Author Archives: Graham McKay

Architecture Misfit #28: Harold Krantz

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Abraham Harold Krantz
[1906 – 1999]

  • 1906: Born in Adelaide, Australia, to Russian Jewish parents
  • 1926: Qualified as an architect and worked for Woods, Bagot, Jory & Laybourne-Smith
  • 1927: Moved to Perth to work for Oldham, Boas & Ednie-Brown
  • 1929: Registered as an architect

1929 was not a great year to start a career. It was the beginning of The Great Depression that was to last until 1939. For the first two years Krantz ran a poster studio with John Oldham, son of his earlier boss John Oldham Snr. He and Oldham were able to make a living producing lino cut poster prints, many for the Australian Communist Party of which Oldham was a member. Krantz was to later recall how running this business made him look for ways of getting the cost down without spoiling the quality.  Krantz’s first designs for buildings were simple ones aiming at cost efficiency. They had to be if they were to have any chance of being built.

“It had to be as functional as possible with no frills, no decoration, the use of colour and materials, good planning, no waste of space, no passages and no breaks and funny shapes. The objective was to study every element in the building from the skirting, from the foundations, up to the top of the roof. Is there a better way of doing it for the same money, or a better job for less, or just as good a job for less money?”

Even as a reminiscence, this is amazing for the late thirties. These next two projects from 1936 are catalogued by Australian National University as Oldham’s but signed by Krantz. The automobiles won’t have been realistic for mid-Depression Australia so these are probably speculative designs, or possibly the research that architects typically turn to in lean times. For Australia, these buildings proposed a new way of living. They weren’t trying to be houses. In the one on the left, the grade is being used for car parking and the absence of gardens compensated for by the roof terrace.

The hope for better times isn’t being displayed as architectural excess. The symmetry about the entrance suggests minimal internal circulation with two apartments per landing. Even when times were better, Krantz was still never one to waste building volume.

It’s not surprising that some of Krantz’s first built projects were for small multiple-occupation dwellings in the wealthier parts of Perth towards the end of The Depression.

‘Melleray’ Flats, 1938
Corner Winthrop Ave and Hardy Road, Hollywood, Perth

“Coronel’ Flats, Harold Krantz, 1938
Corner Fairway and Clark Street, Nedlands 

The four flats give the illusion of a large house by the asymmetrical front elevation and by having the entrances on the sides. [It’s odd to think that between 1974 and 1978 I spent most of my daylight hours and a fair share of the nightime ones within 200 metres of this building.]

These apartment blocks must date from not too long after as the same principles are used in larger blocks, and repeated. Amazingly, some still remain.

These are the 1938 Riviera flats. There’s no hint of the jazz, cocktails and fast cars of the 1936 proposals, but the fact they were built in 1938 proves the concept was timely and achievable. Once again there are two flats per landing.

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Arbordale, Perth and Greenways, Adelaide, 1939

Nedlands Tennis Club, Harold Krantz, 1939

Krantz was a member of the Nedlands Tennis Club and designed its new clubhouse. With tenders advertised in January 1938 for AUS£1,600 including some restrained Art-Deco trim, this was a major project signalling the end of the building downturn.

Nedlands Tennis Club

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Krantz’s approach to architecture was thus well established by 1939 when Robert Schläflik arrived from Europe and began working for him. Schläflik registered as an architect in 1946, changed his surname to Sheldon, and the firm of Krantz & Sheldon began.

Building flats allowed Krantz the opportunity to more fully develop and apply the principles he had already established in his work on houses, that being an

  1. emphasis on reducing each dwelling unit to a minimum, achieved by tight planning rather than smaller spaces;
  2. conventional construction combined with rigorous detailing to maximise structural strength of building materials and minimise waste; and
  3. the bulk ordering of standard building materials, fixtures and fittings to achieve economies of scale. [architecture.com.au]

This is all brilliant in itself but another innovation was the system for funding some of the earlier buildings. “He organised friends, family and business colleagues into syndicates who would pool their resources to finance new building projects, particularly flats. These syndicates allowed small investors direct access to property investment. Significantly, as the syndicates were primarily for investment, Krantz and Sheldon was able to pursue design ideas without the restrictions of individual preferences.” [ibid] Those design ideas weren’t design ideas as we may understand the term today but ways of constructing accommodation more efficiently.

People in Perth did not take quickly to the idea of living in apartments. Newspapers were critical of flats as the “the slums of tomorrow’. In 1941 Krantz defended the building of flats in an article for The Architect magazine. He claimed ‘slums are low return propositions; whether small cottages, large luxury residences or flats of any kind’. This is a valid statement if the apartments are for sale and not for rent. 

In 1953, the Western Australian State Housing Commission commissioned Krantz & Sheldon to design the Wandana housing project in Subiaco. It included ten-storey block containing 242 apartments. Upon its completion in 1956 Krantz once again had to defend apartment living. 

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Wandana Housing, Krantz & Sheldon, 1956
93 Thomas Street, Subiaco

Krantz & Sheldon remained the predominant designers of flats in Perth through to the 1970s, with some estimates suggesting the firm designed as much as 90% of Perth’s flats up to this time. In response to limits on building materials, and to keep maintenance to a minimum, their designs pursued functionalism and included features such as minimal decoration, unpainted timbers, face brickwork, cream painted finishes.

Here’s their Caringal Apartments. The effect is like Danish Modernism but achieved with materials having a high cost-performance. I say that because parquet flooring would not have been the least expensive option and because Krantz knew the physical properties of linoleum.

Playhouse Theatre, Harold Krantz, 1956
[demolished but formerly in Pier Street, Perth]

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Many Krantz & Sheldon buildings had face brickwork and it has been their fate to be painted. This happened with Hillside Gardens and even more recently with the partial painting of Fremantle’s Johnson Court that featured in The Homestead Myth.

