The Stacked Courtyard

At the end of the last post and with reference to Tadao Ando’s 1973 Sumiyoshi/Azuma House, I wondered when does a courtyard become a lightwell? Or the other way around? It might be a poor question because all courtyards provide light and ventilation but we look at the Ando house and see a courtyard not a light well. Perhaps a better question would be “What makes a courtyard a Confucian courtyard?” If the courtyard is a space bordered by both sky and ground, and understood in the abstract as a space between Earth and Heaven, then another way of asking the same question is to ask how the reality of the space and the understanding of the space are connected? More to the point, how much and in what ways can the courtyard be changed yet still retain its meaning in the Confucian sense?

For example, the idea of the Confucian courtyard could be behind the 1975 Lai Tak Tsuen Public Housing Estate (勵德邨) by the Hong Kong Housing Authority. Their voids definitely connect ground and sky and provide a degree of light and ventilation. However, there’s no awareness of anything happening on the ground and, for that matter, not much awareness of the sky either. All that remains is the vertical link between the two, as well as the idea of it. These voids can still function as courtyards in that people can see other people on the other side but, unlike courtyards, any interaction beyond the audio-visual will need to occur in the circular corridor around the void. Only the lowest level is amenity space. With a Confucian courtyard, the awareness of the vertical link often takes place while traversing the courtyard. Amenity is secondary but if people are going to be passing through a courtyard then interaction is inevitable. Confucius would not have had much to say about voids in high-rise buildings.

The Hong Kong Housing Authority has a history of developing and testing housing prototypes but the Lai Tak Tsuen Public Housing Estate was a one-off. The return in terms of amenity value and or symbolic value must have been insufficient for the footprint of the void. However, for many years prior, the Hong Kong Housing Authority had developed variants of a tower typology sometimes known as the snowflake layout where a light-well runs through the elevator lobbies of 40-storey towers. This void has zero amenity value but an awareness of even a dim glow of daylight above would be sufficient for it to have symbolic value. The dimensions of this rectangular core are fixed by the need to access eight apartments from it and so it’s possible that the light-well is just space left over. If so, then using this surplus space as a symbolic link between sky and ground was more important than the amenity of more floor area in the elevator lobbies. Perhaps the donut-shaped lobby never went any further because the diameter of the lobby (and thus the footprint) became too large if there were more than eight dwellings per level. Eight is a lucky number in China but eight apartments could provide an ideal ratio of lobby area to building footprint.

In terms of sunlight and ventilation, the ideal width of a Chinese courtyard is three times the height of the buildings around it. I don’t know how I know this but I suspect it’s just one of those things that’s always been known. It’s the diameter to height proportion of a tulou – a Hakka courtyard house.

The author of Confucius’ Courtyard, Ruan XING, offered tulou as another example of an historic Chinese courtyard. It’s widely believed these were defensible communal houses but, as Xing points out, it doesn’t make sense in terms of defense to have your food storage buildings outside the compound. It could just be that the Hakka people lived in these communal dwellings because they wanted the proximity of the ground and sky and their entire clan as well. Regardless of the reason [and hats off to the Hakka people for inventing the social condenser in the 12th century], we recognize this space as a courtyard but, from the residential portions it’s a void that’s looked over. At ground level there’s not much space left over once communal buildings such as kitchens, bathrooms, ancestral hall and reception rooms are built. The relationship that these communal buildings have with the ground and sky is the same as for any other building. It’s only in the smaller courtyards within the enclosing courtyard that ground and sky can be experienced at the same time.

Professor Xing also mentions Ju’er Hutong Phase I, designed by Liangyong WU of Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Phase I was completed in 1990 and Phase II in 1994. At the time, the project was highly praised as it was widely believed that low-rise buildings around courtyards would be the future of high-density housing in Beijing, if not in all China. More than one paper was written. It didn’t turn out that way for various reasons but the main one is that these buildings still required too much land for the density they provided.

Phase I, shown below had four courtyards for 46 units so each courtyard is bordered by twelve apartments more or less. The smaller courtyards have one apartment on each re-entrant corner per floor but visual access to the larger courtyards is unequal as some units front both large courtyards and, judging from this plan, others front neither. Post-occupancy studies have been done, residents interviewed.

  • Some residents thought the size of even the larger courtyards was too small.
  • Rooms with windows onto the courtyard are well ventilated but other rooms less so.
  • Not much communal activity actually happens in the courtyards. Some people said this was because they were not that bright while others said it was because they were too small.
  • Residents and foreign residents in particular said they were more likely to meet other residents on the stairs.

The courtyards at Ju’er Hutong are well traversed and provide that Confucian link between Earth and Heaven but, apart from light, ventilation and access to the stairwells, they offer little in the way of amenity. People weren’t using them in the ways that Chinese people used courtyards in the past and we shouldn’t be too surprised at this. For example, it was once the case that wedding receptions were held in courtyards. Children probably played games or with uncomplicated toys … However, these courtyards fulfill the Confucian requirements no more or less successfully than the tulou communal dwellings where the space open to the ground and sky is sometimes traversed but mostly looked at from windows on the periphery. It seems sufficient and any actual amenity as a courtyard is welcome, but secondary.

The length:height ratio of the Azuma House courtyard is about 1:1 and its width:height ratio about 0.6:1. The courtyard obviously allows sufficient daylight, facilitates airflow to some extent and has the ground surface as amenity space. This courtyard is fit for purpose on these counts but can a bridged courtyard such as this still be understood as a vertical link between Earth and Heaven because when on the ground, one third of the sky is obscured and, the courtyard is more open on the upper level but one isn’t on the ground anymore? From the lower level, the bridge doesn’t seem to matter and, from tulou to donut void to modern hutong, a view of a void from its periphery seems ok.

Putting this all together could lead to high-rise high density solutions such as P&T Architects 1989 Clague Garden Estate (祈德尊新邨) with its paired towers linked by bridges at elevator lobbies every third floor.

Every 36 apartments share a communal volume internally overlooked by all stairs as well as some kitchens and bedrooms. This void could be overlooked by more windows if the access corridors were partially detached from the buildings as is now happening in contemporary Chinese high-rise residential towers.

The tie-beams with the circular holes are decorative but also manage to imply the moon gates of Chinese courtyards. I don’t think this is accidental. This virtual volume is the stacked courtyard.

