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An Architecture of Sharing

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An Architecture of Sharing is about the sharing of building elements. As such, it is about the density of human occupation and, by extension, how people can live in close proximity with sufficient comfort and maximum dignity.

An Architecture of Sharing is about sharing the building resources that create those elements. It is about using them to bring people together rather than just divide and separate them.

An Architecture of Sharing is about sharing the spaces created by those elements. It is concerned with external spaces with psychological, functional, and social utility. It is concerned with internal spaces also suited to non-traditional households and different forms of of tenure.

An Architecture of Sharing relates density, resources and occupancy through the basic building elements of walls and floors, the spaces they create, and how they are accessed.

An Architecture of Sharing isn’t about all building elements. Columns, for example, have no meaning in an Architecture of Sharing as they can’t be shared. It is only possible to share the slabs they separate and the space between them.

Domino House, Le Corbusier, 1914

Shared Walls

Shared walls are the end of the detached house and the beginning of sharing. The wall separates persons and households but those persons and households share the wall.

This project is for a small house or apartment for a single person or household but shows how even a single wall can be shared unequally but to the benefit of both sides. Furthermore, the spaces on each side have complementary poetic meanings.

Vertically Shared Slabs

Vertically shared floors are when the ceiling of one storey becomes the floor of the one above. The purpose of this has always been to allow building area on the same area of land.

This proposal for a superslender tower has apartments that share (floor) slabs but not walls. Apartment buildings with only one apartment per floor aren’t unknown, but they are a minority. The lack of party walls enables views in all directions, a marketable characteristic typically associated with detached houses.

Horizontally Shared Walls + Vertically Shared Floors

This describes the typical floor of a usual apartment building that has the floorplate periphery allocated to multiple apartments accessed by a central corridor. It is a configuration so ubiquitous we barely notice it.

This example has two studio apartments, two one-bedroom apartments and two two-bedroom apartments on the same floor but, depending on the level and the desirability of the view in a particular direction, a studio apartment + a bedroom apartment can be converted into a two-bedroom apartment to reconfigure the building to maximize sale value.

Shared Inside Spaces

Shared inside spaces is about tenure and what happens when people who aren’t necessarily related, live in the same dwelling. The market for private housing still assumes a nuclear family as the norm and that, if persons aren’t part of a nuclear family, that they will still aspire to live as if they were.

This dual apartment allows two persons to share a mortgage or the rent but not 100% of their lives or habits.

Shared Outside Space

This is about having some space on the other side of the window. It is about ventilation, daylighting and the sense of well-being that comes from not feeling confined. The space outside the windows is probably not going to be a conventional view. At lower levels it will include a view of a street or garden but, on higher levels, it will most likely be some open space between opposing windows, or a view through the gap between buildings. Shared outside space is therefore about urban density.

In this proposal I reworked a standard Hong Kong apartment tower and linked them so that the only view is upwards to the sky, downwards to the ground level, or across to the apartments on the other side of the octagonal shared outside space. It is dense yes, but there is still 16m distance between opposing windows.

Shared Access

I’m using the word “access” to include all lobbies, corridors, elevators and stairs that are used by persons of different households. Horizontally shared walls + vertically shared floors had the emphasis on the sharing of walls and floors. Here, the emphasis will be on additional functionality that this access space can either have or provide.

This proposal for an apartment building module comprises a studio apartment on a single level, and a one-bedroom apartment and a two-bedroom apartment on two levels. Having the shared access corridor on the middle level means that the one- and two-bedroom apartments can be dual aspect.

Shared Access + Outside Space 1

Shared access is when space used to access apartments also functions as outside space the ventilate kitchens and bathrooms as well as provide them with a level of illumination. The example above still had internal bathrooms and kitchens dependent on artificial ventilation. Shared access + outside space 1 is when that access corridor is also able to provide daylight and ventilation to rooms that would otherwise have been internal.

