Co-living is dwelling units having reduced area and some form of living space as shared amenity. The term is entering popular usage to collectively describe various forms of co-living tenure. The very one we have most need for is not one of them. This is odd. Let’s start by taking a look at what co-living isn’t.


The 6,391 sq.ft triplex penthouse at first seems a bit pricey at $50 mil. ($7,823/sq.ft) but the 8,255 sq.ft penthouse at 432 Park Avenue sold for $95 mil. ($11,500/sq.ft) and the 6,760 sq.ft duplex penthouse at 100 East 53rd Street is on sale for $65 mil. ($9,615/sq.ft). So that 6,391 sq.ft might represent good value to someone if the plans are half decent and the location acceptable.

It’s even not that large as far as these things go but still, it has an area equivalent to about twenty 300 sq.ft studio apartments. It’s never going to be co-living despite having some form of living space as shared amenity.

saline pool.jpg

Right now, just when we’re struggling to get our heads around some new typology for market housing that includes some form of living space as shared amenity, it’s unhelpful to suggest shared amenities that can be booked for private use, as if not sharing is the new sharing.


The building’s facade is constructed with patinated metal. “We wanted to give it a sense of presence,” Patrick Schumacher, Hadid’s colleague for over 25 years, explained at the building’s launch event, “The use of bronze alludes to some kind of Art Deco experience in New York. And because of the metal of the High Line, there was this sense to contextualize the building into the mythical essence of New York.”


The saline pool intruiges me. “Why?” I can’t help wondering. Is it to contextualize the pool into the mythical essence of The Hudson? Is it to flaunt Na+Cl as 100% ozone/UV filtration? Is it gentler on highlights? Is it a buoyancy boost to make floating less stressful?

I’ve described elsewhere how New York by Gehry offers many shared compensations for the relative lack of living space inside the apartments.


From March 2016 you can rent the Fun!tionalism apartment – provided you satisfy certain screening criteria.

New York by Gehry

One of them* is ‘Written verification of income in an amount equal to 45.0 times the monthly rent per household will be required, along with any necessary supporting documents’. That decimal point shows they mean it.

On offer are amenities such as a gym now expected as a matter of course but provided on subscription. Non-standard amenities such as the library and the grill terrace can be booked for private use. Two examples don’t make a trend, but it’s still sufficient to say no matter how reduced the apartment area, it’s not co-living if the shareable living spaces are (1) inessential and (2) not always available. For one, it’s annoying.


Both these examples are for market housing and upmarket housing at that. This next building began life explicitly as co-housing. To his credit, the developer seemed to take pains to get many things right.

Here’s a plan. Here for images.

Residential Floor Plan

Beds aren’t shown but you can work out where they go. Once again, the space beside the bed is brought into triple service as kitchen activity space and corridor to bathroom and entrance. The table/window seat is an innovation offering another place in which to be. Corridors, elevator lobby and stairwells have windows.

This building ought to be what co-housing is but no. It was intended as affordable housing adding stock to the market but became 100% student housing.


Not that students don’t need to be housed – it’s just that the switch from market housing to student housing appears to be a strategic response to a policy environment.*


What we do now is imagine the place humming with music students and the net effect is no change in perceptions of how people who aren’t students could or should live.

One more thing. The website of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music states ‘all first-year and second-year undergraduate students are required to reside at The Panoramic.’ Our definition of co-living should have included the freedom to choose it . This is necessary if co-living in dwelling units having reduced area and some form of living space as a shared amenity is to be distinguishable from from prisons. 

It’s an important point and will become significant. Until it becomes their best ever idea, the government’s worst nightmare is for large numbers of people to want to live in co-housing at increased densities at permanent addresses on electoral registers. Although we need co-housing as market housing, what appears as increased popularity of co-housing is limited to the tenure outlands of zero-contract hotel accommodation for people with cash and credit but no local bank account or references. Student housing is a growth market and international students its target. Here’s


Former students, non-students and not-yet students are also well supplied with housing options at a price. Here’s TheCollective.




These residential hotels offer amenities and fully-serviced rooms renting circa £300/week. Property developers aren’t stupid. They develop property in response to demand from anyone who wants it, whoever they are.


If these buildings operate within the existing legal framework for hotels rather than as apartment buildings or dwellings for multiple occupation, then this alone ought to suggest no perceptions are being challenged or changed. Co-housing is being limited to peripheral concerns such as hotels, hostels, student accommodation, hospitals, boarding schools or prisons. It needs to be about market housing for permanent occupancy.

 • • •

These next market apartments aren’t going to be changing any perceptions soon though. All they do is compress living space. The corridor has a shared washer and dryer.


Those showers are going to take some getting used to.

The apartments are studios designed to market regulations yet, tellingly, ‘served by excellent transit and only blocks away from downtown Berkeley and UC Berkeley Campus.’ Upper floors have two extra apartments above the breezeway. It’s odd that such a tiny yet ruthless building has two stairwells and circulation approaching 25%.


This quote is from the developer’s website. I can imagine somebody claiming in some design statement that the front stairs ‘animate both facade and street’ – but only because the stair landing is pressed into service as communal balcony. We may be witnessing the rebirth of communal circulation as co-living amenity space. Forget about coffee shops.

This next example is more explicit. The elevator lobby in this plan is definitely circulation space used as co-living living space.

Residential Floor Plan

The previous post mentioned Moisei Ginzburg’s Type E as a prototype for corridor as co-living room. It was never built.


Ginzburg’s plans for the Type F (as realised in Oblosoviet, RZSKT and Narkomfin buildings) originally included seating areas in niches along corridors so people could linger and discuss dialectical materialism with people they met on the way to or from the gym, canteen, laundry or library.

Type F.jpg

By the time they were built, dialectical materialism was no longer up for discussion and the shared spaces were repurposed into the apartments as private bathrooms. 

Stephen Holl was to later take the notion of corridor as amenity and put amenities in it, even bringing Ginzburg’s term ‘social condenser’ back into use for about three seconds.


Tower typical floors have four apartments conventionally isolated around compact elevator lobbies.


Still, the development has elements of co-living for, if they wish, people can sit in one of the links to be alone, read a book, or look at stuff they can’t see from their own windows. The purple corner in the schematic above is the coffee shop and tea room.


There’s no reason why all this linking can’t be done closer to ground. If all the implied interactions actually take place then surely some additional cross linking can’t be a bad thing? Those links would then become a bit like streets. Hmm.

Maybe there’s a limit to the amount of co-living living space a building should reasonably be expected to provide? After all, if we’re going to walk through bridges spanning several buildings to get to a café then why not just go downstairs around a corner and up a real street for some company and a plate of food?




If we’re going to do that, then we’re not only back to the spatial arrangements of hotels but also to the way we live in them. It’s a way we happily embrace when on vacation in a foreign country.

• • •

All contemporary co-living tenure variations seem to have quickly satisfied their own niche demands without affecting the housing market in any way. The situation is stable. Nothing will change until there is visible and vocal demand for co-living as a viable and desirable way to live in our own country. Co-living has yet to jump the tenure barrier.


British housing estates used to be built with community centres that could be booked for significant birthdays and anniversaries, funeral wakes, weddings and other receptions for which a living room was either inappropriate or insufficient. The difference between such a community centre and a privately bookable IMAX cinema, is that the community centre never loses its identity as a shared amenity.

• • •

Even if the yet-unsurfaced political hurdles are overcome, there’s still the not-insignificant matter of social resistance to small dwellings and/or the people who live in them. Old habits die hard.

Basically, we’re still tying ourselves up in knots over how large a person’s house is. 

