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Spiral Binding

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The problem was to provide between 144 and 150 apartments in a building of 25 stories max. To encourage repetition in typical floor layouts, I asked for equal numbers of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and two-bedroom duplex (i.e. two-level) apartments. The first thing to do was derive a typical floor plan that would allow that. Numbers divisible by 12 are always a godsend and the lower limit of 144 would mean 24 stories of six apartments per floor, or eighteen of eight.

I asked for one-bedroom apartments to be 70-80 sq.m, and two-bedroom and two-bedroom duplex apartments to be 140-160 sq.m. To the attentive student, this was another suspicious symmetry. I’m suggesting they plan a two-bedroom apartment to be precisely the area of two one-bedroom apartments, and a two-bedroom duplex apartment to occupy the same volume as two one-bedroom apartments. The hoped-for outcome is a cellular configuration in which apartments can be arbitrarily arranged to maximize the return according to aspect and view.

A building having a typical floor plan with eight 70 sq.m modules would need 6 floors of 8 x one-bedroom apartments, 12 floors of 4 x two-bedroom apartments and 6 x (two-levels) x 8 duplex apartments. This will provide 48 of each and 144 apartments over 24 floors. In principle, apartments can be swapped around within that system to create or reinforce various elevational effects such as projecting and/or recessing balconies even though that’s a bit of a trope.

A typical floor plan with eight cells having two 1-bedroom apartments, two 2-bedroom apartments and four (half levels of) duplex apartments would, over two floors, be the smallest module having equal numbers of the three apartment types. Here’s four ways of doing it.

At the rear is a corridor arrangement with the four two-storey apartments (blue) at the ends and on each side a one-bedroom apartment (green) and a two-bedroom apartment (red). To the right is a similar corridor arrangement but this time there’s a rotational symmetry. On the left is a configuration that would give a tower rather than a slab. All these arrangements require two typical floors to achieve equal numbers of apartments. The fourth configuration achieves it in one by having the lower levels of two duplex apartments and two upper levels of two different duplex apartments. It would of course have two half-duplex protrusions at the top and two half-duplex gaps at the bottom but this can be easily fixed (by relocating two 1-bedroom apartments). 

As long as the positions of shafts are set, there’s no imperative to stack apartments of the same type in any of these arrangements. The Jumeirah Circle Five building recently completed in Dubai is a decent example of a completely readable rotational configuration.

There’s no imperative for a building to do this either and there would be very little for mine to do so unless it’s to show how rigid systems can facilitate a meaningful flexibility. The intention is that an unexpected apartment distribution will go some way towards making the exterior of my building less readable and give it a scale larger than one would expect for a building this size. This was my final apartment distribution.

I assumed a column and slab structure (and not without some cost to my car parking efficiency) but I’ll leave it to people who know better to tell me if something more structurally clever can be done with a tube structure and a very regular arrangement of potentially stiffening walls.

Each floor then, will have two one-bedroom apartments, two two-bedroom apartments, two lower floors of a duplex apartment and two upper floors of one, but in different positions.

All I had to do then was plan them. Some compromises were made, but nothing too horrible. Here’s some variations for the same type of apartment for the three different positions. I’ll ignore mirrors.

Here’s three successive typical floors from left to right, with the apartments moving up and around the building. Five such typical floors alternate.


Each floor has ten apartment spaces but only eight balconies and those balconies are horizontally offset by 13.36° from the floor below. Even with eight balconies per floor, no two are in vertical alignment until floor 65. This means that although a particular position on a particular level may have the same apartment type, it won’t have the same balcony position and the apartment may have to be be replanned so the living room is adjacent to the balcony. But regardless of the positioning of the balconies on any particular floor, the “corner” apartment spaces will always have at least one balcony and so will a two-bedroom apartment anywhere. The narrow one-bedroom and duplex apartments on the sides may occasionally miss out.

This next part is a more detailed explanation of what’s happening for these (particular) five successive floors. You can skip it if you like.


TYPICAL FLOOR 1 (with LEVEL 6 balcony positions)
A balcony is adjacent to all living rooms.
The two-bedroom apartments have a second balcony adjacent to the master bedroom.
Upper levels of duplex apartments miss out on a balcony.


TYPICAL FLOOR 2 (with Level 7 balcony positions)
The one-bedroom apartments have the balcony adjacent to the bedroom. The entrance is still central so it’s no problem to re-plan the apartment to have the living room at the balcony end.
The two-bedroom apartments have a balcony adjacent to the second bedroom. This side plan can be easily flipped and the entrance relocated so the living areas are adjacent to the balcony.
The duplex apartment lower levels still have a balcony adjacent to the living area.
The duplex apartment upper levels have a balcony adjacent to the second bedroom. This plan could be flipped but, as the lower level would also be flipped, is best left as it is.


TYPICAL FLOOR 3 (with Level 8 balcony positions)
The two-bedroom layouts are the same as for two levels below, but mirrored. Before, there were balconies adjacent to living rooms but now there are not. It would be no problem to replan these apartments as the entrance is still central.
The one bedroom apartments miss out on a balcony and nothing can be done about this, apartment from replacing it and the adjacent apartment with a two-bedroom apartment.
The duplex upper floors also miss out on a balcony but their lower levels don’t.

