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The Terrace

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Stacking dwellings will create a high-rise building with only one rooftop but only partially stacking them will create many partial rooftops known as terraces. The people of town of Masouleh probably think of theirs more as paths or roads.

The ground floor can also have a terrace and many of Edwin Lutyens’ houses have paved ones immediately outside the living room. This is why the terrace is associated with the outdoors, gardens and their enjoyment.

Robert Mallet-Stevens was a master of terraces whatever level they were. These next photographs are of his Villa Cavrois constructed 1929-1932.

The rooftop terrace is also known as a rooftop and part of the pleasure of being on one comes from appreciating being distanced from the spaces below. This relationship of sorts doesn’t exist when there’s no reason to think about what’s below. The terrace loses its identity as a rooftop and takes on the nature and feel of one’s own piece of property or land just outside the door – a notion amplified by this next project that’s a freeform inclined mat building.

BIG’s Mountain Building and Kiyonori Kikutake’s Pasadena Heights are inclined mat buildings having more rigid geometries.

The configuration of Moshe Safdie’s Habitat ’67 in Montreal isn’t as freeform as it looks or is believed to be, but that hardly matters now half a century on. It must have been fiendishly difficult devising just one sixth of it so I’m not surprised the one agglomeration of apartments was mirrored and and repeated three and a bit times.

Having a terrace overlooking those of others or, rather, being overlooked by those of others is the main disadvantage of partial stacking whether freeform or not. Overlooking can be ameliorated by fine-tuning window positions but any supposed economies of prefabrication will suffer. In the end, one simply has to not be too sensitive over it.

In any case, overlooking at Habitat ’67 is mainly a problem May to October. For the rest of the time, less hardy people can still appreciate the open space of the terrace through a door or window because the original virtue and fundamental property of the terrace is proximity to space open to the sky. It’s the joy of property possession, downscaled.

Jean Renaudie can’t not have known of Habitat ’67 when he was designing his Ivry-sur-Seine apartments completed 1970. They’re also not be as freeform as they appear but the underlying geometry is more inscrutable.

It’s like Habitat ’67 in being difficult to comprehend but unlike it in being difficult to photograph. There are no long shots across water.

Time and Nature have been kind to it. It’s many terraces have been cultivated to enhance their identity and enjoyment as a certain kind of property known as a garden. The same problems of overlooking and of being overlooked remain, but the plants diminish the perception of both. Decreased daylighting is now the price to pay.

The problem then, is how to

  1. Provide the space of terraces open to the sky, to the maximum number of apartments,
  2. Minimize the number of terraces that overlook or are overlooked, and
  3. Not compromise daylight in and views out.

These are almost certainly mutually contradictory because solutions aren’t forthcoming. We can’t say Habitat ’67 or Ivry-sur-Seine cracked it, but Moshe Safdie was one of the first to have another go. This next is a photograph of his forgotten Habitat 2.0 begun in Puerto Rico in 1968 and not completed soon after. There’s no prefabrication on show and not many terraces either. Habitat 2.0 seems to have been more branding than typology.

Still, Moshe Safdie’s practice is responsible for Habitat Qinhuangdao, also known as Golden Dreams Bay on the coast of China due east of Beijing. Phase I was completed in 2018 and the entire planned development shows an ambition that’s rare these days.

Perhaps that’s why its various iterations have been popping up on the internet since 2011, the one on the left below developing the habitat brand and circulating widely on the Russian internet, and the less Habitatty one on the right being used to illustrate whatever you want it to.

The Qinhuangdao developer, Kerry, is China’s largest and it’s obvious there was a struggle to reconcile development gain with perception management in the form of sufficient terraces to justify the name Habitat Qinhuangdao [otherwise known as 金梦海湾 = Golden Dream Bay]. Safdie no-doubt understood that what makes Habitat 67′ unique was that its apartments were relatively loosely packed but that was also 50+ years ago. Today’s developers want those spaces between apartments filled in with more apartments. With Qinhuangdao, Safdie has consolidated apartments into blocks and put the space between the blocks. If minimizing overlooking is the name of the game, it stacks up better than Scheeren’s Interlace in Singapore.