  • We don’t believe the person who lives in that 6,391 sq.ft triplex apartment will be twenty times better a person than someone living in 300 sq.ft,
  • And we’d be horrified should anyone think for a second we equated living in half a house in Chile to lives half-lived,
  • Yet, at the same time and with no awareness of contradiction, we believe a house precisely double that size enables the occupants to realize their ‘full’ potential as human beings, unstunted.

We can’t have it both ways. We either have to come out and declare that size of dwelling is an infallible indicator of human worth after all, or confirm it’s irrelevant and accept that people choosing to live in no more space than necessary can still lead lives with a  possibility of happiness and fulfilment no larger or smaller than anyone else’s.



Living Together

Even though time has proved much of Karel Teige’s The Minimum Dwelling prophetic it’s still disturbing for something written in the 1930’s to seem as if it was written for us today. Teige may have been over-eager to place so much faith in dialectical materialism but his perceptions on architects, buildings, society and how people live remain timely now.

Teige believed living with shared facilities and no more space than necessary wasn’t only a good way to live but the best way to live. He saw it as a positive thing for society to aspire to whereas we (and by that I mean mainly the English-speaking cultures) see only the beginning of the end. He was looking at it from a perspective opposite to ours.


Microflats continue to generate articles like ‘Could you live in a microflat?’ The new term may update the idea of living in less space but microflats still get presented as smaller and not in a good way rather than the smaller is better of microchips or microsurgery.

Parallel with this is the celebration of bigness and the culture of Yes is More which translates into More for The Few and is no doubt an attractive proposition if you’re one of them. The flipside is the Less for More which is the condition of our times.

It appears nobody can afford anything anywhere anymore so, unless we want to share beds and bathrooms with strangers, we’re going to have to learn to share our living space. The process has already begun with friends and virtual-strangers routinely combining resources to purchase apartments designed for family life. One person gets the larger bedroom or the one with the en-suite. The spatial arrangement formalises relationships and guides behaviour in ways beyond its remit.


Domitory living with a shared common room has been suggested as a logical next development. Such arrangements occur already in hotels, boarding houses and hospitals. We used to mock the Japanese for their capsule hotels but now think hostels like these rather classy.



Slightly further into our future are bed-spaces with some sort of communal recreation space. You can find this in construction worker camps


but we don’t have to look too far back to find our own examples.


The next development is hot-bedding and timeshares for eight-hour shifts in a bed. Think intense hostel. Hot-bunking used to be confined to submarines and sailors working and sleeping in shifts. Not so now, it seems. When it gets to this, there’s no need for separate living space because not working is recreation and a bed is all you need.


These are our options. If we’re not willing to share beds and bathrooms with strangers then (a) something’s got to give and it’s going to be living space and, following on from that, (b) our basic unit of accommodation is something we recognise as the hotel room.


Apartments are approaching the dimensions of hotel rooms anyway and various ways of dealing with the absence of living space are being proposed. All are non-solutions to allow us to continue ignoring the problem as we pretend to address it.

1: Multitasking

Multitasking is what happens when your apartment becomes a camper van. The bed is the sofa. The kitchen sink is the bathroom washbasin. The shelf is the desk and the desk is the kitchen counter, the shower a wet room and the WC in the shower.


Here’s the view from the window end of the room. Apartments like these used to be called bedsits.


“bright accommodation that includes a sleeping area with compact kitchenette (mini fridge and microwave included) plus a separate wet room with shower and WC”

The term ‘wet room with shower and wc’ fills me with foreboding. And where is this ‘compact kitchenette including mini-fridge and microwave,’ given that in the language of real-estate, including = has?

The appeal of this small London flat is that it doesn’t cost as much as a proper apartment. ‘This flat is perfect for someone working in the City or Central London’ doesn’t preclude owner-occupiers but ‘It would also be a savvy choice as a buy-to-let investment, as it could achieve a rental income of around £1,000 per calendar month’ gets to the point.

The attraction is not the social benefit of a useful housing type but the money to be saved by buying it, or the money to be made by purchasing it and then renting it to the unpropertied. Buy-to-let can’t even be called the New Feudal System as landlords never stopped farming tenants.

Castle and farm.jpg

2. The space-time warp

This is a different way of dealing with the problem of having insufficient space to dedicate to living space. It’s a variation of multitasking in using the same space for living and sleeping but different in having dedicated items of furniture. The downside is that the furniture isn’t all that dedicated as the sofa transforms into the bed, the table into a kitchen counter, etc.


The microflat competition was one of New York City’s recent initiatives to get people accustomed to the idea of living in less space.


maya lin

maya lin washington

Whenever I hear the name Maya Lin I always think of this Manhattan ‘microflat’ she styled.

Unlike Paul Goldberger, Bjarke Ingels and Maya Lin, I don’t see any advantages to multitasking objects across time. It’s a type of denial.


Okay, your five guests have had a lovely time and gone home. You’d like to go to bed now. But first have to clear and clear away the table. You unwisely decide to shift both table and contents to make the kitchen counter …

The deceit presented as conceit is that, when the bed’s tucked away, there’s still a bedroom behind some imaginary door. Or that when in ‘the dining room’ there’s still a living room around some corner. It’s spatial trompe l’oeil. It challenges no social conventions and thus helps perpetuate them.

3: Multitasking space

Normally people throw money at apartments by dubious renovations such as removing walls, installing laminate flooring, new kitchen units, and retiling the bathroom. Studio apartments have no internal walls to remove to make a space appear larger than it is but it’s still possible to decorate a tiny apartment as if it were part of a grander one. That’s the attraction of this studio apartment I mentioned in a not-too-previous post.


There’s nothing wrong with neutral colours or quirky decorative items if that’s your thing. Many people will admire what the occupant has done to the space but there’s a fine line between pride and defiance, and between defiance and denial. There are far too many of the conventional indicators of interior contentment in this living room. This makes me think it’s an exercise in aspirational decoration, perhaps as a marketing vehicle. Someone has done all this not because they can see the beauty of a small space but because they can’t, or don’t want you to. In any case, the living area of this apartment is its least interesting aspect.

What we don’t see in the picture is the bed. It’s to the left, behind the kitchen counter with the orange flowers on it. [more images here]

admit one.jpg

This apartment maintains different places for living and sleeping. I admire it for its priorities and how the bulk of the space has been routed to the living area while that for everything else is compressed. The same space is the corridor to the bathroom, the space on the side of the bed and the activity space for the kitchen counter. Lose the living room and it’s a Nakagin Capsule.


4. The space-time warp #2

nyc living.jpg

I only mention this variation of the space-time warp for the sake of completeness. With this hybrid, walls multitask space across time to make different rooms in an example of space-time warp for both the space as well as the furniture required to use it.

These transformations also involve a conceptual shift – how many dads would host a dinner party for 12 the same night the two kids stay over? Ingenuity in solving a problem imagined by at least one person is the product on display here.

5. Fun-sized!

A previous post, Fun!tionalism, explored the trend for modern apartment buildings to make much of communal facilities and amenities provided as compensation for the small size of the apartments. In passing, it might be an idea to reintroduce the commual laundry as a fun new way to meet people.


But around the increasingly baroque amenities and facilities hangs an air of desperation. Compensation is something to atone for an unsatisfactory situation – it doesn’t remove the reason for dissatisfaction. This type of approach to development, sale and occupancy will not change perceptions.


