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Pasadena Heights v3.0

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The greatest advantage of terraced apartments is that each apartment can have an outdoor space open to the sky. The greatest disadvantage of terraced apartments on level ground, is that the lower apartments become longer and receive less daylight because because that long end is at the bottom of some light-well, or they receive less daylight because the setback on one side becomes an overhang at the other. This is just how it is.

One way of disguising this is to fill that other-end space with a secondary use that makes do with what illumination there is. Henri Sauvage’s 1922 Grandin Building in Paris does this. Access corridors for single-aspect apartments either overlook the swimming pool or are open to the light-well above it. Eight storeys.

Henri Sauvage was smitten with terraced buildings and explored other configurations but none were realized.

Bringing daylight to the deepest parts of the plan is always going to be a problem and, as you can intuit from the positions of the elevator shafts in the two other Sauvage proposals above, vertical access complicates internal arrangements since floorplates of different sizes and shapes are accessed at different positions. Rather than solving the problem, San’t Elia made it into an expressive feature – much as you’d expect for a time when tall buildings and elevators barely existed in Europe.

Alternatively, the middle space of terraced buildings can be filled with something useful that doesn’t depend on daylighting and that people don’t need or want to look at anyway. Paul Rudolph’s 1967 Lower Manhattan Expressway proposal.

The opposite yet similar thing to do is to make that central space into a feature that people will want to look at. This is John Portman’s 1973 San Francisco Hyatt Regency Hotel. Many of its rooms have terraces open to the sky but only because doing so creates an atrium lobby within.

A fourth approach – which is the same again only not as glamorous – is to just make the central part a pedestrian access space overlooked by access corridors. London’s 1972 Brunswick Centre is like this. The outer portions of the building were never built but the central space was to have been top-lit, as shown in the section on the top right below for as-designed, and middle-right below as as-built. Either way, the apartments are all single aspect, with kitchens and bathrooms along the access corridor. Some photographs show what look like narrow kitchen windows and high-level bathroom windows opening onto the open corridors.

Kiyonori Kikutake’s 1973 Pasadena Heights in Mishima, Japan has fascinated me since 1975 when I first learned about it. Two blog posts exist, both from 2015. I should’ve included Pasadena Heights in that recent one on formative sections.

combined access and landscape

The section is unusual in that it generates the plan and how the apartments interlock as they flip and terrace along and up the slope. I won’t explain again the geometry that allows this but will say I’ve not seen anything like it these past fifty years. The configuration allows each apartment to have two spaces open to the sky: one a front garden path area adjacent to the access path and overlooked by the kitchen window, and that passes by a light-well for the apartment living room outdoor space of the apartment below, and the other is the living room space adjacent to the light-well of the apartment above.

The entire building follows the slope but is raised to provide a secondary access and to enhance ventilation. The slope allows all apartments to have the same depth. All access is pedestrian as cars are parked at the top and bottom of the hill. I’ve speculated on why this building made little impact and conclude it was just bad timing. If you want daylight and ventilation to all rooms then you’re going to need windows and a large wall surface area to have them. The section of Pasadena Heights ensures this but it also results in large external areas of floors and roofs. My guess is that this caused much heat loss during the first global oil crisis and nowhere were the consequences of that felt as much as Japan.

Although we’ve never seen another Pasadena Heights, the premises of every dwelling being dual aspect and every dwelling having some outdoor space open to the sky remain valid. My 2015 reworking gave every apartment driveway access and two car parking spaces. The idea was to propose a denser way of living for Emirati families. It went nowhere, but did reestablish proof of concept, even for a culture notoriously protective of their privacy. Like Pasadena Heights, this project was premised on a 1:8 incline but, because I wanted to park two cars outside each apartment, getting 1:10 roads up there caused me much grief.