Stepping the ends of individual buildings back on the diagonal means one’s own terrace is looked over only by one’s own windows in the horizontal direction, and by windows and balconies of apartments directly above. This is as good as it gets if one wants to provide an open terrace to as many apartments as possible. It produces the structural meme we know as the pixel building.

The pixellated corner with terraces overlooked by a window one floor up and a balcony two floors up seems to have stabilized as a spatial and structural typology. Long sides of a building can be configured as inclined mats but it will always be possible to see neighbors’ terraces left and right unless there are higher walls effectively turning the terraces into courtyards.

The more critical problem with inclined mats where the long sides of a building face the view, is that the building height (and thus the number of apartments) is limited unless the site is also on an incline.

Pixellated corners takes care of the ends but some apartments along the sides have stepped projections with terrace-like spaces above. I say terrace-like because although these terraces have a large sky angle, the sky is obstructed by building either five floors directly up, or three structural units directly to the right. Again, this is as good as it gets. The pre-completion marketing model shows how these devices were to have been employed for all blocks at final height but ultimately weren’t for blocks where the long side faces the view. Had they been, the entire development would certainly looked more Habitat-ish but perception management can only bump up against development gain for so much before something has to give.

I haven’t been able to find sufficient marketing plans to piece together a typical floor or have much of an idea how this building is configured internally. All plans I’ve found have windows on two or three sides and this and the key plans suggest two apartments per elevator which would be very unusual. I’ll find out more once I’m I’m more familiar with the Chinese internet. [Big thanks to Mao Yizhen/Harry for helping me get this far.]

Marketing plans are never going to tell the full story and it’s quite likely none of the end apartments with terraces are on the market anyway. This next apartment plan I found on China airb’n’b has an extended living room protrusion creating a terrace for the bedroom of the apartment above.

All apartments have that sensible arrangement of the kitchen borrowing light from an enclosed balcony and utility room that also serves as laundry drying area and, in the next plan, a source of natural light to the bathroom and dressing area, as well as a place to put the A/C compressor.

This and the lack of corridors make such planning suited to living in warm temperate / humid monsoon climates. [interior images]

If Safdie had trouble improving upon Habitat ’67 then it’s no surprise Bjarke Ingels ’74 / BIG came unstuck at Montreal’s King Street. The developers said they admired Habitat for its ambition to create community and because it aspired to give each of its units an identity akin to that of a detached house. Let’s see if King Street succeeds in doing what Habitat apparently only aspired to.

It’s claimed the building is configured like a series of mountains à la Habitat but BIG have history with mountain buildings from Denmark to Azerbaijan.

Their carbon-netural [yikes!] Zira Island masterplan for Baku had no less than seven mountains well before demand was being drummed up in China.

I can’t reconcile the typical floor plan above with the diagram but, much like Safdie in China, this design also had many very public iterations prior to it being finalized. Here’s two images that were making the rounds early 2016 when the building couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be Habitat 2.0 or West 57th 2.0.

Terraces are only for those on upper levels where the building begins to round. Lower levels are classic cliffscraper along the lines of West 57th. Going by the sound of this next quote, it doesn’t seem like the overlooking issue has been solved on even the horizontal level. It’s an example of that old architect adage “If you can’t solve a problem, then make it into a feature!”

The BIG design borrows the peculiar genius of Mr. Safdie’s design by giving each home its own distinct expression, and its own terrace. As you step out from an apartment, you’ll be able to look across the way to wave to your neighbours. “Residents will be able to see each other and say hello to each other,” Mr. Ingels says.

It’s easy to see what he means.

In some future post I’ll review the project’s development history and have a closer look at the configuration, paying particular attention to the relationships between terraces of adjacent apartments. The post will most likely be called Moneymaking Machines #6: King Street, Toronto.