There’s a precedent for it not changing perceptions. New York’s 1924 Shelton Hotel was admired worldwide as a symbol of technological progress and how advanced America was architecturally. In Eastern Europe and Russia it was also seen to embody socialist ideals of communal living.

hotel shelton

The Shelton was planned as a “club hotel”; i.e., a residential hotel for men, with such club features as a swimming pool, Turkish bath, billiard room, bowling alley, and, on the setbacks, rooftop gardens. The joys of living in such a hotel were detailed by a writer for Edison Monthly: “In a house of monumental beauty raised to the heights especially for you – if you are a bachelor – you will find all the comforts of a country home, and the luxuries and camaraderie of a university or great club always at your disposal and command.”

The description goes on to say “This use as a residential hotel for men was not a success and soon after its completion the hotel became a more traditional residential and transient facility”. Despite notable long-term transients such as Georgia O’Keefe, it’s fair to say the social conditions for accepting of the building and the new way of living it implied weren’t in place.

This is something Karel Teige could have written. Those conditions weren’t in place in Russia either but, for a while it looked as if they going to be. It’s getting closer to being our turn to give it a try. The problem is, we’re not very good at sharing stuff and living with other people. We’re going to have to ease ourselves into the concept. Here’s my first proposal.

The Dual Apartment

2-person flat.jpg

The Dual Apartment is two hotel rooms joined by a shared living space. It’s a co-joined suite with ownership split across two mortgages with rights to use the shared space, much like with the gardens of multi-occupancy houses.

The Dual Apartment offers less privacy than lone living in a one-bedroom apartment but more than sharing a conventional two-bed apartment. It’s thus better suited to any two people willing or eager to share living space. Couples may prefer to live like this, as even may marrieds. It’s possible to imagine a two-storey variation with four bedrooms, bathrooms and entrances sharing lower floor and mezzanine living areas connected by cheap stairs.


In 1930 Walter Gropius proposed something spatially similar. His had a shared entrance lobby leading to a shared kitchen/eating area but separate bathrooms and bedsits for a man and woman presumably married though Gropius didn’t distinguish.

Gropius 1

His proposal was roundly and fairly criticised by Teige for not fulfilling any social need other than to cater to bourgeois couples wanting to experiment with new ways of living. (Gropius’ days of experimenting were well over as he’d divorced Alma by 1920 and married Ise by 1923.) Teige’s objection was that society had more pressing concerns and he didn’t want to see this useful idea gentrified before it began.

The last sentence was ‘It will represent a new architectural type, responding to a new social and cultural context.’  This is where we’re most likely to fail. We need to adapt to change but don’t want the appearance of anything having changed. It’s inevitable that useful proposals like the Dual Apartment and the Quad Apartment will be understood as means of ‘getting on the property ladder’, as ‘halfway houses’ or ‘quarterway houses’ rather than as better ways to live and for an increasing number of people.

They will find widespread acceptance only after they become near impossible to buy into. By then, we’ll be in dire need of something more radical. What then?

Next, obviously, is sharing the common space amongst not two or four hotel-room type units but amongst forty or more. We’ll be having the same individual spaces


but with a shared social space where people, semi-strangers or friends can be together and satisfy requirements for food, drink and entertainment. What could such a space look like? What kind of furniture would it have?


No matter what you thought of the show, the coffee-shop as communal living area is a concept that’s entered our lives. People have breakfast in them, lunch in them, meet their friends in them, do internet stuff in them. It’s practically a living room.

All it needs is a few washer/dryers and treadmills off to one side and most of the apparatus of modern living is sorted. When we weren’t paying attention, coffee shops even began to look like living rooms. There’s no reason to ever leave them except to sleep or bathe or, should we so wish, to be alone. Compared to a conventional living room it’s no major difference – or paradigm shift, as we say in architecture.

Again there’s a precedent – Mosei Ginzburg & his Stroykom team’s 1928 Type E communal living building. [For more, see here.]

Every third floor was apartment corridor and communal activity area. It was a brilliant spatial arrangement but the problem was there wasn’t enough communal stuff to fill half of every third floor.


That shouldn’t be a problem these days. Just as coffee shops are taking on the appearance of living rooms, companies are making their office environments more like communal recreation spaces.

If they want us to to feel like we live there then why don’t we? There’s no need for us to be postmodern victims living, working or socialising somewhere pretending to be the home we never had. Let’s all move in and live and work and socialise at home for real!

If Starbucks can make the leap from providing rooms that are practically living rooms, to rooms that actually are living rooms and with bedroom+bathrooms attached, then they are our next housing providers. To make it happen all we need is Bjarke Ingels to present the idea. Companies will outbid each other to build it as we clamour to get our names on the list.



Architecture Misfit #20: Edward T. Potter

Another New York post. We can call this one Serious New York, or perhaps New York in the Time of Cholera. The link between poor housing and diseases such as yellow fever and cholera was established in 1820 by a Dr. Richard Pennell but squalid conditions in tenements continued to result in major outbreaks in 1822, 1823, 1832 and 1834 and even larger ones in 1849 and 1866. Gotham Court was a target for early housing reforms. It was nasty.


Untitled 2

Gotham Court

[I have Richard Plunz’s excellent book A History of Housing in New York City to thank for most of the information and all the plans in this post.]


Only around 1850 did there even begin to be a desire to improve things.

1850 reforms

The first results were the Workingmens’ Buildings of 1865. They featured a ventilated access corridor and privy [a room or building with one or more toilets].

Workingmens Buildings.jpeg

It still had windowless rooms – a situation that was to become more common until the first tenement housing legislation of 1879.

Railroad Flat

Lack of legislation led to developments such as The Rookery in 1865. It had three parallel lines of development across five small lots – a denser kind of nasty.


Even so, it wasn’t uncommon elsewhere for rooms to have windows facing walls a foot away.


The first ‘improved’ tenements saw the addition of airshafts giving the appearance of the opportunity of ventilation to inner rooms. Note the diamond-shaped shaft in the example on the left.

air shaft

• • •


Edward Tuckerman Potter 

In 1874 Edward Tuckerman Potter completed his house for Mark Twain that he is best remembered for, mostly because it was for Mark Twain rather than its Victorian Gothic design that, although lovely, was unremarkable for the time.


Mark Twain House was the exception for Potter was essentially a church architect. Sixty-six of his seventy-nine known buildings are churches.

The most famous is Nott Memorial Hall at the Union College campus in Schenectady NY (1858-1879).


Nott Hall and Mark Twain House are both National Historic Landmarks but many of Potter’s other buildings are on registers of historic buildings. Potter was comfortable with the styles of the day and had the sense to restrain his taste for Gothic and polychromy to suit the budgets and sensibilities of his client parishes. He had a good career and retired in 1877 at the age of 46.

• • •

In 1879 a new magazine called Plumbing and Sanitary Engineer ran a competition calling for the design of improved tenement housing. The competition brief was to provide better ventilation, sanitation and fireproofing yet at the same time provide sufficient accommodation to make building the design economically viable as an investment. This was the winning entry by James E. Ware.

Dumbell Apartment

Ware’s proposal wasn’t particularly innovative but it did imply that the size of the airshafts could be doubled by building identical buildings adjacent. Other entries took this as a premise. This next scheme by George Da Cunha was designed to be built in pairs with open galleries around an airshaft which for the first time seems like it could also function as a light well.

George Da Cuhna

It’s probably unfair to remember James E. Ware only as the inventor of the ‘dumbell apartment’ for he did submit another scheme proposing an idea similar to Da Cunha’s but more elegantly solved. It placed ninth.

Ware ninth.jpeg

This next scheme by Robert G. Kennedy connects the lightwell to the street to make it into an alleyway. This increases the volume of air that can move, particularly if the proposal is built in pairs along and across the block.

