Skip to content

1928: The Types Study

Post date:

The Competition had no winners, no prizes. Instead, Moisei Ginzburg put together a team to take what was learned from the submissions and bring it together in a preliminary study of apartment types. He requested approval to work under the aegis of STROYKOM (Building Economics Committee of the U.S.S.R.). Ginzburg wasn’t stupid. STROYKOM’s official support and cover were essential if future testing, implementation and construction were to happen.   

  • Moisei Ginzburg – Head of the Team (SA editor, OSA member, competition participant)
  • Alexander Pasternak (OSA member, competition participant)
  • Vyatcheslav Vladimirov (OSA member, competition participant)
  • Mikhail Bartsch (OSA member, architect)
  • G. Sum-Schik (architect) 

Moscow City Council’s (Mossiviet) standard configuration of two apartments per staircase was the starting point. This apartment configuration improves on the pre-Revolution arrangement and, since it was approved for mass construction, is most likely the outcome of 1925-1926 competition. These  apartments are spatially inefficient and though sturdy, they were expensive to build.  Such apartments still exist in Moscow and are much loved by residents. In the 1920s however, one family would be living in each room. Ginzburg’s team needed to come up with a better way for people to live. 

Their goal was an apartment that could house a single family at the same spatial efficiency as a room in a shared house. The term volumetric performance better conveys the importance of room heights in this study. The volumetric performance of a particular apartment type is the ratio of total apartment area to the volume of the building. Cubic metres divided by metres gives a number in metres which is the average floor-to-floor height. A perfect building would have a ratio equal to the floor height since it would have no circulation.

Using the average room height as an indicator of efficiency in this way has real meaning since the thing that really matters for resources and people is how much of your building is apartment. The other good thing about this indicator is that you know you’ve gone too far if your average floor-to-floor height turns out to be two metres.


TYPE A: Here’s a 3-person Type A apartment. The baseline apartment already had cross-ventilation and daylight to all rooms but the team managed to reduce the area required for internal circulation, shrank the kitchen and did away with a separate room for the kitchen. Volumetric performance improved 10%. The Type A also has a better ratio of apartment area to building volume. Rooms aren’t square or golden rectangles for aesthetic reasons but because such shapes pack more easily into a compact building footprint, and because their furniture can be arranged to require less circulation space. Another beneficial side-effect is that standardised internal dimensions facilitate construction.

Despite the various improvements of Type A, it still has the fundamental problem of the stairwell taking up proportionally more building volume when the apartments become smaller. This limits the volumetric performance.  

B-type section through 2 floors
stairwell elevation

TYPE B: The standard Type B is Type A with some of the apartment volume redistributed in section. The bathroom, kitchen, hallway and table areas have a reduced ceiling height (of 2.55m!) and the volume gained is added to that of the living areas of the apartment above or below.  This created a lively elevation as well as some very lively sections.

Compared to a building containing Type A apartments, the volumetric performance of Type B apartments is 10-15% improved. Type B incorporates the sectional invention of Vorotynzeva and Polyak’s competition proposal.

  • As with the Vorotynzeva and Polyak proposal, the height rift occurs down the middle of the building, restricting planning. It also means increasing the habitable area in one apartment increases the non-habitable area in the apartment vertically paired with it. 
  • Despite the sectional innovation, Type B still suffers from the same fundamental flaw as Type A in that shrinking the apartment area increases the proportion of the building used for stairwells to access it.
  • A further inefficiency is introduced by the larger landings necessary to access apartments facing different directions. This is solved by extending the stairwell to outside the building, necessitating a cantilevered semi-circular landing.
  • The stairwell also complicates things within the apartments, leaving an odd niche that is associated with alternating habitable rooms on every level. This habitable niche cannot be full height on every level  thus contradicting one of the reasons for beginning this avenue of exploration. 

Fewer stairwells linking horizontal corridors must have seemed the way forward. 

