The Homestead Myth

Representing a myth a people like to believe about themselves is a sure-fire path to everlasting fame as an architect. Frank Lloyd Wright did it with Fallingwater which is not so much a poem to bountiful American Nature but to the pioneers claiming and taming it. Tadao Ando did it with his Sumiyoshi House that perpetrated the Japanese ascetic aesthetic myth we like to believe in even if the Japanese struggle to. And Glenn Murcutt did it with his Mangey House on Bingie Road at Bingie Point, New South Wales, Australia. The Homestead Myth requires it be surrounded by pasture and so this is what we get to see.

Sydney, April 15, 2002. Magney House at Bingie Bingie on the NSW South Coast designed by Australian Architect Glenn Murcutt. Murcutt has won the The Pritzker Architecture Prize 2002 recognised as world's most prestigious architecture prize. (AAP Image/Anthony Browell) NO ARCHIVING, NO MAGS, NO SALESLittle matter the house exists on land unsuited to either livestock or crops.

Magney HouseOr even full-time living it seems as the house is listed on for short-term vacation letting.


Weekend houses and summer weekend houses neither located nor suited to full-time living are over-represented in the architectural hall of fame. It’s bad enough such buildings are presented as unrealistic models for full-time buildings but what makes Murcutt’s Magney House more offensive is that it perpetrates a myth responsible for destroying large tracts of Australia. This is Alkimos – currently one of Perth’s more northern suburbs.


It’s just north of Jindalee

and just south of somewhere that doesn’t have a name yet as there’s hardly a there, let alone a there there.

no name yet

The demand for such development isn’t the result of the motherland’s top-down garden city myth where an Englishman’s garden is an estate in miniature. Instead, it’s the result of the homestead myth according to which everyone not only has the right but their duty to live on as much land as they can put a fence around. Those fences, however, are closing in to the point of absurdity.

Perth, Australia spreads 60km up and down the coast and 30km inland, has a population of almost 2 million and an average population density of around 800 persons per In the photograph below, it extends as far as the eye can see.

Perth_CBD_from_airIts north-south arterial roads will be forever inadequate.

P1040467Yekaterinburg, Russia is roughly 10km by 20km, and its 1.4 million people live at an average density of 2,700 persons per In the photograph below, it extends to where the sunlight is breaking through the clouds. Beyond that is forest.

YekaterinburgIt has an efficient, affordable and adequate public transportation system of trolley buses, trams and buses.

The reason for this huge difference is that Yekaterinburg has no homestead myth. Its people are happy to live in linear, L-shaped or U-shaped apartment blocks of between five- to nine-storeys.

apartment courtyard yekaterinburgBetween buildings is semi-private open space. They worked all this out long ago.

In Australia, nothing is being done to discredit the homestead myth. The notion of high-rise living is viewed with suspicion and is acceptable only if land has expensive views and is good for nothing else.

mounts bay roadProposals to build market apartments near inner-city railway stations are seen by residents and councilors alike as imminent slummification. Rental flats are seen as slums. Behind every entrenched myth is an entrenched prejudice.

• • •

Eyrie is a recent novel by West Australian author Tim Winton.

Its three main characters live in ten-storey flats in Perth’s port town of Fremantle. Called The Mirador in the novel, the building is easily identifiable as Johnson Court in Adelaide Street. That’s it in the foreground below.

Johnson Court

Johnson Court is the type of flats you can find in any Australian city. It’s Australian Brutalism. Concrete slabs and unfinished, load-bearing cream brick. External corridor access. Paint on brick inside. Here’s a one-bed plan that’s as rational as a plan can be. There’s no fat anywhere on this building. It’s offence is that it’s not trying to be aspirational and that’s an offence against society, against Australia.


From the first few pages of the novel, the implication is that people who live in flats such as these have either fallen on hard times and can’t or, worse, can’t be bothered to aspire to anything better. In short, they are people with stories.

Untitled 2Untitled

Worse still is that the characters aren’t even allowed to enjoy what’s good about where they live. They live on the top floor but there’s no mention of the pleasures of the view across rooftops to the harbour, the ocean and the islands beyond, only descriptions of what can be seen. This is the high-rise prejudice. These people aren’t entitled to look down or over people like the people owning high-rise “apartments” over Peppermint Grove, Mount’s Bay Road, the South Perth foreshore or King’s Park. Buildings like Johnson Court don’t exploit or take advantage of their views for the aesthetic and/or financial benefit of their occupants.


  • There’s no mention of Perth sunsets which are stunningly fiery and, as they’re over water, doubly amazing.
  • Instead and moreover, living high up is seen as dangerous and the reader is constantly reminded the characters always have somewhere further to fall (as the cover of the book implies). Although someone owns these flats, they’re not the occupants for the word “flat” invariably implies rental.


  • Even the paint gets a hard time. “To steady himself he gripped the iron balustrade. “The metal was lumpy from decades of paint, as scaled and lime-caked as the taff-rail of a tramp steamer.” (p13)


  • Flats are unfriendly. Flats are dangerous. “along the open walkway of the tenth floor, on the eastern face of the building, all doors were shut …” (p13) We’re constantly reminded that there’s just one door between the safety of home and the nastiness outside that extends right up to the other side of the door. Lacking low brick fence, rosebed, lawn and veranda, these people are defenceless against what the world throws at them. To be in their flats is to be vulnerable. Outside characters cause all the bad stuff but it all happens inside the building. To escape the flat (to the main character’s mother’s detached and cottage in Mosman Park) is to be safe.

mosman park cottage

  • Flats mean living too close to others, passing each other in the forecourt, going in and out. Initially, the main character doesn’t want to get involved with anyone else’s lives but the building throws them together. We’re constantly reminded of the smells (cultural diversity) and sounds (social diversity) other tenants. The implication is that the 9” thick brick walls are inadequate and the construction poor. To go onto one’s balcony is to be in full view of anyone else who is.

  • Unlike the real Johnson Court which has its habitable rooms facing south-west because of site exigencies, The Mirador of the novel faces east-west. Cooking smells feature despite the cross ventilation despite Fremantle being possibly the tenth windiest city in the world by yearly average wind speed. Unsecured doors slam. In summer, the entire west coast is cooled by the local sea breeze known as the Fremantle Doctor yet despite being at optimum location and height, the characters receive no benefit as wind is “harsh and pitiless” (p8) or “roasting” (p13).

• • •

One back cover review claims the book deals with the impossibility of being able to do the right thing in an imperfect world. It’s true. The characters are left with bigger problems than they began the novel with. What we’re left with is the impression the building is to blame for throwing them together and exacerbating their problems. 

back cover

• • •

Fats at Johnson Court are currently available as holiday lets on the same site that lists Murcutt’s Mangey House.

johnson court let

Only Mangey House makes a claim to being architecture but Johnson Court probably brings more money into the local community and, unless it’s 100% let as holiday rentals, fulfils more of an actual housing need. Notwithstanding, Johnson Court still comes away better for its potential to solve an urban problem rather than perpetuate one.

