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The Factory

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There are many ways to configure a building. Some take climate givens or climate trends as a starting point. Others site factors such as access or connectivity. Still others begin by fitting the building program into some envelope you like in terms of tectonics or economics or aesthetics.

I set the class the problem of fusing apartments and a shopping mall – a new combination that’s yet to find a typology. Here’s one slated for Perth, but they’re appearing everywhere around the world. The problem is always the same – how to combine the two components into a new typology and not just place apartment slabs and towers on top of a podium that’s retail instead of parking. Retail and residential uses have been combined since the beginning of settled civilization because they have something more to offer each other than simply juxtaposing production and consumption. We have to keep trying to get this right. We’re not there yet. [c.f. Living Above Shops]

Artist impression of Amara City Gardens, residential apartments close to Garden City shopping centre. They look likely to be the first in a swag of residential developments planned to sit alongside Perth’s shopping centres.

At the start, the problem was to reconcile a shopping mall that wanted to be low and boxy, with apartments that wanted to be either towers or slabs. One possible approach I suggested was to repurpose some existing building typology that already conceptually reconciles the two components. For want of a label, I called it “typology merge”.

The site was just the other side of the “road” from Dubai Mall so I wanted my demonstration mall to be what we call a factory outlet mall. And so the word factory and a diagonal desire line crossing the site made me think of giving the mall a sawtooth roof on the diagonal. I thought it’d look rather cool and it did. And so The Factory Mall and Residences came about.

The residential towers practically designed themselves.

If only. Planning them as superslender towers with equal numbers of studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments was far from easy. Below is my first attempt.

This all happened early 2018 when I was preoccupied with superslender towers and creating variations within strict units and rigid conditions. [c.f. The Inflexible House] I was to eventually shelve the factory mall idea for three reasons.

  • The first was because the sawtooth roof made the mall spaces too uniform and illuminated them too evenly, even for a “factory” outlet.
  • I imagined truss bridges would link the apartment towers to amenity space on the roof of the mall but there was still the fundamental flaw of the towers and and the mall being separated and with little opportunity for the people within one to even be aware of those in the other. In other words, the factory idea was not a good one. I always make a point of telling my students not to fall in love with their first idea and so I knew I had to let this one go. It all turned out fine in the end. [c.f. Concept Conflict]
  • The third reason was that I thought it weird for smokestack-like things to have windows despite this not being a killer fault on the 1–10 scale of weirdness, especially compared with certain buildings I pass by every day.

Eighteen months on, I’m still interested in superslender towers but mainly because their relatively inflexible parameters make them a useful means for investigating apartment typical floor layouts that allow multiple uses and multiple types of household and living arrangements that can’t be accommodated within a fixed mix of studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments.

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to assume two elevators and a fire-escape stair, preferably with a window so the elevator lobby can be naturally lit. For now, I’ll also assume a tube structure and a regular arrangement of stiffening walls.

The first thing that needed doing was to reduce the footprint and try for something more slender – and more realistic – especially as a 66 sq.m studio is larger than a UK housing association standards-compliant 2-bedroom apartment. Gross internal area goes from 394.686 sq.m to 301.364 sq.m. The approx. 25% area reduction was a good start.

Areas of 48 sq.m for a studio, 69 sq.m for a 1-bedroom and 105 sq.m for a 2-bedroom are still excessive but I first wanted to make it work for these first. Assuming all building services can be contained within Tech 1 and Tech 2, making the apartment layouts work is probably going to involve a tradeoff between conventional spatial relationships and the positioning of shafts. Entering an apartment at the corner of a plan as with the studio is never promising.

This is what happened when I tidied it up. They’re okay, and I could live happily in any of them. The studio uses the kitchen as a corridor, New York style.

I had a few niggles with the furniture quantity and layout but the asymmetry of the shafts annoyed me most as it would preclude future changes to the mix. I didn’t want to add a redundant fourth for the sake of maintaining some conventional notion of public and private in a 2-bedroom apartment. A possible solution arrived over the weekend when I discovered some files I’d mis-filed and forgotten about.