Hillside Gardens, Krantz & Sheldon, 1963
59-65 Malcolm Street, West Perth

This real estate listing will hopefully still take you around the interior of an apartment at Hillside Gardens. 

In Australia, internal face brickwork elicits the same reaction as raw concrete does in the UK and for the same reason – class prejudice. Beauty = Expensive therefore Inexpensive = Ugly. Internal face brickwork was never intended as a fashion statement so it’s impossible for it to have gone out of fashion. If we don’t see so much of it today it’s not that we grew out of the look but because we like to think we can afford “better”. The same prejudice lives on. This is ironic because we can’t afford better. Over time, the quality of workmanship declined to the extent it became cheaper to build sloppily using second-rate materials and then cover it all up after with plaster and paint. “Architectural aesthetics is a smokescreen for economic exploitation.” Discuss. There’s no architectural aesthetics on display in this next photograph. Instead, the good life is depicted by the television, flowers, the palm tree and the dinner party about to happen with three courses, chargers, napkins, and the promise of wine.

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Interior makeovers have occurred at Johnson Court and many other Krantz & Sheldon apartment buildings but the bathrooms remain next to the kitchen for simplified plumbing, easier maintenance and natural ventilation. Some things resist being changed because there’s no way they can be improved upon.

The 1950s and 1960s were the golden years of flat building in Perth and nobody made a greater contribution to it than Krantz & Sheldon. Their apartments were of many types and sizes, and for budgets and sites of all sizes. All share the same pragmatic planning, construction, and servicing. All of the photographs you see here are used with the permission of the State Library of Western Australia.

There were also commissions for hotels.

Riverside Lodge is the most central of these. I include it here to show what building visualizations once looked like. It’s still there, and Mt. Eliza Apartments can still be seen in the background.

Riverside Lodge, Krantz & Sheldon
Mounts Bay Road, Perth

• • •

This links to a site that remembers Krantz’s actress wife Dororthy (and hence the connection with the Playhouse Theatre). There, it states that the 1964 Mount Eliza Apartments effectively marked the change in generation from Harold Krantz to son David. 

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Windsor Towers, which also featured in Misfits’ Guide to Perth, is from 1966.

Sheldon died in 1968 and Krantz retired in 1972. Krantz’s son David continued the practice with other partners Robin Arndt, John Silbert, George Sheldon (who I imagine is Robert Sheldon’s son) and Lourens West. The firm traded as Arndt, Silbert and West (KSASW) and later as Team Architects Australia. I believe it was later absorbed into Oldham Boas Ednie Brown and, if that’s so, is a case of the firm ending back where it began. Oldham Boas Ednie Brown now trades as The Buchan Group which is one of those global architectural consortiums that claim “a track record of excellence of service and design” or what passes for it these days. 

• • •

harold-krantz

Abraham Harold Krantz!

For developing a viable new housing product at the end of the Great Depression,

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for preparing the ground for an efficient new housing type of “minimum” flats in Perth,

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for your ceaseless efforts to make apartment buildings acceptable and affordable,

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for promoting a housing type, a construction system to build it,
developing a philosophy for its design and construction,
and for succeeding in rolling it out across Perth,
with various adaptions for site, orientation and budget.

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misfits’ salutes you!

Harold Krantz: Architecture Misfit #28

• • •

The Western Australia Apartment Advocacy (http://www.waaa.net.au) is continuing the work Harold Krantz began and works to promote apartment living in Perth and raise awareness of its advantages.

It was in 1941 when Harold Krantz first had to defend apartment living against a hostile public. Ninety years on, the WA Apartment Advocacy still has their work cut out for them

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• • •

Repeating Crevice Revisted

Repeating Crevice is the English title Kazuo Shinohara gave to a 1970 house that, in Japanese, is known as 同相の谷, dōsō no tani (“In-phase Valleys”). The drafting style of the plans below shows they came from one of the two early books that led me astray.

For many years I thought of Repeating Crevice the way it was presented – as an architectural exploration into domestic space as Art. If Shinohara was aware of having designed into it certain possibilities beyond that, he never let on. The approx. 12 m x 12 m footprint made me recall The Expansible Home and want to revisit Repeating Crevice and see if it has any lessons for us today. Before I do, you might need to work out what’s going on with these plans.

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This might help.

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So might these.

repeating sections

This definitely will.

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  • The (green) entrance hallway is shared space.
  • The (lilac) larger apartment on the ground floor has living areas on the left and, on the right, a bedroom, bathroom and some unidentifiable space accessed via the (blue) downstairs space that is semi-private because it’s overlooked from the (red) upstairs semi-private space.
  • The smaller (pink) apartment is also split in two with its living and sleeping areas separated by the upstairs (red) semi-private space.
  • A window in the small lobby when entering the (pink) living areas is open to the double-height space of the (lilac) living room.
  • The six-mat Japanese-style room is a shared space accessed by the downstairs (blue) semi-private space or directly from the upstairs apartment.

• • •

Here’s what I mean about The Expansible Home.

The arrangement on the left is an apartment suited to, say, a small family. It’s no inconvenience to pass through the living room in order to access the kitchen. In both apartments, the occupants of each bedroom have equal access to dining, living and cooking areas. It’s not just about the spaces though. The arrangement on the right is more suited to a houseshare or co-housing because of the different ways the occupants move about it. The plan is not generated around the usual “promenade” from entry to living room. Occupants can enter and leave the apartment without having to pass through living areas.  They can also move around the apartment in response to the presence or absence of others in those areas.

There are limits to how far the hotel model can be applied to co-housing.
Architects, developers, and probably even the co-housed have come to believe a successful development involves a groovily-decorated shared space to which people will gravitate and do whatever it is they’re supposed to do there.

