Waste in Venice

Waste was one of the ‘fronts’ Aravena identified in his opening statements for the 2016 Venice Architecture Bienalle. wasteBy now we’ve all either seen or seen images of the exhibition entrance features – you know the ones. 

You’ll probably also have been told those installations were made from 10,000 sq.m of plasterboard and 14 km of metal studs from the previous Biennale – the one curated by you know who.


What Aravena has done is turn old waste into new waste and, in the process, make it represent waste as well. He’s also wasted his time and ours. The plasterboard might have been more reusable if it hadn’t been cut into tiny pieces, as might those metal studs if they hadn’t been bent. If this is the best the best of architecture has to offer, then sooner or later we can expect to see the aestheticization of waste as architectural ornament. It was sooner than I expected, for immediately outside was another example of someone arranging stuff into a pointless representation of waste. What does it mean? What does it do? Why did they do that? It’s more cutting-edge contentless content. 


Aestheticizing something by making its representation more important than the thing itself is one of architecture’s many dysfuctions stemming from the belief it’s an art. Arty however, is much better at aestheticising raw materials because that’s basically what it does – it takes materials and uses them to represent something independent of those materials. It also adds value, albeit a highly subjective one.

At the Prada Fondazione in Milan is an exhibition of works by Edward and Nancy Nienholz who assemble found objects into rather disturbing collages.

This most definitely is art. Something new and having a different kind of value has been created. Their intention was never to reduce some global oversupply of disused carnival paraphenalia. Elsewhere at the Prada Fondazione, unwanted art is being repurposed into new art.


The Pirelli Hangar Bacocco in Milan currently has an exhibition titled Architecture as Art. [Grrr.]

One of the works on display was this ‘architectural’ space made out of shredded books. You could climb it and find a space to – what else? – read a book.

This isn’t a response to some global surfeit of shredded books but nor does it pretend to be one. Who knows what will happen after? Perhaps it’ll become part of a permanent exhibition somewhere, or perhaps it’ll be reconstructed elsewhere from different trash at some later date.

The fashion industry is currently attempting to come to grips with recovering fabrics (at the level of fibres) and remaking them into high-value garments. This is good in that land can be used for things other than growing cotton but it’s bad if the main object is to maintain a high churn ratio even if at lower environmental cost. Getting more wear out of clothes is a sensible idea. Geting rid of the concept of fashion and its obsession with trends and novelty is a better one.

Outside Hangar Bacocco is a temporary pavilion built out of the packing crates artworks arrive in. It will be eventually dismantled and its pieces distributed to where they can be put to use.


The pavilion is a structure with a limited degree of utility and no small amount of artistic/architectural pretension but there is at least a plan to use it for something else afterwards. It’s a better way of doing things. Its designers understand that the best way to generate less waste is to give things a purposeful next life and prevent them from becoming waste in the first place.


This thinking is evident at the Austrian pavilion at the 2016 Architecture Biennale.


The first room contains piles of posters depicting refugee housing projects at three locations in Vienna. In the second rom is a large display table that, after the biennale, will be divided into three parts for re-use at those locations. There’s an exhibition website and a comprehensive exhibition newspaper.

The Austrian pavilion isn’t the only one having this it’s-not-waste strategy. The Portuguese pavilion contains hardly anything and is in a building that, after the biennale, will be purposed as housing. The exhibition has stopped the building from being waste.  

The space is sparse, the only installations some projection screens, models of the projects shown, and plinths with handouts. Maximum effect was extracted from next to nothing, mainly due to the engaging films of Siza talking to the occupants of three of his housing projects.


Rural Studio is the only US ‘practice’ to have be invited to exhibit at VB16. Having never worked outside of Alabama in their twenty years, they must have been bewildered at having been invited to exhibit. They chose to show The World two things. The first was some videos of who they are, what they do and how they do it. These videos were presented in a small theatre delineated by suspended bed frames and with stacks of insulation panels as benches. The Theater of the Usefull, they called it. 


Rural Studio used the money they’d been granted to purchase things that, after the Biennale, were to be given to the Assemblea Sociale per la Casa association that provides shelter for the homeless in the Venezia-Mestre-Marghera area. Again, this eliminates waste as a concept and also happens to do maximum good. Besides being a simple and honest thing to do, it’s consistent with the Rural Studio ethos. It’s also worth noting that, compared with some of the more high-profile set pieces, it was all done with zero air miles.   

The same connection between medium and message was there in the German Pavilion I mentioned in the previous post. The visual content of the exhibition was just posters and text on the walls, supplemented by a book and a comprehensive website that’s also a database/resource of housing projects. Again, this is low-impact, low-cost, and you find out stuff. Note that the furniture is not custom designed and made.  

