I’m uneasy with this new notion of everything being architecture, weary of pondering space as Deleuzian or Derridian, and find it difficult to care if heterogenous space is a democratic space different from the homogenous universal space of Modernism and the incongruous hereogeneity produced by Post-Modern collage. It’s time for a vacation.
As a midsummer break from architecture about anything and everything but buildings, I want to go back in time to when being an architect meant applying intelligence and skills to organize spaces into buildings for people
Type F V1.0 (Moisei Ginzburg, 1928)
- The idea was to not waste building volume/resources by overbuilding the volume needed to access living space. To this end, bedrooms, bathrooms and entrances had lower ceiling heights and were stacked, with apartments entered either upwards or downwards from the sandwiched access level. [1, 2]
- The living room was on the side of the building having better daylight, and bedrooms and access on the side where daylight was less needed. This is something we still endeavour to achieve today as it’s still a decent thing to aim for. We still appreciate sunlight for its effect on our health and well-being even if preventing tuberculosis is no longer a priority.
- We also still appreciate the well-being due to natural ventilation and cross-ventilation in particular.
The Type F was a near-perfect thing. Splitting the levels meant internal stairs but those stairs were the sole circulation space in the upper unit and the only additional circulation space in the lower. They were inclined corridors.
1928 Russian society wasn’t ready for private kitchens to be replaced by communal kitchens. Later Type F iterations included compact kitchens intended to remain until such time as society was ready but it never was. The idea of a kitchen not being a separate room stayed ahead of its time. Only six buildings were built with Type F apartments.
Type F V2.0 (Serge Chermayeff, 1943)
Ginzburg’s idea for the more efficient distribution of building volume was forgotten until Serge Chermayeff adapted its principles for mid 20th century Americans and presented it as his Park Hill Apartments Study in 1943.
- Apartments were larger and organised across the width of the building.
- Staircases were placed centrally and sideways so as to use less space close to the windows.
- The living areas and bedrooms were generously sized.
- There were balconies.
- There was a separate U-shaped kitchen.
Chermayeff’s solution had some drawbacks, some unavoidable and others the product of their time.
- The stairs for the upper and lower apartments were at opposite ends of the living rooms and could not be even partially stacked, introducing wasted area.
- The dining area had to be associated with the kitchen which was on a different level from the living room. The relationship between the dining and living areas is not as strong as is usual today.
- The upper apartment had to have a corridor in order to access more than one bedroom.
- The plan implied occupancy by a nuclear family.
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Later experiments with interlocking apartments introduced complexities of levels and access but without any of the volumetric advantages of tailoring room heights.
Unité d’Habitations (Le Corbusier, 1949)
- The rotational symmetry produces non-equivalent plans (since humans walk on floors and not ceilings). Having the kitchen-dining as the mezzanine instead of the bedroom produces an unacceptable living area at the foot of the master bed.
- Spaces requiring most natural ventilation have least of it.
- 50% of living rooms have the unpreferable daylighting.
Corringham (Douglas Stephen & Partners, 1960)
- The complex internal planning is said to result from giving all residents a view of the communal garden on the side opposite the living rooms that face west. This is misleading. Half the units have stairs up from the access corridor but it is only the other half with stairs going down from the access corridor that have the sight lines shown in the section below. All living rooms face west for better daylighting even if the architects were oddly reluctant to admit it.
- The single riser accessible from the access corridor is good.
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There has been no further development of apartments that interlock to reduce the building volume required to access them. It is time to update the Type F model and bring it into line with how we seem to want to live today, but without losing the volumetric advantages identified by Ginzberg and appreciated by Chermayeff.
- Return the kitchen to the living room: The shrunken kitchen as part of a living room has come to pass whether it is the ‘social kitchen’ of contemporary upmarket developments such as 100 East Fifty-Third Street or the conceptual downgrading suggested by Lacaton & Vassal (as seen in Architecture Reductions).
- Stacked stairs: Chermayeff’s sideways staircases retain Ginzburgs principle of being used as circulation space but are wasteful of building volume as no part of them is stacked. Unused volume above the upper stair and below the lower stair is inescapable, but should be minimal.
- No upper corridor: Building volume no longer used for external access should not then be wasted on internal circulation.
- Co-living potential: Bedrooms should be treated as equivalent chambers surrounding communal living space and not imply any one type of occupancy in particular.
Type F V3.0 (misfits’architecture, 2016)
- The type and position of the staircase is critical. Upper and lower landings overlap the corridor, the length of which is determined by the width of the staircase plus the openings to access the lower living area. In the upper apartment, the half-landing is used to access the living area.
- Both living areas are effectively two rooms separated by a staircase but the space above and below the staircase is returned to the living areas to be used and appreciated however. Both living areas appear as single large rooms.
- Both apartments have two bedrooms but a three-bedroom apartment can be configured by extending the stair downwards from the lower apartment to appropriate the left bedroom of the apartment below which now becomes a one-bedroom apartment. Similarly, the staircase of the upper apartment can extend upwards to appropriate the right bedroom of the apartment above. In the section above, the red wall becomes a party wall splitting the corridor.
- Split shafts (as Chermayeff had) pose no problem for drainage and water supply.
- The façade isn’t arbitrary but its construction and the amount/type of glazing and sun control will vary with location and climate. It is a separate design problem.
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Built and sellable volumes were approximated (and expressed) as the above areas. The sellable volume of the baseline was three times the entry level area of the improved, and representing three levels of two-bedroom apartments.
The 65 sq.m/700 sq.ft baseline floor area approximates the London affordable market standard. Apartments are accessed from a corridor having the same ceiling height as the apartments. For reference, these two apartments are approximately 80 sq.m/850 sq.ft.
If we assume total profit is some function of the number of apartments (A), their area (B), and the % of the total built area that can be sold (C) then (A) x (B) x (C) gives an index of 983 for the IMPROVED as opposed to 854 for the BASELINE – a 15% difference.
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- If it is about the number of apartments that can be built, then it is better to build 18 baseline apartments than the 12 improved apartments.
- If it is about liveability, then it is better to build the 12 improved apartments than the baseline 18.
- If it is about a more efficient use of building resources, then it is better to build the 12 improved apartments than the baseline 18.
- If it is about daylighting and natural ventilation, then it is better to build the 12 improved apartments than the baseline 18.
- If it is about catering to households of different sizes and configurations, then it is better to build the 12 improved apartments than the baseline 18.
- If it is about affordability, then it is better to build the 12 improved apartments than the baseline 18, and to pass the savings on to purchasers.
housing cooperatives can obtain better value for money by building these improved apartments for themselves.
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For anyone wanting a summer sanity break from the world of architectural media posturing, I recommend keeping it real by attempting your own update of this better way to configure living space.