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It’s likely that such spaces have come to represent co-living while not doing very much to enhance it beyond representing the minimum expected level of amentity. The current architectural manifestation of co-living has quickly settled on articulating the binary states of together/alone and connecting them by a corridor that represents dead time as it’s time spent in neither of the only two states imaginable. This is the hotel model.

True, one could meet someone and have a conversation in those corridors and, convivial though it may be, it’d be something to pass that time. Certain 1920s Soviet communal houses had heated corridors and seating to encourage the use of shared circulation space as shared amenity space. Such an arrangement means that obligations to society (or at least to be social) exist the moment you leave your apartment. That future never happened, but co-living using the hotel model is now with us in a big way and people are expected to be either together or alone. The absence of a buffer zone separating the two states means neither can be anticipated. Co-housing along the lines of the hotel model could quickly become tedious, onerous.

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The hotel model is appropriate for short-term occupation by strangers with things to do elsewhere or for people joined in common purpose or mentality. The hotel model has never been tested for long-term co-housing as a substitute for housing types no longer accessible.

The socially useful and necessary idea of co-housing has already begun to be negatively regarded but the flaws being pointed out are not with the idea but with the model chosen to implement it. The only lesson of lasting value that streets-in-the-sky,  Pruitt Igoe, tower block council housing and Brutalism in general taught us is that any socially useful idea will be deemed a failure once the flawed models chosen to implement them have been exploited to the max. Co-housing is currently being set up to fail.

Sometimes just knowing someone else is at home is sufficient.

Repeating Crevice was designed to be occupied by two generations of the same family and, as such, is a form of co-housing. My hunch is that it contains ideas for how any group of people might live together with the advantages/comfort of doing so. It seems to allow for flexible degrees of awareness of being together or being alone.

Both apartments are split by semi-private spaces that are necessary circulation spaces.
The upper apartment is most likely the apartment for the parent/s but I only say that because a window from the bedroom overlooks the entrance hall. Because the upper apartment’s semi-private space (that is also well travelled) overlooks that of the lower, the person in the upper apartment is more likely to see (and thus derive comfort from) occasional activity in the space below. A person sitting in that chair in the header photograph would be aware of all people arriving and leaving the house. When all are at home, they would also know where in the house they were for there are no alternate routes, but that’s all they get to know. Some privacy lost means other privacy kept. Going from one part of a house to another is generally not a fully private activity but doesn’t have to be a fully social one either.

This runs counter to today’s thinking that holds any and all opportunity for interaction to be A Good Thing and the more of it the better. It’s bad enough that corporations find potential to monetize forced interaction in corporate environments but forcing people to be social in domestic ones could just be a new kind of hell no less inhumane than alienating them. Together/alone is another false binary. We’re encouraged to think of solitude as anti-social.

Repeating Crevice, the house, is a largely internal environment.
It has windows to the front and a some garden to one side but all the architectural action is internal. It doesn’t require an external view to give its internal spaces meaning. This is a useful trait for living spaces to have as buildings tend to not have 360° unobstructed views of something nice. If you refer back to the plans above, you’ll see the upstairs bedroom window is (exactly) 1m away from an upstairs window of its neighbour.

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Entry is shared and bathrooms and kitchens are stacked. Good. This all means that

What we have is a potential model for vertical co-housing that is not based on the hotel/hostel typology.  

Assumptions

  1. The semi-private spaces are also semi-public spaces in that somebody else’s visitors may appear.
  2. The house is lived in as a houseshare. The people know each other well and their interests are shared, they look out for each other, and trust each other. The front door is the only lockable one. If this weren’t the case, we would have a house in multiple occupation, or something pretending not to be a hotel/hostel.
  3. The two-storey maisonette has a fire-escape stair and a fire-fighting lobby so it can be within a multi-storey building.

    Firefighting_shaft• • •

Repeated Crevice, Revisited

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  • The fire-escape stair and the firefighting lobby means the dwelling can be vertically repeated as far as the structure and two elevators permit.
  • The maisonette can house up to eight people.
  • The elevator and fire stair are not accessible from the upper level. Instead, the spaces is used as a spare room for possible use as a guest room or office.
  • Upstairs and downstairs have different doors leading to/from the (fire-protected) elevator lobby.
  • Downstairs rooms can directly access the kitchen/dining room but upper rooms can directly access the living room.
  • Instead of Together/Alone there is now Together (green), Alone (lilac), Semi-alone (pink) areas and Semi-together (red).

Repeating Crevice Plans zones.jpg

  • The kitchen/dining, laundry and guest toilet are shared by all occupants, as of course is the elevator lobby.
  • People are not forced to be social. Everyone can enter and leave without having to pass through the kitchen/dining or the living room as the elevator lobby leads to the hallway linking all these spaces, but also links separately to the upstairs hallway. A person whose room is on the ground floor could go directly to their room via the hallway, or bypass it by going to the living room via the upstairs hall. A person whose room is on the upper floor can access the kitchen/dining room without having to pass through the living room.
  • Staircases are used selectively, but not exclusively so. The upper-level people are more likely to use the stairs by the elevator to get to their room but are more likely to use the stairs from the living room to access the kitchen. The lower-level people do not need to use any stairs to access their rooms but are more likely to use the stairs by the kitchen to access the living room.
  • Internal windows enable persons in one part of the dwelling to have an awareness of what else is happening. It is important those openings be glazed. Windows in the semi-private (pink) corridors alert persons moving in either direction to potential social situations. Without leaving a semi-private zone, it is possible to know (at night) if the living room is occupied. No such awareness is possible for the alone zones.
  • From either side, the windows onto the two-storey hallway enable everyone to have an awareness of living with other people.

How they choose to act on that is up to them.