As far as I know, no more estates with this configuration were built. Perhaps like the 1975 Lai Tak Tsuen Public Housing Estate (勵德邨) with its donut arrangement, or the courtyards of the 1990 Ju’er Hutong Phase I, land was simply too expensive to waste on a void. It’s all the same problem. I revisited my Circle House proposal for a high-rise residential tower [c.f. Defensible Space], along with some variations on this theme of a triple height elevator lobby overlooked by mainly kitchen windows.

  • The triple-height elevator lobby is taken from P&T’s Clague Garden Estate project.
  • Each elevator lobby is overlooked by 24 units, eight per floor. This is twice the number of units around the courtyards at Ju’er Hutong Phase I, but only two thirds the number accessed by each elevator lobby in Clague Garden Estate. Circle House has all kitchen windows of all units looking into the elevator lobby.
  • As with the light-well in the Hong Kong “snowflake” tower typical floor, all slab area not needed for access and circulation is removed to create voids the full height of the building.
  • The bi-directional symmetry of my proposal most likely comes from these same towers, along with the eight units per level.
  • As with the Clague Garden Estate elevator lobby and bridges (as well as the residential portion of a tulou), people pass by vertical voids open to the sky but there is no place where there is sky above one’s head.
  • As was discovered at Ju’er Hutong Phase I and, not unlike the elevator lobbies of the snowflake towers, the courtyard has become primarily a means of access. Even so, it is a shared space and a space with the potential for interaction between residents. Even when there are no people in these courtyards and lobbies, they are still spaces that can be observed (from all access stairwells and at least 24 windows).
  • As with Ju’er Hutong Phase I, each staircase is used to access two units per landing over three floors although, with my high-rise, each external stair runs the full height of the building. People on the upper of the three levels can walk down a level from the elevator lobby above. The internal staircases enable units of different sizes to be configured but this added functionality has nothing to do with the theme of this post.

From all this I conclude that the essential functions of a courtyard are and have always been illumination, ventilation and access and that enabling them in a residential tower is not counter to the Confucian notion of a courtyard encapsulating [as opposed to representing] a link between Heaven and Earth. Even if one doesn’t see the courtyard as a vertical link between Heaven and Earth, one is still left with a space that is naturally illuminated and ventilated and that, even when no one is in it, can still be visually shared and possessed by all.

• • •

The Middle Ground

Architects used to have us believe that better architecture made for better lives. They were rightly ignored as it would make more sense for us all first to agree on what a better life is before thinking about the means to achieve it. Of course some degree of spatial and physiological requirements need to be met as a precondition for not-so-miserable life but architecture hasn’t been about that for some time now. What has endured is the idea that Architecture provides nourishment beyond the spatial and physiological and that this is some kind of aesthetic experience peculiar to architecture and, worse, accessible only to those who can appreciate it and, worse still, afford it.

I’ve always believed this in one form or another albeit with varying emphases and my own notions of what counts as architectural nourishment. Over the past decade or so, I’ve leaned towards spatial geometries that satisfy spatial and social needs and that, for me at least, are aesthetically satisfying because of that. If they’re more achievable for more people then so much the better. I’ve never questioned or been asked to question if architecture and its embedded belief system was the only way of achieving the good life. Until last week.

I’ve just finished reading this. The test of any hypothesis is the amount of information it organizes. This book organizes a few thousand years of Chinese history around the simple hypothesis that the Chinese primarily saw the courtyard as a vertical link between the land and the sky or, if you like, Heaven and Earth. Although courtyards provided ventilation, illumination and internal views, their main purpose was to link Heaven and Earth. The Chinese notion of heaven is synonymous with sky, and the two are also written with the same character (tian, 天). The Chinese had no need for a heaven populated with deities. The sky provides sunlight, darkness, warmth, rain and snow and, together with the ground, is all one needs to grow rice and structure one’s existence.

This strive for a balance between earthly phenomena (over which one had influence) and heavenly ones (over which one did not) was in line with the teachings of Confucius (551–479 BCE) who advocated a “middle way” for people to make sense of their place in the world and live the good life. In summertime, a courtyard might be full of people conversing, singing, eating and drinking but in winter the sky would be the dominant presence. This middle way was about balance, not moderation. The most difficult thing to accept is that the courtyard wasn’t a representation of the good life but all that was needed to make it happen. And it did for 2,500 years or so. The Chinese didn’t see any reason to improve upon or change the courtyard as it was already sufficient. It was possible to live a good life with only a courtyard and an awareness of what it meant.

Last week I taught a history class on Romanesque and Gothic architecture. There’s a lot to be said for a personal, unmediated (and unspoken) relationship with both Earth and Heaven even if it doesn’t produce an architecture of flying buttresses, rose windows and gargoyles. The cloister in a monastery is close to the Chinese notion of a courtyard even if the open space is only circumnavigated by monks looking inward and not up.

Artist James Turrell’s 2001 Live Oak Friends [Quaker] Meeting House is closer with its emphasis on the vertical relationship between Heaven and Earth and also, let’s not forget, with its economy of means. However, there are three important differences.

  1. Live Oak Friends Meeting House is a place of worship. It is a specific place people go to at specific times for the specific act of worship. In some sort of abstract way, it might (or should) structure the lives people lead during the rest of the day.
  2. The roof (or, rather, the soffit) is still very much a barrier between Heaven and Earth. People can see heaven but are still as physically far away from it as ever.
  3. Pretty as they are, Turrell’s skyscapes are also strange in that they make us see the sky with new eyes, as all good art should. Although the sky is real, we appreciate it as a two-dimensional trompe l’oeil representation of the heavens above. [Next week’s history class is about Renaissance Architecture and, the week after, Baroque.]
Live Oak Friends Meeting House, Houston, Texas, 2000. Production still from the Art in the Twenty-First Century Season 1 episode, Spirituality, 2001. © Art21, Inc. 2001.

Judging by the length of time the Chinese courtyard survived, it’s reasonable to say it was fit for purpose as a way of structuring life as well as the physical environment. The Chinese courtyard would be a perfect example of architectural determinism if only it were more about buildings and less about the spaces surrounded by them. Anyway, all this was news to me. Possibly a revelation. Gothic cathedrals and Chinese courtyards are both associated with particular views of the world but, while Gothic cathedrals might advertise a blueprint for living, the Chinese courtyard encapsulates one and gives everyone a good chance at the good life in the here and now.

It’s not everyday I’m asked to disregard the basis for everything I thought I knew about architecture.