A couple of years ago, I had the idea of reducing the repeatedly stepped yet alternately flipped layout to its basic geometry and devising a configuration that didn’t need a slope. I didn’t want to go the BIG mountain route with its tortuous driveways dubiously stacking car parking to fake an incline, and I didn’t have sufficient information to find out how Glen Howard Small might have done it in his 1983 Turf Town proposal.

This next image shows how I simplified the geometry a couple of years back. Again, there are long apartments with rooms on alternate sides strung along a corridor. The idea was to “hollow out” the inner part of the mountain for access and car parking.

These alternating rooms and courtyard-like spaces made me think of a typical Australian suburban block about 50 meters wide and a couple of hundred long, accessed from both ends with a single level of car parking. My 2020 New Mews proposal repeats enclosed and open spaces to ensure daylight and ventilation to all rooms, including bathrooms.

This was very much a two-storey project but has the same principle of alternating indoor and outdoor spaces accessed by a long corridor. My Pasadena Heights v.3.0 would be multi-storey, terracing back one unit-space for each level up. Doing this means every apartment, no matter how long, will at the front always a terrace open to the sky, even if there is a hierarchy of daylighting the “deeper” into the apartment. The plan was to shorten the lowest two levels of apartments by providing a double-height space for an access driveway and vehicle parking. Vertical access would be by elevator and stairs every two apartments. I was always aware these access cores would be to the rear of the bottom-most apartments and to the front of the uppermost ones, but had no idea if or how this would work. My first thought was to mirror the apartments around the cores.

It works, but I didn’t like the adjoining front terraces. (“Handshake terraces” were one of the things I didn’t like about BIG’s King Toronto project.) The only way around this was to not mirror the apartments but to repeat them on opposite sides of the core. This next plan shows the principle. I’ve made the space unit with the entrance into an entrance hall, kitchen and guest bathroom but the planning of the apartments is arbitrary and, I imagine, would be determined largely by light, with daytime living areas towards the outermost end of the apartment and sleeping areas towards the innermost.

It looks like this.

But why do it? The New Mews proposal was an attempt to provide an alternative to the continuing shrinking of outdoor space in suburban Australia due to suburban lots that previously had a single detached house, being replaced with four, five, six or more pseudo-detached dwellings. Dwellings on these divided lots share a driveway as the primary open space and, apart from a small space designated an “al fresco” living area, the external walls are about one metre from site boundaries. If a typical residential block in Perth, Western Australia is approx. 200m x 100m and, in the past would have had sixteen detached houses of varying areas, the New Mews proposal would have allowed forty houses, again of varying sizes. It would be about the same density as shown in this photograph, but would have more open space at the front and back of each house, more useable open private space for each dwelling, more garden space in the front of each dwelling, and less road surface area to access them all. It is possible to replant some trees.

All this is possible because detached houses use the site boundary fences as privacy partitions while a terraced house will use party walls as basic structure as well. . The refusal of the detached house to die has less to do with their market popularity and more to do with them enabling piece construction by an un-unionized labour force –much as Levitt had done in 1940s US. This all has nothing and everything to do with architecture. This Pasadena Heights v3.0 proposal disregards the realities of Australia’s system of housing provision, and proposes an alternative should the redevelopment of entire suburban blocks ever become reality. Should that time ever come, it will be necessary to produce densities higher that what are currently being attained.

So then, with Pasadena Heights v3.0, five dwellings every 10 metres gives 50 per block length, and mirroring and repeating this once gives 200 – five times the density of occupation of New Mews. Daylight and ventilation are compromised but they are compromised more equally for everyone. In Pasadena Heights v3.0,

  • all dwellings still have an outdoor space open to the sky
  • the living room accesses it directly
  • a secondary space (whether it’s the kitchen, another living area or a master bedroom will overlook that space
  • all habitable rooms have at least two windows, not only facilitating airflow across rooms, but enabling occupants in deeper rooms to see through rooms to spaces with more daylight
  • tweaking the horizontal dimensions will allow five cars to be parked for six apartments in a six story building. A five storey building can have one car parking space per apartment.