The Heritage of the Woonerf


  • Dick van Gameren TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment
  • Harald Mooij TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment


When urban designer Niek de Boer coined the term woonerf in Emmen in the 1960s, he linked his new residential vision to a universally recognized concept: the erf (literally yard or estate), which resonated in the collective consciousness as the open area around a freestanding house or the versatile external spaces of a farmyard. Thus, even in its name, this urban planning innovation evoked nostalgic impressions of village life, where all manner of activities could take place outdoors and on the streets. From this perspective, the woonerf can be seen as a typically Dutch development, which was later imitated around the world. Conversely, it cannot be viewed in isolation from parallel and earlier international developments. In the quest for relaxed, green residential areas, there are obvious precedents to be found in Ebenezer Howard’s ideas about garden cities (Garden Cities of Tomorrow, 1902) and their application in England and the USA, and also in earlier philanthropic plans for ideal working-class neighbourhoods, such as the Agnetapark in Delft (1885). Here, the houses were fused into small farm-like volumes, grouped around communal green spaces.

Author Biographies

Dick van Gameren, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Dick van Gameren is dean and full professor at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment of Delft University of Technology, and partner at Mecanoo architecten in Delft, the Netherlands. Combining his work as an architect with a professorship, Van Gameren maintains a critical approach to design by lecturing, researching and publishing. In 2007, Van Gameren won the prestigious Aga Kahn Award for the design of the Dutch Embassy in Ethiopia. In 2008, Van Gameren founded the book series DASH (Delft Architectural Studies on Housing) and is since then editor in chief. At TU Delft. He leads the Global Housing Study Centre and is also board member of the Archiprix foundation, of the Jaap Bakema Study Centre in Rotterdam and of the Amsterdam based AMS Institute. He is also a member of the TU Delft Global Initiative Steering Committee.

Harald Mooij, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Harald Mooij studied architecture and building technology at Delft University of Technology and at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia (IUAV). He is an architect in The Hague and is currently involved in various projects, including housing. He has been a lecturer and researcher at Delft University of Technology in the Chair of Architecture and Dwelling since 2004. He writes regularly for professional journals in the Netherlands and abroad, is co-editor of DASH and co-author of the book Housing Design: A Manual, published in 2008 (English edition in 2011).