I had another look at some courtyards I’ve admired in the past, limiting my search to ones along an axis. My first was Philip Johnson’s Rockefeller Guest House even though the axial procession to the courtyard stops at the front door. It’s actually very Chinese in having a change of direction to compose oneself before entering the main room proper but this courtyard is a disappointment. It’s a light well and a horizontal view opportunity. Apart from the three stepping stones, there’s no place a person can be on the ground with open sky above. The small terrace outside the living room is covered by a canopy more to prevent overlooking by neighbors than protect from rain or shine. Still, it’s pleasant enough to Western eyes and, until now, I never found it lacking. This house is all about the entertaining space.

My next axial courtyard house was Craig Ellwood’s 1955 Hunt House in Malibu, CA. It’s symmetrical and processional. It’s a beautiful plan. The left and right courtyards are functional but the horizontal view of the ocean from the roofless terrace is the main event. I’d always thought the skylight around the chimney was a curious and unnecessary feature but it doesn’t seem so strange to me now.

Real estate pressure in China means the good life isn’t so available now. More and more people can only aspire to a horizontal views from (and of) towers. It would be nice [and a hugely profitable architectural product for someone] if the courtyard as a vertical space to be traversed, used and appreciated could be combined with voids and stacked housing. Below is my first attempt at designing a symmetrical courtyard house. I was already thinking of stacking them but it was still to early to think about how this could be done or even if it were possible.

As soon as I finished, I realized I’d just designed Kazuo Shinohara’s 1967 Yamashiro House. All that was missing was the change of level.

The section appears to be taken downwards from the post in the middle of the living room yet upwards from the stairs in the car parking space. This space has a portion with a lowered soffit and probably creates a pleasing effect when moving from the lower courtyard into the upper one.

Shinohara bathrooms and kitchens are always utilitarian but I prefer my windows opening onto the courtyard rather than a front door off axis to the right and kitchen door off axis to the left in otherwise blank walls. In the plan above, the peripheral area with the dark shading is the full extent of the site. The living room has two tall windows in the corners where the desks are. I’m amazed how much light appears to be coming in through the one in this photo. Giving each of the bedrooms their own light well is probably a good idea. I’ve never seen an image of the courtyard as seen from the living room. It doesn’t seem like a place to be enjoyed. It’s all about the living room.

There’s a lot of traversing implied voids in Shinohara’s built work. There’s Uncompleted House [1970], Shino House [1970], Cubic Forest [1971], Repeating Crevice [1971] and House in Higashi-Tamagawa [1973] but traversing actual voids occurs not only in Yamashiro House but also in Sky Rectangle [1971], House in Karuizawa [1975] and House in Itoshima [1976]. Yamashiro House (above) and House in Itoshima (below) are the only two with axial movement through courtyard-like voids to the innermost and most important space and even then, the actual route in House in Itoshima is somewhat circuitous.

Shinohara’s House in Itoshima is like Craig Ellwood’s 1955 Hunt House in having the ocean as the void beyond. The axial space at the end of the procession is largely and strongly symbolic even if were don’t know of what. It’s not a space traversed in the course of a day.

If an infinite and horizontal view isn’t available, then having a courtyard on the other side of the innermost room is a good idea, but now my symmetrical courtyard house starts to be Geoffrey Bawa’s Alfred House Office which is entered on axis through a gate between the garage and rooms for the servants (who have a concealed corridor running the length of the house). The first courtyard is an entrance courtyard onto which the servants’ rooms look. The middle courtyard is the most photographed as it has a pool occupying the middle and which has to be walked around. I’m sure the last courtyard the other side of the living room is lovely but it’s more garden than courtyard.

Plan for the Alfred House Office (courtesy of the Geoffrey Bawa Trust)

The pool courtyard too is lovely but the parts open to the sky seem incidental to the pool in the same way that the side courtyards of Elwood’s Hunt House are secondary to the ocean view. In the image below, a bed of pebbles separates the part of the courtyard open to the sky from the route used by people going to the living room.

My last example of an on-axis courtyard is Tadao Ando’s 1976 Sumiyoshi House. It comes closest to the principle of the Chinese courtyard. The entrance door opening off the right side of the porch has, as I mentioned, its Chinese precedents but, once inside, the procession is axial. That’s all by the bye. One person’s photogenic courtyard is another person’s miserable light well but I’ll leave the implications and contradictions of stacked courtyards for another post.

• • • 

Game On!

In my last post I made some observations on the project plan below but I had to ask myself what I would have done with the same building and a similar brief. From what I understand from the Architectural Record article, the brief was to get as many units onto the site as inexpensively as possible. The architects used the word cowboys to describe their property developer clients and the project is what it is, so whatever alternative I may come up with will be nothing more than an exploration of parameters of my choosing.

Nevertheless, I’ll try to get windows on both sides to as many apartments as I can, and I’ll try to get them as equal in floor area as I can. I’ll try not to have apartments whose only view is a light-well. I don’t mind apartments being entered via the kitchen but I’ll try to avoid generic solutions. How do people eat these days? Is the kitchen counter now an acceptable substitute for a table and chairs? In seven out of seventeen apartments it will have to be. I’ll give each apartment space for a table and chairs as well as a sofa.

For my North American readers, should I continue calling these dwellings apartments or should I call them something tenure-neutral like flats or units? Because from what I understand, in North America, calling something an apartment means it’s rented while calling it a condominium means it’s owned. I’ve always thought type and tenure were different so whenever I use the word apartment I’m really only talking about a building with multiple occupation and not about tenure. I’m only concerned with the environment that’s built and not how it’s owned, although I know they’re not independent. In Japan, a condominium is called a “manshion” while an apartment (“apaato”) refers to a timber building where dwellings have a wc but no bath. These are typically occupied by students.

This is my first attempt at downscaling my Sky Rectangle proposal to single apartments on one level. For the time being, I’m persisting with the staggered levels for two reasons. The first is that if the dwellings were structurally integrated and prefabricated, then they could simply be stacked a lá Habitat ‘67. It’d actually be better in that the roof of the apartments would create the walkway one level up and it wouldn’t be necessary to contrive a dedicated structure for access. (To be honest, this is a wish, and I don’t see it surviving for long.)

The second reason is that a rotationally symmetrical plan means the bathroom and kitchen soil pipes align, meaning only one per light-well. I’m relaxed about it passing in front of the kitchen window.

One hundred years ago Le Corbusier allowed a soil pipe to pass through the entrance lobby of Villa Savoye. Nobody seems to have noticed it hiding in plain sight. Eyes that cannot see.