The little pavilion at Hangar Barocco, Rural Studio’s Theater of the Usefull and the Austrian Pavilion at the Biennale are preventing resources from becoming waste by planning for a degree of utility for different people further down the line. This isn’t the case with Aravena’s installations. I’m curious. Didn’t Koolhaas have had a refuse management plan? Does all that stuff just lay around until someone decides to throw it away? Or did Aravena say, “no, don’t throw it away – I have a point to make”? We’re definitely being asked to reflect upon the amount of waste a bienalle generates and I most definitely am. Aravena’s just kicked the can two years down the road to when this waste might well be in our faces again as something useful. Or it might not.

Not that it matters. You can probably learn more about waste management from just walking around Venice.

  • The buildings are designed and made to last. Their life-cycle is set at Forever.
  • People and what they do fit into the buildings available.
  • New buildings are never frivolous.
  • There is none of the aesthetic churn characteristic of architectural activity elsewhere.

On a different level, every day and night enormous quantities of food and drink are produced and consumed yet all the waste just seems to magically disapppear.


VESTA (Venezia Servizi Territoriali ed Ambientali) is a limited company of Venice Municipality and is responsible for drinking water supply, urban and industrial wastewater treatment, waste collection and treatment, public and private cleaning, management of green areas and cemeteries, and environmental reclamation work. Veritas is responsible for rubbish collection.

  • Dry waste and wet waste is placed in tightly closed bags of any kind, that can be given directly to the rubbish collector or left near the outer door of your building between the hours of 6-8 am.
  • Paper, cardboard, tetra-pak is placed into paper bags tied with string and collected on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • Glass, plastic and cans are placed in plastic bag marked with blue stickers and collected on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Collection, management and recycling are all good but some there are also cultural factors that work to limit the amount of waste and prevent things from becoming waste in the first place. These are the things we’re currently rediscovering.

  • Footpaths in Venice have very few wastebins yet there is no litter. If people need a drink or something to eat, they sit down somewhere and order it. People don’t generate trash as they move throughout the city.
  • Restaurants purify and gasify their own water in refillable bottles.
  • Fabric tablecloths and napkins are still the norm.
  • Much of what you eat will have been cooked from raw, unprocessed ingredients that have never been wrapped, packed, bottled or canned.


Venice is of necessity a water supply and waste management hotspot. This year the city will be hosting the Water Technology and Environmental Control Exhibition & Conference September 21-23.


Since 2006, Venice has also hosted the biennial International Symposium on Energy from Biomass and Waste.


One hot topic is the generation energy from lagoon agla caused by inadequate waste management in the first place. Tackling the same problem from the other end, organic waste from the many kitchens and restaurants is collected and sent to a mechanical-biological stabilisation plant at Fusina not too far away.


What happens there you can read about here.

• • •

Further reading:


house moving

Downmarketly Mobile

It’s always been the case that wealthy people own a number of houses or apartments in various places around the world and spend time in them according to the season or whim. Some don’t even use them – they just like to know they could and high-end apartments in Western capitals suit them quite nicely.

one st g.jpg

People of lesser wealth might have a vacation house in another country or perhaps a summer weekend house in the countryside. Timeshare ownership of property in other countries and the relative ease of travel have made living across properties, climates, cultures and landscapes more accessible to more people.

Co-living in any city in the world for a fixed monthy subscription is a development of this trend and makes this type of living more accessible to more people. Typologically, it’s what Youth Hostels Association (YHA) has been offering for decades to student travellers albeit not in a joined-up way around the world.


So hats’ off to ROAM for identifying an existing type of residential use and marketing it as a value-added form of co-living. “Sign one lease, live around the world.” They have some decent endorsements.


ROAM is a network of global communal living spaces that provide everything you need to feel at home and be productive the moment you arrive. Strong, battle-tested wifi, a co-working space, chef’s kitchen and a diverse community.

It sounds very attractive, better than some places I’ve called home over the years, not to mention the clean sheets and towels.


This angle – for it is an angle if generic functionality is being remarketed for the same purpose it always was – circumvents the argument that co-living implies student living. It doesn’t. The “Learn by living somewhere different” suggests gap years for all but the claim you can “be productive the moment you arrive” implies a new attitude to moving around – you take your work with you but the hardware remains the same. A single system of tenure spanning different locations is what’s new. In principle, there’s no reason why a similar system couldn’t be applied across multiple properties in the same city.



In principle. If such a system were applied within countries or cities, it would be abused by people refusing to move on and make room for others. To discourage this, the price point has to be more expensive than conventional tenancies for the medium term, and cheaper than conventional hotels for the short term. So far, the best suggestion has been to add a surcharge for ‘expensive’ cities such as New York and London but this only fuels the strong suspicion that co-housing is hotels in disguise. It is in some cases, but the disguise is what’s at fault, not the living in hotels.


It’s not that living in houses has become unattractive, it’s just that the likelihood of ever owning one is slipping away.


Now that owning property is less likely, it’s difficult to know whether any forthcoming ideas will be visionary solutions, expedient workarounds, or simply a race to the bottom with new methods for the old exploitation. Permanent ownership of fixed houses is a burden if people have to relocate, and relocating across town, the country or the planet for employment is already a fact of life. The idea of mobile living crops up periodically but never actually comes about.

