherlands: Spatial Diagrams of Cluster Living, investigates the typological transformation of elderly accommodation into housing and care cooperatives within the district. Through a study in decentralised care and support activities, the dissertation illustrates the different scales and mechanisms that formalise, implement and challenge the social diagram of dwelling. Subsequently, the dissertation argues how the design of threshold conditions can be used as a strategy to address multi-scalar relationships, and integrate the housing and care cooperatives within the district. By the use of typological reasoning and design speculation the dissertation concludes with a series of design guidelines that form a framework for the social and spatial organisation of the home.

Diagram of the organisation of the home environment. The well-being of the human body relates to a variety of amenities, spaces and objects that operate from the direct body to the district.


In recent years, cooperatives and social support networks has come to the centre of attention in search for an alternative response to a crisis in traditional forms of assistance. Currently, community-led care networks such as Buurtzorg, District Care, and care cooperatives are emerging as a result of new legislation.¹ Through the administration of the Right to Challenge and the funding of community organisation, the government is enforcing citizens to form cooperatives, and to submit initiatives for the contracting of care. Within this process, the care cooperative has gained interest by municipalities as a driver for efficient care organisation, to encourage individual care agency and to collectivise care responsibility within the district in order to regenerate neighbourhoods in specific areas.²

Image of the typological transformation of elderly care homes built in the Netherlands from 1850 till today.


Simultaneously, the Dutch government argues in the coalition agreement of 2017–2021 for the implementation of the housing cooperative as an urban strategy to develop affordable housing in addition to private market and public housing.³ Since the establishment of the cooperative in the Housing Act of 2015, the municipality of Amsterdam has been allocating public land to cooperatives to develop affordable accommodation and social amenities to renew neighbourhoods. Within the framework of the Right to Challenge, fixed land values, 50-year lease periods and subsidised community organisation, the municipality of Amsterdam is managing housing cooperatives to frame new care initiatives.

Map of Amsterdam, assigned districts for redevelopment and new housing projects, redrawn by author.


The dissertation argues for a study into the housing cooperative as a potential framework to spatially integrate the care cooperative within the district by organising services and shared spaces for care work, social support, therapy and reproductive work. Beyond the domain of the house, the current interest in cooperative organisation provides an opportunity to rethink the spatial organisation of the larger home environment. This leads to the main research question: How can the housing cooperative as a spatial and social framework organise collectivised care work, household activities and social support networks within the district?

The dissertation investigates how the shift in rationalities in healthcare practise has led towards self-managed support network of social care, support and therapeutic activities. This transformation has changed the logic and technologies of governance and has transferred responsibilities to a range of bodies (corporations, primary care workers, support networks and volunteers) that operate within the district. The dynamic of citizens as both care providers as consumers indicates an epistemological shift in our understanding of the human body. In contrast to segregated communities for those of a particular age, illness, and gender, the care cooperative is located between state intervention and family life, and provides an intermediate scale of assistance by both volunteers, family members and professionals.

Mapping of the stakeholders and care organisations in the Netherlands. The administration of legislation (Government), organisations and corporations (municipalities) and networks of stakeholders (district) is organised as a system to provide basic amenities that strengthen and stimulate a self-supporting society. The spaces of operation: sport stimulation, pedagogical infrastructure, volunteering support and social amenities (volunteers, corporations and public sector).


As a result the hierarchical distinction between the home and the social institution has become less apparent. The duality between, on the one hand, the self-organisation of the cooperative, and, on the other hand, the institutional regulations and activities demands a reconsideration of the dwelling in terms of its activities. Therefore, the dissertation proposes architectural design as a spatial and social framework, on the one hand, to customise the dwelling in relation to new asymmetries, hierarchies and requirements, on the other hand, to retain its independence in relation to the standardisation of social relations and financial organisation. Within the design of housing and care cooperatives, the threshold conditions play a fundamental role against prospective models of individual exploitation, mental health issues and to enable neighbourhood integration.