In these next three views, I’ve set the angle of vision at 75° so there’s more information but, in reality, the main room won’t seem as spacious. The window-street and window-window relationships are all good.

The rotationally symmetrical plan forced a layout logic in which the front and back of the apartments were the same but it also created a square living room in the middle,

Smallish square rooms aren’t optimal for the two activities of eating at a table and sitting on sofas doing some group activity. [If families no longer eat together around tables or sit on sofas and engage in some kind of group activity, then we have to rethink what we want from our dwellings. Otherwise, we’re really only dealing in representations of ways of living.]

The square room is the legacy of this project’s beginning with the 8.5 m x 8.5 m grid of a shopping mall car park and so the width of the living room and that of the walkways are both equal at 5.5 metres – a width that’s excessive for walkways and not the best for a 5.5 m long living/dining room either. Dimensions more like the Golden Mean or a length twice its width would be an improvement. But how wide? I don’t know, so I’ll make it 6m x 4m which ought to be more useable despite being one square metre smaller. Both bedroom and kitchen seemed cramped so I added an extra metre at each end. This is the improved version.

  • Internal area increased by about 2 square metres but the voids are now 6 x 2.7 metres instead of 5 x 2, an increase of 62%.
  • Most of the area increase went towards making the bedroom and kitchen more useable, but there is now additional storage in the entrance.
  • The kitchen can be enclosed to accommodate the Asian preference.
  • Alternatively, kitchen and entrance can be curtained off, if desired.
  • Both the bathroom and kitchen exhaust to outside.

This is what happened next.

It didn’t work. Access was using too much of the limited area even without the staggered floors. The smaller end units I’d designed to “square-off” the building had about the same area as the target units so this was my next test.

The apartment sizes were okay (and there were eighteen!) but this would mean demolishing or gutting the the building and rebuilding. I couldn’t not take into account positions of light wells, the party wall and the elevators and fire stairs in the former building on the right. (The building on the left was only three storeys and never had an elevator.) This is what happened next.

  • The basic idea was to shrink the smaller module I’d arrived at and to use the voids for access as they are underused for both illumination and ventilation. (The window openings into the left void appear to have been blocked off. Relocating access to inside the light wells means there is more sellable area left outside the light wells – a net space gain.
  • Having habitable rooms open onto light wells isn’t ideal but there’s nothing bad wrong with using them to ensure a minimum amount of illumination and ventilation to kitchens, bathrooms, access corridors and rooms (including bedrooms) that would otherwise be artificially illuminated and ventilated.
  • Hopefully the main light wells have driveways beneath them somewhere on the ground level to ensure airflow. Hopefully it won’t be where I’ve relocated the fire stair.
  • I shifted the exterior fire escape to the end of the left light well. Its existing position compromises the width of 18 apartments. As is now, all apartments have a width of 4.2 meters more or less. Lengths vary, but only for the length for the living area and bedroom. Twelve out of 18 apartments have the same layout with only differences in length.
  • The living/bedroom area is unpartitioned but an inner bedroom could still be ventilated by what is shown as a light well outside the kitchen and bathroom. These are also a legacy of the project’s beginnings but, since the ground floor is commercial space, they’re probably not going to happen. I suspect that floors are timber because, with the current arrangement there must be risers all across all typical floors. At what level these collect I don’t know. Probably the best I can do is to have bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and entrance opening onto an outside space fronting the two existing voids and take soil pipes down there. [This is what I did settle for, as shown below.] The bedroom window uses the closet space as a buffer between private and semi-private space.
  • I notice, a bit belatedly, that the party walls in the as-built building, align with those free-standing columns. Whether this alignment was enforced or simply expedient I have no way of telling and nobody is telling. Fingers crossed.
  • The fire escape in the building on the left looks original because the apartments in the frontage remaining. each have two windows. They won’t in my redistribution. This becomes a question of facade retention vs. profit. In the building on the right both top and bottom, I have six apartments where the structural bays suggest four (as was built). If my proposal were to be built, some of these windows would have to be divided or blocked which would be a shame since the importance of illumination is a priority everywhere else.

I was surprised the total area for access in my proposal is exactly the same at 154±0.5 m2. However, mine is naturally illuminated and ventilated, easy to navigate and also lets you know you’re not alone in the building. Access area diverted to light-wells represents a net increase in sellable area but I used some of it to enlarge and illuminate the elevator lobby.

  • I know nothing of the pre-existing structure and construction. I haven’t followed the grid implied by the columns, whatever they’re made of, but I was lucky they didn’t intrude into the apartments. I maintained the minimum 1.2m shared corridor width (that produces that lone column below the elevators).
  • Because of this, I wasn’t so lucky with the window spacing.
  • As for fire escape, apartments 17 and 18 might be too far from the fire escape stairs. If so, adding another door to the stairwell is better than adding a third stairwell in the light well. Shifting access to the light-wells unified access and better utilized the light-wells for what they’re there to do.

• • • 

  • It didn’t work out how I imagined it would. It’s not possible to know all the conditions and constraints the architects had to work with. I made assumptions about the construction but I also saw things in the as-built plan that contradicted them. Budget is another constraint but only the client and the architects know what the budget allowed and what it did not. There’s also the unknown of market expectations. I think the entry “courtyard” is a worthwhile idea but it only works if there’s a light-well or some other external access. Apartments 11, 12, 13 and 14 didn’t have this so I designed them as active band apartments with the outside is the necessary void. The architects have designed generic apartments so I suspect there is no appetite in Winnipeg for active band apartments.
  • Only apartments 15 and 16 have separate bedrooms that make use of that difficult space between the core and the light-well. This is made possible by using the light well to access apartments 17 and 18.
    • In all, I’m pleased but not smug. Any of several known unknowns and an unknown number of unknown unknowns could instantly invalidate this proposal but it was a useful exercise all the same.

• • • 

About Face!

The Active Band was the name of concept that gave kitchens and bathrooms priority on the periphery of residential buildings. French architect Yves Lion proposed it in 1987. Riken Yamamoto’s 2002 Ban Building in Niigata, Japan is a good built example. The photograph below shows Room 3.