Robert G. Kennedy

Nevertheless, the competition and Ware’s winning entry came in for some well-deserved criticism.

Ware criticism

This must have stung, for Ware modified his winning entry to provide the internal room with a window. He would have known he was increasing the external surface area of the building and making it less profitable for developers.

Ware revision

What we can learn from this is that it took some timely criticism articulating the changing public mood to remind developers and their architects of their duty to society. Enough was enough. Over the next several years, Potter was to give some thought to how to improve tenement housing. This is what he came up with.

Potter 1.jpg

  • His most radical suggestion was to increase the lot to 37.5′ from the 25′ that was the norm. To compensate, there are now six apartments rather than Ware’s four on a 25′ lot, producing no net change in density.
  • Two of those apartments are now large four-room apartments while the others remain three-room. This is a net space gain.
  • As in the Kennedy proposal, the light wells are now access alleyways with space for planting on the sides of the paths. Integrating the lightwell and access route means no internal area needed to be constructed to access stairwells. It also means all apartments can be accessed from stair landings.
  • All rooms have windows.
  • All apartments have not only ventilation but cross ventilation.
  • Walls angle windows towards the street increasing views and lessening angles of overlooking across the alleyway.
  • Stairwells are naturally lit and ventilated.

This is what it looked like. The year was 1888.


  • The building was made completely made of masonry, steel, and glass.
  • The stairs were roofed in glass.
  • Some windows had translucent louvres for privacy and others had sun shading devices.
  • Roofs had gardens [!]
  • Each apartment would receive one hour of direct sunlight daily. This would be determined by the width of the alleyways and must be what led Potter to propose increasing the lot width. It would also be why the building tapers towards the front.
  • Today, we would comprehend this building as ‘functionalist’ in terms of style but functionalism hadn’t been invented yet as a way to design buildings, let alone labelled a style. (The perforated balustrades are intriguing, using less material to make void into ornament as they do.)

Ensuring adequate sunlight and ventilation was one of Potter’s preoccupations but not only for tenement buildings. This next image is from a study, published in 1887, showing how to achieve maximum light and ventilation for the new high-rise buildings. These principles first appeared in New York City building legislation in 1916, more fully in 1929.

Potter 3

In 1897 Potter attended the International Congress on Low Cost Housing in Brussels and presented his designs and the model pictured above. It’d be wonderful to know who else attended this Congress. J P Oud probably didn’t as he was seven and the Swiss boy who was to become Le Corbusier was ten. But if, for example, Henry van de Velde attended the Congress prior to his move to Weimar two years later, that would link Potter with European Functionalism and the European Modernism that was to be imported back to the United States thirty years later minus European ideas of social utility, let alone the original American ones.

• • •

Edward Tuckerman Potter died on December 21, 1904. An obituary in The American Architect reports that Potter, ‘possessing independent means,’ was able to retire early and devote himself to ‘travel, the study of music and philanthropy.’ Potter worked in his later years to devise “ways and means of securing to tenement houses and their inmates not only economical and convenient planning, but the best of natural ventilation and lighting. In all tenement and prison reform movements he took an active part, so that, quite apart from his architectural work, he led a satisfying and useful life, to which further grace was added by his musical successes as a composer of sacred and even operatic scores.”

We don’t know what Potter thought of his church buildings but his work to improve tenements showed he viewed philanthropy and social utility as something separate from architecture. It’s still common to think so, even today. By applauding anything we can call ‘humanitarian’ if it happens in some other country, we like to think architecture and humanitarianism are merging. They’re not. The two will remain firmly separate until we develop a concept of what a humanitarian architecture is in our own country. Until that time, we’re just outsourcing gratification as our capacity to produce it hollows out.

Unlike us, Potter’s concerns were not separated across countries but across time. He had to retire from architecture before turning his attention to humanitarian concerns such as improving tenement housing. But at least he did! His interest may have been humanitarian rather than architectural but, once he put his architectural mind to it, he solved the problem quickly and he solved it well. He’s not a hero. He merely freed himself from the professional conventions and stylizations of his time to do what he felt he had to do. As most architects devote much of their energies to aligning themselves with the conventions and stylizations of their times, perhaps he’s a hero after all. Either way,


Edward Tuckerman Potter 

for becoming an architect after having left architecture,

misfits’ salutes you!


Misfits’ Guide to New York

Here’s some different things to check out next time you’re in New York or, if for those not that different, maybe a new way of looking at them.

Cherokee Apartments


history cherokee

Cherokee 1

The building is organised as four courtyard blocks with stairwells naturally lit and ventilated. All apartments are double sided for better light and ventilation. All windows are large and have balconies, something still unusual for New York.


    Inside, floors are concrete to prevent permanent carpeting. Rugs had to be removable for cleaning. The concrete floors curved up to the wall to eliminate corners where dust could settle. Radiators were mounted on the walls, so a broom could pass easily underneath.

At 550 sq.ft (51 sq.m) these are one-bedroom flats and not microflats in any sense of the word.

625 West 57th Street



Yes, it’s taken shape. Definitely. Taken shape.

There’s no space left on site for materials storage. It looks like cladding and glazing panels get delivered to the elevator and stored on the staging platforms you can see below. Curiously, the tip of the building is still unclad and unglazed. Will cladding be installed from inside? Can it be? Or will gondolas be slung off the top? You have to admire the project managers on jobs like this.


What I find curious is how we’re told the building the logical result of crossing a European perimeter block and an American tower. This is one of those things that sounds true the first time you hear it but perimeter blocks have more history in New York than towers.

The Dakota is from 1884, Riverside Buildings is a perimeter block from 1890. Besides, is the perimeter block even European?

In Moneymaking Machines #2, I went on about how the site was assembled and how the permissible envelope is where a south-facing wedge intersects a north-facing one. This would produce a pyramid and it annoys Durst to hear you call it that. Sure a tetrahedron has a base and three sides but a pyramid four. But why so touchy?

My guess is BIG and Durst are trying to draw our attention away from that rounded fourth corner that rushes to meet the maxxed-out retail space on the W57th corner. It screams of contrivance, like somebody said “Yes is More!” Besides, who wants to have their building nicknamed “The Pyramid”? Especially when the apartments facing W58th look like they’re going to be rather tomb-like anyway in terms of space and light.

Hotel Shelton



The Shelton was planned as a “club hotel” – a residential hotel for men, with club features as a swimming pool, Turkish bath, billiard room, bowling alley, and, on the setbacks, rooftop gardens. The joys of living in such a hotel were detailed by a writer for Edison Monthly: “In a house of monumental beauty raised to the heights especially for you – if you are a bachelor – you will find all the comforts of a country home, and the luxuries and camaraderie of a university or great club always at your disposal and command.” The male athletes carved above the column capitals at the entrance symbolize this original use. This use as a residential hotel for men was not a success and soon after its completion the hotel became a more traditional residential and transient facility.

The hotel became a symbol of modernity as soon as it was completed, appearing in publications and inspiring people worldwide. Georgia O’Keefe was a fan. Between 1926 and 1928 she made several painting of it and views of New York from it.

Painter Hugh Ferris was inspired in 1922 before it was even completed.

In the late twenties, Czech architect Karel Teige understood its implications for new types of collective living, referring to it in his book The Minimum Dwelling.

hotel shelton

Let’s not forget the architect, Arthur Loomis Harmon. Harmon was based in Chicago but the huge success of the Hotel Shelton must have caused the New York firm of Shreve & Lamb to make him an offer for they were soon to become Shreve, Lamb & Harmon. If ever you’re asked who designed the Empire State Building, it was them.