I’d been invited to dinner at a friend’s apartment. It turned out to be in an (Edwardian?”) terraced house in London’s North Clapham. At the time I knew little about the structural logic and organization of Yemeni houses or the configuration logic of Type A apartments. This layout had four living rooms, two up and two down at each end of a corridor. Parallel to these corridors was the staircase and along those corridors on each level were a shared bathroom and kitchen. These had less depth than the living rooms and so their windows opened onto a lightwell, and the living rooms at the ends could then also have a secondary windows onto that light well. As a place to live, they would have been a step up from a boarding house or tenement but not quite a flat. All the same, they offered a higher degree of autonomy than available to people sharing conventional apartments designed for small but nuclear households, but this arrangement was more convivial than co-living in a building designed as a hotel.

Here are two superslender interpretations based on that North Clapham layout. The one on the left [with the stairs that need revising] is two “suites” linked functionally by an entrance lobby and socially by a kitchen. With both bathroom and kitchen shared and the entrance lobby doubling as “public” circulation space, the interpretation on the right is closer to the North Clapham prototype, but this time the living functions are split between what we call “living” and “dining”. This, and the fact the split bathroom is not accessed privately implies a greater degree of familiarity between the occupants.

The scale bar shows it’s a little over half as large as the two-bedroom apartment in my factory layout above. So now I’d like to try for two linked “suites” instead of a layout that presupposes a parent-and-child household. This apartment typology doesn’t have a name, if it ever did.

I reverted to the original shaft configuration and although I’ve arranged the furniture as per the more familiar of the two previous alternatives, this configuration could be lived in as two linked studios/suites sharing a kitchen. Average circulation space is about 17.5% for the three apartments. Non-sellable area though is 23.5% which is not good.

This typical floor is essentially a conventional one with service rooms and elevators and fire escape stairs that cannot be reduced in size – the elevator lobby is all doors and no wall. If non-sellable area is to be reduced, then something else has to give. The apartment entrance lobbies are welcome but despite the storage cupboards they exist primarily as space to be passed through. Though pleasant, at 13.8% of the area of the studio (and 9.6% the area of the 1-bed and 12.7% the area of the 2-bed) they’re not the best use of space or resources. The apartment entrances need to be closer to everywhere there is to go.

The larger a single-level apartment is, the more area is required to access its various spaces that are likely to be other bedrooms. And the more of those there are, the more that need to be passed by in order to get to the others – unless of course, they’re on different levels and this led me back to the principles of The Universal Apartment and its arbitrary number of bedrooms linked by an internal stairwell. Here’s what happened next.

The central three-story elevator halls are gone, and the typical floor begins to resemble the Type A-II and its two apartments per landing, although this time with two elevators. It’s basically my Universal Apartment III folded in on itself. [c.f. Streets in the Sky] Sellable area (a.k.a. floor plan efficiency) is 81.1% which is better and, because the sellable area is exponentially linked to the radius, can be made the magical 85% by increasing the radius 60 cm from 7.54 m to 8.14 m.

You can see these and other architectural inventions on my other website grahambrentonmckay.com that’s been recently reconstructed and is now live again.

There still needs to be a garbage chute and some technical rooms. The non-sellable area of 19.8% can only be decreased by increasing the radius. As with all of the apartments in the Universal Apartment series, it’s possible to configure apartments with any number of rooms simply by varying the position where the internal staircase is accessed.

  • Unlike Universal Apartment III, there isn’t the functional convenience of being able to access all linked spaces independently from the elevator lobby but that will be another iteration.
  • Another possibility that occurred to me is a scissor stair with one set of flights being the internal staircase and the other set of intertwined flights being the fire-escape stair. I expect it will open up some possibilities and close others. I don’t yet know. [13/12/2019 It didn’t work, for reasons I should have anticipated.]

For now, proof of concept is established for The Factory Mall & Apartments. The main worth of this exercise was to further validate the idea of internal staircases vertically expanding to connect spaces and configure apartments with an arbitrary number of rooms. If The Factory lives on, it is because of that.

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