C type

TYPE C: These are apartments served by one corridor per floor. The study uses them for comparison and analysis. If the goal is to maximise building volumetric performance then it’s telling that Ginzburg’s team never thought of having apartments on both sides of the corridor as is standard practice today. Lack of opportunities for light and ventilation must have made them reject it immediately. Here’s a Type C in the form of a Moscow City Council plan. TYPE D: These are two-storey apartments served by one corridor. Like the Type C, they were also included in the study as a basis for additional comparisons. TYPE E: A previous post has already mentioned how the stairwell in the Type E1 single-room apartments functions as an inclined lightwell.

The other Type E apartments share the idea of half a floor of communal space being used to access apartments on the other half of the floor as well as the floors above and below.

  • The fact that one-sixth of the building volume is repurposed as communal areas requires that either dormitory or single-room accommodation to give a density sufficient to necessitate such a volume of communal area.
  • Following on from that, if communal areas were to always use one-sixth of the building volume, then one argument would always be “why not just give everyone an apartment one-sixth larger?” The E is a solution to communal living at a certain density for students or perhaps single workers, but not as a general living arrangement. 

The Type E was not what was wanted.  


  • The Type F is a combination of all of these ideas plus some more. A future post will attempt a conjectural history of the order and degree of contribution of these ideas.
  • The Type F was intended as a transition step between conventional living patterns and communal living. Its 30 sq.m was designed to accommodate a single family within a single dwelling rather than occupying a single room within a shared apartment.

It’s all about the section. The middle level at the right in the image above is the corridor. From there, you either go up one third of a flight of stairs to the upper apartment, or down two thirds of a flight to the lower apartment. The lower apartment has a sleeping area on the same level but of reduced height beneath the corridor. The upper apartment has a sleeping area up one third of a flight of stairs at a raised level above the corridor. The Type F had a volumetric performance of 4.77 m3/m2 or a floor area of 48 m2.

  • Sleeping areas have a height of approx. 2.4 m and living areas have a height of 3.55 m. This is the result of trying to reduce the volume of building corridor and to redistribute underused volume  of non-habitable rooms and sleeping areas.  
  • The living room has a niche with Kuhonny Element compact kitchen. These kitchens were to have been dismounted with the full dissemination of communism as there’d be no housekeeping. 
  • A larger version included bathrooms.    
  • F plan
    All living rooms can be on the side of the building having afternoon/evening sun and all sleeping areas on the side of the building having morning sun.
  • The Type F is, in many ways, the culmination of the entire study. 
  • The Type F is also, in many ways, a perfect object

Learning from the Types Studies

1. Volumetric performance and building depth

22 building depth study by Ginzburg

The volumetric performance (net building volume/net habitable area of apartment) was compared for buildings containing each type of apartment. A lower quotient meant a more efficient layout. The study is made for a building 10 meters deep, with the X axis representing the apartment floor area as it changes from 10 to 100 sqm. The Y axis is volumetric performance.  It’s common for architects and builders today to increase the apartment depth in order to minimize corridor length at the rear of the apartments and to maximize the number of habitable rooms at the front of the apartment. This is particularly so if the site has a view to one side but buildings are often laid out perpendicular to a view to allow some view to more apartments rather than have a good side and a bad side. The point of the entire study was to evaluate the volumetric performance of apartment buildings. With today’s apartment getting smaller and smaller, it might be time to re-evaluate such an approach so that living space isn’t unnecessarily squeezed. At present, apartment size is shrinking whilst plans are becoming increasingly deep so that an area of space having one window of a certain size can be marketed as an apartment. Internal circulation space in this apartment that won the recent New York microflat competition amounts to 23.5 of the entire area! It’s an apartment yes, but an inefficient one as the narrow plan uses too much space to get past other spaces.

2. Respect for Construction

There’s a point of view that the Constructivists were all about  “constructing” the world through formulas and equations. Misfits’ is of the opinion the Constructivists were into construction as part of an integrated building solution. It’s a simpler explanation.