This proposal could be student dormitory or key-worker accommodation. It is tight. The bedrooms are the private living spaces. The only internal circulation space is the activity space around the table. Yet, all rooms are naturally lit and ventilated, and the half-floor access corridor allows, via the kitchen windows, a two-way awareness of people moving through the building, and without the intrusion of eye-level eye contact across the “public-private” divide.

Shared Access + Outside Space 2

This is when the access spaces such as corridors and elevator lobbies are used to provide not only ventilation and daylighting but more conscious view of the internal life of the building, of people coming and going. Apartment entrance halls are the first and most obvious place to have these views of the communal access space. This mutual viewing and awareness of who is coming and going and who is at home or not is not about surveillance but about fostering a sense of people living together. Arrangements such as these have no more or less opportunities for direct contact. Sometimes it’s sufficient to just know that other people are home.

This is a lobby level of a circular apartment tower with two elevators. Each stairwell links to one floor up and down, meaning that these elevator lobbies are voids three stories high and square in plan. That void (and people coming and going) is overlooked by kitchen windows and entrance hall windows. On the lobby level, voids with railings keep people in the lobby at a distance from those windows and foster and awareness of activity in the lobbies above and below. Internally, all apartments have a kitchen, a bathroom, a living area and one bedroom but this bedroom can be taken from or given to the adjacent apartment to convert two one-bedroom apartments into a studio plus a two-bedroom apartment. This is also an example of Horizontally Shared Walls + Vertically Shared Floors.

Shared Access + Shared Internal Stairwells

This set of proposals began with the Stacked Stairs proposal that used internal stairwells to enlarge an apartment into the floor above, the floor below, or both. These proposals all use internal stairwells in the same way, but now recognize that the landings can be split and the same staircase used to upwardly enlarge the apartment on one side, and to downwardly enlarge the apartment on the other. Shared access is the same stairs being used in the same way by different persons, but shared stairwells is about the same stairwell having divided landings so persons on one side can use the stair to go up a level, while persons on the other use it to go down one. Various apartment configurations are possible according to whether the landing is divided and has two, one or no doors opening into it.

These are two iterations of the same idea. On the left, the stairwell at the bottom can be used so the occupants of the apartment on left can share (or appropriate) the bedroom space of the apartment above, while the occupants of the apartment on the right can use the stair to go down and do the same for the apartment below. The iteration on the right is based on a Yemeni mud-brick house that its functionality improved in the same way. In this case, the stairwell at the bottom of the plan is the shared access while the staircase at the top is the shared one.

Shared Access + Outside Space + Shared Internal Stairwells

This set of proposals has horizontally shared walls, horizontally and vertically shared floors, the sharing of access, outside space and internal stairwells. All these proposals are applicable to the sharing of internal space in non-traditional households.

These two proposals embody all aspects on The Architecture of Sharing I’ve mentioned above. The proposal on the left is from about four years ago and the one on the right from four months ago. Both have three-storey high elevator lobbies overlooked by kitchen windows across a void in the slab. Bathrooms are naturally ventilated via this same void within a void. All spaces are vertically linked. It is not necessary for the spaces in these buildings to be apartments.

At the beginning of this post I wrote that An Architecture of Sharing relates density, resources and occupancy through the basic building elements of walls and floors, the spaces they create, and how they are accessed. How to live at higher densities, how to make our resources go further and how not to degrade quality of life are all concerns that need t be linked and this notion of the sharing of building elements is the obvious place to start as these elements are all we have to work with. This notion of an Architecture of Sharing is about us extracting a more comprehensive performance from these building elements we interact with and that shape us the most.


  • I know you don’t like putting trees on buildings or for its on sake, But still in the Hong Kong apartment tower rework proposal, some medium sized trees in the center of the courtyard will be nice. They give some privacy and a reason to look at.

    • says:

      I agree. I recently downscaled that proposal for a surburban site in Australia and some trees in the middle of a circular access driveway were the only view people had. It was okay. I’ll post it soonish, once I’ve finished tidying it up. But yes, what happens when the walls start closing in and the old ways don’t work anymore is what interests me the most. Thanks.