N. John Habraken (john@habraken.org)

 Supports: an Alternative to Mass Housing,Urban International Press, UK, Edited by Jonathan Teicher, 1999. Edited reprint of the 1972 English edition.

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Die Träger und die Menschen, Das Ende des Massenwohnungsbaus. Arch-Edition, Den Haag, 2001, German translation of the original Dutch edition by Arnulf Lüchinger, ISBN 3-9522023-1-2

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De Dragers en de Mensen, het einde van de massawoningbouw, Scheltema & Holkema NV, Amsterdam 1961. ( the initial Dutch language edition)

Supports, An alternative to mass housing, the Architectural Press, London, 1972, ISBN 0 85139 225 3, translated by B. Valkenburg ( the initial English language edition).

Soportes, una alternativa al alojamiento de masas, Alberto Corazon, Madrid, date?, translated by Fernando Ramon.

Strutture per una Residenza Alternativa, Il Saggiatore, Milano 1974, translation and introduction: Franco Mancuso.


The book argues a distinction in large residential projects of the base building, called 'support' and the fit-out, called 'infill'. The distinction is primarily one of control and design responsibility and only secondarily technical. It is intended to restore, what is called the 'natural relation' between environmental form and inhabitant as it was found for millenia before our times.

When the first edition was about to come out, the publisher, Paul Nijhoff-Asser, told me "this book will be read by few, but everybody will have an opinion about it". He was exactly right. The Dutch edition sold about forty copies per year and it took ten years before an English translation appeared. Once available in English, it was widely distributed, reprinted several times and translated in other languages many of them unauthorized and unseen by the author.

This text apparently triggered people's hopes as well as fears.. It was praised by some as a true Marxist theory in that it would emancipate the masses, but also as a genuine capitalist approach in that it trusted individual initiative of the user. In the sixties it was denounced as oppressive because it subscribed to industrialization and its inevitable manipulation by big capital. Others saw in it as a subversive tract, inciting the masses.

Architects and critics generally deplored the lack of pictures as to what supports might look like. The initial English edition was almost scuttled because I refused to have illustrations included while the publisher argued an architectural book without pictures would not sell. It seemed to me that any illustrations would defeat the purpose, which was to change the attitude of professionals and make them think for themselves about this alternative solution. I had no designs of supports, but even if I would have, showing them would have allowed readers to reject the basic idea on grounds that had nothing to do with it. In it's 'conclusion' the English edition says " There is no question of invention here, but rather of a certain insight". This is a weak version of the original Dutch text which said, translated literally: "I announce the supports, but they will also come unannounced." For a truly fundamental idea to become general currency, many must come to the same conclusion by themselves. This is, I believe, what has happened before and after the publication of this book. What I considered a statement of humility - after all there was not much we could do to influence events, but we should seek to understand them - was promptly denounced as one of arrogance. Whatever the case, I was convinced that the separation of support and infill was inevitable in the long run. So far the idea has refused to die. And individuals who have never heard of this book keep discovering it by themselves.


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