Here it is again, this time called Kasita. 320 sq.ft.

This Forbes article suggests it’s what you’d get if you crossed an Airstream with microhousing and parked it in an automated parking garage. Not unlike this by Glen Howard Small (1977-1980)


crossed with a bit of the following.

This can’t be economically sensible since the structure for stacking and the structure for enclosure and integrity are different. Shipping containers have a single structure for both because they’re designed from the outset to be stacked. This means structural redundancy if there aren’t eight or nine stacked above it  but different configurations at different times shift that redundancy to other containers. You can’t have it both ways.


It’s thus a good idea for a dwelling to have an optimised, dual-purpose structure. In the past, demountable and transportable houses delivered by helicopter or off a truck implied permanent ownership or long-term tenancy of land and were solutions to the expense of mobilizing construction labour rather than any direct amenity gained from the mobility itself. The house was moved to some new location and connected to utilities.

house moving

Transportable homes are another variation. This company will either sell you a house or you can rent it by the week. Either way, they’ll deliver it to your property and all you have to do is connect it to utilities. This is their open plan studio for NZ$40K (US$31K).

open plan studio.jpg

Their two-bedroom w/pergola is looking good.


The loftcube did the circuit not too long ago. Same idea, but with added architecture and pretence.


Here’s the Eco-Capsule, with updated design affectations and added eco-stuff.


All these designs are transportable homes. With the new Kasita development, you buy and have your pre-designed pod transported to some property and connected to utilities including wifi [which is perverse, given what wifi is]. The difference is that the property is now stacked. It’s a Dom-ino house where the entire house is now freed from the tyranny of structure. The innovation bit is that the house can move with you but it’s not clear why you should want it to if they’re all identical. You can think of this as as freedom from packing and unpacking your suitcase, or perhaps as travelling inside your suitcase and living in it when you get there.


Mobile homes, on the other hand, aren’t designed to be stacked. Their dual structure for enclosure and self-support has no structural redundancy and can therefore be optimised. Mobile homes are not designed to remain in the same location forever and so have wheels to enable towing from place to place. This becomes redundant mobility when used as permanent housing.


Unsurprisingly, mobile homes imply temporary homes and, as such, don’t articulate the possession of land that is one of the fundamental and historical concerns of architecture. This is more than a simple problem of language. It’s a matter of historically ingrained prejudice. The mobility of mobile homes is something to be ashamed of and disguised when they are used as permanent housing.


Yet, the wheels and mobility of micro houses are flaunted when they are used for recreational/unnecessary housing. This is what you get when you cross a trailer with a tiny house.


Both types of structure are the same animal but, in the first situation we have actual housing with its mobility disguised whereas, in the second, we have a vehicle representing housing and its mobility flaunted. The fact nobody questions the right of mobile tiny houses to be called tiny houses suggests our perception of mobility is changing faster than our notions of ownership and tenure.


Grouping tiny mobile houses around shared facilities is even seen as attractive and novel if they are rented out as hotel rooms. In this next image we see the gentrification of gypsy caravans and hobo fire barrels.


As usual, architecture always moves in the direction opposite that of greater utility. It’s up to people to invent new ways of living and these naturally collide with existing regulatory frameworks, as they did with Dignity Village and other spontaneous tiny home settlements.


Here’s another idea borne out of necessity.

LA car parking

This initiative brings together tiny houses and a mobile lifestyle. We might just be looking at a new way to live.


The only thing architecture can do is give representation to the shared amenity bits, as is already happening in this recent masterplan for Nanjing in China,


or these two high-rise developments.



Misfits’ Guide to VENICE

First, make your way to Fondamenta Zattere and see Ignazio Gardella’s Casa alle Zattere built 1953–1958.

To say it pre-empted post modernism is to do it and Gardella a disservice for, with this building, Gardella did nothing more (or less) than respond to what was already there, continuing a tradition rather than proposing something new. Better than intellectual, it’s intelligent and caring.  

venice bus map.jpg

Then take the #8 from Spirito Santo to San Marco (S. Zaccarhia) and change to the #4.1 for Redentore. Look back cross the Giudecca Canal at where you just were and try to work out how he did it.

Casa alle Zattere.jpg

Proceed to the social housing designed by Aldo Rossi and Alvaro Siza.


The building by Siza was never completed, a third building by Rafael Moneo was never begun. If you go before November 27 you’ll see the Portuguese exhibit for the 15th Venice Biennale. Go on in.

The dual theme is social housing and housing refugees. The simple exhibition consists of four movies of Siza talking to residents of projects he designed. It’s moving. The installation has prompted the completion of Siza’s building. It’s an example of an architecture bienalle changing things. 

After that, walk west along Giudecca Island and you’ll eventually encounter this social housing project designed by Gino Valle. The walkway is a joy. The usual images you’ll find of this development don’t do it justice.

Giudecca has layers of housing, much of it social and none of it trivial. You’ll see some examples of prefabrication that I’m guessing are from the 1970s.


Next to them you’ll find later sophistications. 