Myths and prejudices are two sides of the same coin. Myths are perpetuated by architects representing them and prejudices are perpetuated by novelists representing them. They may be lauded for doing so but, in the case of the homestead myth and its flipside the high-rise prejudice, huge swathes of Australia are being destroyed.



The Forgotten Function

There’s more than one way to incorporate the eclectic and often random stuff of everyday life into the supposed ideal of an architectural whole.

1. Design it all!

This is the default position for architects. For one, it means increased commissions as the rascally perfectionists can charge a client to design the door handles, for example, and then launch their own product ranges. Win win.

2. Build it in.

At one time, built-in furniture offered a solution. Just hide all your stuff in a big cupboard you can’t see. This is what Japanese did traditionally. Sometimes you can’t tell whether your bedding or another room is behind that door. Dedicated rooms called nando were devoted to the storage of seasonal stuff.


There are limits to what can be built-in and for how long. A lot of messy stuff gets stored in kitchens. Kitchen storage, for that matter, creates the illusion of being built-in but the reality is that the entire kitchen is a consumer item only slightly less prone to replacement than sofas.


Sofas are free-standing items we like to think of as a thing for us to choose and not some architect. Some architects beg to differ.

3. Let go! Move on!

The third way is to refuse to design things into the building elements that enclose the space, and to leave the items used within it free to be what they are – personal effects that enable people to do something inside that space. If a space doesn’t contain anything, then all you can do inside it is a) appreciate its “spatial qualities” and that soon gets boring, b) curl up on the floor and sleep, or c) pass through it. This third way, circulation, is The Forgotten Function.

A recent post ended on these three images, all of which show a division between the bits that are functionally linked to the provision of space and the bits that are functionally linked to the occupant doing something in that space.

This division isn’t binary – it’s graded. Internal partitions, for example, are a part of the building and there for sake of the occupant. Doors and windows are more “personal” than walls but still more “architectural” than a cushion, chair, or artwork. This is a useful idea because clear “lines of responsibility” enable buildings to be buildings and focus on what they have to do. It also enables occupants to get on with their lives instead of spending time and money trying to find the thing they think a particular wall or corner is “needing”.

When shopping for such things becomes recreation then, of course, we have a problem. Architects are complicit in this problem by designing walls that “need” sofas, Or corners or niches that “appear empty” without something. An architecture dependent for its effect upon meticulously curated interiors is a weak one.

The possibility to free both buildings and their occupants so they can respectively focus on what they have to do is the appeal of an architecture that doesn’t indulge this nesting desire. Drawing a line between the building and its occupants and their stuff is a good thing but decisions have to be made on where to draw that line. Here’s a traditional Japanese staircase. It’s basically a substantial ladder that allows a person to go between floors via a hole in the ceiling.


The colour and pattern of this next staircase/bookcase show isn’t so different from the one above but is now more obviously a part of the building. If the occupants were to move house, they wouldn’t take it with them.


Similar architectural vs. personal decisions have to be made for fireplaces, doors, windows and all the other stuff that makes enclosures liveable. An informal agreement usually exists between architects and occupants, specifying what the architect is expected to provide for in terms of the building side of things. Formal contractual agreements regulate exceptions.

With office space, you lease some space that’s partitioned off from the remainder of the floor. Whether or not you want to divide it further is up to you and how you want your office to be.


I often mention Kazuo Shinohara’s 1976 House in Uehara as having a plan that’s almost incidental.

The structure is busy enough supporting the enclosure – it doesn’t suggest or facilitate any particular arrangement of internal partitions.

But what happens when the structure is the walls themselves? When walls are pressed into service as structural elements and freed of their duty to divide the space into chunks of requisite sizes for our functional convenience?

(Mauricio) Pezo (& Sofia) von Ellrichshausen Architects have been exploring the idea of the corridor-less house. This is their house in Catalonia, Spain. It’s more of an inhabitable structure than an arrangement allowing a program.


© cristobal palma, courtesy of solo houses

Notice how the bathrooms and kitchen are absorbed into a sub-module in a manner similar to Oswald Mathias Ungers’ Haus Kämpchensweg? Ungers, however, goes as far as to absorb the stair.


This house, again by Pezo von Ellrichshausen Architects, takes it a bit further.


Casa Meri

Again, the kitchen has been compromised for the sake of this idea but everything else works more or less. As with the Type B, the size of the habitable rooms are the same size as the non-habitable rooms. This is either its drawback or its charm. There’s no lack of ways to get to some other room since each room has at least two openings. You can get back to the same room by passing through 10 different doors and nine different rooms. This would make a great party house. It may even be possible to get back to the same place after passing through each internal opening once like the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg.


Pezo and von Ellrichshausen do have an obsession with doors, as their 2003 installation 120 Doors shows.

We could combine the idea of this door installation with the idea of Casa Meri, above, and arrive at this next plan. It’s not really a plan – it’s another structural idea that can be lived in but more easily in this case. The “courtyard” could in fact be shrunk to one square metre with four doors opening onto it, considerably simplifying things but altering the proportions of all rooms.


This house is a bit like Haus am Horn in that it’s possible to get to everywhere one needs to without having to go through the central space.

Allplan: 10 WEHAH v14 n0000031.p

Here’s H ArcquitectesCasa Gualba. Like the two plans above house, the central space also has a structural function but this time there are no interconnecting doors between any of the rooms. The central space isn’t a courtyard or a habitable space but a corridor. It works and it works because of the structural triangulation that happens to produce a space that can be used as a corridor. The circulation space, the rooms themselves, and the structural system are one.


Actually, if we take the four-sided pinwheel plan and offset the courtyard, we arrive at one of those beautiful solutions our culture has produced – the one-bedrom apartment plan. True, the corridor could be shrunk some more, but then those convenient niches for the kitchen and bedroom cupboards would disappear. We’d still have to walk by the bedroom cupboards after we entered the room. Nothing would be gained.


Something similar occurs in this next apartment where there’s a 1.2m x 1.8m circulation space.


To the left is a storage cupboard that has to be passed by and on the other side is a 1m x 1.2m column that isn’t going to move. Behind the storage cupboard is the bathroom. One sixth of the corridor is actually in the kitchen but is used to get past the refrigerator against the column. This 1.2m x 1.8m space can’t be used for anything else but it’s not dead space and it’s certainly not unwanted space. It makes everything else work better for other things and this is something it shares with the three pinwheel apartments above.


As Moissei Ginzburg and his Types Team found, the amount of circulation space in an apartment depends not only upon the rooms connected but upon their proportions and arrangement within the apartment.