Rem Koolhaas does not mention the Hotel Shelton in Delirious New York despite it sharing a parent with The Empire State Building and being a programmatic precursor to the Downtown Athletic Club.

Grand  Central Terminal



By the end of the 19th century, Grand Central Terminal had grown to be a large and lethal short-cut to pedestrian workers commuting east-west.


William J. Wilgus was the chief engineer for the New York Central Railroad. He proposed having two levels of tracks to increase capacity but his more important idea was to deck over the tracks (which would be electrified) and to sell the space above for building. This was the first instance of air rights.


This next image shows why Park Avenue is unusually wide, and also the extent to which those air rights have been used. This required calculating the anticipated heights and weights of the buildings the piers would be expected to support. The construction of piers between functioning tracks to support new construction exceeding those predetermined limits is not something proposed or done lightly.


The terminal building contains the largest public space in the city. It has many features and quirks, some of which are explained in this overview of its design and construction.

ships' rat guards and mock rats as ornamenting the main entrance canopy supports

ships’ rat guards and mock rats as ornament on the main entrance canopy supports

the cornice next to Cancer wasn't completely cleaned of accumulated tobacco smoke

a spot on the cornice next to Cancer wasn’t completely cleaned of accumulated tobacco smoke

The northern edge of the main concourse and Lexington Avenue, adjacent to the Grabber Building has some lesser known ceiling art that's very Futurist. (thanks Self-Absorbed Boomer)

The northern edge of the main concourse and Lexington Avenue, adjacent to the Greybar Building has some lesser known ceiling art that’s very Futurist. [thanks Self-Absorbed Boomer]

Citicorp Buidling


Grand Central Terminal is popularly known as Grand Central Station as its proper name never stuck. The Pan Am Building successfully become the MetLife Building but it took twenty years. The British are more resistant. After twenty years, London’s Tower 42 is still known as Nattiest Tower. The Citicorp Building is actually Citicorp Center but now wants to be known as 601 Lexington Avenue. New York buildings are lucky to have these default names.


  1. That brown building to the lower left is a church that didn’t want to relocate.
  2. The church allowed building in the air rights but didn’t want to be part of the new building or have its columns passing through it. The building is supported at the midpoints of its square floor plates so it can cantilever over the church. (Floorplates supported at the corners would have only half the area.)
  3. Structurally, it goes like this.
  4.  It gets interesting. The story continues here.
    engineering crisis
  5. There’s many articles now on this case frequently referred to in professional ethics classes. Kremer LeMessurier Citicorp should get you there.
    ethical questions

Meanwhile, in some parallel universe, the church was keen to be part of the new development, a different building was designed and different stuff almost didn’t happen.

The roof of Citigroup Center slopes at a 45-degree angle because it was originally intended to contain solar panels to provide energy. However, this idea was eventually dropped because the positioning of the angled roof meant that the solar panels would not face the sun directly.

In another parallel universe, they received better advice. In yet another, they came up with a more convincing story. For New York, a solar panel inclination of 40.8° is optimum but the difference for ±5° is marginal.

Austrian Cultural Forum



Designed by Raymund Abraham and completed in 2002, the building has a lot of activities wedged into a site 7.2 metres wide. Abraham’s unconventional idea of placing the stairs at the rear of the building made for a building that works. There’s much to like about how this building is configured.

The angled facade is a unique way of responding to New York City’s complex setback requirements.


Beyond that, there’s also a lot of things happening aesthetically with big things on the front facade giving it a commanding monumentality despite its size.

Facade incident is symmetrical and stacked and suggest the presence of a profound symbolism from a culture we can’t decipher. The building is slightly disturbing for refusing to allow itself to be read, and I like it for that.

• • •

Cherokee Apartments:
New York Times article current listing two
Hotel Shelton: Historic Districts Council entry Wired New York article 1920s slideshow
Grand Central Terminal: New York Times article
Citicorp Building: solarnewyork

a good guide

a good guide

the best pizza

the best pizza


After Architecture

“We believe in a nutritious architecture that does the shelter thing well, makes us feel good because it is good for us, doesn’t cost the earth or cost us the earth.” 

This has been at the top of this blog for five years now. It’s a statement of priorities – about getting the physical things about our environment right so that our physiologies are taken care of. It stands for daylighting and not tuberculosis, for ventilation and not respiratory problems, for warmth and cooling instead of pneumonia and fever. It stands for buildings constructed out of things and processes that don’t poison us or our environment directly or indirectly. It stands for protecting us from all sorts of harm. All these are things that buildings do. The perception is that Architecture is above all this, that it deals with higher-level needs, that it’s Food for The Soul.


Most of what’s wrong with the world of contemporary architecture can be traced back to Philip Johnson, winner of the first Pritzker Prize. I’ve written about the building vs. architecture divide before so I’ll quote only this from Albert Barr’s preface to The International Style.

The wider the opportunity for the architect within the limitations of structure and function to make judgments determined by his taste and not merely by economics, the more fully architectural will be the resultant construction. There is no rigid classification, building, quite devoid of the possibility of æsthetic organization. Yet buildings built at minimal cost with practical considerations dominant throughout may be held to be less fully architectural than those on which the architect has more freedom of choice in the use of materials and the distribution of the parts.

Whatever can’t be blamed on Philip Johnson can usually be blamed on Charles Jencks who presented Post Modernism as an architecture in contrast to Modernism being mere and nasty building.


It seems every semi-century someone feels the need to re-remind people architecture is not building. Patrik Schumacher devotes a whole chapter of The Autopoiesis of Architecture (Vol.I) to this. It’s time to stop this pointless cycle and ask: If Architecture as nourishment for the soul is distinct from building that merely nourishes our bodies, then on what level does it do so? The distinction might turn out to be like that of optometrists who deal with the health of the human eye, and opticians who deal with its functioning for vision. Buildings might just deal with the functional aspects of existence whilst Architecture deals with needs that are somehow more ‘spiritual.’ Many believe this anyway.

Architecture as a System Of Belief is a good topic for a post, but not now. Here, I want to take this next diagram, courtesy of Mr. Maslow, as my starting point.

Keeping us alive and well is the very lowest level of human need that can be satisfied. A nutritious architecture that does the shelter thing well etc. is at the bottom of this hierarchy of human needs, but is fundamental – it must be satisfied. All buildings can do this, albeit some better than others.

The next level up is the need for physical safety. According to Maslow, this is what we look for when physiological needs are satisfied. Most buildings do this – they don’t have to be architecture.

If we go up another level we move out of the realm of physical needs and into that of psychological ones. I can’t think of any architecture noted for generating feelings of love and belonging but houses, for example, symbolise it as well as facilitate it. We start to have ideas of “home”, “place” and “community” – none of which requires a concept of architecture btw.

Maasai Village

In the next level up, the level of Esteem, it becomes possible for the first time to identify Architecture as something fulfilling a need that cannot be met by a building. Esteem is a higher-level need but who’s to say esteem claimed by overt displays of wealth is any different than esteem claimed by covert displays of a supposedly refined sensibility? Certainly not architects when accepting clients. Both are equal, especially when compared with esteem earned through one’s noble character or deeds. To summarise, architecture functions on the level of Esteem.

adam smith

Mr. Smith continued to say “… which, in their eye, is never so complete as when they appear to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves.” Next, I’m going to take some characteristics generally attributed to architecture, and link them back to the need for esteem, not belonging, safety or well-being. [If you like, you can skip this bit and go straight to the heading Aravena, further down.] 


