Living on rooftops

The multitude of flat rooftops in Rotterdam offers plenty of possibilities for a future as a sustainable and resilient city. The rooftop landscape offers unique opportunities to find solutions to today’s challenges, such as climate change, the energy transition, densifying cities and the search for new ways of social connection.

One of the challenges of a densely populated city with a growing population (such as Rotterdam) is to offer high-quality and affordable housing in the city centre.

One of the responses to climate change and the energy transition is the global Tiny House Movement. Tiny Houses are small, fully-fledged, detached homes of up to 50 m2 of floor space with the smallest possible ecological footprint. They are often also very easy to move, as they are placed on a temporary foundation or have wheels. What many Tiny House residents have in common is the wish to be completely self-sufficient, enabling them to live in the wild without having to connect to water, electricity or sewerage.

Off-the-grid living is often associated with the countryside, but the Rotterdamse Dakendagen is trying to translate this housing vision into an urban situation. After all, there are also people in the city who would like to have a small ecological footprint, but they also don’t want to leave the dynamic environment they are used to.

For a number of years now, the Rotterdamse Dakendagen has been devoting attention to the possibility of putting Tiny Houses on Rotterdam rooftops.

Inspiration

In 2016, the Rotterdamse Dakendagen first spoke to Walden Studio’s Laurens and Lena van der Wal. That year, they drew the above impression of Tiny Houses in Rotterdam city centre. This was an enormous source of inspiration for further brainstorming about living on rooftops.

2017: getting started right away

In 2017, we started working on the idea of living on rooftops for the first time – together with Walden Studio and the Tiny House Academy. And we put it in practice right away: we hoisted an existing Tiny House, including its residents, on a rooftop near Hofplein.

As it turned out, the residents loved it and didn’t want to leave. The visitors of the Rotterdamse Dakendagen especially loved the Tiny House and had all kinds of questions about the ins and outs of living in such a tiny house in general. The fact that the house was placed on a rooftop didn’t seem to surprise anyone.

It’s nice to know that it’s apparently so obvious that people can get used to it very quickly. But it was a pity that we haven’t yet been able to highlight why living on rooftops in particular is so revolutionarily different from other forms of living in the city.

2018: the imagination

In 2018, we wanted our visitors to experience for themselves what it’s like to sleep on a rooftop.
We put six sleeping cabins – designed by artists and architects – on our main rooftop (the former Hofplein Station rooftop), which had been placed at the Urban Campsite in Amsterdam a year earlier. This area is where the whole festival comes together and that’s how we confronted the majority of our visitors with the possibility of living/sleeping on rooftops.

It was possible to spend a night in these Rooftop Urban Sleep Spaces (RUSS, as we called them) for a month afterwards.

The people who stayed overnight were very enthusiastic and our audience found the objects very beautiful and ‘interesting’. But they saw them mainly as art objects, as cabinets of curiosities.
This project was put together by the Rotterdamse Dakendagen and Studio Made By’s Thijs Masthoff, who now has the sleeping cabins (and more) on his Culture Campsite in West Rotterdam.

2018/2019: long-term rooftop occupancy

We’d found a manager for our RUSS project: cultural anthropologist Renée Rooijmans. She welcomed and looked after the guests for a month, and also slept in a RUSS herself. She liked this so much, that she fantasised out loud about being allowed to do this for a longer period of time. At the same time, the Rotterdamse Dakendagen was in contact with the owner of Luchtpark Hofbogen (which is what we called it during the festival in 2018). They’d already expressed their intention to turn the area into a public park, but they didn’t know what to do about the (costs of) management.
We brought these two parties together, which resulted in Renée living in a Tiny House (which we hoisted to the area for her) at the Luchtpark for a year. She opened and closed the gates of the park every day and supervised the area.

Renée received a lot of media attention and was able to tell the story of living on a rooftop. She did live in the middle of a public park, which meant she didn’t have the privacy that a ‘normal’ rooftop would offer its residents.

Renée realised people not only need a house, but also a community to be able to call it a valuable living environment, so she and architect – and designer of the first Dutch Tiny House – Laurens van der Wal from Walden Studio started the Dakdorpen project (‘Rooftop Villages’). Her experiences can be read on her blog and she also shared them with the international audience of our Knowledge Day.

2019: Dakdorpen test site and glass greenhouses

Dakdorpen went looking for a test site and finally found one on top of the De Kroon building. That is where Dakdorpen started during the 2019 Rotterdamse Dakendagen. During the festival, they built wooden frames of houses, which they could easily move across the rooftop. That meant they could test different configurations of a rooftop village. We also placed a glass house (a greenhouse) in which people could sleep, which formed the basis of the test site.

Another such glass house was put on the green rooftop of the Thornico Building along the Westblaak. This green environment provided a completely different context.

Both glass houses were meant to sleep in. The image of the greenhouse on top of the Thornico Building has stimulated the imagination around the idea of living on rooftops in a new way. And at the test site on top of the De Kroon building, Dakdorpen was able to explain the story of living on rooftops to visitors of the festival.

2020: concrete steps

In 2020, Dakdorpen will continue to expand its test site on top of the De Kroon building, as they received a grant for it. Their progress can be followed here. During our festival in 2020, Dakdorpen and the Rotterdamse Dakendagen will once again join forces and open up the test site to visitors. There will also be more Tiny Houses on rooftops in the city centre.