It’s possible to enclose space efficiently to create a set of spaces. It’s also possible to arbitrarily assign any set of functions to those spaces. However, once this is done, circulation space is needed if the entire space is to be efficiently used.

Circulation space is not a wasteful thing. It is space with the very definite function of making the other spaces work better. This is one of the lessons of The Japanese Machiya and The Types Study. Circulation space needs to be given more respect. Less of it is preferable to too much, but to eliminate it completely is counterproductive and ignores the important function of this useful type of space.


Architecture Misfit #18: Ignazio Gardella


Ignazio Gardella

(March 30, 1905 – March 16, 1999)

The following list of buildings isn’t comprehensive but it should provide a flavour.

  • 1934-38 Dispensario Antitubercolare, Alessandria

1934-38 Dispensario Antitubercolare, Alessandria

  • 1944 The Milano-Verde (Green Milan) Plan
  • 1944-47 Casa del Viticultore
  • 1946–1953 Casa Tognella, also known as “Casa al Parco”

Photo Stefano Topuntoli Archivio Nonis

1946–1953 Casa Tognella (park side)

(park side)


  • 1952 Casa Borsalino, Alessandria


  • 1953-58 Casa alle Zattere, Venice


  • 1958 Mensa Olivetti, Ivrea.

  • 1969 Alfa Romeo Offices, Arese


  • 1975-89 Faculty of Architecture, University of Genoa
  • faculty1981-90 Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa (with Aldo Rossi, Bruno Reichlin and Angelo Sibilla).
  • 1983 Milano Lambrate Station


• • •

If one looks for Ignazio Gardella’s style, one is likely to be disoriented. His projects, over the years, changed according to changing architectural tendencies, often anticipating them, but always containing elements that diverged from the current with which they might be associated.

In other words, Gardella is a serial misfit. 

  • In the 1930s, he was a Rationalist, up there with Terragni, but “his use of local construction techniques, like the famous brick screen of the Dispensario in Alessandria, makes him in some ways a heretic.
  • In the 1950s he would have been a proto-critical regionalist but for an intellectual abstraction that doesn’t seem to have been gritty enough to make him a Neorealist.
  • In the 1960s and 1970s, his buildings such as the Alfa Romeo offices seemed International Style but eschewed industrial materials and a complex program in favour of symmetry.
  • In the 1980s, his buildings seemed PostModern but lacked its essential crassness.

I agree with The Big W that some aspects of Gardella’s work  remain the same throughout his long career but don’t think they condense into the following two points:

Gardella’s architecture always maintains a composure that could be called ‘classic’. This can be deduced from the extreme refinement of his details, which are comparable to those of his contemporary and friend Franco Albini, whether by control of the complete design of a building or because of the design of architectural spaces. In his architecture there is a preoccupation with and emphasis on the immediate, on the style of the moment, and a research for a kind of timelessness.

Complementing this aspect is his capacity to change registers, to adapt himself to the genius loci (the spirit of a place), as few other architects have succeeded to do. If the almost contemporary Casa Borsalino in Alessandria is compared with the Casa alle Zattere in Venice, one realizes that there is a great difference. The materials have changed, as have the decorative elements and the conception of volume. This is clearly owed to his will to take up influences from the built environment or context.

My reason why is that these two points are really the same thing – an ability to recognise and do what the situation calls for. It’s Esistenzialismo and nothing as frivolous as a “preoccupation with the style of the moment”. Once a Rationalist, always a Rationalist. Wiki’s confusion comes from seeing Rationalism as a visual style rather than as a way of creating buildings. I’d already made up my mind to give those same two buildings a closer look. Though different in style, materials and context (and, as is the way of architecture, probably budget, deliverables and schedule as well), they both do the best they can in the circumstances under which they have to be built.

 • • •

The Casa Borsolino is from 1952. It’s looking pretty good on Streetview but then Italian buildings and their cities do age well. They’re built to last.

casa borsolino

44°54’26.14″N 8°36’55.35″E

 It’s not the context but the plan I want to talk about here.
  • The building is on the north side of the block to allow better winter sun penetration on the south side.
  • All habitable rooms face south.
  • One two-bedroom plan is mirrored to form half the building, and that same plan mirrored once again to form half the other half of the building. Repetition is rational.
  • Even though they’re not the same size, the elevator and stairwell are mirrored in their respective halves. The depth difference creates the entrance recesses on the facade so you can enter the building from under the stairs. The ground floor thus has the same plan as the floors above.
  • The plan wobbles aren’t gratuitous. On the street side, that slight angle makes the entrance approach wider – more “welcoming”, some might say. The obtuse angle formed (by sensibly not having a trapezoidal staircase) is absorbed at the corner of the elevator shaft where it doesn’t matter.
  • The streetside wall of the three-bedroom apartment is parallel to the street in order to secure a living room of similar area. The wall on the other side does too, with a knock-on effect for the same purpose.
  • The straight wall in the corridor bends once inside the apartments to produce three beneficial effects. 1) the entrance hallway becomes wider at the end it needs to be wider 2) the entrance hall becomes narrower at the end it doesn’t need to be wide and 3) the bedrooms adjacent to the balconies can be rectangular.
  • All kitchens and bedrooms are rectangular.
  • On the south side, the angular difference is absorbed by the bathroom that becomes wider at the end it needs to become wider. The depth difference with the rest of the facade create recesses for the bathroom windows. Beautiful planning!
  • All rooms are naturally ventilated.
  • The corner balcony structures are unclad.
  • Bathroom windows are all in shadow and won’t appear as features but the shadow will.

In Italy, windows have shutters and these shutters produce that shuffly window effect contemporary architects have been repeating all over southern Europe for some time now, calling it a “dynamic façade” or something.

The closest I’ve ever come to seeing the mirrored and repeated layout is Foster+Partners’ Albion Riverside development in London where the two central segments are identical and repeated.

There’s a 1953 film Position of Architecture by Angelo Mangiarotti in which the Borsolino apartments feature significantly. I’m eager to see it. big_388238_1809_3a12

The other building I want to single out for special attention is Gardella’s Casa alle Zattere in Venice. Casa alle Zattere was designed and constructed between 1952 and 1958 and is thus of the same era as the Borsolino apartments. The first proposal recalls the park side of the five storey Casa Tognella of the same 1953, but this time with the two uppermost floors lining through with its neighbour, the Church of the Spi­rito Santo.

This seems to imply that Rationalism is a good starting point for a design. The final design isn’t all that different. It’s still a five storey house. It still has offset windows in a strict grid. It still has balconies on all levels.

  • The offset balcony on the fourth floor invites our eyes to the pediment of the neighbouring building.


  • Gardella does the shadow thing again, this time to imply a space between the buildings, and which is to be the central space of three repeated.