You’ll see some old buildings that are solid and decent but were never grand.

Mixed in are some more recent buildings, all of them decent. 

All in all, Giudecca is a nice place. It has a nice feeling, people going about their lives, walking dogs that won’t fit into handbags. 


Despite its abundance of social housing, Giudecca Island is not down-at-heel. There’s a strong sense of community and the people who live and work there are proudly self-reliant. They appreciate the historic centre of Venice but don’t depend upon it. They have Palladio’s 1592 Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, Il Redentore which is magnificent. 

Il Redentore.jpg

The Cipriani Hotel and an outpost of Harry’s Bar are also rather classy.


Back across the canal now and in the Giardini bienalle exhibition grounds, you’ll see the German pavilion, originally built in 1909 but in 1938 remodelled into a piece of “Nazi architecture”. Over the years, it’s has various temporary alterations for different bienalli. In 2013, France and Germany actually swapped pavilions to show the idiocy of accommodating thoughts about art in pavilions identified by country. The same could be said of architecture in 2016 if it weren’t for Germany. Its exhibit, Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country is the definite result of national borders and a national government – specifically, the government’s 2015 decision to allow one million refugees into the country. The entire exhibit is available online, including a database of housing projects.

open pavilion.jpg

One unreported-from front is the battle to prevent architectural representation getting more attention than architectural reality. The organizers are doing their bit to help. They maintain that “the open pavilion is not the architectural equivalent of the goverment policy statement of winter 2015-16”. Unfortunately, architectural metaphor is irrepressible because, with buildings, there’s always something external to generate it. A few holes in some walls quickly become a “less formal” “opening out” “towards the south” “enabling the discovery of new qualities previously hidden”.  Well-placed and well-proportioned openings offering light and breeze and a lovely view through trees across water shouldn’t have to be anything more.

Outside the main exhibition space at Giardini there’s this quiet corner.

The day was warm, the plants lush, the fountains tinkling and the concrete a heavy presence with its wilful curves. I liked it, but only the day after did I find out it was by Carlo Scarpa, an architect I’ve never really known much about or whose work I’ve ever felt much drawn to. I’d always thought there was too much happening, and couldn’t see why every surface and every join needed to be celebrated. I still don’t, but I’m less resistant than I was. Scarpa also designed the Venezuelan pavilion at the Giardini venue.

This too, I’d walked through the day before, wondering why every surface had to be made into an event yet still not putting two and two together. Scarpa was starting to get under my skin.


In Piazza San Marco is Scarpa’s Negozio Olivetti (Olivetti Store) from 1957. I only got as far as the entrance as the girl at the desk didn’t have change for my €100 note. 

It was a stunning entrance floor though. It’s glass mosaic tiles have irregular shapes and sizes and are set in relaxed regularity. It’s beautiful. 

From what I could see, every other surface and junction was beautiful as well. Relentless taste. Aurisina marble, rosewood, African teak … It’s also very Venetian. It’s too well-mannered to be vulgar, but still it bludgeons you with design, materials and craftsmanship. By comparison, the Barcelona Pavilion is tawdry.


I remembered passing a poster for an exhibition of Scarpa drawings at the IuaV University of Venice so I made my way there.


I was intrigued by the sketches for the Masieri Memorial.

Agelo Masieri admired the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. He and his wife travelled to the US in 1952 to ask Wright to design a house for them on the Grand Canal. While there, Angelo was killed in a car accident and the project became one for a memorial. There was much resistance to having a ‘modern’ (as in ‘arrogant’?) architect like Wright design something for a site that’s not only on the Grand Canal but looks south along it from S.Toma to Accademia. Permission was refused, but the design has been imagined, vizualized and LEGO’d anyway.

Scarpa completed the project but, even then, the Palazzo Fondazione Masieri didn’t open until 1983, four years after Scarpa’s death.

I’d passed the building several times without noticing anything special. I later learned the City Council made Scarpa retain the original façade and exterior. It was closed when I visited but, apparently, the facade is detached from the floors and the interior completely gutted and new materials introduced. I believe it.  I couldn’t resist a quick google. I see what they mean by detached facade. 

Notice in this next image how the downpipe highlights the symmetrical part of the facade, suggesting we disregard the additional bit on the right? Even if there weren’t a conservation order imposed, I’d suspect this downpipe is original for where else could it go? The midpoint of the gutter is the most practical but least-wanted place for it’d visually split the building in two. The corners of the building aren’t great either for practical reasons of gutter slope. The downpipe is in the best place it can be even if it means the roof must extend so its gutter can bypass the chimneys. Personally, I think architecture has more serious things to concern itself with than asymmetries and inflections as visual entertainments, but I’m re-reading Complexity & Contradiction in Architecture anyway. If you’re Venturi, this minor functional element is doing something of crucial importance. I doubt its architect, whoever it was, gave its placement a second thought.


