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Knock-on effect

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Tackling the problems of young architects has been treated in a similarly practical way - with money. The Netherlands Architecture Fund, headed by speaker Rudolf Brouwers, receives about 6 million Guilders (£2 million) a year to give to newly qualified architects as research and travel grants. 'It has become customary for organisations such as police and health authorities to commission young architects,' said Brouwers. 'This has a knock-on effect in other sectors.' And, he says, 'there are no complaints from their elders', although this is partly because there is plenty of work to go round.

Much of this work comes from the housing sector. The Vinex report of the late 1980s identified a need for 800,000 new homes by 2010 and set up a system for procuring them. 'The best architects in Holland,' said Brouwers, 'have always started their careers in housing. Even with the increasing dominance of market forces, this is continuing.'

The large volume of work is not, however, accompanied by unlimited funds. The philosophy is, said Felix Claus of Claus en Kaan, 'if you can build cheap you can build a lot - and an incredible craze for building has come over us'. Even if you have money for a lovely material or for fine craftsmanship, he said, 'it is very difficult to realise because the building trade has been affected'.

The result, however, is not despair and shoddy workmanship but ingenuity. Claus talks of arranging standard components in an innovative way and, where there is no money at all for doing something special in common spaces, falling back on the use of brightly coloured paint. Wiel Arets described using a rubber mould to create a continuous concrete skin when he 'had to look for a replacement for brick.'

Wilson, with the sharp eye of a semi-outsider (he practises in Germany), said: 'Pragmatism coupled with a sound understanding of logistics allows the Dutch to build to a lower cost.' In Germany they still have the site craftsmanship that the Dutch lack; their buildings also cost an average of 30 per cent more.

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