Lighting effects are often taken to indicate architectural quality, as opposed to daylighting that merely illuminates buildings. The split happened a while back. Le Corbusier showed up at the 1930 CIAM conference dealing with issues such as daylighting for the prevention of tuberculosis but in 1924 had already stopped calling his rooftops solariums and offered his definition of architecture as shapes existing for light to show them off to our grateful eyes. The buildings of Tadao Ando, particularly the early wedding chapels, perpetrate this perception.


Architecture does deal in quantities of light, but only beyond the minimum.


Excess light has come to mean large and unobstructed windows facing big property or big views from mountains or over large bodies of water.


I remember a sentence from Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness not many pages in. It went something like “what could be more pleasant than the early morning sunlight hitting the honey-coloured stone of your kitchen floor?”  Not much, it seems. Every word in this sentence is laden with pretence.

  • Your kitchen has a window. You do not live in some squalid communal dwelling.
  • Your kitchen has a stone floor. You have a house.
  • Your kitchen has honey-coloured stone as its floor. It is probably York Stone and you are probably rich.
  • It’s not just sunlight, it is early morning sunlight. The sun is low and not blocked by trees or other buildings. You have a big garden and honey-coloured stone on your kitchen floor. You are rich.


I almost forgot. Light coming from directly above means you either live in a detached house or a penthouse.



The decoupling of space from the units that quantify it is the other great invention of 20th century architecture. Like the delusional lady three images up, we’ve learned to value a ‘sense of space’ instead of actual space. White painted walls don’t indicate where the floor ends but where infinity begins.


Not having to use every square metre of one’s real estate is as important as it ever was. Space and light, contemporary indicators of architecture’s soul food both turn out to be new manifestations of old-paradigm indicators of wealth and property.


The indication of wealth is in the details. Securing a carpet without skirting is neither easy nor cheap. It takes a lot of money to make a building look like it is not a simple aggregate of materials joined, fitted and layered together.


The Indoor-Outdoor Thing

Anything to do with the indoor-outdoor relationships or views assumes an outdoor to relate to. This is not always the case.



Building are not Swiss watches or Bugattis. Precision construction is necessary for spaceship-like buildings such as Princess Elisabeth Antarctica. However, if global weather is getting more extreme we’re going to have to think again if entire populations are to benefit from a similar approach. Precision construction does not downmarket.


Art, Complex Geometries

The possession and appreciation of art is a traditional mark of opulence, and the one architecture likes to be associated with rather than performance art or public art with which it might better claim an affinity. The market for architecture as art is those persons wanting to possess it as art and they hook up with architects who purvey it as art.

a shout-out to (the Russian billionaire) Vladimir Doronin for bringing Naomi Campbell and Zaha Hadid together to chat about feminism

There’s also the class of asset known as cultural assets, well represented by architecture. Historically, cultural assets indicate the possession of the wealth as well as the political power to make them happen. Historically, architecture has existed to satisfy the high-level need of high-level people.


 • • •

Level Fluidity

On the right-hand side of the diagram is Clayton’s Erg. Clayton combines Maslow’s lower two levels and calls them Existence, and Belonging and Esteem and calls them Relatedness but the same boundary between building and architecture remains. Maslow insisted lower level needs must be satisfied before higher level ones, but Clayton says satisfaction at a lower level leads to progression upwards, and frustration at being unable to satisfy higher level needs leads to regression downwards.

Belonging and Esteem

Post Modernism claimed to give people meaning and significance at the level of Belonging – a level of need it said Modern architecture had ignored. Architecture rushed to embrace Post Modernism. It took people’s need for belonging and, by representing it, made it into a new and expensive indicator of esteem. It was the way forward for architecture.

It worked for a while. Caught out, architecture went back to catering to the high-level needs of high-level individuals, corporations, cities and nations. The market shrank to two main players – the rich and powerful requiring cultural baubles attesting their status, and property developers creating destinations for flight capital. 432

Since the demise of Deconstructivism, starchitects and big names whatever their persuasion have bent over to accommodate both.


For a rapidly increasing percentage of the world’s population, simply living in a building is all that’s required to satisfy their need for esteem. The percentage of people who expect or demand architecture to satisfy this need is becoming close to zero.


This is making it difficult to sustain a notion of architecture as distinct from building.


On the one hand is the ongoing process of buildings satisfying the need for esteem without recourse to architecture and, on the other is the artificial process of architecture having to following the money by becoming more like buildings.


As a concept, architecture has historically survived by redefining itself downwards to access new local demographics such as “nouveau riche”, “suburbia”, “baby boomers” and “urban singles”. Simultaneous with these downward moves are high-profile glamour projects in overseas markets less squeezed. The two combine to produce our two-tier architecture of bread and circuses. It’s angsty.

Architecture reveals its existential relief by its rush to reward the architect responsible for adding the exotic and urban poor to its catchment area. Architects get to be seen as agents of social good instead of front-men for the bad guys.  

It’ll be interesting to see how long it lasts. Remember sustainability? Actual environmental response was quickly relegated to being an aspect of building whilst architecture busied itself with representations of environmental response.


If social change is now the name of the game, it’ll hopefully be easier for people to spot the difference between actual social change and the representation of it.

It articulates a different discourse of social change; of engagement, contributing to improve life for favela dwellers.

“It articulates a different discourse of social change; of engagement, contributing to improve life for favela dwellers.” Src:

Hopefully. For now, we need to be clear about what need this new architecture is satisfying and, before that, we need to know if it is actually architecture as distinct from building. Or do we? Does it being architecture really matter? If needs for health, safety, belonging and esteem are all satisfied then maybe it’s time to dump the meaningless notion and simply concentrate on making buildings more healthy, durable, available and available in that order.

Architecture could of course try to satisfy the highest-level need for self-actualisation directly but if this were possible we’d know by now as it’d be a very hot product. But self-actualisation doesn’t work like that. Architecture can’t satisfy the need for it any more than building can. Providing people with a place and a better possibility of fulfilling their potential is probably going to be the best that can ever be done.

I just wish it wasn’t necessary to repeatedly point out and report how much the value of the properties has increased!

If the value of this architecture appreciates to the extent people can afford to move out and do, then the endgame will still be a humanitarian one but one more accurately described as bottom-feeding people into an economic system – which, frankly, doesn’t sound quite so nice does it? It’s probably too early to tell although 2004-2014 data should be available. For now, let’s feel good about this new concept of architecture as buildings for people to inhabit.

• • •

By 1923, American housebuilders had developed a successful and popular product with size and construction tailored to available resources, along with generic plans and customisable signifiers satisfying human needs for belonging and esteem.

In Europe at the time, lower level needs were more pressing and architecture first  concentrated on the problem at hand.


People later feeling the need to represent satisfaction of their higher-level need for belonging, damn well did so – and to this day continue to do so.


A rudimentary building with the option of some DIY PoMo is all we ever wanted.

Can we have some too please?


Deepwater Woolshed, Wagga Wagga, NSW, by Peter Stutchbury Architecture (2001–05). Image:  Michael Nicholson

The Sheep Shed

Sheep aren’t indigenous but their rearing and shearing factors large in Australian history and culture.

"Tom Roberts - Shearing the rams - Google Art Project" by Tom Roberts - lQEDjT-_MXaMJQ at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

True, sheep didn’t turn into ecological nightmares like starlings, rabbits, camels, cane toads and such but still, they don’t touch the ground lightly. They graze much closer than cattle and overgrazing, the same overgrazing that has been causing soil erosion and denuding landscapes around the world for millennia. Of more immediate and global consequence is sheep flatulence at the rate of 30 litres of methane per day per sheep. The roughly 75 million of’em in Australia fart two and a quarter billion litres of methane (1,045,215 metric tonnes) per day. That’s over 1,300 times the approx. 770 metric tonnes of methane per day currently estimated to being lost from the broken well at the Aliso Canyon storage site.