The building isn’t widely known, probably as punishment for having prevented there being one more Frank Lloyd Wright building in the world. We don’t know if Angelo Masieri’s house would have ever been approved and built. The redesigned proposal is known as the Masieri Memorial for that is what his widow asked it to be. The Scarpa remodelling is known as the Palazzo Fondazione Masieri for that is what it is. It’s site is still unique and the view from its windows still the same no matter who designed them and who didn’t. If the Olivetti Store is anything to go by, the interior is stunning and I’ll get around to seeing it someday. What I took away with me was a renewed awareness of the importance of safe driving.

• • •

A sweet little house close by. Its owners and architect would probably have preferred a symmetrical facade but quite liked how it turned out anyway. I do too.

Nice people, good music, de-lish fish.

• • •



An important step in Le Corbusier’s career as an architect was the 1912 house he designed for his parents – he charged them a fee. The house was too expensive to maintain so they sold it in 1919. By then, Charles-Édouard had already decamped to Paris, bigger fish to fry. Little wonder his mother always preferred Albert.


In 1920, the not-yet Le Corbusier and new best friend Amédée Ozenfant collaborated on the art journal L’Esprit Nouveau. We might understand it today as an aggregator of ornamentiscrime.org and vandevelde.biz.*


In 1920 Paris, the 6FF per copy of L’Esprit Nouveau could buy 6kg of bread.* It’s difficult to know how many people forsook bread to read ideas that were to eventually gel into the Five Points. It’s also difficult for us to appreciate how novel those five points must have been at the time. Students are routinely asked to name them but neither examiners nor examinees for the life of them know why. Me, I’m all for a general knowledge of history but only if it’s continually examined and re-examined for relevance.

What we do know is that The Five Points shot around the architectural world in an instant – as much as an instant was possible at the time. There was definitely something special about them, but what?  

The columns in LC’s Dom-ino House of 1914-15 had used the principle of the 1907 Dom-ino House but just held up the building without making a show of it. Their presence could maybe be inferred from the windows that were more horizontal than vertical.


There were growies on the roof in 1914 but the plantless rooftop space of the 1920 Citrohan House was labelled a solarium.

With the 1922 Citrohan House  MKII, LC used a grid of reinforced concrete columns to jack up the Citrohan House he’d made earlier. In patent offices, this is called an ‘inventive step’. The inventive step was to transform an economical house into a wasteful villa.

A grid of reinforced concrete columns is an inexpensive means of producing the potential to enclose space but, unless you enclose that space, all you’ve done is use a structure to display that potential. You’ve ‘defined’ a space for no reason other than to show it’s yours and that you’ve no practical need for it. It other words, it is beautiful.

The Fondation Le Corbusier claims the 1923 Maison La Roche was the first manifestation of The Five Points.

Maison La Roche is a double house, the other half designed for already-mentioned brother Albert. The two houses were once known as Two Houses at Auteuil but these days are known separately as Maison La Roche and Maison Jeanneret. Monsieur Raoul La Roche bankrolled the publication of L’Esprit Nouveau and thus features in the beginning and endgames of the Le Corbusier industry for ‘Maison Jeanneret’ is the current home of Fondation Le Corbusier that exists for the conservation, knowledge and dissemination of Le Corbusier’s workAlbert is written out of history in plain view. Revenge by proxy.

Whether divided or as a whole, the building suffers from insufficient program to fill a ground floor and force the main living levels into that neoclassic affectation, a piano nobile.  Even poor Albert gets a large hallway, staff quarters and a garage that in 1923 was almost certainly for show. Monseiur La Roche has all that plus a gallery-sized void. It seems to be crying out to be filled by cars but has only ever been indicated as landscaping. The only thing occupying this space is the idea of getting a building up in the air, at any cost.


As in 1914, there is again a roof garden and again, the plan is very much determined by the position of structural walls and so, for that matter, is the facade. The horizontal windows aren’t independent of the structure but they’re now trying to appear as if they are. Let’s work our way down from that horizontal window lighting the gallery.


The roof is supported by two columns painted dark to appear as mullions of the long horizontal window. These columns extend down into the curved wall that might have acted as a beam if it hadn’t been detached at one end by a door and balcony. The load at its middle is transferred to the ground floor column, the contrived displacement of which, I suspect, requires a rectangular web of concrete to transfer that load. I suspect this because of the effort that’s been made to conceral it. A piece of polished metal [or mirror?] is angled on the radius of the stair to create the impression none of this exists. Very messy.


What the columns are doing is clearer here in this 1928 garden shed. They not only hold up the building but, more importantly, are telling everyone they do. Contrivedly detached from that structure, the ground floor walls define a garden shed with covered porch and axial entrance not visible from the driveway. The route the gardener takes to park his wheelbarrow is not clear.

The problem is that columns look puny when it comes to expressing wealth by enclosing unused or unusable space or by unnecessarily duplicating structural elements because, as with beams, they’re generally the size they’re meant to be. Pushing new boundaries of architectural poetry and innovation requires more massive and massively contrived elements enclosing larger spaces and for less purpose. LC tested this principle in the 1932 Pavilion Suisse.

pavilion suisse pilotis

It worked, but this doesn’t explain their attraction to the commissioners of social housing in Marseilles in 1949.