TYPICAL FLOOR 4 (with Level 9 balcony positions)
This level has no special problems apart from the one-bedroom apartments missing out on balconies.
If the duplex apartment doesn’t have a balcony adjacent to the living room then it has to be replanned as an upside-down apartment. Flipping the plan horizontally is not an option because the position of the staircase is fixed for duplex apartments in these side positions (whereas it is not for duplex apartments in any other position). This is because the inner wall is adjacent to the core and not a corridor.

TYPICAL FLOOR 5 (with Level 10 balcony positions)
Here, the balcony would have to go to the duplex apartment lower levels, and accessed by a narrow door. Alternatively, a two-bedroom apartment with a central living room could be planned for this level, bearing in mind that such substitutions will have a knock-on effect elsewhere. The 15th floor has the only other instance of this situation, again between duplex apartments in this position.

This is a summary of apartment variations necessitated by balcony adjacency.

  • Nothing can be done to gift a one-bedroom apartment a balcony. Twelve out of 50 one-bedroom apartments do not have a balcony although on the 13th and 14th floors they will look through the trees of the balcony below.
  • Flipping one-bedroom apartments in the top and bottom positions involves no internal complications as the position of the entrance door can change.
  • Flipping one-bedroom apartments in corner positions involves no internal complications as the entrance door is centrally located.
  • Flipping one-bedroom apartments in side positions requires more space for circulation as the position of the entrance can’t be changed.
  • It is a simple matter to flip the plans of two-bedroom apartments in side positions.
  • Eight out of 50 duplex apartments are better inverted. This entails no planning loss.
  • Short of redistributing apartments, nothing can be done about the two duplexes on floors 20-21without balconies.


  • All balconies are accessed by double sliding doors.
  • A second bedroom in either a duplex or a two-bedroom apartment will generally have a double sliding window with a one-meter sill height. The exception is when the apartment is a duplex apartment and the second and/or master bedroom windows overlook their own balcony. In these situations the double sliding window has a glazed spandrel panel.
  • If a balcony is adjacent to a dining area, then the living room window is usually a spandrel window as there is no balcony immediately below.
  • For reasons of overall building proportion, none of the apartments on the first residential level have balconies and, for reasons of privacy, this level has only the living room windows with spandrels.

= (

  • I’m not happy about making openings in the structural/partition walls to form the two-bedroom apartments. This means I’m going back on one of my starting premises but, after my explorations earlier this year into universal apartments, it seems an awkward way to make larger apartments as pre-planning is still necessary and there is little scope for future change.
  • I’d like to have the structural grid more in-line and integrated with the core walls. I’m not sure if this will be possible with a column and slab structure. Other things are more important than my predilection for geometry.
  • The core is 17.8%. I’d like to get it down to 15% (144 sq.m) or less. This is do-able by shrinking the core service rooms, the waiting space between elevators, and/or minimizing the length of the staircase.
  • I’d also like to shrink the entire floor plate by perhaps setting the area module at 60 sq.m instead of 70 sq.m. This will make it more difficult to maintain 85% floor plate efficiency unless the core can shrink proportionally. A challenge.

The Dubai Fire Code allows scissor stairs and doesn’t expressly prohibit scissor stairs without a mid-landing. If they aren’t allowed, then length for a mid-landing might be able to be clawed back by reducing the floor-to-floor height from its current 3.45m – the same as the average ff of New York by Gehry – and by allowing fire-escape doors to intrude into the landing as long as half the width of the stair remains unobstructed. [I was a bit surprised at this.]


  • Being able to distribute apartment types freely within a building without compromising structure, services and internal planning has benefits for maximizing sale return.
  • Having the internal distribution of apartments NOT determine the elevation resets the scale of the building at building scale and not apartment scale.
  • Having some arbitrary or unexpected distribution of apartments facilitates an apparently random arrangement and selection of windows, again making the building more readable as a building and not as a stack of apartments.
  • Using the interference between phasing patterns to configure an apartment building creates the delight of foreseeable variation, as with the music of Steve Reich.
  • It’s possible to claim that every apartment is different and not gratuitously so. It’s not even complex. None of this systematic variety is evident on the exterior and, even to residents inhabiting the building, it won’t be evident what type of apartment lies behind any door, let alone how it is planned.

A question remains. “What should an apartment building “express”, if anything?” This building prioritizes the act of people living in a building over what types or how many apartments it contains. Internal variety is accommodated but is irrelevant to how the building looks. It is true that certain aspects of the apartments are the way they are because of a formal-ist decision made regarding the outside of the building [c.f. Making Strange] but, equally, exterior elements such as the positions and types of windows are determined from the internal variety resulting from the offset balconies and the differently offset apartments. Those windows may appear incidental or mutually independent but it is this that makes them refer not to apartments or households but to the people within. It is, if you like, the human scale.

The cylindrical wall of this building separates the inside from outside. The positions and types of openings in it are where the logic of the building’s internal world interfaces and binds with the logic of the building as an object in the world outside.