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Architecture Misfits #27: The Analog Student

If Architecture itself is a myth then what are architecture students supposed to believe in? Architectural education is often thought to be reactionary and unresponsive to market forces but my perception is that it’s attuned all too well. There’s no shortage of digital students who’ve picked up on image and perception management being everything. For them, architecture is an endless learning curve of new software skills. Their modern career begins with being accepted into a starchitect intern farm where they’ll compete to generate daring development envelopes and appropriately dramatic or atmospheric visualizations. But what becomes of the analog architecture student who has a complete set of skills no longer needed to produce this new architecture of the present?

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Being able to see the bigger picture is not something wanted by employers despite the analog student being more likely to know what’s important by having observed it and processed it.

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The analog student will generate proposals that succeed as visual compositions even if they are no better or worse than any other student at balancing the equally real contexts of urban planning and development gain. Their problem is with perception management. They don’t understand how the new modern architect “sees” physical context as a driver to generate forms representing the future of global society, and how this is more important than satisfying any provincial concerns. The bigger picture the analog student sees is not the new and bigger one.

Sketching has no place in the new way of doing architecture. We already knew this since sketching isn’t a skill employers are advertising for. It may be quicker when it comes to communicating an idea but, when the only type of idea needed is a crowd-pleasing shape that maximises development gain, Sketchup is sufficient to model the magical ROI+α volume. On the perception management side of things, everyone’s happy with digital visualizations because they “look more real”. The real problem is that sketching is thinking and, as such, poses multiple threats to the new architecture.

It’s evidence someone can observe and decide for themselves what’s important. Not good. 

It’s evidence someone is trying to understand something for themselves. Again, ungood.

It’s evidence someone is weighing alternatives – a subversive activity in a world where the best solution is the one presented loudest.  

Sketching is evidence someone can imagine something, can think of how much nicer something might be – and that’s absolutely the last thing wanted. 

Finally, sketching is evidence someone enjoys having their eyes, brain and hand work together. It displays a shocking lack of reverence for our new digital technologies and the 0-1 world they are being used to create. 

Physical modelling skills similarly have no place in this new way of doing architecture. Everyone wants perfect 3D printing NOW so the human link between idea and modelmaking can be eliminated in precisely the same way as the new architecture attempts to eliminate all trace of the human labour that went into its production.

As it is with sketching, making a physical model shows someone wants to understand something and this is not the way to impress zeitgeisty architectural employers intent on providing an architecture of affect that’s beyond understanding.

Software skills aren’t exclusive to the digital student as the analog student is not ignorant when it comes to software.

The analog student is likely to be an AutoCAD user because, much like a pencil, it doesn’t do anything unless you push it. The analog student sees no beauty in the object libraries enthusiastically embraced by digital students sensitive to time and labour efficiencies. The analog student views object library parts as external intrusions that are flawed in principle as well as by overdesign, overcomplexity, excessive file size and inherent bugginess. The analog student measures real things that work and then designs their own components to be clean and light. Analog students don’t map other people’s textures.

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Ultimately, the problem the analog student has with digital tools is the same problem they have with analog ones. They insist on using them to either design things their own way or to understand things their own way. They use technology on their own terms and for their own ends. As such, they have all the signs of a misfit architect.

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What place is there for the analog student? They have the complete set of skills not required of those who are to generate our brave new architecture.

• • •

the analog architect

Analog Student!

We hope there will be a place for you sometime soon.
In the meantime, wherever you are,

misfits salutes you!

• • •

 

 

 

Architecture Myths #23: Architecture

Structural engineers and quantity surveyors have always been core consultants in the building industry but their roles can often be performed by an architect if the job isn’t too large. With large jobs though, the requirements are too great and diverse for any one architect or practice to handle so it’s both inevitable and desirable to have some separation of roles. This increased separation brings clarity to the role of the architect on large jobs. Sole practitioners with small jobs never had any doubt.

And neither did the general public. Their perception of what a sole practitioner does may be a tad more rosy or stereotyped than it actually is but it’s not too far from the truth. In the case of high-profile jobs and high-profile architects however, that perception is wildly out of sync with reality.

Design generation in the offices of high-profile architects is now taken care of by the intern-farm where every project is given to a group of new recruits to see what they can come up with. That sounds casual, but it’s anything but. Those ideas are then “curated” and the one hitting the most buttons is selected for development.

Designing buildings or even generating ideas for the design of one are no longer tasks performed by high-profile architects.  

The US has the Architect of Record system which “is common when high-profile architects win design bids but find themselves in need of architects with more practical skills or knowledge of local conditions. Or more pragmatically, the high-profile architect simply needs an architect who is local to the project site, facilitating quicker site visits and project oversight.”

Practical skills, knowledge of local conditions, site visits and project oversight are not part of the skill set of high-profile architects.  

There are also Executive Architects that are local firms “responsible for corresponding with city agencies about code compliance, tender documents, client communication and creating up to 90 percent of the construction documents and carry out construction inspections are similar.”

Corresponding with city agencies re. code compliance, producing tender documents, producing construction documents, performing client communication and performing construction inspections are of course not skills required of high-profile architects.

In a recent address reported in the New York Post, Rafael Viñoly said the wide framing around the windows at his recently-completed 432 Park Avenue took up too much floor space and said it was the idea of the developer who wanted the view properly “framed”. Viñoly also wasn’t happy with many bathrooms being at the front of the apartments.

At left above is a window with said problematic viewframe. Me, I never used to mind it when I thought it was solid concrete but I do now I know it’s bullshit boxing. The image on the right shows a window with one of the problematic bathrooms. I don’t really buy into the “eating into the floor area” argument. If something doesn’t eat into the floor area then something else like a freestanding egg-shaped bathtub with Dornbracht polished chrome bath fittings will. Apartment layouts btw are by Deborah Berke Partner, headed by Deborah Berke (who happens to be the new dean at Yale, I hear).

Internal layouts are not something high-profile architects dirty their hands with.

Whoever dirtied their hands with New York by Gehry did an okay job of squeezing the most value out of [into?] the floor plate but Frank Gehry is probably not that person.