  • The front of the site isn’t straight. In the first proposal, this would have been disguised by the line of the stacked balconies, but would have been obvious at the roof if Gardella had applied a strict Rationalist formalism. It would have been irrational to ignore that bend.


  • The typical floor plans are pure Gardella. One main entrance accesses two stairwells accessing two adjacent buildings, the split necessitated by the rear one being on higher ground.
  • On the left side in the plan below, there’s a vertical line of small balconies where the two buildings meet, forming a shadow gap once again.


  • Kitchens and bathrooms are naturally lit and ventilated (except for two on the party wall with the church).
  • Stairwells are naturally lit and ventilated.
  • The front angle of the site generates an angled wall in plan. Again, these angles are used to make the shared lobby larger. The (left, front) apartment lobby is angled and made larger, as is the corridor running the length of the apartment. The living room and the corner bedroom still have two right-angled corners. Planning to give advantages such as these seems like second nature to Gardella.
  • The other angled wall (at right angles) behind the stairs make the bedroom larger towards the window, whilst a small dressing area serves as an ante-room to both bedroom and bathroom.
  • The larger apartments also have separate entrances to the kitchens. These entrances open off the stairwell and are thus separated from the entrances next to the elevator that owners and visitors would be expected to use.

TripAdvisor has some great non-architectural photographs of the building and the interiors of an apartment for vacation rental.

This house is usually discussed in terms of its external styling and, although there’s a lot to be said regarding that, we shouldn’t let that stop us appreciating the skill that’s gone into planning the inside of this building.

  • The balustrade detail seems to be for the sake of some small-scale detail equivalent to the dentils of the pediment next door. One guidebook says they reference 13th century architectural details. One more immediate thing they do is restate the different lintel heights of the windows and balcony doors. There is no attempt to make a door look like a window, or vice-versa.
  • The fourth floor terrace wraps around the top floor that’s set back. It’s balustrade appears as a cornice terminating the building and creating a roof which, as we know, is property that can be built on again. What we have up there looks like a little house with a fence around it. The “detached” building on a rooftop is a trope architects more contemporary have taken and run with.)

But to have had to set back those walls off of structural lines must have hurt an architect who’s a Rationalist a heart. There must have been a very good reason to do so. In the image below, we can see how the building “turns the corner” whilst the uppermost storey can be more rationally roofed by not doing so. ZuccheroThe top floor now “follows through” from the church for all its width (as there’s nothing on the other side) but whether this is planned or happy accident I can’t tell. In the first of the following images, it leads our eye to the church.

  • It’s very easy to forget the front of the building isn’t flat but there’s been no deception involved. There’s a vertical line all the way up the building, completed by that fourth floor middle balcony that’s also extended. That line was always there. Nicely done!
  • Let’s not forget to look at the buildings on the left as well. Gardella didn’t.


  • The space between the shuffly windows on the left is mirroring the space between the windows of the little yellow building, making it part of the composition as well.
  • The height difference between the windows of the little yellow building and its neighbour to the left is why there’s no glass above the doors to the balconies in Gardella’s building. And that’s the final mystery solved! It’s more about the buildings on the left than the one on the right. The leftmost building building now makes sense. Everything is symmetrical about the curious low white building! Gardella’s quiet skill is truly awesome.

This isn’t Post-Modernism because post-modernism hadn’t been conjured up yet. And it’s not Critical Regionalism for the same reason, but also because it’s neither “critical” nor regional. It’s simply good manners that ought to be universal. Not many architects get to build in Venice. One doesn’t want to be the one that screws it up but it’s more like Gardella understands this building is going to be a part of it for oh let’s say another couple of hundred years. It’s not the time or place to make some shallow statement. This is becoming more and more difficult for us to imagine.

• • •

These two buildings of Gardella’s show there are things more important than exterior styling. They also show that exterior styling can also be used for purposes that are completely rational. There’s more to buildings than exterior styling and context, it’s just that our idea of context has become extremely narrow.  To finish, Gardella’s page on Wikipedia contains this wonderful sentence.

“The publications of Gardella, though they include many articles and projects published in all of the major international reviews, lack theoretical interest.”

We don’t care. Gardella is a hero. His buildings display the immensely skilful application of sensitivity, intelligence and craft and this is of great interest to us.   

• • •


Ignazio Gardella

For never belonging to any particular group or movement

For never writing anything of theoretical interest

For making buildings of astounding clarity

misfits salutes you!


Architecture Misfit #17: Moisei Ginzburg

This fails to mention Ginzburg “came into contact” with The Futurists during his time in Milan. As a 20-year old architecture student, it’s unlikely he’d have been hanging out with them but, in arty circles Marinetti would’ve been as difficult to avoid as Alma Mahler in Vienna.


Ginzburg disagreed with The Futurists’ total rejection of history because, for him, there were useful things to learne from it. After graduation in 1917 he learned some of those things in Crimea where he studied the vernacular of Crimean native Tatar people and wrote a paper “Tatar Vernacular Architecture of Crimea”, before moving to Moscow in 1921 when his first theoretical book, Rhythm in Architecture was published. 

vernacular-and-industrial copy

Having established himself as a scholar, he taught architectural history and theory at the Moscow Higher Technical Institute (MVTI) and at the Higher State Artistic Technical Studios – the important VKhUTEMAS (Higher Art and Technical Studios) school. His first major commission was the Crimean Pavilion for the 1923 First Agricultural and Cottage Industries Exhibition in Moscow.

Crimean pavilion by Ginzburg

It’s too early to call this building Constructivist but it does show a rigour of organisation and construction. The most important outcome was his book Style and Epoch (1924) that was the first theoretical underpinning of Constructivism in architecture.

The following quotes are taken from the excellent introduction by the English translation’s author, Anatole Senkevich Jr. [not the Kenneth Frampton one].

“The deterministic slant of Ginzburg’s genetic concept of stylistic change, viewing each style as if it were a natural organism endowed with a significant life of its own, does not differ appreciably from the basic Darwinian assumption that those forms which survive are the ones best adapted to the environment. … Although the “life” of a style may thus be more metaphorical than actual, its existence is nonetheless objectively real and significant, for the ideas and artefacts manifesting style are organic outgrowths of the particular environment— cultural, social, technical—of a given epoch, culture, and society. 

“A corollary to Ginzburg’s genetic theory is that a change in style perforce indicates, in addition to the emergence of new aesthetic ideals, a change in the socio-economic make-up of the consumers of architecture and cultural artifacts. Following the basic Marxist argument, the rise of a particular social class with new artistic interests and needs is historically accompanied by, and at times actively induces, major changes in style.