The thinking went that living rooms and bedrooms may be the rooms used for the longest periods of time but bedrooms are used mostly in darkness while, in living rooms, people tend to focus on some specific form of relaxation or task that, if it involves a screen, may as well take place in a windowless or curtained room. What we do in bathrooms hasn’t changed much but living rooms are no longer about inviting people over for afternoon tea in the “front room” and kitchens are no longer about one person spending hours at a time preparing dinner. Even though the amount of time people spend in bathrooms and kitchens each instance might not be long, these spaces are used a greater number of times in the course of a waking day. i.e they are more active. [When I wrote that sentence, I’d been awake for about thirty minutes. It was still dark and I’d already been into the bathroom three times and the kitchen four. The kitchen light remained on but I turned the bathroom light on and off each time.] From the outside and especially at night, the switching of lights on and off as occupants move around a building makes its facade more “active”. The “band” part of active band comes from the active zone being on all four sides of a residential tower.

We don’t talk about active bands in office towers although, if ever you’ve watched one at night, you can see who’s working late and also see lights being turned on and off as cleaners move around the building.

I’m reluctant to criticize Riken Yamamoto’s Ban building but, while its kitchens and bathrooms are relatively “open” to the street, the entire apartment is as closed to the corridor as, say, those in Lake Point Tower. The access corridor is regarded as a utility – a horizontal shaft for shifting people. Another quibble with active band buildings is that their inner life only shows as arbitrary flickerings across their facades – it is a representation of activity and the people inside remain anonymous to those outside, especially if the building is tall and in a built-up situation. On the inside, a view and the accompanying daylight and ventilation are as welcome as ever in kitchens and bathrooms but once again there’s no connection with the street and any people in it. It’s easy to see why persons in high-rise residential towers feel removed.

I remember being surprised when Kiyonori Kikutake placed the kitchens and bathrooms closest to the open access walkways in his 1974 Pasadena Heights project. I also remember somebody writing at the time – probably in Japan Architect magazine – that Kikutake might have made this decision because kitchens and bathrooms can have a slightly lower ceiling and so allow for the increased thickness of the walkway above them. Nobody was accusing Kikutake of being disingenuous, but the view through that frameless corner window and across the walkway to the view beyond belongs to the entire living room. It is a very well placed kitchen window.

These are the only two buildings I could think of with kitchens and bathrooms on the outer wall, but only the Kikutake one has kitchens and bathrooms on the access side. I searched Floor Plan Manual Housing for other examples of apartment kitchens facing outwards and towards the access. I didn’t find any more but I did find several interesting projects, most of which were either in Amsterdam or Zürich.

ISBN: 978-3-0346-1040-7

The first was the 1993 Bungestrasse by Alder [p82-83]. It’s not a tall building but the plan is divided into daytime areas on the south side and night-time areas on the north along with one room that could be either or both. The bathroom has a south-facing window and also balcony, possibly for laundry drying. It’s an active frontage but has nothing to do with access.

The 1995 Sihlhölzlistrasse by Spühler has its entry via an outdoor area the living room opens onto. It’s a walled garden rather than defensible space. Arrangements like this are only possible for two apartments per core unless there is a donut-or H-shaped corridor around the elevators and access stairs.

The 1995 Friedrichswtraße by OMA has apartment layouts that can’t be made any more efficient. Kitchen and bathroom windows open onto the open access corridor that is a means of access and nothing else. It’s also very much the rear of the building, and its windows are openings in a hard boundary between inside and outside. The type is generally known as balcony access or deck access. It’s not an arrangement that gets photographed.

Alder made the same decisions with their 1992 Vogelbach project.

Since we’re doing history, here’s Hannes Meyer’s 1929-30 Dessau-Törten Housing Estate.

The 2007 Rondo [Zurich, 2007] by Graber Pulver was much publicized for its Instagrammable atrium. While it isn’t overlooked by any windows, the open kitchens around which the apartments have been planned, are adjacent to the entrance hallway and large panels of frosted glass. Persons in these kitchens appear as shadowy blurs to persons passing by and probably vice-versa. This was a conscious decision of the architects. One photograph showed a backlit figure through the glass but you might have to go back to original sources to find it.

Less shy are the 2001 KNSM- and Java-Eiland buildings in Amsterdam by Diener & Diener. There are three access and entrance situations. With the apartment at 3 o’clock in the image on the right below, the bathroom and kitchen windows front the open corridor but the arrangement of kitchen counters suggests the kitchen window is full-height, as it also does with the middle apartment. All apartments have entrances opening into hallways off of which open bathrooms.

Two more. If the example above was less shy, then the Bülachlof [Zurich, 2004] by Langenegger is exhibitionist by comparison. Daytime living areas have full-height glazing to the access walkway while, deeper inside, small lobbies link bedrooms and bathrooms. For some reason I’m not comfortable with, knowing that it’s student housing makes it seem less shocking.

Lastly, there is 8 Octavia [San Francisco, 2014] by Stanley Saitowitz Natoma. This layout splits people in the building into two groups. The first group is persons prowling the corridors onto which only doors open, and the second group is persons who can share light-wells from safely inside their apartments. The individual units are modular and bedroom windows of different apartments face each other both horizontally and diagonally up and down across a 4-5 meter wide void. These bedroom window relationships aren’t great but at least windows are separated by voids. The reason for all this is to have two habitable rooms with the exterior frontage of one, four for two, or six for three. I feel better about the bedroom window relationships in my Sky Rectangle proposal of a few weeks back.

I’m coming around to the idea of the kitchen being the primary space from which the street or lobby is observed – or surveilled, depending on your mindset. From a living room, even a picturesque view becomes part of the scenery until appreciated vicariously via visitors and guests seeing it for the first time. High-rise residential buildings are conventionally configured with habitable rooms on the periphery where they can have most daylight and natural ventilation (and security) because of the multi-storey airspace outside their windows and if there’s also some desirable view across this multi-storey airspace then so much the better. Maximizing the amount of this high-value habitable room space pushes non-habitable rooms to the inside which is also where the non-sellable space of the access core and corridor are.

In low-cost buildings this results in kitchen and bathroom windows opening onto an access corridor. In high-rise towers, the usual result is artificially illuminated and ventilated corridors having only front doors opening onto them. The atrium access projects of Graber Pulver and Diener & Diener both propose the kitchen as the space most suited to observing the access and being observed from it. Their only problem is that their atriums are in the centre and not distributed around the edges as light-wells (mini-atriums?) putting some space between windows and access.

There are many historic examples of shared light-wells bringing daylight and natural ventilation to kitchens and bathrooms, internal corridors and access lobbies. Here’s two, both by the same architect.