The trouble is, it’s accepted. The person living in the $3,150 pcm studio above isn’t paying for Frank Gehry’s skill at apartment planning. They’re paying to be living in New York in a building ostensibly designed by Frank Gehry – a fact rammed home by the building’s current monicker. That Gehry has no time for sustainability suggests the commerical uplift enabled by high-profile architects eclipses any uplift provided by sustainable building construction and practices. For now, anyway.

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Knowledge of the practice and delivery of sustainability is not on the CV of high-profile architects. 

In a December 2013 review of Zaha Hadid Architects’ Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku for the Architectural Review, Peter Cook contributed an 1,850-word review that famously omitted to tell anyone what the building was made out of. This is how the media lowers our standards. People interested in architecture are discouraged from wondering how a building is constructed. According to Peter Cook, all that lay people need do is wonder, preferably in awe at the architect’s genius.

Displaying a sense for materiality and construction are not concerns of high-profile architects. [High-profile architects do of course have a sense for materiality and construction but these both remind us of the labour that goes into the construction of buildings, and displaying evidence of that is not the done thing these days.]   

I recently saw these next images in a YouTube video.

The one on the left is what the architects gave to the visualizer. The one in the middle is the basics in place and the one on the right is the final product. It was all done in 48 hours using a “workflow” of Sketchup, VRay and Photoshop. This process is not a collaboration – it’s just two consultants doing their jobs, sending files back and forth and maybe even communicating only by email.

  • The architects were responsible for designing the development footprint and volume for the sake of the clients and/or financiers who will benefit
  • The visualizers were responsible for managing the perception of the project by those it will exploit. They include municipalities, retailers, workers, shoppers, the general public and anyone else who likes to think they’re stakeholders.

Each of the above images contains some aspect of what might traditionally be called architectural design but, individually, none can be said to be architectural design. With the internal layout examples I mentioned above, it was the inside of the building that was no longer the concern of high-profile architects but, with this example, it’s the exterior.

EUREKA MOMENT: What these seemingly contradictory examples have in common is a split between development gain and perception management.

Bjarke Ingels’s “genius” was to fuse development gain and perception management into one and the same thing and to the exclusion of all else. That in itself was a masterwork of perception management.

Architecture = development gain + perception management

 

Taking credit for development gain used to be thought grubby but it’s now something openly celebrated as architecture or what passes for it. There’s only one conclusion to be made when development gain and perception management have fused so neatly and strongly.

Architecture as anything other than perception management is no longer a concern of high-profile architects. 

Even development gain becomes irrelevant when the buildings themselves are built as exercises in perception management. You could say it was always so, from Knufu through to Hitler, Aliyev, and our new tech overlords.

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Perception management is the basic product starchitects offer. If Azerbaijan, Khazakhstan and China are anything to go by, the level of starchitect activity correlates with a country’s appreciation of the power of (and need for) perception management. The same goes for companies. I’ve avoided using the word starchitect up till now but the fact it gets up the noses of people like Gehry, Schumacher and Koolhaas is reason enough to use it. Speaking of, a disproportionate amount of starchitect noise arrives at us from the Koolhaas Nebula. Former employees inspired by and/or disenchanted with working for RK are said to have gone on to start some 90 practices globally.

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In addition to Rem Koolhaas himself, others whose work is singled out for analysis in Douglas Spencer’s The Architecture of Neoliberalism include Zaha Hadid, Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Farshid Moussavi. I hope some future book will scrutinize the oeuvre of Bjarke Ingels (for reasons that are becoming increasingly obvious) and also that of Fernando Romero (whose father-in-law was richest person in the world 2010-2013).

For me and anyone else who used to wonder what magical principle RK was communicating to all those people we watched get rewarded with fame for systematically narrowing the notion of architecture to what we’re left with today … well, now we know.

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Here’s some development gain and perception management in action: This is aforementioned Fernando Romero and NBF Sir Norman Foster in matching blue shirts, ignoring their coffees and phones to pose for this important photo of a plan the new Mexico City Airport. Both are doing the “hands-on” thing but Foster’s also doing his trademark “jacket-off” thing.

The Expansible Home

Australia has a history of expandable houses, some of it intrinsic. These two plans from the McNess Housing Report of 1941 had all habitable rooms beneath the main roof and non-habitable one such as bathrooms, laundries and the ubiquitous verandah (often enclosed as a sleep-out) as extensions. The wc was still an outhouse halfway down the back yard.

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The document A Thematic History of Government Housing in Western Australia (p87) reports that “Early in 1947, Northam Council had been outraged to have the Workers’ Homes Board permit the construction of ‘half a house. A couple, pregnant with their first child, were granted a permit to build only the back half of their home, in order to get them out of their existing inadequate accommodation. Despite their indignation, the Council allowed the home to be built, as the situation was viewed as an emergency.” This filled a housing need that had hitherto gone unfilled and led to The Expansible Home that was featured in local newspapers.

“From 1948, ‘expansible’ homes were designed by the SHC, also referred to as ‘detached flats’. Ninety were planned under the Commonwealth- State Housing Scheme in the first year, including thirty to a standard plan by a local architectural firm. This design proposed an initial house of hall, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and external toilet/laundry, with later additions of living room, two further bedrooms, rear verandah and front terrace.

“Expansible homes were promoted as suitable for married couples who could then add rooms as they expanded their families. A 1949 design [below left] included entry hall, living, dining, kitchen and bathrooms, with cupboards and cabinets serving as partitions. Divan beds were planned for the living room. Provision was made for future bedroom additions and a future rear verandah, which would connect the external toilet and laundry with the house. Another 1949 plan [below right] began with bedroom, living room, bathroom and external toilet/laundry, with future kitchen, extra bedroom and rear verandah.” 

This second design had the advantage of presenting a completed street frontage as soon as the core part of the house was built.