“According to Ginzburg, the historical determinants of the new style—the factors unleashing the vital “spark of creative energy” needed to impel the genetic cycle of stylistic change toward a new “constructive” stage and hence a new style— were the Industrial and Russian revolutions. The Industrial Revolution gave rise to the machine, which mechanized the productive forces of society and thereby supplied the scientific and technological base for modern architecture. The Russian Revolution, for its part, advanced the proletariat as the vanguard of a new socio-economic order. As the dominant new group of consumers, the proletariat projected human labor as the prime content of the new society, the unifying symbol of its existence. This, in turn, propelled to the forefront of the new society’s architectural concerns the task of solving “all the architectural organisms associated with the concept of labor—workers’ housing and the house of work,” the latter encompassing the factory and work place. Given that workers’ housing and the factory were destined to be the prime symbols of the new revolutionary epoch—as the temple had been for ancient Greece, the cathedral for the Gothic world, and the palace for the Renaissance—the elements generated by the solution of these two building types had to become the decisive elements of the new style.

This was why the problem of communal housing came to the forefront. The OSA Movement (Society of Contemporary Architects) was founded in 1925 with the broad goal of producing socially constructive buildings in response to the Industrial and Russian revolutions. It’s members were largely from the VKhUTEMAS and became known as The Constructivists.


The VKhUTEMAS also gave birth to a rival group ASNOVA led by Nikolai Ladovsky and that came to be known as The Rationalists, oddly. The Rationalists were into “space” and “expression” and had Deconstructionist tendencies before Derrida and Frank Gehry were even born.


Proto-deconstructivist it may be, but it wasn’t a useful housing idea for 1921 Russia.

OSA’s journal CA (Contemporary Architecture) was first published in 1926. As would be expected, it reported on new developments in housing and industrial architecture across Europe. Here’s a link to CA issue #2.

CA 1 1927 p1

Ginzburg’s 1926 Gosstrakh Housing is claimed by some to be an application of Corbusier’s Five Points but apartment buildings across Europe were quick to use this space as communal space for laundry drying rather than sunbathing.


The building layout is neat. The stairwell is naturally lit and ventilated, as are all but two bathrooms. All windows have secondary glazing.

In 1927 there was the SA Housing Competition, and in 1928 The Types Study and The Meeting.

The Later Buildings

The apartment types arrived at in The Types Study were used by Ginzburg in his three main buildings built around 1930, and also by Ilya Golosov (for his collective dwelling in Ivanovo) and Pavel Gofman (for his communal housing in Saratov).

The first use of The Types was the 1928 RZSKT commune in Moscow by Types Study colleagues Pasternak, Bartch and Vladimirov. 

RZSKT isometric

Next came Ginzburg’s 1929 Oblosoviet Housing in Yekaterinburg.

Oblsoviet housings in Sverdlovsk-Yekaterinburg

It contains Type A and Type F apartments. The Type F apartments here do not have internal bathrooms or toilets as they were intended for student occupation. They’re currently offices. This next photograph shows the bedroom side with the two shared corridors on the 2nd and 5th floors. 


The large windows face the courtyard.


To the left, above, and in the distance, below, is a block of the larger Type A apartments.


• • •

• • •

Ginzburg is best remembered for the 1932 Narkomfin Building in Moscow. Narkomfin House is a block of apartments connected by an enclosed bridge to a separate building containing communal facilities such as kitchen, dining room, creche and laundry. In addition to a library and gym, the communal kitchen and dining room, and the childminding centre were provided to enable women to become equally productive members of the workforce. Part of the building’s communal agenda was thus what might nowadays be called a feminist agenda.


TYPE K: A galleried apartment made its first appearance as an idea at the 1925 Paris Exposition with Le Corbusier’s Pavilion de L’Esprit Nouveau. The Type K apartments on the first and second floors of the 1929 Narkomfin Building are the first galleried apartments to be built as housing.

These apartments were outside the Typization study. Even if used as a warm air reservoir, a double height space is an aesthetic decadence that can’t be justified in terms of economy of resources.

Le Corbusier was going to and from Moscow to oversee the construction of the Tsentrosoyuz building between 1928 and 1933 and coinciding with Narkomfin’s contruction and completion. A set of Narkomfin’s plans was found in LC’s archives. It’s fair to assume LC admired the building. The section of the Type F apartments at Narkomfin is often claimed to have inspired the famous interlocking units at the Marseilles and later Unités. I doubt this as the Type F is directional. Unfortunately, so is the Type K in that inverting, stretching it and mirroring it around Ohl’s corridor would mean the main bedroom and living area need to be combined and separated from the kitchen and this is exactly what’s not right with LC’s plans at Ud’H. 

Give and take. The ground floor of the Narkomfin residential building is raised. Ginzburg must have been sensitive to suggestions of over-inspiration as he provided one economic and two other justifications for this decision when the project was published in CA № 5/1929 pp 158-164.


Narkomfin’s first and second floor have the two-storey Type K apartments and the third, fourth and fifth floors comprise three levels of Type F apartments. This can all be seen on the east (middle) elevation. On the west (lower) elevation, the second row of windows from the top is the corridor servicing the Type F apartments.

Narkomfin housing drawings, Moscow

Let’s not forget the communal facilities.

Narkomfin is the building usually selected to represent the communal housing buildings of the era but Ginzburg and team weren’t the only architects promoting it. Here’s the Dormitory of Communist University of the National Minorities of the West, by G.M. Dankman, M. Rusanova and P. Simakin (1929-1931).

Narkomfin is the poster building. It’s also notable for the penthouse for Nikolai Milyutin who, as Commissar of Finance, was the building’s client, sponsor and a resident.


Narkomfin is currently in a bad way, as any number of photo-essays will show you.

narkomfin monograph p31

The fact it occupies prime property in Moscow between the US Embassy and a shopping mall is not helping.

narkomfin in moscow

In a quieter residential part of Moscow, the RZSKT commune building has fared better.

 • • •


Moisei Yakovlevich Ginzburg
Моисей Яковлевич Гинзбург (1892 – 1946)

  • For understanding apartment plans as having optimum proportions.

building depth study

  • For understanding the relationship between room proportions and plan efficiency.
Room proportions

Room proportions

  • For understanding the link between apartment volume and building volume.


  • For the Types Study work in general, that attempted to provide people and families with housing with dignity.


  • For going ahead and doing it anyway with the RZSKT Commune, Oblosoviet and Narkomfin buildings.
  • For inventing apartments that are still lived in in the way they were intended to be.


  • For your faith in apartments with communal facilities as a good way for people to live – as we’re currently discovering today.
  • For having the foresight to see the reality of 1920s Russia and the courage to face it.
  • For having the mind to comprehend what to do with it as an architect.
  • For having a knack to put together a design team to go for the solutions.
  • For having the skill to resolve it in a work of unquestionably timeless substantiality.
  • For having the bravery to proudly present it under swelling stormclouds of history.
  • For having it all documented and printed for us to discover it.
  • For having the persistence to incarnate it in buildings that keep proudly propelling themselves through time.
  • For imbuing them with a spirit that converted one of us to architecture and, amongst of things, resulted in this post.

from Yekaterinburg, Russia

mg hello

misfits salutes you!