Axonometric drawing of the urban context and spaces of care, social support and recreation


Therefore, the dissertation argues for an investigation into the thresholds conditions and spatial divisions within the home to rethink notions of intimacy, privacy and the interior. By proposing the threshold as a conceptual and analytical design tool the dissertation intends to challenge the dimensions of family life and to design alternative spatial diagrams of cluster living, cohabitation and intergenerational relationships. The wellbeing of the human body relates to the different dimensions of space and emphasises multi-scalar relations that stretch from the district to the domestic. Through an investigation of the different parts of the home, the project proposes to translate common activities and tasks into a collection of fragments, zones of interaction and thresholds. By challenging former separations between domestic space, therapy rooms, social amenities, medical infrastructure and district services the dissertation aims to rethink the segregation of people according to age and illness.

Taxonomy and sequence of thresholds: elements, bridges, dividers, cores, storage space, halls, observatories, landmarks, gardens and Play grounds.


Organisation of thresholds into four different types (atrium, tower,urban villa and hof type) as a sequence of space, elements and thresholds.


Through a study of typological design variations (hof, tower, atrium and urban villa type), the dissertation provides design principles of cluster living. The four building types each propose a consistency, articulating spatial divisions, transitional spaces and interstitial relations. They can each be considered as tools to discuss the different demands, preferences and particularities of a cooperative. Within this process the type can be used as a reference model for prospective transformations, in which the geometry can be redefined to produce new types as an instrument of speculation. The objective of the design speculation is to reorganise the parts and examine different design configurations. As a result, the dissertation concludes with a series of design guidelines and recommendations which can be implemented as a design and planning strategy by municipalities, cooperatives and care organisations.


  1. MOVEMENT redefine circulation space, to provide intermediate spaces for care and social activities.
  2. DIVIDERS separate activities, by the use of care rooms, storage space and objects.
  3. WINDOW articulate optical and architectural window, to frame occupation patterns, memories and associations.
  4. INDIVIDUAL recognise architecture as an infrastructural element, adopt measurements for future customisation and incorporate space for appropriation.
  5. COMMON organise the clustering of apartments as a process of social organisation, strategically position shared amenities.
  6. COORDINATOR accommodate a care coordinator within each cluster, to provide a central management
  7. GARDEN integrate enclosed exterior area’s within the complex, as a space of reference and intermediate area between family members, clusters and neighbourhood services.
  8. HETEROGENITY provide a diverse set of programmatic activities, to ensure associations of residents.
  9. TEMPORALITY articulate temporary and shared models of use, by setting up a schedule and rent out spaces
  10. SCALE built a network of changing rooms, storage and public kitchens throughout the district, to enable care work and volunteering activities across the district.


Axonometric drawing of the district Watergraafsmeer with the four design variations: hof (green), atrium (orange), tower (blue) and urban villa type (purple).


The four types form a larger sequence of spaces, objects and thresholds across the district of Watergraafsmeer.



¹ The ‘Reorganization of Long-term Care’ is a translation from the original report ‘Hervorming van de Langdurige Zorg’. The reorganisation shifts intramural healthcare to care in place by adjusting the General Law of Special Medical Expenses, (Algemene Wet Bijzondere Ziektekosten), into two new acts, Act of Long-term Care, (Wet Langdurige Zorg, 2015) and the Social Support Act (Wet Maatschappelijke Ondersteuning, 2015).
² Daan et al, ‘Kompas: Right to Challenge in Wmo’ (Den Haag: Ministerie van Volksgezondsheid, Welzijn en Sport, 2016). In the report ‘Kompas: Right to Challenge in Wmo’, the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport emphasi
ses the Right to Challenge as a ‘useful instrument’ to frame potential initiatives in the district: ageing in place, talent development, entrepreneurship.
³ VVD, CDA, D66 and ChristenUnie, Vertrouwen in de Toekomst: Regeerakkoord 2017–2021 (10 October 2017) p.32.


Read the whole dissertation here.

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