The revolutionary Spangen social-housing complex (1919-1921) in Rotterdam, by Michiel Brinkman, has recently been immaculately restored. The project pioneered “street in the sky” deck access, an idea that famously inspired Alison and Peter Smithson’s design of the 1950s Golden Lane housing project in London. The Spangen estate, or Justus van Effen complex, is a rectangular four-story brick urban block, centered around two large courts. Concrete balconies give access to the duplex apartments on the top floors. In its heyday, the project offered many shared amenities, like a public bathhouse located between the two courtyards. A communal spirit was further promoted by making the decks publicly accessible; large cargo lifts allowed tradesmen to reach tenants’ front doors.
In 2006, Spangen’s owner, housing corporation Woonstad, embarked on a $41.1 million renovation of the run-down 194,630-square-foot complex. A previous 1985 renovation, by Leo de Jonge, was cost-driven; in spite of the building’s landmark status, the modernization of the units took precedence over maintaining the building’s architectural integrity. The 264 units were merged into 164 larger ones, the original interiors stripped, window frames replaced with aluminum, and the masonry painted white and gray.