This is a good place to break Ginzburg’s story as he’s already done enough to qualify as a misfit. His story will continue in other posts. Communal housing involving social change was most certainly out of favour in 1930 when rivalling architectural groups (OSA, ASNOVA, VOPRA and others) were forcibly disbanded and in 1932 amalgamated into the state-overseen All-Union Association of Architects. Around this time, the urbanist Mikhail Okhotovich convinced Ginzburg to promote his theory of Disurbanism. This will be the subject of a future post.

Ginzburg soon left Moscow to run his own architectural workshop in Crimea until his death. He wrote two more books on Home (Жилище) in 1934 and Industrializing housing construction (Индустриализация жилищного строительства) in 1937. He was involved in planning along the Crimean Coast and designed a number of resort hotels and sanatoriums, notably in Kislovodsk (1935-1937).

Moisei Ginzburg’s ideas had run counter to Stalinist policy once with the communal housing and once again and more seriously with disurbanism so his death from non-traumatic causes in 1946 must also be seen as an achievement

The 1930s under Stalin will be the subject of another post, Culture Two.


Architecture Myths #18: Popular Culture

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) lived through Impressionism but, rather than taking the delicate play of light upon whatever as the subject for his art, is best known for his graphic paintings and illustrations of people in their working environments. Much of his work was for advertising. This particular poster is from 1891. Lautrec_moulin_rouge,_la_goulue_(poster)_1891 This next image is possibly the first instance of a household brand being used in art. Still life no longer had to be about artfully arranged flowers, vases, wine bottles, wineglasses, guitars… Thank you, Futurists.

Gino Severini, Cubist Still Life (1917)

Gino Severini, Cubist Still Life (1917)

The Futurists, or at least Fortunate Depero, followed Lautrec’s lead and his work for Campari appeared as advertising posters in public places. 2012 11_58 AM Constructivist artists also did this as part of their quest for a socially useful art. We don’t know how popular these posters were but, if advertising’s involved, it’s not good for them not to be.

Textile design was another field of Constructivist artist endeavour. People could at least have nice curtains. Well done, Varvara Stepanova! d0b2d0b0d180d0b2d0b0d180d0b0-d181d182d0b5d0bfd0b0d0bdd0bed0b2d0b0-d0bfd0bbd0b0d182d18cd0b5-d181d188d0b8d182d0be-d0b8d0b7-d182d0bad0b0

Curtains and the idea of art for the people is the link between 1920s Russia and 1950s America. The idea of soft furnishings as art for the people driving the economy before the war, crossed the ocean and transmuted into idea of soft furnishings as consumer goods for the people driving the economy after the war, later being reimported to the UK and Scandinavia. 001055

The 1950s were the decade when the culture of the people became the dominant culture in America. Befitting the magpie instincts of artists, collage was an appropriate medium to represent it as a subject. The following collage is not meant to be a popular form of art, it merely appropriates aspects of popular culture as subject matter and represents them to those who can afford it and/or appreciate it.


Richard Hamilton “Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?” (1956)

Roy Lichtenstein‘s take on this was to represent popular culture using meticulously handprinted dots to reproduce frames from comic books. Roy_Lichtenstein_Whaam Andy Warhol was the most adept at exploiting popular culture for artistic ends. dollar-sign andy-warhol While all this was going on, many people who knew nothing about Hamilton, Lichtenstein or Warhol were finding joy in LP covers

Artist: Pedro Bell

Artist: Pedro Bell

and (admittedly, not the same people) black-light posters such as this on their walls. 20140617144641-Beatles_poster Jeff Koons mined popular culture to new heights/depths by taking kitcsh as his subject matter, discovering an entire new universe of found objects in the process. This next sculpture is popular in the sense that it engages people who have travelled to see an art gallery for entertainment. It is not however, popular art in the sense that it satisfies any art-for-the-people need. Koons has done well. (In passing, it’s been noticed he’s assembling a possible development site on W52nd St.) Bilbao.Koons02 jeff koons yacht luxury culture dot com All this art is the result of the observation, appropriation and representation of popular culture. It is not and never was generated for it, or an expression of it. This finally brings us to architecture. The observation-appropriation-representation cycle in architecture is even longer so it’s no wonder architecture is always behind the curve. “Hey – we just passed by the Bilbao Guggenheim! Let’s go back and take a look.” The Bilbao Guggenheim is nothing more than googie architecture to attract people in planes, not cars.  holiday_in_bilbao_attractions

In Easter Hill, Haskell identified characteristics new urbanists were to claim for their own. 

  • Winning government approval proved difficult because what they wanted to build broke the mold for public housing. “We started out from the beginning to plan a village,” Hardison [one of the original architects] says. They wanted units to feel like individual homes. “What we were trying to design violated some standards of the time,” he says. It was low-rise, not high, curved roads, not straight, and with varied textures and colors to avoid a barracks look. Hardison fought for amenities ignored in other projects — front yards, fenced backyards.
  • Easter Hill was a dream of a better future for people who live in public housing.
  • It was a dream shared by socially conscious post-World War II architects — that good design could produce livable neighbourhoods, even for poor people.

In 2003, fifty-six years later, Easter Hill, was in bad need of repair, and is probably gone by now.920x920 Instead of this useful thinking from 1954 being put to better use to provide more people with more real housing with more dignity, that thinking made its way into the Post-Modern retro-smalltown-themed holiday village known as Seaside, Florida. seaside Seaside Florida is a pretend town often invoked in discussions of New Urbanism – the new mantra more attuned to speculative property development than social housing. Like Philip Johnson and Henry-Russel Hitchcock before him, Charles Jenck’s agenda was to discredit the social aspirations of Modern(ism) architecture and

You can make your booking here. “There’s something to suit every budget.” seaside_florida_-_the_first_new_urbanist_development What Haskell saw as something of genuine value to people was quickly turned into a representation of something of genuine value to people. Instead of actually being the kind of person who sits on porches and says howdy to strangers passing by, people get to go on holiday and pretend they’re the the kind of person who sits on porches and says howdy to strangers passing by. Segueing backwards, Pruitt-Igoe was a theoretical smokescreen. If it were really the alleged death of Modernism, then the onus would have been on Post-Modernism to replace it with something more suitable? Or at least a better maintenance plan. It didn’t. The site remains empty. 



