N. John Habraken

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N. John Habraken (born 29 October 1928, Bandung, Dutch East Indies) is a Dutch architect, educator, and theorist. His major contributions are in the field of mass housing and the integration of users and residents into the design process.


Well-known participation project, free choice of style and architect: Scheepstimmermanstraat Amsterdam, urban plan and coordination West 8, houses by different architects, 1996-1997
Well-known participation project, interpretable and adaptable architecture: Diagoon housing in Delft by Herman Hertzberger, 1971
Participation of the inhabitants, inside and outside

Habraken studied architecture at Delft Technical University, the Netherlands from 1948-1955. From 1965 to 1975, he was Director of SAR (Foundation for Architects Research) in the Netherlands, researching and developing methods for the design and construction of adaptable housing. In his seminal book Supports, an Alternative to Mass Housing, first published in 1962, Habraken proposes the separation of 'support' or base building from 'infill' or interior fit-out in residential construction and design as a means of giving inhabitants a meaningful participative role in the design process. Habraken's theories have been linked to the Structuralism movement in architecture.

In 1960, Habraken designed the WOBO (World Bottle) for Alfred Heineken. The WOBO is a stackable beer bottle that can be used to build a bottle wall. Initially developed in response to the lack of affordable building materials and the inadequate living conditions that beset Curaçao's lower class, the WOBO is a pioneering example of industrialized recycling and adaptive reuse of materials.

In 1967 Habraken was appointed professor at Eindhoven University of Technology, and charged with the responsibility to set up its new Department of Architecture and serve as its first chairperson. From 1975 to 1981 Habraken served as Head of the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA. He taught at MIT until his retirement as Professor Emeritus in 1989.

Habraken remains occupied with methods and theory of architectural and urban design. He has lectured on these topics worldwide and is the author of a vast number of books, research reports, and many articles. His book The Structure of the Ordinary is an investigation of laws governing the built environment as revealed by patterns of transformation. His most recent book, Palladio’s Children is an attempt to explain why architects do not know how to deal with everyday environment.

Habraken lives in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands.

Awards and honors[edit]

Habraken is recipient of the 1988 Creative Achievement Award of the Association of Collegiate Schools in the US; the David Roëll prize 1979 of the Dutch Prince Bernhard Fund; The King Fahd award for design and research in Islamic Architecture, 1985–86; and the Oevre Award for 1996 of the National Foundation for Art, design, and Architecture (BKVB oevre prijs) in the Netherlands. He is honorary member of the Architectural Institute of Japan, Knight of the Royal Order of the Dutch Lion 2003, and Recipient of the 2003 “Kubus Award for Advancing the Standing of Architecture”, by the BNA, Dutch Association of Architects.


The Hague, Thomsonplein (square), construction 1921-1922. Urban planning by Hendrik Berlage, architecture by Jan Duiker. Conflict between cultural heritage (Berlage+Duiker) and participation.


  • Soportes: Vivienda y Ciudad / Supports: Housing and City, N. John Habraken & Andrés Mignucci, Essays on Supports, Thematic Design and architectural education as part of the Laboratorio de Vivienda del Siglo XXI at the ETSAB School of Architecture in Barcelona. Introduction by Josep María Montaner and Zaida Muxi, Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya, Barcelona, 2009.
  • Palladio’s Children, Seven essays on the everyday environment and the architect. Edited by Jonathan Teicher, Taylor and Francis, London, New York, 2005.
  • Die Träger und die Menschen, Das Ende des Massenwohnungsbaus, Arch-Edition, Den Haag, 2001, by Arnulf Lüchinger, ISBN 3-9522023-1-2 German translation of the Dutch "De Dragers en de Mensen, Het Einde van de Massa Woningbouw".
  • The Structure of the Ordinary, Cambridge, London, MIT Press, 1998
  • The Appearance of the Form, Cambridge, Awater Press,1985. Private edition. Second ed. 1988.
  • Transformations of the Site, Cambridge, Awater Press, 1983. Private edition. Second ed. 1988.
  • "The Grunsfeld Variations: A demonstration project on the coordination of a design team in urban design". N. John Habraken with J.A. Aldrete-Haas, R. Chow, T. Hille, P. Krugmeier, M. Lampkin, A. Mallows, A Mignucci, Y. Takase, K. Weller, T. Yokouchi. Cambridge, MIT Laboratory for Architecture and Planning, 1981.
  • General Principles about the Way Built Environments Exist, Open House BCB series, SAR, Eindhoven, 1979.
  • Variations, the Systematic Design of Supports, with J.T.Boekholt, A.P.Thyssen, P.J.M. Dinjens: MIT Laboratory for Architecture and Planning; distributed by MIT Press, Cambridge, USA and London 1976. English translation by W. Wiewel and Sue Gibbons from the original Dutch publication: Denken in Varianten, Alphen a/d Rijn, Samson, 1974.
  • Supports: an Alternative to Mass Housing. London: The Architectural Press, and New York: Praeger, 1972. First English-language edition. Originally published in Dutch under the title: De Dragers en de Mensen. Amsterdam: Scheltema en Holkema, 1962.
  • Three R's for Housing, Amsterdam, Scheltema & Holkema, 1970; originally published in Forum, vol. XX, no 1, 1966.
  • De Dragers en de Mensen, Het einde van de massa Woningbouw., Scheltema & Holkema N.V. Amsterdam, 1961


Bosma, Koos (2000). Housing for the Millions: John Habraken and the SAR (1960-2000). NAi Publishers. 

External links[edit]