It was probably a combination of poor accounting and poor accountability that was responsible. We’re told the structure was originally intended to be steel but that ‘post-war shortages of steel dictated the use of concrete’. Did no-one see that coming?

The superstructure would have lent itself to steel framing and a cladding re-think but I can’t believe steel pilotis and transfer beams were ever on the cards. It would have amounted to building a bridge first and then putting a building on top. We’d be looking at steels larger than this.


Of the Five Points, pilotis were the greatest of Le Corbusier’s architectural inventions.

Presenting the display of wealth as aesthetic statement is what makes architecture different from building.

It’s clear now that the big difference between pilotis and columns is that pilotis are a more expensive way of doing the same thing. Pilotis force the client to pay for an expensive transfer slab to replicate the function of inexpensive ground. Pure genius!

Pilotis are thus more architectural than columns.

Horizontal windows provide a more evenly distributed illumination but the structural cost is lengthy lintels. Horizontal windows thus don’t feature in vernacular architectures and it is from this that their modernity derives. But if horizontal windows were merely modern, the idea of expensively delineating space that wasn’t going to be used was revolutionary – it was a new type of architectural beauty. The idea of pilotis found immediate and multiple expression throughout the architectural world in the late twenties and early thirties. Here’s a 1928 house in Brno by Jan Víšek.


This is the ground floor of Moisei Ginzburg and Ignatii Milinis’ 1928 Narkomfin building in Moscow.


Here’s a 1931 proposal by William Lescaze for New York’s first slab block housing on Chrystie-Forsyth street. [Remember, this is before America was supposed to know about stuff like this.]


The Casa al Villaggio dei Giornalisti in Milan by Luigi Figini. 1934.


Meanwhile, back in Moscow, LC’s Tsentrosoyuz (1928-1933) was getting off the ground.


Le Corbusier, Tsentrosoyuz building, Moscow (completed 1933)

Non-architects were unimpressed. They didn’t understand why a building needed to be raised, float or look as if it was not properly supported or permanent.

chicken legs1

chicken legs1 1

It is claimed that pilotis(/open column grids) return useful land at ground level so it can be used again but that land was never put to great use either then,

or for some time after.

The means to delineate space yet not use it in any meaningful way came to represent luxury for many years. These days, it is an expression of decadence not many are keen to continue paying for.

What hasn’t changed is how pilotis have come to represent architecture. Their continuing use indicates a building demanding to be taken seriously as architecture.

Here’s another yet to come online. [Clue: Fondazione Prada]


This early 20th century vernacular example from France’s Atlantic coast is something else entirely.




Lobby Living

Before the Type F V3.0 apartment configuration proposal of Critical Spatiality came this iteration with the upper living room entered from the half-landing of a straight stair. It’s okay.

  • The upper and lower living rooms were unobstructed by stairs.
  • There was 100% stacking of staircases.
  • The biggest negative was the stairs separating the kitchen from the riser, complicating water supply and drainage. The two or three workarounds to this don’t have the elegance of, say, a Knud Peter Harboe service run or a Colin Lucas riser.
  • I also didn’t like the kitchen extractor hood just filtering air instead of extracting it.


  • Bathrooms could be exhausted upwards to outside via the riser/mechanical space or directly vented to outside via the bedrooms and a duct concealed in boxing. Again, these are standard workarounds but not great.

On the plus side, the upper apartment has no wasted corridor area since bedrooms aren’t in line with the living areas. The first bedroom is above the entrances of the lower apartment anyway, and the second bedroom is above the entrance of the adjacent upper apartment. bedrooms.jpg

The lower apartment has no wasted corridor because the living area is used to access the other bedroom. This post is about using living space as a lobby to access bedrooms.

Lower Level

An arrangement similar to that of the upper apartment could avoid using the living room as a lobby – or it could be used to create a three bedroom apartment.

Type E V2.1.jpg

  • However, whether upper or lower, this creates the problem of end apartments having either only one bedroom or having one bedroom double the size.


  • Volume below stairs can 0f course be used as storage space but this seems an expedient justificiation, unlike in the previous version where the volume below and above the stairs at least added to the volume of the living room.
  • The value computation is the same as before.

Note: The areas indicated as sellable floor area are used to calculate the sellable volume (%) of the building.

• • •

Not that it matters! Improved apartments of either iteration don’t get built. Single aspect apartments of minimal area accessed from double-loaded corridors do get built and, what’s more, are the model for much of today’s housing (c.f. The Big Brush).


It’s easy to see why. If the site is deep enough for two apartments and a corridor then not only is building the baseline twice as profitable, it’s the only option if there’s insufficient site depth for two rows of improved apartments. Even if there is and profit equalizes (as below), other factors such as view, site usage, site coverage and speed of construction will kick in to again tip the balance in favour of the single building.

comparison 3.jpg

No wonder the Type F, despite all its advantages, never caught on. The baseline has an overriding economic efficiency of land usage that more than compensates for its many spatial deficiencies.


