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What if the right to affordable housing, working and living rather than property rights were made the priority of urban transformation? Since the 1960s squatters, with this idea in mind, have made an important contribution to the development of the city, appropriating parts of the city and changing it from the inside out. This practice is explored in the exhibition Architecture of Appropriation. The exhibition presents the first results of a long-term research project by the Research and Development department at Het Nieuwe Instituut with partners in the Netherlands and abroad. Architecture of Appropriation is on show from 27 January until 25 June 2017.


Squatting emerged as a vital social force in the Netherlands’ poorly maintained city centres in the 1970s and 1980s, when empty houses, commercial properties and industrial sites were occupied without the owner’s permission. Despite the ban on the practice that came in to force in 2010, it still takes place on a limited scale. In these cases, the typically Dutch infrastructure – with squatting consultations as central hubs for the squatters’ movement, squatting actions prepared and carried out according to fixed protocols, and contact with the police and authorities conducted according to particular routines – has remained intact. The spatial heritage of the squatters’ movement comprises countless monuments and neighbourhoods that have been saved from demolition by their interventions. Spatial ideals, such as the renovation of derelict buildings, re-use of building materials and collective living and working on a building and neighbourhood level, have also had a marked influence on thinking about (temporary developments in) the city.


The notion that squatters are architects is not generally accepted. But viewing the squatters’ movement from an architectural perspective helps to clarify the far-reaching consequences of its interventions. Using themes such as disuse, property and collective forms of living, Architecture of Appropriation shows how the infrastructure of the city can be viewed as a constant invitation to transform. Systems can be adapted, networks reconfigured and buildings redefined. A new programme can be written for practically every situation, so that the city can be used to its full potential.


Architecture of Appropriation sheds light on squatting from various perspectives. The squatters’ own approach is examined through the protocols they follow in their spatial interventions. Other angles are provided by the archive of architect Hein de Haan, who worked closely with squatters, and the vision of photographer-artist David Carr-Smith on improvised architecture in squatted industrial buildings. Additionally, the history and spatial transformation of five Dutch case studies will be documented throughout the exhibition space: the results of a research project by R&D in partnership with René Boer (Failed Architecture), the architecture faculty of the TU Eindhoven, and the residents of the locations in question. Architecture of Appropriation is designed by ZUS [Zones Urbaines Sensibles], known for the Schieblock and associated projects in Rotterdam. Their spatial installation introduces the architectural practice of appropriation to the Museum for Architecture, Design and Digital Culture.