It’s still not great compared to the global warming impact of CFCs but the agricultural sector is still responsible for 12.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions and for 40% of methane. Percentages are higher for Oz.


I only mention this for some contextual balance. This post is about Deepwater Woolshed by Stutchbury & Pape Architects. As a shed, I like it, but I like it independently of culture and history both Australian or architectural. Sheep do local ecologies and global atmospheres no favours so, ecologically speaking, should we not tar this building with the same brushIs it possible to like a building independently of its greater environmental context? OF COURSE IT IS! We do it all the time! We make and propagate associations with favourable contexts and propagated and ignore or suppress associations with unfavourable ones. The Seagram Building scores 3/100 on an EnergyStar assessment, for example. The environmental context in which Deepwater Woodshed is politely discussed is a favourable one but an extremely narrow one.

• • •

Shearing sheds are, foremost, sheds.


There are pens for holding sheep outside, and more pens inside to accommodate two days’ worth of sheep to allow them to dry if they’re wet.


Windows are basic.


A recent innovation is to have the holding pens beneath the building.


Another is for the shearing to take place on a raised platform rather than the floor.


This makes life easier for the roustabout to shift the fleece to the wool table for grading. Deepwater Woolshed incorporates both innovations.


The NSW government website offers guidelines for sheep shearing shed design.

we learn that

Much is written here, on “Oztecture”, about Deepwater Woodshed but I only want to mention things that are explicit. Sentences such as “The extreme heat experienced during the shearing season drove the placement, orientation, form and materiality of this building. The efficient movement of the sheep in a low stress environment and the technical requirements of the process of shearing drove the planning and layout.” do not prove anything.

“The building has embraced a range of design solutions to contend with the summer heat.” Fine – tell us more. “Alongside optimal orientation to capture prevailing northeasterly breezes that cross ventilate the interior, overhangs of a large portal frame roof provide shade to the walls and provide undercover sheep storage and access. A reticulated irrigation system sprays cooling water onto the roof. Large expanded mesh screens have been hung to the southwest, providing protection from the prevailing wind. Cascading water across these suspended surfaces utilises the cross-ventilating breeze and evaporative cooling, lowering working temperatures.” Huh?

One sentence says the prevailing breezes are north-easterly but the next says they’re south-west. Look, here’s the five-year average wind rose for Wagga Wagga Airport 60 kilometres south-east. Prevailing winds are due east. You can trust airport wind data.


The high end of the roof faces NNW. The rainwater tanks are at the eastern corner of the ENE side facing the prevailing winds more than any other side does.


Yet the screens aren’t on the SW elevation as stated, or even the ESE elevation above. They’re on the WSW elevation (below) downwind of the prevailing winds.


I don’t get it. At first I thought the writer had gotten themselves into a muddle but, even so, I can’t reconcile the locations of these screens with their stated function. It’s nice to see a monopitch roof all the same.

“Strip skylights provide natural lighting. The entire structure is bolted together; all linings, cladding and floors are screwed and fixed. Thus the entire shed is demountable. The usage of a structural roofing system was an initiative providing additional planning flexibility.” Good stuff.


“This project sets out to provide a quality work environment for one of Australia’s oldest trades. The resulting building has elevated the task of shearing at Bulls Run, while reinterpreting the traditional built form of an Australian icon. This is a sophisticated passive building in tune with land, man and beast.”  It’s a shed.


It’s also a very highly praised shed.

  • At the 2005 Royal Australian Institute of Architects national awards, Deepwater Woolshed won the Colorbond category and was a joint winner in the commercial building category.
  • It was featured in the 10th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale.
  • It won the Blacket Award for regional architecture, the Colorbond Award, the Commercial Building Award and the Energy Efficient Award.
  • Kenneth Frampton wrote about it here.

Frampton drops the full weight of his prodigious knowledge to bear onto this outback shed, making full use of The Fallback Context,

and The Cultural Context.


The Architectural Context is a subset of The Cultural Context. It means something is architecture if it can be likened to other, certified, architecture.


Quoting Katsura Imperial Villa (630AD) has never hurt the reputation of any architect. Invoking Katsura Imperial Villa has never harmed the reputation of any historian. Here’s the money shot posed with window panels alternately half open and fully shut.

If we’re going to play Architectural Associations however, my first move would be Kenzo Tange’s first and only house of 1953,


quickly followed by Kazuo Shinohara’s first house of 1954.

Kugayama 1954 view

My next move would be Isé Grand Shrine (692AD) that predates Katsura Palace by oh about a millennium. It has a big roof (to keep rain off its walls) and is raised (to protect the contents from floods). These don’t just indicate something is important and worth protecting, they actually protect it. The history of Japanese architecture is the history of protecting things.

ise grand shrine

My final and winning move would be a Yayoi Era  (300BC-300AD) kura (storehouse) that predates Isé Shrine by oh maybe another millennium. These storehouses had a big roofs to protect the walls from rain and were elevated to protect the rice from floods and rats.

20091006-Ray Kinnane 44556557_storehouses

This bypasses Katsura Imperial Villa and Grand Isé Shrine and links the principles of materials, construction and environmental response of a modern shed with a shed 1800 years prior. Protecting grain from rats is clever but not classy. When talking architecture, buildings can’t be “elevated” to something below them. Most buildings can be given the pretentious posturing of architecture but few have the embodied intelligence of sheds.

Deepwater Woolshed is a shed, and a very good shed it is too. For an accurate assessment of what this building does we can turn to this 2011 issue of Australian Wool Innovation.

beyond the bale

I’m still waiting for those Shearing Shed Guidelines to be posted to the AWI website but here’s a link to relevant standards. From this next article we learn that The Bulls Run Property to which Deepwater Woolshed belongs, was sold to the Paraway Pastoral Company.

bulls run

Three years later, and reported that Paraway Pastoral was to sell part of the property.

stock and land

As of January 4 2016, the website of the auctioneers, landmarkharcourts, still had the property details.


The 617.96 hectare (1,527.03 acre) auction included the 1927 homestead, a cottage, silos and other agricultural buildings. The reserve price was only AUS$1.3 million (US$1.1 million) so the US$400,000 Deepwater Woolshed couldn’t have been part of the package.


Analysts report that for large pastoral companies to focus on their main businesses, it’s quite common to divest themselves of properties not crucial to their core portfolios. So click go those corporate shears. The rearing and shearing of sheep factors large in Australian history and culture. Sheep still get reared and sheared but the people who buy, operate and sell the farms don’t let romantic imaginings influence their judgment. We should do likewise when evaluating the buildings.


In the game, each player starts with a Sheep Station, consisting of five Natural Pasture paddocks, fully stocked with 3,000 sheep …

• • •

Further reading:
Peter Stutchbury article in Weekend Australian


Moneymaking Machines #5: 100 East 53’rd Street


The building known as 100 East 53’rd Street stands behind the hallowed Seagram Building which, at $36 mil. (not inc. tax) was the most expensive building in the world when completed in 1958. This is $300 mil. in today’s money. $36 mil. construction cost ÷ 830,000 sq.ft lettable  area = $43/sq.ft. and is equivalent to $360/sq.ft today even though 2,376 sq.ft recently rented at $125/sq.ft.)


Property developers develop property – they don’t care what kind. If office space gives higher profit then office space it is. If residential does, then it’s suddenly all about lifestyle. Forgetting the $8,100/sq.ft for the penthouse and the $5,300/sq.ft for the duplex,

the average price per square foot at 100 East 53rd is $4,000

This studio apartment is 13.7% circulation space which is not bad, but the bathroom has additional area with no known purpose other than giving an excellent view of the backside of the Seagram Building. That space represents 2.9% of the floor area and a similar percentage of the purchase price.