SO THEN, to stay ahead of the game, let’s take what we’ve just developed, strip away everything that can be perceived as wasteful (i.e. everything that’s nice) and see how far we can push it. 

  • In retrospect, having living rooms with extra volume to compensate for smaller bedrooms wasn’t an evolutionary advantage. Living rooms may as well have the same ceiling height as bedrooms and corridors. We still have two bedrooms per living room.


  • We now have some extra building volume so let’s put some more bedrooms there, along with some bathrooms and second riser. We now have three bedrooms per living room.

3 .jpg

  • We could get rid of one of those living rooms and double-load the landings above and below. We now have eight bedrooms associated with one living room but we now have two entrance hallways accessing one living room – not good.

4 .jpg

  • We could of course put the kitchen there but that’d be a step backward. Let’s look ahead. Who needs a guest bathroom? Look how much building volume is being used to access those entrances! Let’s put two more bedrooms there so now we have ten bedrooms for each living room. We still need to access them so let’s join all the living rooms together into one long, social, access corridor entered from each end. There’s now ZERO SPACE not used/sold as living space. This has got to be a killer housing product! Spatially, it’s imperfect but, as we’ve seen, perfect things aren’t necessarily the things that get built. Hello future!


We’re more desperate now than in 1928 when a configuration like this was first proposed by Moisei Ginzburg and his Stroikom team.

E-1 a

  • Staircases were stacked.
  • Landings were minimal.
  • Rooms were hotel-style.
  • Living area was communal.
  • Living-area was used as corridor.
  • Living areas were on the side of the building with better daylighting and/or view.
  • One sixth of the building was used for living area / access. The image below shows different floor surfaces with part of the living area still functioning as access corridor. The open access corridor and the open stairs make the living area appear larger, as well as more social.


It’s oddly familiar. We know this space – it’s an airport departure lobby with activity and rest spaces dispersed along a thoroughfare. IKEA made this living lobby easier for us to imagine with their 2012 branded departure lounge at Paris Charles de Gaulle’s Terminal 3.


For that matter, here’s some IKEA stores. Imagine all the sofas and kitchens and tables evenly distributed and people actually living there using them.

If we add bedroom furniture into the mix we’ll have flatpacked Archizoom’s 1971 No-Stop City proposal.

no-stop city

There’s no need to go there yet. Misfits’ updated Type E-1 co-housing proposal has ten bedrooms associated with every nine metres length of living area. Each of those unit areas is probably going to need a space for food preparation, eating, lounging and maybe even working. Kitchen utilities and drainage are no problem as risers now pass through the living lobby every nine-metres.

Type E-1V.2 masterplan.jpg

Movement up and down need not be limited to the floors immediately above and below as additional staircases can cross-link living rooms


• • •

Re-distributing building volume by eliminating the access corridor is a current and urgent problem some architects have identified and are already working on and trying to get it right. 1532 Harrison Street Group Housing by San Francisco firm Macy Architecture has nine bedrooms associated with each living area. The principle can’t be any clearer.


Baugenossenschaft Kraftwerk 1 Heizenholz  by Adrian Streich Architekten has living areas cross-linked via a split level external terrace.


DIALOGWEG 6 by Duplex Architekten of Zurich has two amorphous living corridors horizontally cross-linked by an elevator lobby but vertically cross-linked by an open stairwell and atrium.   csm_hunzikerareal_4_grundrisse_regelgeschosse_dialogweg6_363669d729

Perhaps over time the various living areas will evolve different moods, functions.

Or perhaps they will tend towards a universal homegeneity, as airports and IKEA stores do.

We don’t know but we’re going to find out soon.

• • •

Hotels have a single, entrance-level lobby leading to an elevator lobby and corridors accessing rooms rented without tenancy agreements. Occupancy is managed on-site and there is immediate payment by cash or credit. Buildings with this form of tenancy and with the lobby disguised as a living room are being misleadingly labelled co-housing.

Communal housing is when all functions other than sleeping and bathing are centralized and shared. Typically, these include cooking, eating, laundry and recreation rooms of some sort. Communal housing of the 1920s Soviet ideal had a library and a gym as recreational spaces. Communal housing of this typology is still with us today as school or military dormitories, or as care homes for the elderly. Tenancy is by contract and may come as part of an employment package.

Co-housing is when communal living areas are dispersed throughout the building, not centralised. Co-housing has shared facilities that are necessary and not the selection of baroque amenities currently associated with upmarket apartments. Co-housing is freehold property sold with rights to use the shared spaces in the same way as apartments are sold with rights to a shared garden. Occupancy is autonomous. There is no concierge or person to manage occupancy but there is most likely a superintendent for building operations and a doorman for building management.


1930: De-urbanism

Vladimir Paperny’s Architecture in the Time of Stalin contains the following wonderful analogy.




