“The city is a patchwork of places, each with their own character.”

Architects Merijn de Jong and Jeroen Atteveld

Architecten - Heren 5

The architects of Heren 5 from Amsterdam don’t see themselves as playing the classic supervisory role in the building design process. They like to use the metaphor of deftly zigzagging flocks of birds that, seemingly without a leader, nevertheless unerringly find their way. Most of all, they enjoy playing the role of ‘invisible conductor’.

The time is ripe

‘The future is here, every day,’ says De Jong. ‘We design and build in order to give people a pleasant and sustainable living environment.’ Atteveld: ‘People judge the quality of their living environment at neighbourhood level. A designer must be able to see the neighbourhood through the eyes of the residents, and share their dreams of how they want their living environment to be. It is then up to us - the industry - to translate these dreams into reality.’

The momentum is excellent, according to De Jong: ‘The willingness to pursue new ideas and visions in urban design and architecture is huge. During the period of reconstruction after the Second World War, the credo was all about light, air and space. Now, the credo could be: the human dimension and green quality of life.’

Incremental urban densification

Heren 5 architects are located in the port area of Amsterdam North; an area where industrial activity is self-evident, while at the same time you can see a new part of the city being shaped. ‘What’s happening here in the North of the city’ says Atteveld, ‘is a clear example of how to add quality to the built environment. Because there is so much pressure on the city, you can see how new sub centres are developing everywhere, with their own characteristics and qualities. I think that densification is the future. A city like Amsterdam can double in terms of population and increase in quality, especially in the public spaces.’ De Jong: ‘Growth, currently, is more organic. Not thousands of homes in one fell swoop, but step-by-step, allowing ideas to be tested as it were, on a small scale. The city is a patchwork of places, each with their own character, and that needs to be integrated in any new developments.’

Away from the comfort zone

According to the vision of both architects, we are on the eve of some major changes to our living environment. Yet there are also some contrasting opinions to be heard: that people are conservative and like nothing more than a terraced house with a garden. Atteveld: ‘This way of reasoning stems from the fact that maximum efficiency has been achieved in the production process. However, this is something completely different from thinking about new living concepts from the user's point of view. No one ever asked for an iPhone, but Steve Jobs was such a visionary that he marketed a product that people now can’t do without. In housing, you need to step away from your comfort zone, detach yourself from what you already have.’


Working together to bring more quality to the built environment and public spaces, sums up the Heren 5 DNA. De Jong: ‘For us, collectivity is a key word. Hence our flock of birds analogy. It's a kind of self-steering mechanism: if there is a team flow, if everyone believes in the goal, you can move mountains. It’s not an easy task, which is why you need a good narrative, a strong idea. A narrative that you can share with one another, and that becomes significant during the realization of the project. Those three aspects are the essence of our vision of urban development and architecture: people, narrative, future.’

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