Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Building Your Own Home Gets Easier in Amsterdam ; City Embraces Program That Lets Owners Control Design and Construction

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Building Your Own Home Gets Easier in Amsterdam ; City Embraces Program That Lets Owners Control Design and Construction

Article excerpt

The city has embraced a program that encourages individuals or groups to lease land from the city and build their own homes.

When Bastiaan Jongerius, an architect, and a couple of friends approached city officials here in 2002 with the idea of building their own homes, they were reluctant to lease land to them.

"We made a proposal. But the government wanted us to compete with developers," said Mr. Jongerius, now 46. "They didn't select us because we were a risk -- three people with a lot of ambition but without a lot of money and experience."

By 2005, when they tried again, things were different.

"The land was exactly the volume we had asked for, and we had, by then, organized six families with the desire to build their own homes around a courtyard so that the children could play together," he said.

The city had also embraced the "Zelfbouw," or self-build, program, which encourages individuals or groups to lease land from the city and then organize the construction themselves.

The program is part of a national policy, but the local government is responsible for running it here, explained Bart Truijens, a senior adviser to the Ontwikkelingsbedrijf Gemeente Amsterdam, the local oversight group.

"By the way, there is no obligation to build a house using your own bare hands," Mr. Truijens added. "But you can hire an architect and contractor by yourself, and you decide yourself how your house is going to be and look like."

As part of a pilot effort, 60 homes were built from 1995 to 2000 on Scheepstimmermanstraat, or Shipwright's Street.

And at about the same time that Mr. Jongerius and his group made a second pass at the city, construction was just beginning on 300 to 350 homes on IJburg, an island not far from the city center.

More plots around the city became available once the recession hit in 2008 and building companies began to founder.

The city says Zelfbouw projects now account for about 15 percent of all new housing in Amsterdam. Last year, 109 plots of land were offered to individuals and 256 plots to group projects.

"This does not solve the housing problems in Amsterdam," said Sabine Lebesque, an architecture historian and senior adviser to the city oversight group. …

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