The Stanley Saitowitz Natoma project introduces the shared light-well as an architectural device for getting daylight and natural ventilation to habitable rooms in the here and now.

Here’s a project from a year earlier. It’s the Avenue Building [2013, Winnipeg] by 5468796 Architecture, and featured in Architectural Record (from where this plan comes). It’s a conversion of a former office building and, as in any conversion, compromises had to be made.

  1. Corridors are long, windowless, and also circuitous. Getting from the elevators to the apartment in the north-west corner involves seven changes of direction.
  2. The void on the left is bridged on every level to provide an alternative means of fire escape. These bridges are shown with solid walls that make the void into two separate voids (shown incorrectly).
  3. The more serious compromise comes from the building’s former use as offices. Old office buildings often had deep plans with light-wells because, even if they weren’t open plan, they could still have internal corridors with individual offices on both sides. It doesn’t really work like that with apartments. A typical upper floor in this conversion has 17 apartments but only 13 have the number “8” to show they are apartments. The four un-numbered ones are lit and ventilated solely via lightwells – although the one on the upper right looks like it has a “historic” – and probably illegal – window along the site boundary.
  4. The bridge extension to the fire escape is as far as it can practically be from the two apartments facing it. If the bridge had crossed the void in a single line, it would have reduced the size of the right side by about the third. If the budget had run to fireproof glass for the bridge walls, then the two un-numbered apartments on the west side might have been able to view some corridor activity (from their bathrooms).
  5. However, nothing can be done about the width of the void and so the bedroom windows of those two apartments face each other across voids approx. 4-5 meters wide for the left void and 6-7 metres wide for the one on the right.
  6. The two apartments in the south-west corner both have bedrooms without windows, even though the left-most one has the opportunity for a window to the light well. It’d be perverse to have a light well with no windows onto it so I’m guessing that those in the light-well on the left side of the party wall have been blocked up – $$). Because of the need to access that apartment, the bedroom of the one adjacent has no chance of a window. In the three apartments the opposite side of the light-well, the bedrooms aren’t even rooms.

The western world now has this century’s first view-less apartments and the boundary of what’s acceptable has been pushed and lowered. I was too slow to imagine multi-storey housing illuminated and ventilated by light-wells and windows though which people can see people going to and fro. By contrast, the building in the example above has windowless corridors, windowless rooms, rooms that aren’t even rooms, and windows where the only view is of neighbors’ windows maybe 24′ (7m) across a light-well. This typical upper floor is good example of everything I’m trying to propose an alternative to. I appreciate the skill that’s gone into making this layout the way it is. It’s actually a good, albeit ruthless, working through of the problem. The real evil is the framing of the problem that leads to solutions like this.

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Defensible Space

The term defensible space now has meaning in terms of wildfire defense but, in the 1970s when I first learned of it, defensible space was a kind of buffer zone between public space such as a footpath and the (front) door through which private space is accessed, and intended to defend you and your property against assault and/or burglary. I understood it as a front garden. The concept held that if some stranger was in your defensible space then you had the right to ask what they wanted and why they were there. But would a polite question be enough? How this defensible space would be defended was never made explicit and, I suspect it didn’t need to be. It was a concept for aggressive times and places and, not conducive to a sense of community, or of even of belonging to a greater society.

Nevertheless, in places such as 1960s–1980s New York, assuming all strangers were out to do you harm wasn’t such an outrageous thing to assume. Architecturally, it gave rise to secured buildings such as the 1963 Ford Foundation that created a secure and serene place to be instead of the hostile outside. A template for living on Mars.

Over the same period, it became more common to have gated communities where the sense of community was created by a defensive enclosing wall and entry via secured gates. Inside, there was no public and so no public space. Defensible space became a buffer between private space and communal space, ensuring privacy rather than security. Anyone walking a dog or jogging would be regarded as having what people called (and still call) “shared values”. Houses not in gated communities could erect high garden walls and install entry-phones and become gated communities of one. This notion of the outside world as a threat lives on in terminology about territoriality, defense, and surveillance.


By the 1980s, apartments around the world were configured as vertical gated communities with live-in building managers having secondary roles as concierges and security guards. If the office was unattended, occupants could use the lobby entry-phone to admit visitors, couriers and food deliveries. Strangers passing by one’s apartment wouldn’t be such a problem if residential floor corridors had only doors opening onto them but, for example, many upmarket apartment buildings in Japan’s large cities have deck access because apartments can be planned with daylight and natural ventilation to more rooms. Rooms with windows opening onto the access corridor are usually secondary (children’s) bedrooms and the windows would have frosted glass, deep reveals and security bars. They wouldn’t be open very often and, when they were, unable to be opened fully. This next layout is typical of the time.

This example has deck access on the north side, enabling south-light to the LDK room. Don’t forget that, in Japan, the tatami room on the south side can also have the bedding put away and the room used as an extension of the daytime living space.

Multi-story residential buildings with what I’ll call detached decks are now more common than they used to be. This next example is a 2015 multi-storey apartment building in Tokyo. The deck is detached from the building and, whether it’s defending privacy or against crime, the defensible space consists of two parts, the first being the voids that physically prevent people from approaching the windows and the second is the space between the voids. This second space could easily be gated to make it an atrophied front garden and more obviously defensible.

This next is a contemporary example of a Chinese apartment with a detached deck leading to one other apartment. The deck is overlooked by a kitchen, two bathrooms and a study room. The balcony is a service balcony for the hot water tank and two air conditioner compressors. The idea of a machine balcony within a void has potential but both examples are an improvement as the apartment no longer presents a blank wall to the access deck. Not only do more rooms get natural light and ventilation, but the rear of the apartments allow an awareness of the internal life of the building. You know when somebody is home.

Detached houses with a front garden, a garden fence and a garden gate always had defensible space and the only thing that changed was the perception of the threat and the degree of response to that threat. These days, we have more people living in multi-storey residential buildings with secure entrances to prevent hawkers, burglars and peepers but, once inside, there no measures to provide the sense of community that living along a street used to.

This term “sense of community” needs clarifying. I’m using it to define a sense of looking out for each other, of having a concern for the security and safety of others as well as oneself and, at the same time, of taking pleasure in other people living along the same street or corridor or in the same building as oneself. Privacy and affirmation that one’s not alone in the world aren’t and shouldn’t be thought of as mutually exclusive.

The Japanese and Chinese examples above both use detached decks to ensure privacy and security to secondary habitable rooms. However, the entrances are clearly at the back of the dwelling whereas defensible space was originally meant to be at the “front” of the house where all the main rooms were. People could be in their living rooms yet still watch for visitors and deliveries and also be aware of activity in the street.