The designs received considerable media attention and, although criticised, were recognised as an expedient measure in the housing crisis. These smaller-than-standard homes were designed to put a roof over the heads of as many families as possible, with promises to local authorities that they would be extended to ‘full size’ when the crisis period abated. 

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“A 1951 booklet of SHC standard plans included 30 designs, ranging from one to three bedrooms. Most also allowed for a rear sleep-out if required. The larger two-bedroom designs and most of the three- bedroom plans included separate dining and kitchen areas. The smallest homes were ‘expansible’ designs (Types WS302AR, WS304A andT1B). These were designed to be erected with a bare minimum of rooms, with provision made for additional rooms in future. Generally, additional rooms were projected as bedrooms, but the Type T1B residence was planned to have two bedrooms but no kitchen, with temporary sink and stove allowances in the living room. The largest floor plan in the booklet was a three- bedroom home of 1,142 sqft (106m2) and the smallest the Type T1B expansible, at 519 sqft (48m2) (647 sqft/60m2 with kitchen), but most were around 800-900 sqft (74-84m2). These measurements did not include porch, laundry, toilet, sleep-out or verandah, which generally added around 250-400 sqft (23- 37m2) to the overall size. Almost all the designs included a bathroom within the main house rather than in an enclosure on the back verandah, and some also included laundry and toilet within the main house.”

The need for expansible homes lessened towards the end of the 1950s and opportunity for expansion gradually atrophied to space for an additional room at the rear. Whereas a two-storey house was a rarity [in Perth at least] as late as 1970, the smaller plots a few decades on made adding a second storey the only option.

This had always been the case in countries such as Taiwan where the pressure was to go upwards not outwards, and not in the way of architect-homeowners who provide magazines with gushing yet lame insights such as “we couldn’t open up the house horizontally so we opened it up vertically”.

Overall, our houses no longer have the latent ability to be enlarged. Ad-hoc expansion is performed when and where it’s thought needed but this doesn’t necessarily correspond to any functional, structural or servicing logic. This is due to the pressures of construction economy as all walls might not need to be structural ones at some time in the future. any latent ability is a real redundancy until used. One of the conclusions from this next project for a (UAE) house that could be constructed in stages was that functional modules necessarily involve structural redundancy [as they do with shipping containers.] 

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Another problem was the lack of logic to the water supply and drainage systems. All homes require wet areas from the beginning and enlarging a home shouldn’t have to disturb these. This wasn’t a problem in traditional Yemeni houses as the absence of water supply meant room functions weren’t designed but assigned as and when necessary to whatever rooms were available. The allocation changed according to time of day as well as to short-term changes such as visitors and longer-term changes to family composition and size.

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This next proposal attempts to recreate these advantages in a vertically-expansible building that allows for different forms of tenure.

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LEFT: This first attempt could be called an Extended Family House. There is one main entrance but the interior can be divided into different semi-autonomous living zones. It assumes the occupants are related for, if the building were to have differing tenancies (such as sub-let or co-housing), it would be deemed a building of multiple occupancy and different fire escape and other regulations would apply.

MIDDLE: This is the same building divided for multiple occupancy. There’s hardly any difference. The insertion of partitions isolating the stairs is what’s happened to much of London’s terraced housing stock anyway. The provision of elevators and smoke lobbies is not mandatory.

RIGHT: As would any new-build block of apartments, the rightmost proposal requires an elevator and a smoke lobby to the fire stair and, because of that, is now not suited for use as a single family house or as co-housing by like-minded people. At best, it would be a collection of flat-shares.

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In the end, I didn’t succeed in deriving a single building type for different types of tenure and that was expansible vertically in a predetermined manner. Other potential emerges. Tiny though it is, this layout pleases me. It’s contained in approximately 32′ x 32′ (10m x 10m). If built as a freestanding structure, slit windows on adjacent sides provide daylighting variation but preserve view inscrutability. If built as a tube structure to the current maximum slenderness of 24:1 it could be around 70 storeys give or take.

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“Hey Graham! How about a spare elevator?”

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“We may as well make it worth our while! 40′ (12.3m) a side @24:1 gives approx. 100 apartments in 100 storeys with 2 private elevators.” 

I’m not aware of any need for a housing product such as this but some have a tendency to create their own.

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432 Park Avenue’s four elevators serve 104 apartments spread over 85 storeys with [as far as I can determine] at least two being private above the 35th floor.

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I’m just putting it out there.

Misfits’ Guide to PERTH

As an intermittent returnee to Perth I’m often asked “Hasn’t The City changed?” The question refers to the skyline and usually something is different but, every fifteen years or so, along comes a building that dramatically alters the shape and scale of the city in the same way Minoru Yamasaki’s World Trade Center did for New York in 1970 or Rafael Viñoly Associates’ 432 Park Avenue is doing currently. In Perth, the game changers were 1962’s 18-storey T&G Building [currently refurbished as Citibank House], the circa 1975 trio of AMP Tower, Allendale Square and St. Martin’s Tower all around 33 storeys, and 1992’s 51-storey Central Park.

Before the use of tinted, reflective and solar glass became widespread, it was common for tall buildings in Perth to have some form of external sun control device. This made them place-sensitive. It also made sense. Some of the first buildings in Western Australia were Georgian cottages with verandahs but other building types received similar enhancements.

Council  HouseHowlett & Bailey, 1963
27–29 St. George’s Terrace, Perth

Without its sun shading, Perth’s Council House would be standard issue International Style. Its T-shaped elements are decorative yet successfully ameliorate all but direct west sun. Once deemed an eyesore and out of keeping with the then government’s plan to make a new heritage [?] precinct, the building was given a makeover in 1999 and, since 2010, multicolour LED light washes have made “the ‘technicolour’ building one of the city’s most appealing night-time landmarks.” 