Paperny uses it to describe the kind of ideal “horizontal society” imagined in the late 1920s in the Soviet Union in which all goods and population are uniformly distributed. Russian Futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov wrote of the possible evolution of mass communication and transportation and housing. He described a world in which people live and travel about in mobile glass cubicles that can attach themselves to skyscraper-like frameworks, and in which all human knowledge can be disseminated to the world by radio and displayed automatically on giant book-like displays at streetcorners.

Untitled 2

De-urbanism was the name given to this movement as an urban theory.

Untitled 4

I expect this comment refers to David Greene’s 1966 Living Pod for Archigram.

“The outcome of rejecting permanence and security in a house brief and adding instead curiosity and search could result in a mobile world – like early nomad societies. In relation to the Michael Webb design, the Suit and Cushicle would be the tent and camel equivalent; the node cores an oasis equivalent: the node cluster communities conditioned by varying rates of change. It is likely that under the impact of the second machine age the need for a house (in the form of permanent static container) as part of man’s psychological make-up will disappear.”

De-urbanism extrapolated developments in transportation and their implications for the city. The person responsible for it was Mikhail Okhitovich. This is the only known photograph of him.

Here’s a note of his. De-urbanism was the opposite of centralization.


The question Okhitovich, and later Moisei Ginzburg, aimed to solve in 1929 was how housing should be organised for the entire USSR now it had its new society.

Untitled 5

The principle, if not the appearance, was not unlike Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City except Broadacre City didn’t exist as an idea until 1932. Ginzburg and Okhitovich developed an easily deployable collapsible and transportable dwelling unit.

no7 - Ginzburg desurbanist unit


They designed buildings for 100 persons.


These were to be distributed throughout the country in an isotropic grid with every place connected to every other place.


In 1930 Okhitovich, Ginzburg, Zelenko and Alexander Pasternak produced a plan for the Green City Competition for the new city of Magnitogorsk. It was to be a ribbon city.


The state would grant each person a prefabricated lightweight house, letting that person free to combine and arrange the modules, from the single unit to the family or community clusters, using highways, rails, automobile and airplanes to link them. The houses could join, grow and split according to the evolution of the family within. Sounds good.


It was not to be.

Untitled 3

Lenin did not like this idea and Stalin was not pleased. Le Corbusier was none too happy either. You can skip these next two letters if you like, but you’ll miss LC’s objections to de-urbanism and Ginzburg’s response to them. I expect these communications were originally in French, and that what’s in bold was originally underlined.

Le Corbusier was to later compile his criticisms into The Radiant City.


Other criticism came from Rationalist avant-garde architect Nikolai Dokuchaev of the rival architectural group, ASNOVA. According to Paperny,

“by the end of the 1920s, several competing creative organisations existed (OSA, ASNOVA, ARU, VOPRA and others), each of which independently sought its own commissions and, to some degree, protected the material interests of its members. Competition among these organisations was, in the main, commercial. Commercial rivalry led to the situation in which organisations exaggerated their creative differences.”

There’s no reason to assume LC was any different.  Over the the period 1928-1932 he was making frequent business development visits to Moscow [and which in another post I intimate prompted the hasty re-design of Villa Savoye] but they were to abruptly stop when he wasn’t made winner of the Palace of The Soviets competition.

De-urbanism and Mikail Okhitovich had an unhappier end. In 1932 came an edict announcing the union of all rival creative organisations under the same banner, outlawing creative difference. One of those rival groups was VOPRA – the All-Union Society of Proletarian Architects. Mikhail Okhitovich was denounced by VOPRA villain, Arkady Mordvinov arkadymordvinov.png , and was shot in 1937. Those who challenge the status quo are usually praised for challenging the status quo but Okhitovich is the only urbanist ever killed for his beliefs. Okhitovich believed in de-urbanism but it was his ability to convince others that was more likely the real threat.


Михаи́л Охито́вич (1896—1937)

• • •

It is no surprise that the freedom of movement imagined by Khlebnikov and re-imagined by Archigram never occurred. The closest we’ve come to savouring the sentiment was this re-enactment of its representation in an animated movie. That’s already four degrees of separation from any social or political meaning.


This combination of the idea of a building, the whimsical representation of freedom, and the absence of any political significance or social utility made it the perfect architectural content for our times. Derrida may claim there’s no conceptual order amongst signifiers but how quickly we all imagined ourselves on board sailing away rather than left on the ground despairing the elusiveness of home ownership. It’s not that social or political meaning have ceased to exist as if by edict. We’ve just been groomed to not see architecture that way. One of these days some architect is going to come along and suggest architecture can be an agent of social change and we’re all going to be oh so impressed as if it’s some astounding new concept.

Meanwhile, governments instinctively discourage the free movement of people. In a world in which increasing numbers of them will have no fixed address, we’ve yet to see if our governments will be any more accommodating than Stalin’s.

Type F V3 Principle

Critical Spatiality

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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)

Type F V3 Principle in Section

  • 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.

• • •


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.

• • •

  • 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.
    Failing that,
    housing cooperatives can obtain better value for money by building these improved apartments for themselves. 

• • •

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. 

Type F V3.png