The planning is okay if you don’t mind entering into the kitchen. But there is a hallway as the entrance area closet recreates the conventional public-to-private sequence of spaces but cramps the living area.


Surely it would have been better to enter this space where the bedroom closet is, into a small hallway with the bathroom directly in front, the bedroom where the current bathroom is, and the living/dining/kitchen where it is but larger? Something like this. You can now lie in bed admiring that crazy space. 11.5%. Max.


Notice those little operable vents permitting natural ventilation and allowing occupants to savour those New York street noises? Imagine something like these vents in Keck & Keck’s 1957 Hohf House.

Keck & Keck 1957 Hohf House

Cross ventilation must complicate the wind loading but is a good idea if there aren’t no balconies. These vents may even be a market-driven innovation for even rich Middle Eastern folk don’t like living in sealed environments all year round.


Anyway, the percentage of floor area used to access every space in any apartment increases with area because larger apartments have more places that need getting to. You have to pass by more rooms to get to other rooms. One fifth of this apartment is used to get from one place to another.

1 bed

Again there’s that strange window space but this time it’s an extension of the kitchen and represents only 2.3% of the apartment’s floor area. The living area is poor, and poorly located. This apartment is all about waking up and getting a coffee.


Here’s that coffee.


That living area is really inexcusable. It’d be better to forsake the east-west light thing and have the bedroom, bathroom and entry the same as the previous apartment and to put the kitchen/dining in that space restricted by the structure. It’s not ideal, but the living area is larger and the circulation space goes around it, not through it. 16.4%.


26.1% – more than a quarter – of this next two-bedder is circulation space. There would have been more if I hadn’t taken that short-cut through the kitchen.

2 bed

Again, the living area is tiny. e535.png

There’s not much that can be done to improve this, apart from put the kitchen immediately in front of the hallway, so that one passes by it, the dining table and the living area to get to the master bedroom. 24.9%. It’s not much less, but the kitchen is now neither thoroughfare nor obstacle. With windows on two sides, the living room is now in the best corner of the apartment. There’s no wall for a flatscreen though. Alternatively, just do without the stupid island, treat the kitchen like the sideboard/bar it is, and do with the rest whatever.


The two floors of the penthouse average circulation space of 34.2% – a third! – and not counting the double height lobby twice, although I’ve counted both ways to get to the dining room. Nothing can be done to improve this. It is what it is. Making the central core space into a feature and selling it as some sort of grand lobby is probably the best option. Sad.


The kitchen is the same as we saw for the 1-bed, and now we can see that those weird spaces are behind the service elevator which is outside the grand structural plan.


As a sequence of spaces it’s not horrible but there’s not that many places for maybe five people to be. A third of the space is used to get from A to B, and C and D, etc. but it doesn’t matter. Who’s to say an owner-occupier wouldn’t get pleasure from going from A to B? If circulation is The Forgotten Function then why not make a fetish of it? It’s been done before. Every room on the lower level has more than one door so perhaps in some weird revival of Victorian country house planning, the apartment has been designed for the host’s pleasure in showing off the apartment to visitors. It makes an impression. Realtors also like this. It’s easy to imagine a realtor stepping out of the elevator and saying to prospective purchasers “Let’s view the living room first” and opening those double doors that exist for no other purpose but to be opened.

One-Hundred-East-Fifty-Third-Street-Foster-and-Partners-New-York-Residential-Tower_dezeen_1568_6 (1)

The plans can be better but it’s pointless wasting time getting indignant over what other people spend their money on, or worry about where they consider value to lie. Some people spend an enormous amount of money on Swiss watches but who’s to know if it’s to tell the time or to brazenly carry small fortunes through customs? We know these buildings are giant moneymaking machines. I’m interested in the priorities and the sequence of decisions that produced such poor layouts.


Basically, the problem is the building is too thin, or ‘slender’ as we now say. The fire escape stairs and elevators are in the middle off to one side and each floor has an almost central corridor in front of the elevators. This leaves insufficient space for a room and an internal corridor on the other side. No matter how large the apartment, all the action gets pushed towards the ends of the building.


With its central fire escape stairs and core, 432 Park Avenue was starting from a far better position in terms of structure and planning.

And because its floorplate is square, WSP the engineers were able to propose a tube external structure as the main stiffening element. [It’s a beautiful solution, and beautifully unclad!]


The engineers of 100 East 53rd were DeSimone. They don’t have much to say about it apart from “the structure primarily consists of a rigid central core with eight perimeter columns in the tower.” One third of the building is core, in other words.


DeSimone solved the structure with brute force rather than the elegance WSP were able to show at 432 Park. The first nine levels are podium with the usual retail and amenities.


If we look back along Lexington we can see evidence of some height vs. setback tradeoff. Someone in Battersea made the decision to have a tall skinny building. 


I don’t think this decision was made for the views across Queens, or to facilitate apartment layouts. My guess is it was made because Foster & Partners have a problem with setbacks. F&P’s default way of designing is to determine volume by a single, rigid, extrudable structural concept.

Out of these, the least successful visually is the last one, Deutsche Bank Place in Sydney. It’s another attempt to force a structure onto something that can do without one – the sky, in this case. In Manhattan alone, Foster & Partners’ proposal for 2 World Trade Center was a vertical extrusion fine at the time but ultimately dumped in favour of BIG’s structurally and volumetrically messy 14% larger volume.


It’s swings and roundabouts as F&P did win the 425 Park Avenue Celebrity Shoot-out. With an office building and a property developer client, it would have been suicidal to not follow setbacks and maximise lettable volume. F&P tried their best to tame the setbacks within a unifying structural concept. It’s a dog.



The columns of the top box align with those of the base box but unfortunately, the columns of the middle box are off-grid. Hello-o? Something’s fundamentally wrong with this idea. The middle box could have been supported by an extra line of off-grid columns (appearing like the middle dots of five on a dice) but that’s not what ‘premium office space’ looks like. Besides, at ground level, those columns would block our way instead of a classy Calderesque stabile.


What can we conclude from all this as we wander in our minds three blocks south from 425 Park Avenue to 100 East 53’rd Street?

  • Foster & Partners did a simple structural object because that’s what they do. It’s how they think. They think any deviation from that looks less like a F&P building.
  • The extruded structure made for one of those tall slender buildings that are all the rage now. To not make a statement behind the Seagram Building was unthinkable.

And that’s about it. The rest falls into place. Poor layouts don’t reduce value. Good layouts don’t add value. Why bother?

It’d be nice to think somebody at Foster & Partners would’ve tried to get it right even if they knew no-one was ever going to notice or, if they did, care.

But perhaps we’re/I’m wrong to think that because a buyer is paying an average of $4,000/sq.ft they might want to make the most of that space? After all, the greater proportion of buildings known as the history of architecture are prized for the display of excess, not the display of efficiency or value for money.

Besides, we did learn to appreciate the unusable space of double-height living rooms as a new kind of luxury so maybe in a few years we’ll come to appreciate unusable slivers of space the same way. Inefficient layouts and poor layouts could just be a new type of decadence – in which case these ones are perfect.


• • •

  1. therealdeal article discussing pricing
  2. new york times article
  3. plans from curbed
  4. photos on dezeen
  5. marketing site
  6. floorplans
  7. listing on
  8. seagram building
  9. seagram building office space
  10. East 53rd looking west towards Lexington, circa 1960Lexington