There is no Such Thing as a Free Market

Public Planning versus Private Opportunity in Housing


  • Dirk van den Heuvel Delft University of Technology



To deconstruct the still hegemonic narrative of free market ideologists in the realm of housing, this article looks at the provocative position of the German-British architect Patrik Schumacher, director of Zaha Hadid Architects. Schumacher’s 2016 lecture on housing at the World Architecture Festival in Berlin, in which he claims that only wholesale privatisation of urbanism would solve the housing crisis, is scrutinised on the two interrelated concepts of the free market and state intervention.

Schumacher’s lecture is analysed within the context of the current housing crisis in the United Kingdom and London in particular, which dates back to the years of the Tory government of Margaret Thatcher. Additionally, the aftermath of the banking and credit crisis of 2008 brought the further breakdown of welfare state arrangements under the politics of so-called austerity. Lastly, the housing situation worsened due to the disruptive rise of the creative classes as depicted by urban sociologist Richard Florida.

Schumacher’s position is interpreted in the tradition of the ideas of philosopher Ayn Rand and Nietzschean master-servant morality. A connection with the ideas of Rem Koolhaas is identified, in particular those expounded in his book Delirious New York and with Koolhaas’ conception of the architect as a surfer as well as a hostage, who is at the mercy of larger forces he cannot control.

The argument is concluded by referencing a number of renowned alternatives to a delusional free market approach to solve the housing crisis, namely social housing projects from continental Europe. Ultimately, the importance of striking a balance between private opportunity and public planning is emphasised.

Author Biography

Dirk van den Heuvel, Delft University of Technology

Dirk van den Heuvel is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Architecture, TU Delft, and the co-founder and head of the Jaap Bakema Study Centre at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. He has (co-) authored various books: Jaap Bakema and the Open Society (2018), Architecture and the Welfare State (2015, with M. Swenarton and T. Avermaete), Team 10 – In Search of a Utopia of the Present (2005, with M. Risselada), and Alison and Peter Smithson – From the House of the Future to a House of Today (2004, with M. Risselada).

Van den Heuvel was the curator of the Dutch pavilion for the 2014 Architecture Biennale of Venice. He was awarded with a Richard Rogers Fellowship from Harvard University GSD in 2017, which enabled him to reinvestigate the intersections between brutalism, the post-war welfare state and the architecture of housing.


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