This respect for construction is not some abstract pursuit. Check the construction of this floor and ceiling.  It would have simplified construction and saved both cost and resources to simply nail the ceiling to the floor joists. However, to reduce sound transmission and improve the lives of the people below, the ceiling is nailed to ceiling joists independently of the floor above. This is a performative improvement that improves quality of life. This cost of two sets of joists is partially offset by overlapping them depthwise to reduce the floor thickness and thus increase internal volume. I’m in awe of how Ginzburg and his team never lose sight of the main objective of volumetric performance

3. Colour

Untitled 11

How colour can distort perception was well known but here colour is used to structure the space rather than dissolve it to create the illusion of more space. Colour is used to differentiate internal building elements according to their priority within the structure. User objects are black, and thus conceptually removed from the colour design. They can be anything the user wants, thus freeing the user of the burden to curate their possessions and space into those personal fictions known as “interiors”. Such an attitude is present in traditional Japanese architecture where the colours of the building elements on the inside are the colours of their respective The more personal the object, the more freedom there is. Objects such as cushions can be any colour. It is not important. The same attitude occurs in the “golden age” of Danish modernism. It is a useful attitude.





  • I see the word ‘performance’ repeated a lot on this blog. This is a word that isn’t used in relation to architecture a lot (unfortunately), but there’s a place I’ve seen it before.

    Michael Hensel, who is a professor at the Oslo School of Architecture, is researching into something he calls performance-oriented design ( and -architecture). It seems he’s mostly concerned with the thermal performance of buildings- succinctly put, we are increasingly isolating our buildings from the environment and thus become dependent on maintaining the conditions inside by use of complicated and expensive machines. Judging by the research papers that I’ve read and the few lectures I’ve been to, it seems that his interest in the performance of buildings seems to be in earnest. Unfortunately the projects I’ve seen sometimes make me doubt he has some other agenda as well.

    Anyway, I thought his work might be of interest to you and the other readers. The website to look up is

    • Thanks David. I do tend to use the word performance a lot don’t I? Even in the last post, I had to think “why performance and not efficiency?” That time, I went for performance because efficiency is still too linked to spatial efficiency. The Types Study was about three-dimensional spatial efficiency as an indicator of building performance (aka efficient use of construction resources). The word efficiency also comes with slightly negative connotations. A highly-efficient car and a high-performance car are totally different things. So if there’s any reason we here like performance as a word, it’s because we’re trying to make the efficiency aspects of buildings seem al little sexier than they’re currently perceived. It works both ways –I once used the term “aesthetic efficiency” to praise the work of Isamu Noguchi.

      And thanks also for sending me the link. My first thought was that there’s much on the site that is good. We share an interest in how various cultures solved problems of ventilation or satisfied their ice-macking requirements thousands of years ago. The case studies are all good and the research no-doubt world standard but, unless there are huge chunks of the site I missed, I got the impression that that’s where it ends – as somebody’s intellectual property.

      The respective authors can write papers and rework their material into a wide range of publications and lectures. There’ll always be some sustainability conference somewhere in the world that could be enlivened by a speaker showing images of historic genius. And good for them – that’s their product but, with all this emphasis on intellectual property, I can’t help thinking that, despite their status as a non-profit organisation, everyone’s making a healthy living off of the open-source inventions of nameless others.

      Dear colleagues and friends,

      Welcome to the website of the Sustainable Environment Association [SEA].
      SEA is an international and interdisciplinary expertise network registered in Norway as a not-for-profit association and in the European Commission Beneficiary Register.
      SEA pursues systematic, integrative and interdisciplinary research into the human-dominated and natural environment to explore their complex interlations. This is done with the aim to develop alternative approaches to architectural and urban design and sustainability.
      SEA views the built environment as a vast repository of embedded knowledge and approaches architectural history from a performance-perspective.
      We welcome collaboration proposals from organisations and individual researchers that are interested in our line of research.

      “Please note that the content of this website is not public domain material. The content is the intellectual property of the authors who individually or jointly hold the intellectual and copyrights for each respective work.”

      The research papers and their conclusions should provide the answer. If the papers are detailed studies of historic buildings and some colourful Ecotect analysis preceding some lame conclusion such as “There are lessons to be learned from this for all of us today.” then I’ll be disappointed but right. I’ll be happy to apologise though if their historical studies introduce research into the low-cost contemporary applications of ancient wisdom and the results made open source to anyone who cared to apply and benefit from them.

