Spring in the Netherlands

As Ryder Architecture celebrates the establishment of its newest team in Amsterdam, Dimitrios Papatheodorou, designer at Ryder, discusses his experiences of living abroad and studying architecture in the Netherlands.

Coming from a small rural town in mainland Greece offered limited opportunity to pursue my dreams.  In 2011, I made the decision to combine my ambition to live abroad with my passion to study architecture.  Having completed my five year studies in architecture, both in the UK and the Netherlands, I feel extremely lucky to have joined the Ryder family.

Greece
Greece

I chose the UK due to its reputation as an academic destination of excellence and my fascination with British culture and values.  The ease of mobility across Europe has facilitated students seeking opportunities away from home to learn and work among the best in the field.  Moving abroad is not necessarily an easy task.  It can be a daunting experience especially for a young person.  Adapting to a new culture and way of life among strangers was a slow process for me, with home sickness kicking in almost immediately.  However, over time, making new friends and keeping busy with various activities helped to overcome such issues.

Having completed my degree in the UK, it became clearer to me where my main interests lay and I developed a strong curiosity in housing design.  The Netherlands is continually praised for innovation in housing design solutions, dealing with physical and environmental challenges and shortage of space.  So, I decided the best way for me to learn more about housing was to experience it first hand and be taught by the Dutch.

The University of Delft Library
The University of Delft Library
The University of Delft Modelling Hall
The University of Delft Modelling Hall

Moving to the Netherlands wasn’t the biggest cultural shock, being just a stone’s throw from the UK - even the British style weather continued to haunt me!  With an extensive international community and English spoken widely, adaptation was quite an easy task.  Obviously, learning Dutch is beneficial to everyday life for official matters, employment opportunities and integrating better into society.  

Finding a place to stay is tough.  Competition is fierce and availability limited, as in many student cities. There is a wide variety of exemplary dwelling design, from traditional canal houses and floating homes to high rise apartments, unfortunately though, not many are suited to a student’s budget.

But what makes Dutch housing so special?  From my experience of living in and visiting various housing examples, physical characteristics such as the presence of daylight and open plan living do really make a difference.  Large panes of glazing ensure bright, airy interiors, and a great connection with the outdoors.  Housing typologies and designing for density can be of great interest.  With limited space available, the Dutch had to produce innovative solutions to provide maximum density without compromising the quality of space and embracing future challenges like increasing population, climate change and, rising sea levels.  That innovation is evident in spatial planning, stacking and use of technology and materials.  

Rotterdam Housing Tour
Rotterdam Housing Tour

Another impressive daily life aspect that I experienced first hand was transportation and mobility.  Investment in public transport can be seen from the design of new train stations to the development of apps and ticketing systems assisting with efficient movement across the country.  Being a relatively small and flat country, it is easy to go anywhere in a short space of time and even reach other European capitals with ease and I can’t fail to mention the bikes.  After all, they are more than people!  Bikes are everywhere, used for everything you can imagine from a leisure ride to daily commutes to a complete house removal service.  Obviously, that is facilitated by a seamless infrastructure network, so you’d better forget that handy Uber. 

There are numerous universities in the Netherlands with a great reputation.  While finding a degree taught in English is rare, most master degrees are fully taught in English with much more reasonable tuition fees.  In architecture courses, the curriculum is not that far from that of the UK, highlighting how international a subject architecture is, with applicable principles worldwide.  What is quite different – being one of the reasons I chose to study there - was the overall rationality and pragmatism in architecture and the focus on technical design along the creative design process.

Streets of Delft
Streets of Delft

What I learned to appreciate, especially from my Dutch colleagues, was the work life balance.  It is not the norm to spend hours on end in the studio.  That is also the reason the architecture school operated on a specific time schedule (closing at 22:00 on weekdays and 19:00 on Fridays) to promote healthier working patterns.  Following office working hours was typical among students, with the rest of the day carefully planned and organised (so typically Dutch) around various activities

Having lived away from home for more than seven years now both in the UK and the Netherlands, I don’t for a moment regret that choice.  It has been a journey with many ups and downs but after all, it’s proved to be a great learning experience in terms of gaining not only practical, job related skills but other non tangible skills like independence and adaptability.  It is an experience that I would recommend to everyone either as students or through work related opportunities. 

Considering the current political climate, all the ease of movement within Europe is at stake.  As someone who has experienced the full benefits of that mobility, I strongly believe it is crucial for the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, especially for future generations, to be able to have access to similar benefits and enjoy equal opportunities as we currently do.  Studying and living abroad can only be beneficial to a person’s development and a great tool for learning from each other’s expertise.

Tot ziens!

Dimitrios' Graduation Day
Dimitrios' Graduation Day