MA Studies > Interior design > Interior design alumnus > Mech Haumann

Mech Haumann

Vacant militairy airbases

´Jo Colley, 31-12-2011, I went to school in RAF Laarbruch (Royal Air Force Base) between 1960 and 1962. lived in Slessor Crescent, right opposite the playground. The cinema was one of the most important buildings for me´. Nowadays the cinema is an abandoned, destroyed and an old building on airport Weeze. With a total of more than 2000 soldiers, approximately 1570 families, more than 2000 children, 2 schools, 2 store chains, post offices, 2 banks and its own community was RAF Laarbruch more than 40 years similar to a village. Nowadays this area, of ​​about 1460 hectares and more than 90 vacant buildings, has changed into one big abandoned historical military airbase. To me this is an inspiration and starting point for this research to vacant military airbases. 

Many military airbases around the world are vacant and the number of vacant military airbases is still increasing, amongst other things because of the cuts andreorganizationsinthe government andRoyalAir Forces. The main question is what can be done with the former military airbases. Traditionally there is a program that needs a building; in this case buildings and areas are looking for a program.
‘’Vacant military airbase’’ is a research to the context of vacant military airbases and their surroundings. Questions rise, such as: what is the impact of the environment of vacant military airbases on the modern architecture?; what are the borders of these blank spots?; what are the history and quality of these places and how can we apply them through design, so that they can shift from a military typology to a civil typology?; Can an airplane hangar become a hospital or a school and can a runway become a park?

I would like to divide the military airbases in three categories: military airbases still in use, vacant military airbases and already transformed airbases. These already transformed airbases are a starting point for me to do a comparable research. The time when the airbases were transformed plays an important role in this. In the 20th century the architects and urban planners had a different approach of transforming these areas in comparison with the present time. As an example of an earlier approach Gert Urhahn used the instant city which he sees a development of ‘ready-made, ready-to-use space’ who are ’ tailored to serve one specific, immutable purpose’. In here, the urban user was just consuming everyday products. To me, the new way of thinking and philosophy of the spontaneous city in the 21th century, what Gert Urhahn explains in his book, is an inspiring and useful approach of the role of architects and urban planners.  This concept serves as a guideline and inspiration to me during my research development.

In his book ‘’spontaneous city’’, Gert Urhahn writes about his philosophical approach of the 21 century role of the architects and urban planners. The concept of the spontaneous city seeks to establish a link between the city and its residents. Important principles in this concept are: more space for residents’ initiatives, mixed programs, and small-scale initiatives. The spontaneous City is a marketplace, where supply and demand sculpts urban form. To me this an important aspect because the balance between supply and demand of available living- and working space in The Netherlands has been lost completely. This new approach of the city is shaped by its occupants, in a never-ending process of transformation, growth and adaptation.
By this architects and urban planners work in close collaboration with the project initiators. They forge a path between individual choice and common interest. Government and market work closely together, but with a different focus: the initiatives, creative energy and investment capital of the end user. The architect and urban planners should adopt the role of ‘searcher’ instead of planner (out of a quote from development economist William Easterly). This idea of William Easterly, that Urhahn used in his book, inspired me because the new way of thinking in connection to my own field. The role of a searcher is more interesting because nowadays it is not only about the design that architects and urban planners create, but also about the message and interaction behind the transformation. With this we have to search for connections and ideas that brings design to a more interactive activity. Also the users of this concept are one part of the transforming process. This is reflected by the way Urhahn opens his manifest by saying that there are many producers in the spon­taneous city, in particular residents and business people. To me this spontaneous city concept, which asks for another attitude and way of thinking, is a good approach to designing. ‘Urhahn Urban Design’ worked on various projects in which they put the spontaneous city in practice. In
Oaxaca for example, together with the occupants they were in search of public values and shared interests that need to be secured. Other spontaneous city projects include: Binckhorst The Hague, Almere ‘Leefland’, Railway zone Delft. 

'Urhahn Urban Design’ uses four principles by outlining this concept in practice:
The first is ‘zoom in’, taking local needs into account and working in small stages. The second is ‘supervise open developments’, an appeal for adaptable buildings. The third is ‘create collec­tive values’ and refers to the continuing importance of collective investments. For this, a sturdy framework administered by the government is necessary. The fourth principle is ‘be user-oriented’. According to the authors, the spontaneous city is designed by its residents in an endless process of growth and adaptation. The new role of urban planners is to connect individual wishes to common interests.

To continue, the ideas spread out in the book ‘Spontaneous City’ helps me further exploring new concepts in the transformation of vacant military airbases. The connection between a place, the user and the flexibility of space is an overall concept for modern architecture in my point of view. I want to explore how I can transform military airbases using the norms of the spontaneous city. It is important to search for flexible and interactive programs for this blank spot, that changes with time, so that it becomes time independent and stays attractive and functional.





















Source: Gert Urhahn book ‘Spontaneous City’