QV.1, Harry Seidler, 1991
250 St. George’s Terrace, Perth

This was designed by Australian Gropius, Harry SeidlerThere’s much to dislike about this building but not the thoroughness of its passive sun control. QV.1 is currently Perth’s fourth tallest building and is widely known for being both energy efficient and unattractive – something only possible if a building is trying to be beautiful. “… the QV1 building is based on the famous photo where Marilyn Monroe is standing on a grate and air is blowing her skirt up. The twin towers of the QV1 represent her legs, and the rippled awning you walk under when you enter the building is her skirt. The red, curved structure in the forecourt of the building are her lips.”  I fear there may be some truth in this. 

The smoochy floor plate is also suspect.

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Despite it’s overeagerness to mean something to anybody, QV.1 remains a good example of vertical shading devices blocking the west sun which is particularly fierce in Perth, and horizontal shading devices blocking the north summer sun. This is something also done with much gusto by the next building that regularly tops ‘Ugliest Building in Perth’ lists.

East Perth Train StationAnthony (Tony) Brand, circa 1970

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The building is lazily described as Brutalist because concrete figures somehow but has less to do with Le Corbusier and Maisons Jaoul and more to do with the Brutalism of Greater London Council that liked its buildings sturdy and low maintenance. Brick fins on all sides function as shading devices with the angle of the fins differing for each facade as it should. Mr. Brand may have laid himself open to charges of over-robustness. Perth sunlight may be fierce but, at the end of the day, it’s still only light.

Kessel House, Iwan Iwanoff, 1975
4 Briald Street, Dianella, Perth

Bulgaria-born Iwan Iwanoff’s buildings are lazily described as Brutalist because concrete figures somehow.

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Iwanoff studied architecture in Munich but his qualifications weren’t recognized in 1950 when he arrived in Perth as a refugee so he decamped to Melbourne. Fifteen years later and registered, he moved back to Perth where his career proper began. Iwanoff’s belief that architecture was an art would have produced distinctive buildings anyway, but he succeeded in channeling his acquired disrespect for Australia’s architectural establishment into an unconventional architecture of concrete block. His Kessel House is a good example. You can see interior photographs and other work by Iwan Iwanoff on Andrew Murray’s blog perthsbest, and also here and here.

Harold Krantz & Robert Sheldon employed Iwanoff in 1950 when he first arrived, and again in 1965 when he returned from Melbourne. Krantz & Sheldon are notable in their own right. They pioneered European architectural styles in Perth and were prolific designers of apartment blocks. [Harold Krantz will be Architecture Misfit #27.]

Mt. Eliza Apartments, Krantz & Sheldon, 1964
3/71 Mount Street, Perth

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My favourite Krantz & Sheldon building, I seem to have admired it forever and, as it was constructed in 1964, probably have. It was the first circular apartment building in Australia, Western Australia’s first modern apartment block and at the time Perth’s 2nd tallest building. Emporis tells me it has 25 apartments, two per floor for floors two through eleven and one each for the top five. The prime location means these were never to be low-cost investment apartments. This real estate listing will hopefully still take you around the interior of one which is as you’d expect.

What’s surprising is not only the extreme economy of plan and structure but how fully integrated they are. These guys were good. Never before have I seen a core where the elevator lobby, access corridor and escape stairwell landing are one and the same thing. Never before have I seen a building where the water tank is part of the design. This is no stylistic affectation as structurally the water tank is in the best possible place. Moreover, that water tank is oversized as the building is on the highest ground in Perth and thus above the level of the nearby Mt. Eliza Service Reservoir.

Speaking of water, Krantz & Sheldon were also responsible for Windsor Towers on other side of Perth Water and which can be glimpsed at the end of the street in the view above.

Windsor Towers, Krantz & Sheldon, 1966
9 Parker Street, South Perth

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There are four apartments per floor, as you’d expect. Estate agent websites show no apartment plans but what I really wanted to see was how the core is organised.

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The false floor addition makes the view more accessible and the windows non-compliant.

It’s odd nothing taller has been built since. Windsor Towers seems to have become to South Perth what Tour Monparnasse is to Paris. I don’t think it’s due to its scant twenty stories. Its original European White has been overpainted Pale Heritage-y Ochre but the absence of balconies and the egalitarian pinwheel ignoring the pull of the view both mark this building as unAustralian.

Accordingly, there’s a proposal to fully assimilate this building by giving all apartments balconies that add value and restore the Australian birthright to barbecue.

It makes me want to be a planning officer so I could refuse permission on the grounds of the proposal destroying the building’s pinwheel integrity. I would helpfully suggest rotationally-symmetrical balconies on axis with the arms. I would menacingly suggest creating outdoor areas by subtracting volume from the living areas.

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Except for when they appear on postcards of capital cities, high buildings and high densities are repectively deemed American or European and thus unAustralian. The City of Subiaco is a local municipality three kilometers from central Perth. Its planning guidelines limit residential development to four storeys as anything higher is deemed not in keeping with the heritage nature of the town centre. Refer to the Draft Subiaco Activity Centre Plan if you enjoy reading planning guidelines and pondering their logic.

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This is what happens.

Policies such as these fuel outer-suburb development and pressure inner suburbs to be re-developed at higher densities. The left side of this aerial view of Osborne Park shows residential blocks with a single house while the right side shows blocks the same size block redeveloped with four.

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The result is a reduction in the number of mature trees and very long driveways accessing houses that, incredulously, are still detached.

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What we learn from this is that increased density is welcome as long as it involves no increase in height and doesn’t look like increased density. Tricky.

Gen Y Demonstration Housing Project, David Barr, 2016
Corner of Hope Street and Mouquet Vista, White Gum Valley, Perth

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White Gum Valley isn’t as far out of town as it sounds, but what is meant by the byline “Density by Stealth”? Is ArchitectureAU for or against this proposal?

This proposal is for a new type of triplex house that gives the appearance of a single-family dwelling.

