The Competition had no winners, no prizes. Instead, Moissei Ginzburg put together a team to take what was learned from the submissions and bring it together in a preliminary study of apartment types. He requested approval to work under the aegis of STROYKOM (Building Economics Committee of the U.S.S.R.). Ginzburg wasn’t stupid. STROYKOM’s official support and cover were essential if future testing, implementation and construction were to happen.
- Moissei Ginzburg – Head of the Team (SA editor, OSA member, competition participant)
- Alexander Pasternak (OSA member, competition participant)
- Vyatcheslav Vladimirov (OSA member, competition participant)
- Mikhail Bartsch (OSA member, architect)
- G. Sum-Schik (architect)
Moscow City Council’s (Mossiviet) standard configuration of two apartments per staircase was the starting point. This apartment configuration improves on the pre-Revolution arrangement and, since it was approved for mass construction, is most likely the outcome of 1925-1926 competition. These apartments are spatially inefficient and though sturdy, they were expensive to build. Such apartments still exist in Moscow and are much loved by residents. In the 1920s however, one family would be living in each room. Ginzburg’s team needed to come up with a better way for people to live.
Their goal was an apartment that could house a single family at the same spatial efficiency as as a room in a shared house. The term volumetric performance better conveys the importance of room heights in this study. The volumetric performance of a particular apartment type is the ratio of total apartment area to the volume of the building. Cubic metres divided by metres gives a number in metres which is the average floor-to-floor height. A perfect building would have a ratio equal to the floor height since it would have no circulation.
Using the average room height as an indicator of efficiency in this way has real meaning since the thing that really matters for resources and people is how much of your building is apartment. The other good thing about this indicator is that you know you’ve gone too far if your average floor-to-floor height turns out to be two metres.
TYPE A: Here’s a 3-person Type A apartment. The baseline apartment already had cross-ventilation and daylight to all rooms but the team managed to reduce the area required for internal circulation, shrank the kitchen and did away with a separate room for the kitchen. Volumetric performance improved 10%. The Type A also has a better ratio of apartment area to building volume. Rooms aren’t square or golden rectangles for aesthetic reasons but because such shapes pack more easily into a compact building footprint, and because their furniture can be arranged to require less circulation space. Another beneficial side-effect is that standardised internal dimensions facilitate construction.
Despite the various improvements of Type A, it still has the fundamental problem of the stairwell taking up proportionally more building volume when the apartments become smaller. This limits the volumetric performance.
TYPE B: The standard Type B is Type A with some of the apartment volume redistributed in section. The bathroom, kitchen, hallway and table areas have a reduced ceiling height (of 2.55m!) and the volume gained is added to that of the living areas of the apartment above or below. This created a lively elevation as well as some very lively sections.
Compared to a building containing Type A apartments, the volumetric performance of Type B apartments is 10-15% improved. Type B incorporates the sectional invention of Vorotynzeva and Polyak’s competition proposal.
- As with the Vorotynzeva and Polyak proposal, the height rift occurs down the middle of the building, restricting planning. It also means increasing the habitable area in one apartment increases the non-habitable area in the apartment vertically paired with it.
- Despite the sectional innovation, Type B still suffers from the same fundamental flaw as Type A in that shrinking the apartment area increases the proportion of the building used for stairwells to access it.
- A further inefficiency is introduced by the larger landings necessary to access apartments facing different directions. This is solved by extending the stairwell to outside the building, necessitating a cantilevered semi-circular landing.
- The stairwell also complicates things within the apartments, leaving an odd niche that is associated with alternating habitable rooms on every level. This habitable niche cannot be full height on every level – thus contradicting one of the reasons for beginning this avenue of exploration.
Fewer stairwells linking horizontal corridors must have seemed the way forward.
TYPE C: These are apartments served by one corridor per floor. The study uses them for comparison and analysis. If the goal is to maximise building volumetric performance then it’s telling that Ginzburg’s team never thought of having apartments on both sides of the corridor as is standard practice today. Lack of opportunities for light and ventilation must have made them reject it immediately. Here’s a Type C in the form of a Moscow City Council plan. TYPE D: These are two-storey apartments served by one corridor. Like the Type C, they were also included in the study as a basis for additional comparisons. TYPE E: A previous post has already mentioned how the stairwell in the Type E1 single-room apartments functions as an inclined lightwell.