      I’m a great believer in learning things from history and one thing I see happen time and time again is good ideas hijacked and rerouted to serve some personal agenda. And all in the name of “doing good”! hhh You can tell I feel strongly about this.

      Thanks again David.

      • It seems for the most part he’s teaching in studios at the school in Oslo, results of which are scattered throughout the site:
        (For disclosure, I have taken part in one those)

        There are also some older competition entries:

        Looking at the pictures of these works, things get a bit awry- for the most part it’s rather generically parametric. If there is an agenda for performance at the start of the studios, it seems to get lost somewhere in the process. Of course these are student works and it’s up to them what to submit exactly, but there should be an influence through tutoring, the examples that the professors suggest to look up and what kind of feedback they give. My experience in the studio was that the performance aspect remained rather distanced from the real design work, being something to refer to but not really influencing the projects. Maybe aesthetic preferences were getting in the way a bit too often.

      • David, thanks for pointing me to those. Yes, I see what you mean. A stack effect here and a Venturi effect there but it still manages to look like a tree.

        The text that accompanies is skilful media patter of the kind students and architects alike generate these days with disturbing ease and an apparent sincerity that’s even more disturbing.

        “The trunk of the abstract tree is formed by the national and parliamentary libraries from which the internal functions of the library branch out as cantilevering volumes.” Urk.

        I think students are generally pretty attuned to what’s happening in the world of architecture/media and there’s not that much lag between what they produce and what seems to be the way the wind is blowing. It’s end-of-semester right now in many places around the world and more than one final exhibition will have parametric projects with passive principles that got lost along the way. Concepts will get derived, views will get exploited, structures will get contorted, local sensitivities will get responded to. There will be a lack of section lines, north points and probably even plans. All of this will be presented in large-format competition style graphics with little or no explanatory test. If this is what students produce, then what architects are producing and presenting to the media is exactly the same.

        It’s fairly obvious now that architecture is dumbing down rather quickly. What I think you’re picking up on David is how quick universities are to respond. What gets produced at workshops or presented at end-of-semester shows may not stand extended thought or close scrutiny but it will make impressive content for exhibitions and media events for parents, faculty and trustees. It’s like universities have a self-awareness of the type of content that best suits their interests. Much like architects. Much like students. Much like the media that binds them all together.

        hhh you may sense I’ve had some recent trauma that requires me to lie down in a quiet and darkened room, a cool towel on my forehead, listlessly eating a bowl of crisps and watching inane television with the sound off.


  • Interesting and revealing, as always! I’ve been following this blog for quite long and this is the first time I dare to post a comment. Following the editor’s interest in good and interesting improvements and thoughts in collective housing, I would love to know your opinion (which I respect very much) about the works of Latin American architects in designing houses and apartment buildings that get rid of the notion of program and provey simple structures that can be inhabited in various ways. I’m sure they will be of your interest.

    Adamo-Faiden, Argentina

    Pezo-Von Ellrichshausen, Chile

    • JF, I’d almost finished a very long response filled with images and examples but then neglected to save it. Sometimes it’s good when that happens. The thoughts might get arranged a bit better the next time. I hope they will as I’m going to lay out my thinking in a post sometime soon. In the meantime, I think you’re right in identifying program as something of doubtful relevance to the provision of habitable structures. The Victorians found that their mansions didn’t really need so many rooms so minutely differentiated according to function. I suspect we’re seeing the same phenomenon occurring globally now. A single-room apartment has no functional differentiation. Its furniture can be arranged in many ways or used as an office just as easily. It’ll be interesting to see how far this essentially useful idea will travel before it invariably gets aestheticised. But cheers JF for seeing these possibilities in the Ellrichausen houses – to many people they would have seemed just built expressions of a single idea. You’ve made me rethink one of Oswald Mathias Ungers’ houses, here. Maybe he was trying to do something similar.

      I’ll stop it here for now. It’s a good line of thinking. Thanks again, Graham.