Metaphorically it did, or at least that was the claim, but the actual housing was never replaced. The destruction was real but the replacement theoretical. The conceit was that a representation of an idea of housing should be, could replace some something as useful as real housing, however flawed. Guild House at least provided some socially useful shelter behind its popularesque facade. 35079

But those were early days. Before too long, all facades would be brought into play, concealing all evidence of a building as even a carrier for representation and making it that much easier for representation to come to be mistaken for architecture. portlandia


Architecture Misfit #16: Douglas Haskell


Douglas Putnam Haskell (1899 –1979)

  • For much of the mid 20th century, Douglas Haskell had a voice in the major architectural and urban debates of the day.
  • As writer and editor, he weighed in on events and issues ranging from the 1932 International Style exhibition at MOMA to Expo ‘67 in Montreal, from public housing to suburban communities, from pre-war highway beautification to postwar freeway revolts.
  • He corresponded personally and professionally with leading thinkers and makers, including Catherine Bauer, Walter Gropius, Victor Gruen, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Lewis Mumford, Richard Neutra, Clarence Stein, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • As lecturer and critic, he taught at Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and Pratt.
  • From successive positions at Architectural Record and then Architectural Forum and through essays in Architectural ReviewLandscape, and L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, he reached an international professional readership.
  • As architecture critic for The Nation from 1930 to 1943 and occasional contributor to Life and Harper’s, and as a member of numerous civic organisations and advisory committees, including the Pennsylvania Avenue Council and Expressways Ltd., Haskell moved beyond the discipline and engaged a broad public audience.

For someone who contributed that much to architectural culture, Haskell and his thoughts remain almost completely unknown. This article, in Places Journal, goes some way to redressing that situation, and suggests the reason why Haskell is little known is because all of his output was pre-internet. I don’t think so. We know much more about many people who lived and died before the internet. Haskell’s been actively forgotten. I suspect the answer lies in that last part of the quote: Haskell moved beyond the discipline and engaged a broad public audience.” Being actively forgotten was his punishment for going against how architecture works.

This does not bode well for misfits.

Haskell had been paying close attention to the emerging American roadscape since at least 1937, when, after a 10,000-mile car trip, he published, in the British journal Architectural Review, “Architecture on Routes US 40 and 66” in May 1937. In that early piece he explored what designers could learn “in the country of the automobile,” by studying places that “are growing with the people themselves. 

Haskell identified what he called “googie” architecture. 

Googie architecture: Between the end of World War II and, let’s say, the invention of the internet, there arose an architecture that existed to be seen, enjoyed and used by ordinary people driving around. It made sense. Most buildings are next to roads. Googie architecture was about buildings being signs saying “look at me, come in, and spend your money!”.

Googie architecture found its perfect expression in gas stations and drive-in restaurants

in various lesser retail outlets seen from roads,

and airport terminals, as seen from parking lots.

As Haskell saw it, Googie “brought modern architecture down from the mountains” and “set ordinary clients, ordinary people, free.”

Saying things like this was never going to win Haskell any friends. His famous essay “Architecture and Popular Taste” appeared in Forum magazine in 1958.

In “Architecture and Popular Taste” he took seriously what “know nothing” man said he liked — from decoration to romance to unabashed symbolism — and he examined the parallels between various popular styles and the contemporary work of prominent architects.


You can read the full article here, in Places Journal and from where I’ve taken all the quotes in this post.

In his essay, Haskell praised the US Pavilion at the 1958 World’s Fair.


“What Stone achieved in this fine popular expression of American statecraft has been carried by other architects, in the same spirit, into that stronghold of functionalism, the American factory.”

He praised European factories such as Olivetti’s 1958 factory in Ivrea. (Adriano Olivetti believed the factory could be the focus for a new ideal community that could counteract the fragmentation of modern society.)


Nor is America alone in this; witness the new factories in Italy of Olivetti and his architects.

He praised Vernon DeMars’s Easter Hill 1954 public housing development on the east side of San Francisco Bay. In 1957, the American Institute of Architects called the project, designed by Don Hardison, Vernon DeMars and Lawrence Halprin, one of “10 Buildings in America’s Future.” “American architecture at its best,” the organization said. In a picture spread, Life magazine called Easter Hill, “ideal low-cost housing.”


DeMars has done everything possible at Easter Hill to make the houses seem homelike, pretty, unpretentious, colorful, less like a fiat of design from above and more like a growth that might spring directly from the people. (You can read more about Easter Hill here.)

Haskell identified three important trends.

The first seems to be a popular demand for more decorativeness and romance than a highly intellectual architecture has been delivering: the desire is for what architectural draftsmen gruffly call “schmaltz” and what a more sophisticated critic might christen “the new Alhambra.”

The second popular need seems to be for more drama: a “good show,” symbolism, even fairy tales: what draftsmen might term “googie” and a critic might describe as the “new baroque.”

And, finally, there are indications of a growing popular desire for an architectural counterpart to jazz — that new art form, popular in origin, which has grown into a highly demanding discipline and has greatly affected “serious” music. Its architectural analogue reflects a comparable need for free improvisation in building design, newer rhythms, freshness and readiness in adaptation. 

Call it a trio of schmaltz, googie, and honky-tonk; call it the new romanticism, the new baroque, and the new improvisation; call it sweetness, symbolism, and the happy note; call it the new Alhambra, the greater googie, and the new Times Square — in any of these triads describing new trends it is possible to find evidence of the coming rapprochement between modern architecture and popular taste.

He wrote this in 1958, remember. Timeline time.

1937–: Haskell observed the architecture of popular culture
1952: Haskell identified Googie architecture
1958: Haskell claimed Times Square was all right
1966: Robert Venturi claimed “Main Street is almost all right” in C&CiA
1972: RV (now with Denise Scott-Brown) claimed things could be learned from Las Vegas.

Venturi and Scott-Brown learning from Las Vegas

Venturi and Scott-Brown learning from Las Vegas

If only Haskell had mentioned~ The Big Duck in his 1937 travels.


Big Duck featured in the New York Times of 11 October, 1931 soon after its completion.

Venturi’s duck makes exactly the same point as Haskell’s hot dog stand. Venturi’s Las Vegas makes. exactly the same point as Haskell’s Times Square. V&SB’s most significant contribution to architecture was to take this naïvely simple, vibrant and inclusive visual culture and represent its naïve simplicity, vibrance and inclusion as Post Modernism. They killed googie. The only thing they didn’t like about Main Street was that architects hadn’t designed it.


1977: Charles Jencks’ “The Language of Post-Modern Architecture” was first published. As we know, Jencks used the dynamiting of Pruitt-Igoe to claim Modernism had failed people and that we could all do with a decent dose of architecture that meant things to people, thereby perverting what Haskell had already stated in 1958, even using the same hot-dog stand to make the same point.


It gets worse. In 1958, Haskell identified what Jencks was to market in 2005 as the “iconic” building. 

on with the showiconic building

In 1958 it may have been okay to ask “why should a building show its construction?” but in 2015 it’s okay to ask why a building should need to pretend it’s not a building? It’s dysfunctional, delusional, “bad faith” even. But that’s not my point.