Many of my own proposals to improve this situation by having deck access or semi- enclosed corridor access inadvertently maintained this status quo by usually placing kitchen windows so they looked at or over the access corridor/lobby across a void.

These voids functioned as defensible space in that they prevented people from approaching too close to the windows but they also enhanced airflow. Some proposals had kitchen windows overlooking access corridors and some had them overlooking three-storey high lobbies. Both types had the access overlooked across voids. This next example has an access lobby (serving three levels) being overlooked across a void by windows in the kitchen and entrance hall of each apartment. The view on the right below is the view from the window just inside the entry.

There were several variations. Some used rectangular apartments to stretch the circular typical floor into a sausage shape. My last proposal in this series had kitchen windows and narrow bathroom windows opening onto the void. The bathroom window would have frosted glass of course and once again it was the kitchen window that allowed views out. A view of an access lobby is not necessarily about surveillance. Just as with any other street, it could just be about watching people go about their lives as a way of passing the time. It could be about letting other people know you are home. No matter whether a person is within an apartment or in the access corridor, it could just be about wanting to be a visible part of the life of the building. I believe this is a prerequisite for a high-density residential architecture that’s not the socially dysfunctional types we’re used to.

This next proposal had kitchen windows looking across a void to overlook the access corridor at a half-level difference in height. This half-level height difference minimizes the opportunity for sudden direct eye contact but allows a mutual awareness of the presence of other people.

With this next proposal, the access corridor is separated from the living space by voids each side and overlooked at a half-level difference in height by kitchen windows on one side and a bedroom corridor on the other. The example above had a problem with bathroom windows but this example has the bathrooms above/below the access corridor.

Two proposals, one called Terraced Mat and another called Pasadena 2 were inclined mat buildings along the lines of Kunio Mayekawa’s Pasadena Heights. Both had lightwells shared vertically by different spaces of different apartments but there was no overlooking of access and so, like many a building with blank walls or only minor windows fronting the access, the buildings appeared uninviting to people arriving.

In a suburban situation, the entrance to the house was conventionally at the street facade of the house that had the living room and main bedroom windows. The was so the important rooms of the house faced the street but also because the view of the street was the default view if there was no other view.

The street is no longer the default view. In suburban Australia for example, residential blocks are often only half the width of what they used to be and the remaining width is sufficient for only a double garage, entrance door and one mandatory window that will most likely be for the master bedroom. The living areas now face whatever open space remains out the back. Nevertheless, the fact that the room with the mandatory street-facing window is the master bedroom suggests a residual respect for the view of a street. The houses haven’t turned their backs on the street totally.

It used to be the norm for suburban houses to face the street. It used to be the norm for single-0aspect5 apartments to face some external aspect and present a blank wall to the corridor – a configuration that detached houses are moving towards.

Rather than apartment corridors becoming more like the best kind of street, suburban streets are becoming more like the worst kind of apartment corridor.

The voids in my various proposals have all functioned as defensible space that, being voids, were already a physical barrier against trespassing. Voids puts three-dimensional space between observer and observed. From the inside, voids enhance the perception of security and privacy and provide a safe place from which to watch and maybe even interact with people on the other side. And from the outside and especially for those not yet inside, seeing or even having an awareness of other people (by seeing the lights on in even curtained rooms) is a sign of the shared inhabitation that’s the prerequisite for community. These are important functions but voids can also function as lightwells and ventilation shafts and also as easily accessible and ventilated service risers. My most recent proposal better integrates these many functionalities of these empty spaces that are actually doing quite a lot.

This only becomes possible by rejecting the single-aspect apartment configuration that denies the street and adopting the traditional suburban house orientation that valued views of the street and having a human presence on that street. I’m suggesting it’s time for the orientation of apartments to become more like what houses once were. The only view these dwellings have is of streets that only now, are worthy of being called streets in the sky, defensible space included.


  1. Resolve apartment layouts for different lengths, ideally retaining a high degree of modularity.
  2. Solve the contradiction of dual aspect apartments that don’t overlook each other’s private space while still sharing the vertical light-wells/defensible space. This may prove impossible to solve for dual-aspect apartments. I’m not sure what do do about that.
  3. Have only one vertical run of services per void instead of the current two. This may also be impossible to solve for dual aspect apartments along vertically adjacent streets horizontally staggered two bays. Ditto
  4. Solve all this within a 5.5m x 8m x 5.5m matrix, the 5.5m x 8m being equivalent to four car bays (if wanted) so that a workable width remains for the half-void bays. There may be some set of “magic” dimensions like the 8m x 8m grid that neatly solves many things while creating few problems.
  5. Design for construction using self-supporting prefabricated modules in the manner of shipping containers or Habitat ’67.

• • •

Feasibility Study

Here’s where I left it in Sky Rectangle – a proposal for interlocking back-to-back apartments arranged in rows half-stacked and half-terraced, with both the apartments and access corridors illuminated and ventilated by 4m x 8m shafts open to the sky and corridor.

In that post I mentioned how the images above are just my impressions of what I expect the level of illumination to be. Rendering parameters can be adjusted and photographs can be manipulated. The only way of being certain would be to construct a full-scale model for some chosen latitude and observe it for a year. I didn’t do that. However, I was recently in an office four floors (approx. 12 metres) from the top of a lightwell measuring approximately 4 x 8 metres. This is what it looked like from the inside.

And this is what the bottom of the lightwell looked like from the street-level driveway entrance perhaps 20 metres away. In both sets of images you’ll have to allow for a certain amount of ambient light coming from behind just as my proposal will have a certain amount of sideways light contributing to the ambient.

This level of illumination looks sufficient but then, these photographs were taken about midday (Sun alt: ≈ 73°, azimuth 7°) in midsummer (Jan. 31) in Perth, Western Australia (lat. -31.95°. long. -115.86°).


And this is what that proposal is going to be inserted into – five levels of shopping mall floor-plate, each with an area of approximately 35,000 square metres and with the long sides oriented approximately east-west. Within that floor-plate are atriums, openings for escalators, and cores for elevators, fire-escapes and utilities. There are also double height cinemas, a double height ice-skating rink and a swimming pool, all of which I’ll ignore. Conditions on the periphery are not uniform. Unusually, the north and east side also have three levels of external deck access while the western corner has five levels of externally linked terraces. I’ll ignore these special features because I’m attempting to derive general principles.