The other Type E apartments share the idea of half a floor of communal space being used to access apartments on the other half of the floor as well as the floors above and below.
- The fact that one-sixth of the building volume is repurposed as communal areas requires that either dormitory or single-room accommodation to give a density sufficient to necessitate such a volume of communal area.
- Following on from that, if communal areas were to always use one-sixth of the building volume, then one argument would always be “why not just give everyone an apartment one-sixth larger?” The E is a solution to communal living at a certain density for students or perhaps single workers, but not as a general living arrangement.
The Type E was not what was wanted.
- The Type F is a combination of all of these ideas plus some more. A future post will attempt a conjectural history of the order and degree of contribution of these ideas.
- The Type F was intended as a transition step between conventional living patterns and communal living. Its 30 sq.m was designed to accommodate a single family within a single dwelling rather than occupying a single room within a shared apartment.
It’s all about the section. The middle level at the right in the image above is the corridor. From there, you either go up one third of a flight of stairs to the upper apartment, or down two thirds of a flight to the lower apartment. The lower apartment has a sleeping area on the same level but of reduced height beneath the corridor. The upper apartment has a sleeping area up one third of a flight of stairs at a raised level above the corridor. The Type F had a volumetric performance of 4.77 m3/m2 or a floor area of 48 m2.
- Sleeping areas have a height of approx. 2.4 m and living areas have a height of 3.55 m. This is the result of trying to reduce the volume of building corridor and to redistribute underused volume of non-habitable rooms and sleeping areas.
- The living room has a niche with Kuhonny Element compact kitchen. These kitchens were to have been dismounted with the full dissemination of communism as there’d be no housekeeping.
- A larger version included bathrooms.
- All living rooms can be on the side of the building having afternoon/evening sun and all sleeping areas on the side of the building having morning sun.
- The Type F is, in many ways, the culmination of the entire study.
- The Type F is also, in many ways, a perfect object.
Learning from the Types Studies
1. Volumetric performance and building depth
The volumetric performance (net building volume/net habitable area of apartment) was compared for buildings containing each type of apartment. A lower quotient meant a more efficient layout. The study is made for a building 10 meters deep, with the X axis representing the apartment floor area as it changes from 10 to 100 sqm. The Y axis is volumetric performance. It’s common for architects and builders today to increase the apartment depth in order to minimize corridor length at the rear of the apartments and to maximize the number of habitable rooms at the front of the apartment. This is particularly so if the site has a view to one side but buildings are often laid out perpendicular to a view to allow some view to more apartments rather than have a good side and a bad side. The point of the entire study was to evaluate the volumetric performance of apartment buildings. With today’s apartment getting smaller and smaller, it might be time to re-evaluate such an approach so that living space isn’t unnecessarily squeezed. At present, apartment size is shrinking whilst plans are becoming increasingly deep so that an area of space having one window of a certain size can be marketed as an apartment. Internal circulation space in this apartment that won the recent New York microflat competition amounts to 23.5 of the entire area! It’s an apartment yes, but an inefficient one as the narrow plan uses too much space to get past other spaces.
2. Respect for Construction
There’s a point of view that the Constructivists were all about “constructing” the world through formulas and equations. Misfits’ is of the opinion the Constructivists were into construction as part of an integrated building solution. It’s a simpler explanation.
This respect for construction is not some abstract pursuit. Check the construction of this floor and ceiling. It would have simplified construction and saved both cost and resources to simply nail the ceiling to the floor joists. However, to reduce sound transmission and improve the lives of the people below, the ceiling is nailed to ceiling joists independently of the floor above. This is a performative improvement that improves quality of life. This cost of two sets of joists is partially offset by overlapping them depthwise to reduce the floor thickness and thus increase internal volume. I’m in awe of how Ginzburg and his team never lose sight of the main objective of volumetric performance
How colour can distort perception was well known but here colour is used to structure the space rather than dissolve it to create the illusion of more space. Colour is used to differentiate internal building elements according to their priority within the structure. User objects are black, and thus conceptually removed from the colour design. They can be anything the user wants, thus freeing the user of the burden to curate their possessions and space into those personal fictions known as “interiors”. Such an attitude is present in traditional Japanese architecture where the colours of the building elements on the inside are the colours of their respective The more personal the object, the more freedom there is. Objects such as cushions can be any colour. It is not important. The same attitude occurs in the “golden age” of Danish modernism. It is a useful attitude.