The architects of Sputnik invite us to their Housing Laboratory

One of the most exiting items of the International Social Housing Festival, is the ‘Housing Laboratory’, a one to one mockup in Het Schip Museum that enables visitors to create their ideal apartment, by moving walls and really building their dreams. The Laboratory is conceived by Rotterdam based architectural firm Sputnik. We asked the architects of Sputnik (Henk Bultstra and Bert Karel Deuten) about the intentions of the Laboratory and what they hope to achieve with the project.

What is Sputnik Architecture?

Sputnik is an architects’ firm. Our name, Sputnik, stems from the first satellite. It symbolizes innovation and an optimistic view of the future. We specialize in translating demands into plans. Typological research forms the base for our designs. The result always is an integral design, with sensitivity to the assignment, the project’s context and the construction detail.

What is your relation to social housing?

Having studied in Delft in the 1990’s we were brought up with the legacy of architects like Berlage, De Klerk, Van Eijck and Hertzberger; world famous architects that built high quality social housing projects. Our main interest is the typological puzzle solving of the housing plans that efficiently make use of budget resources and create optimal living conditions. We see designing for social housing as an honorable task and we have been commissioned for typological research projects on social housing plans as well.

At the ISHF you will set up a 1 to 1 model and invite visitors to create their own ideal apartment, that you call the ‘Housing Laboratory’. What is the background of this project?

In 2013 we foresaw the consequences of the national policy change by the Ministery of the Interior. We drew the plan that fitted the policy and confronted several directors of Dutch housing associations with it. They were unanimous in not accepting the drawn plan and calling it “way too small”.

That presented us with the question that if the direct translation of the policy is not the base spatial quality that is acceptable for social housing, than what is? We initiated the typlogical research project “Goed Wonen in een Betaalbare Woning” to (re)define that basal level of quality. We were funded by the Ministery of the Interior and 15 housing associations.

An important part of the research was to experience the space measurements by actually being in a living room and moving the walls and furniture in a survey-workshop. The workshop was attended by many tenants and employees of housing associations and we even had students joining in at TU Delft.

We have now reinstalled the the 1 to 1 model to give the visitors of ISHF and of the Museum het Schip the possibility of moving the walls themselves.

By developing this tool you emphasise that a tenant’s opinion on the design of the apartment is worth listening to. What problems do you see in the designs of regular social housing that could be solved if planners would listen better to tenants’ voices?

One mistaken assumption is that bigger is always better. Spatial quality depends on many factors besides size. The relationship between spaces and the usability of a house is just as, or even more important than size. Therefore our research didn’t stop at the determination of the measurements, but we developed a series of housing types to accommodate the specific needs of the target groups of the participating housing associations.

What are you expecting at the International Social Housing Festival in general?

The international aspect of the festival is of great interest. The Dutch social housing sector is subject to major changes the in the way associations have to act. This is not only a result of the former economical crisis but also of the changing political climate. Especially in these hectic times it is good to exchange ideas and opinions with experts from other parts of the world. It will help us to find new ways of dealing with social housing.

What other ISHF events are you planning to attend and why?

As architects we are always focused in future developments on housing. How do people like to live and how can we provide for them based on the latest techniques and inventions? The events that focus on new developments can count on our interest, like ‘The role and future of social housing in Europe‘, ‘Migration and mobility in cities in the West‘ and ‘flexible housing in the 21st century: pros and cons of flexible living‘. But also the the success of the past can be an inspiration for the future. Therefore the bustour and ISHF exhibitions are high on our list of interest.

Any requests for readers who attend your event?

They should give it a go, and record the result by sending a selfie to their own email address (the picture will be taken and sent automatically)


The Housing Laboratory will be opened by the architects in a workshop that is part of the ISHF Opening Event.

The Laboratory can be visited at all festival days, as part of the ISHF expositions.

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