Haskell has received no recognition for forecasting these two large architectural trends of the past 50 years. He is not credited in Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction or in Venturi and Scott-Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas. (If you have a copy of the latter, be amazed at the number of pages referencing their own writings and things other people wrote about them.)

Similarly, you won’t find Jencks acknowledging any intellectual debt in at least these three books.

This is not right.

The objectives of a popular architecture Haskell first observed with googie were quickly given architectural representation as Post Modernism and, in doing so, were no longer “popular” taste but representations of it. This was not what Haskell had in mind. 

Haskell’s identification of what were to come to be called “iconic” buildings did not lead to a more approachable architecture. There once might have been the potential for a more popular architecture but Jencks invented the vile aesthetic apartheid of double-coding which took from popular culture but gave back no more than non-intellectuals could be expected to process. This too, was not what Haskell had in mind.   

• • •


Douglas Putnam Haskell

For trying to bridge the gap between architectural “geniuses” on the one side and the so-called ordinary people who had neither “education nor leaders” to guide them, 

for moving “architectural criticism away from the respectful stroking of architectural ego to by-lined commentary that would challenge the status quo” and

for having a definition of architecture as “man working upon the whole of his environment to put it into habitable, workable, agreeable and friendly shape.

None of these were ever going to make you popular with the architectural establishment but you fought the good fight and for that

misfits salutes you!


Building Bridges

Bridges between buildings are a useful way of going over something to get people or things to a different building more quickly or conveniently. They’re like long corridors that make two or more buildings into one. This is most useful for certain types of factory.

The Gosprom building opened in Kharkiv in the Ukraine in 1928 after a local architect, Viktor Trotsenko, won a public competition in 1925. The buildings housed the Ukrainian Soviet Republic’s central committee, various commissariats, planning commissions and industrial enterprises, a library and a hotel.


Bridges between buildings are a convenient way to link different buildings in places where going outside means overcoats and different shoes.

1920s Russian architecture used them as a way for residents to get to shared facilities such as canteens, childminding, gymnasiums and other recreational spaces.

The two examples above are examples of Constructivist architecture employing the concept of a social condenser in which shared spaces were designed without a sense of hierarchy. This made them more socially accessible.


In Dubai, less inclusively, you’ll see many bridges linking apartment buildings and hotels with separate buildings that contain car parking and, more often than not, shared facilities such as cafés, childminding centres, swimming pools and gyms on their rooftops. It saves going outside.


The users of this science and technology centre in central Siberia’s Novosibirsk can probably relate to that.



One bridged building that’s entered our consciousness lately is Steven Holl’s Linked Hybrid in Beijing. It may be to avoid contact with the outside air.

1252359914-steven-holl-lh-09-06-8692SH’s website is unlikely to tell us.


There’s that term, “social condenser” again. We can’t say if it’s being used disingenuously or naïvely but, when amenities in contemporary mixed use complexes are involved, there’s certain to be a hierarchy of residents, residents’  guests, guest, and public membership privileges.

In Linked Hybrid, bridges connect the residential buildings with communal facilities such as the gym and swimming pool, and also enable residents and their guests to access the hotel facilities. This phenomena has been covered in Fun!tionalism and The Well-Serviced Apartment.  Holl’s site has some nice pictures but no plans or sections so it’s difficult to evaluate the actual convenience and amenity offered. A website quote by Paul Goldberger offers a different angle.


Not so sure about that. One person’s “sense of isolation” is another person’s “comfortable distance”. But hey, would that be the same Paul Goldberger seen (in Charles Jenck’s The Language of Post Modern Architecture, 1984 edition, p23) deriding buildings with “streets in the sky”.

paul goldberger

We need more information about his change of heart. Is it the maturity of being 30 years older? or is it a case of “The Smithsons bad, Holl good”? Or “1970’s London bad, 2009 Beijing good”? Maybe it’s “poor people bad, rich people good”? Or “Social housing bad, Capitalist exploitation good”? We may never know.

One thing we do know about bridges between buildings is that they’re a good idea. And one thing we know about architects is that they tend to take good ideas and represent them – something akin to a kiss of death.

With Linked Hybrid, it’s all about the getting there rather than what you do once you have. In this sense, the bridge is the communal facilities rather than a means of accessing them.


Ditto Linked Hybrid, Beijing (Steven Holl)

This is more so with SHoP’s 626 First Ave. The bridge is now the architectural focus of the building.  It enables sharing of communal facilities but its primary architectural function is to represent it.


SHoP Architects’ 626 First Avenue apartments

These next examples have the bridge at the top of the building. The Address Sky View Towers is one of those twin hotel and apartment buildings mentioned in The Well Serviced Apartment.


Marina Bay Sands is all-hotel with the value-added amenities similarly up top where they don’t encroach upon the business bits of the building.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore (Rafael Viñoly Architects)

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore (Rafael Viñoly Architects)

Once it’s established that a bridge can be value-added space, it can then be marketed as premium space. Designed by Arquitectonica, Gate Towers in Abu Dhabi takes the bridge full-circle with premium double-storey “sky penthouses”.


Rising over 250 metres in the air and occupying the 64th & 65th Floor, the stunning Penthouse Collection at Gate Towers is the world’s highest penthouse bridge structure on a residential space

I think that should be “the world’s highest residential penthouses on a bridge structure.”

The Collection is home to 21 luxurious penthouses comprising at least 430 square metres each and with their own private swimming pools and, in a limited number of units, an ‘internal garden’.

The quotation marks are there for a (legal) reason.

And there we have it. Bridges have gone

  1. from being something that connects shared amenities,
  2. to being something that represents shared amenities,
  3. to being something that is a value-adding shared amenity, and finally
  4. to being something that contains value-adding unshared amenities (in the form of swimming pools) and
  5. to something that provides value-adding shared but unusable amenity (in the form of ‘internal gardens’).

What’s happened is that bridges between buildings have become a new form of property. This is indeed the first time enclosed space unsupported from below has been marketed as penthouse space (or should we say ‘penthouse’ space?) Cheekily, the value-adding feature is a view up and down a lightwell.

This makes sense. To give those lightwells a base would make them into conventional courtyards on a conventional bridge. There would be no views down but, more importantly, no views up. Representing a communal space (even if it’s a void) has higher architectural priority than providing useable space. This principle gave us buildings like MVRDV’s 2005 Mirador. Its media package disingenuously invoked LC’s 1949 Ud’H but by 2005, representing a thing had already become more important than the thing being represented. It made no sense to put communal space on a rooftop where no-one could see it.


Arquitectonica have their place in void history. Currently reprised in the Abu Dhabi development,

their 1982 Atlantis was groundbreaking in giving architectural representation to void space as communal space.

The Atlantis Condominium, Miami, Florida, 8007

The residents at least got a hot tub and a palm tree out of it.