Basically, the problem is one of inserting a regular spatial system into a structural one that’s regular only in parts. I don’t know how this is going to turn out. Disjunctions between the two systems will occur on the periphery, around the atriums and around the cores where they ought to be of most benefit to the most people.

• • • 

It was a worthy idea, and all the disjunction space was indeed around the periphery, the atriums and the elevators but, as you can see from the Level 2 layout below, there was just too much of it. I was only getting about 100 dwellings per floor. [At this time, I was still assuming an ice-skating rink in the middle on the lower side.]

The area of the floor-plate minus openings is about 30,000 m2. The footprint of each pair of apartments is 128m2, but another 64m2 needs to be added for the access corridor (on one side) as it is be shared by adjacent group of dwellings. The total built footprint for 100 units is therefore 12,800 – a little over one third which is not great. This is largely the result of the basic (paired) residential unit being 8m x 32m. This length creates much disjunction, particularly at the short ends and around elevators. Having occasional unpaired units 24m long instead of paired ones at 32m length also reduces efficiency. Staggering alternate floors doesn’t make much difference as what one gains on the even-numbered levels is lost on the odd-numbered ones. Despite that, or perhaps because of that, the overall environment doesn’t look bad.

This proposal has the views out that I’d envisaged but the best possible situation shown in the image below doesn’t occur often enough or for long enough as the longest “street” has only four units each side.

These apartments are fundamentally different from those in conventional towers. They’re more like townhouses because, although the voids are the primary source of illumination and ventilation, they also function as buffers between the private space of the units and the shared space of the streets.

This next plan is sufficient as proof of concept but I’d like to increase the floor-plate efficiency from one third to at least one half. There are about 600 units here and this doesn’t seem enough for the project to go forward. I’ve identified four problem spots and each of them are caused by the long basic unit encountering an edge or an obstacle. Alternate levels will have the same problems but in different places. Not unrelated is the fact that getting more units in is a bit like designing a car park in that the more double-loaded roads you have, the more efficient it will be. Even looking at this image below, there clearly aren’t enough of those double-loaded access streets shown in the image above. The vertical pattern of streets should be more apparent.

1 The levels above and below have the best fit for the units and this edge condition is the direct result of staggering alternate floors. This can be solved by fitting half-bay (approx. 4m x 8m) two story units between the voids. These units would have no outdoor space save for the void outside their habitable room windows.

2 A different variation could make use of some of the space to the left of the elevators between situations 1 and 2. Nothing can be done about the 16-m spaces either side of the elevators in 2. It might be helpful to have a variation with the standard for unit one half and shortened (by one bay) for the other, interlocking half.

3 This area is isolated by voids and is not large. This suggests breaking the pattern of voids and having standard three-bay units as well as specially designed two-bay units stacked every level.

4 The same might have to be done for all of this sector as none of its areas are large.

The differing overall lengths of these variations account for instances where there are sufficient columns but insufficient length for five-bay paired unis. These variations tidy up the edges and fill in some of the spaces (that would still be necessary even if the unit and corridor positions didn’t alternate). There’s no point rotating the direction of voids and units 90° because larger (longer) areas won’t occur anywhere except the leftmost edge in the above image. Moreover, the streets would be terminated by elevator cores while the same number of variations would still be needed.

On levels 4 and 5 is a two-storey ice-skating rink supported by beams on level 3 but it now makes sense to build over this to provide approximately 24 additional units. Each of the elevator and stair cores is in reality different but I want to keep them generic at this stage and not indicate the internal arrangement. My only conditions are that there be four metres of space on all sides and that their positions not be hidden any more than they currently are.

[In the existing mall, cores on the west side occur along internal corridors that link to the external access corridors. The outward-facing units and the inward-facing units are serviced by a central corridor Similar transverse routes occur on the east side except they terminate at service corridors along the eastern edge.]

For now, I’ll design those more compact variations that ought to squeeze some more efficiency out of the floorplate.

If I don’t reach 50% efficiency, then I’ll scrap the staggering and instead design a typical floor along the lines of the above with units facing outwards, units facing inwards towards the atriums and inner units lit and ventilated only by light wells. The units will still follow the column grid but in the other direction. As a solution, I don’t like having a horizontal hierarchy of light as well as a vertical one. If I adopt this arrangement then, in most instances, the ends of these inner access corridors will have elevator cores and, because of that, indirect light from both inside and outside.

Rather than pursuing that Plan B, I did this.

The yellow units are the main unit type but there are now also five other variations. There will be about 180 units per level which is almost 1,000 not counting the basements. I can still see five instances where paired half-bay units could fit but it’s approaching as good as it gets for its premises. It is now easier to see the long double-sided streets that make most efficient use of space.

I won’t bother doing something similar for the alternate floors as, in the above, you can see there are three different conditions for how the units “meet” the elevator cores. Although the situations for the same core will differ, the principle of using the variations to account for shortfalls in length will still apply, only in different positions.

Another option is to start again, and use this study and the one before as the basis for an optimized Mat-rix House with a primary structure FF of 5.5 m and a column grid of 5.5 x 5.5 m. This would (just) be large enough to to arrange a car park (if required) and would also allow either steel or mass timber structure. This structure would be more regular and, since there is no need for atriums to bring light and air, or to add “incident” for the sake of it, elevators and stairs would best placed on the periphery. This will be for some other time.


The demonstration mall is on the left in the image above, and has approximately 1,000 two-bedroom apartments. The two levels of basement car parking extend two bays past the building’s east and west sides so, if B1 and B2 were opened to the outside by removing the slabs in these extensions, it would be possible to have another 400 additional units, bringing the total to 1,400.

To the right of the mall is a typical high-rise residential complex with each half of a paired tower having 4 apartments x 30 storeys = 120 apartments. Let’s say the mall’s width is equal to three and a half tower halves, and that its length is equal to four rows of three half towers. There are approximately 1,440 units.

The spatial efficiency is about the same but the mall has six 5.5 metre levels (approx. 30 metres) and already exists, while the generic towers have thirty 3.0 metre levels (approx. 90 metres).

The cost of purchasing an abandoned mall and inserting lightweight apartments into the existing megastructure has to be weighed against the (financial and environmental) cost of acquiring and clearing a similar area of land and building anew. Purchasing an abandoned mall, demolishing it and then building a conventional residential development makes no environmental sense and is unlikely to make any financial sense either.

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