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The Universal Apartment

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Following on from The Uncompleted Apartments, this proposal is an improved configuration for extending the building into a nine storey building having two lobbies or a six storey building with three, both buildings having two elevators for 72 apartments. The internal stairwells now front the access corridor crevice and no longer occupy premium perimeter but are still naturally ventilated. A third bedroom is where the stairwell was. At both ends are living areas with an entrance, a kitchen and a bathroom. The three bedrooms between are allocated between the two living areas.

The stairwell is not needed if there are only studio, 1-bed and 2-bed apartment. The advantage arises for apartments of three or more bedrooms as the stair landing is part of a corridor connected to the three bedrooms on the other side, allowing apartments with three or more bedrooms to be configured using the same layout and no variations other than

  • short partition walls blocking or unblocking the corridor and
  • minor changes to the position of one or two bedroom doors along the corridor.
  • Out of habit but also for clarity, I’ve drawn party walls as 20cm walls and non-party internal walls as 10cm walls even though high-density 10cm concrete blocks can achieve the required acoustic separation. [ref: Concrete block selector]
  • Each apartment has only one bathroom regardless of the number of bedrooms and this bathroom is split in all apartments apart from the studios (as the corridor length for the bath-room door is required for another apartment to access the bedroom).

Let’s take it for a spin! In theory, one living room space could appropriate all bedrooms in the entire wing to make all but one living room into a studio apartment. Each living room may have the potential to link to all the bedroom spaces opening off the corridor but, in practice, the number would be limited by the one bathroom and the size of the living area. The following shows two nine-bedroom apartments appropriating all bedrooms. Dashed lines indicate the three bedrooms and the colour indicates the living room that appropriates them.

I can’t imagine what kind of household this would suit but if it were a family then, depending on the ages of the occupants, it might be wise to connect another living room for the children and perhaps a third for a live-in housekeeper or nanny. A four-bedroom apartment is perhaps the one-bathroom limit and can be configured in two ways, one providing the maximum number of 4-bed apartments and the other providing the maximum number of 1-bed apartments.

The three-bedroom apartment best exhibits the advantages of this new way of configuring apartment buildings. Here are five ways of configuring three-bedroom apartments. The first two will provide the most.

These next two will provide equal numbers of studio, 1-bed, 2-bed and 3-bed apartments.

These two will provide the same number of 3-bed apartments but different numbers of other apartments.

Other arrangements can compensate with additional 1-bed and 2-bed apartments as it is better to use the stairwell rather than not.

Finally, there are six configurations that use only two levels and that can be used in combination to adjust the numbers of any required mix.

As hinted earlier, a group of bedrooms can be associated with more than one living room to configure apartments for extended families, multi-generational households, for semi-dependent or -independent family members as well as all manner of non-conventional households. Despite the variations possible in the number of bedrooms, the fact the number of bathrooms is fixed to the number of living rooms means this building is still very much an apartment building for households that, while not necessarily nuclear, are about sharing.

  • The few bathrooms and the many dispersed living spaces mean this building will probably never be co-housing. Our desire to share is not that strong.
  • For the same reason, bedrooms in this building are unlikely to be let out as short-stay accommodation or any other kind of informal hotel. We’re not that open to strangers. 
  • Not partitioning corridors so all bedrooms link to all living rooms would produce a communal house for which no household currently exists. It’s unlikely we will ever be that keen to share or that receptive to the money of strangers.

As was always the case with b’n’bs, the domestic dwelling with short-stay accommodation is combined tenure accommodated within existing houses and apartments. The conceit is that a guest is permitted to enjoy certain of the dwelling’s amenities as if they actually owned it and lived there but there’s no reason why the building could not have access and spatial arrangements more suited to such patterns of occupation. This is a future topic. [c.f. The Inflexible House

Regions having a Mediterranean Climate characterised by cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers are shown here in bright green. Regions other than The Mediterranean having this climate are on the western side of continents and include coastal California, coastal Chile, South Africa and the south-western corner of Western Australia. 

This proposal retains the previous advantages of using views of and along the access spaces to foster a new – or perhaps an old? – awareness of living with other people. Architecturally inseparable are the low running costs resulting from the open access lobbies and corridors, and to a lesser extent the space for drying laundry. Ultimately though, it transpires that the universal apartment is universal only with respect to the number of bedrooms. Its open corridors, lobbies and exposed service pipes mean it will only ever be a proposition for the Mediterranean and warm temperate climates. Having said that, it is more suited to tropical climates than single-aspect apartments with dedicated balconies for air-conditioning compressors overlooking lush gardens.

A future version of this proposal will provide numbers of bathrooms in better proportion to the number of bedrooms. Adapting the configuration to facilitate short-stay accommodation and co-housing will require a bit more work.

• • • 

Reconfiguring the bathrooms was easier than I expected. The improved notation shows all possible positions for partitions as dashed lines. All possible positions for door openings are shown as blue walls while used door openings are shown with blue doors. The split bathrooms of the version above are now split into rooms that can be either a shower room, a guest bathroom, a bath-room or a wc w/basin.

  • Studio apartments are studio apartments because their bedroom has been appropriated by a larger apartment adjacent. They will always have a shower room. [upper right]
  • A 1-bedroom apartment can either have a shower room [bottom left], a split bathroom [bottom right], or a guest bathroom and en-suite shower room [top left].
  • Any apartment accessing the stairwell from above or below will have two or more bedrooms and a split bathroom on the level of the living room. On the other level (or levels) it can have a maximum of two shower rooms, bath-rooms or wcs w/basin. Bedrooms not in the middle have the possibility of an en-suite. [top middle]
  1. Bathroom windows (that may be those of an adjacent apartment) open into riser shafts and prevent looking in from laundry drying areas or the access corridor outside. 
  2. All corridors are identical save for the openings which are either blocked or not. This will simplify construction and bring associated economies. It might be possible to precast corridor units offsite and “customise” them onsite, or even have them delivered completed with customisations in place. Ditto for bathroom pairs. 

This image shows all possible positions for partitions and doors. One could always do a Pezo von Ellrichshausen thing and have doors instead of partitions blocking and unblocking the corridor as required. I once lived in a semi-detached house [in Rockton Road] and the two halves had their kitchens joined by a (locked) interconnecting door. It was probably not original, but it gave the impression the house was larger than it was. Perhaps that was what Yo Shimada was intending with the whimsical door to the pantry cupboard in his House in Itami.

The corridors in my new proposal could be blocked with doors that, in certain positions, could be concealed by cupboards. Wardrobes could be placed in front of unused bedroom doors. For those who prefer more substance to their whimsy, these cupboards and wardrobes could conceal functioning doors between apartments.

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