Rather than the step and repeat of earlier years, this housing type proposes adding a degree of inscrutability rather than any net gain in density. [3 x 1-bed. @ 2 persons max. = 1 x  3-bed. @ 6 persons max.] The difference is that now three kitchens and living rooms are needed. Density is a red herring – this isn’t about land use efficiency or saving of resources.

The name House for Gen Y suggests these are small houses sized and priced to stimulate the housing market by creating more FIRST-TIME BUYERS! to prevent them from wanting to live in apartments or [mercy!] live together with others in a similar situation.

Foyer Oxford, Chindarsi Architects, 2014
Oxford Street, Leederville, Perth

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Some people don’t have the choice. Foyer Oxford is co-housing run as a refuge for young people. You can find out more about the building from the architects’ link here, and about what it does from here. This type of project never has a huge budget. Chindarsi Architects have used theirs well, spashing out sparingly but effectively on clustering a range of architectural devices of individually nondescript materials of varying colour and texture around the central space in an abundance of care.

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Amana Home Care Services
416 Stirling Hwy, Cottesloe WA 6011, Australia

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The building began life as the Sundowner Hotel in the mid-1970s. It’s a good example of the social utility of co-living and generic functionality and is now part of the Amana Group offering various types and levels of care for the aged. The original hotel building is used to provide respite care.   

Co-living exists in Perth as youth refuges, as care facilities and as backpackers hostels. They’re all successful because the residents have an awareness of being in a similar situation. Togetherness is a plus when you find yourself in a situation. Co-living is yet to appear as an option for the general population as there isn’t the sense of a shared society to make it work the way it does in Switzerland.

• • •

Glick House
18 Tennyson Street, Leederville

Glick House was designed in 1999 for the sculptor Rodney Glick in 1999. Its architect was Geoff Warn of Donaldson & Warn. A state heritage listing describes it as being in the Late Twentieth Century Functionalist style. The 1999 Winter Edition of ‘The Architect’ describes it as ‘an engineered aesthetic’ and an ‘ambiguous and confronting house’.

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https://www.realestate.com.au/property/18-tennyson-st-leederville-wa-6007

My friend Ruth Durack lived in this house the last five years of her life. The photographs above show the house much as I remember it. To this day it is the most humane house I’ve ever been in.

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Some further information and resources but first, big thanks to Johann and to Josh for their contributions to this post.

• • •

The Inscrutable Apartment

If you know beforehand that a house is a two-up-two-down cottage, then you know its entire layout before you even enter.

The house may be sandwiched between party walls but its layout can nevertheless still be comprehended as “front” and “back” rooms offering not only alternate places to be but different experiences as well because of the different views and daylighting. It’s not possible to even approximate this in a single-aspect apartment. We need double-aspect apartments.

One way to do this is The 1+1/2 Floor Apartment. In 1927, a team led by Ivan Sobolev proposed apartments featuring a double-height living room and a construction module that could provide 2-, 4- or 6-bedroom double-aspect apartments. 

Sobolev correctly reasoned that bathrooms need to go above and below the corridor and that the kitchen needed to be adjacent to the dining area and share the floor of the living space and not its ceiling. Le Corbusier didn’t arrive at the same conclusion in 1949, 1952, 1956, 1957 or 1960. This section sketch by busharchitect rightly labels the apartments supérior and inférior but I doubt LC did.

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Nevertheless, all these apartments share the advantage of having one of the two levels having windows facing in a second direction rather than the single direction of the entrance level. This gives rise to cross ventilation but also provides one part of the apartment with a view and daylighting that differ from the other parts. This is not about adventure or surprise. All it means is that a small plan can feel more pleasant if it has more than one experience – or mood, if you prefer. Orthodox 20th century thinking has it that connecting spaces creates the illusion of having more and perhaps it does but that doesn’t mean it’s any more pleasant to live in.

De-connecting spaces is counter to that orthodoxy and so has never been explicitly stated as a good thing but the proliferation of complicated layouts in British 1950s council housing apartment shows it was understood as a principle even if the given justifications were to reduce the volume of space devoted to access (as did The Constructivists) or to somehow create architecture (by doing something “Corb” had tried).

The scissor flat was the most inscrutable of these layouts.

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The scissor section flat was developed by David Gregory-Jones and his team at LCC Architects department in 1956-57, with details of the design approach published in a technical article in 1962. The interlocking design provides a way of maximising the space given to flats in any building volume by reducing the space needed for entrance corridors and providing a dual aspect for each dwelling, but the design does have accessibility issues and the complex arrangement has caused confusion for emergency services.

The accessibility issue comes from UK regulations stipulating an accessible wc at entry level but this is impossible. The confusion for emergency services came about from the layout being unorthodox rather than complex but – anything either complex or unorthodox results in increased construction cost.

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Scissor apartments have a corridor every other floor so they weren’t all that good at saving apartment access area anyway. So why do it? The new advantage was that all living rooms could be on the same side of the building whether the sunnier one or the one less noisy . This was the stated reason for their use in the upmarket apartment building, Corringham.

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What the scissor apartment also does better because of its multiple levels is accentuate the differences of experience already created by the differences in aspect. These apartments feel larger than ones on a simple two levels. The entrance space is used only to enter and leave the apartment. Once inside, the front door is forgotten. It’s not something one’s always passing by.

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These 2010 plans by Al Shawa & McKay also have corridors every other level but the additional advantage is natural ventilation for access corridors as well as (seaparately exhausted) bathrooms and kitchens. This is achieved by leading access corridors through light/air shafts in a manner not unusual in low-rise Andalucian apartment buildings. 

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The Katana Residences similarly twist and interlock paired apartments.

Double-sided elevators eliminate access corridors and create a false simplicity since three service corridors now run across the building for shared access to fire escape stairs and service elevators. These do nothing to enhance the daily use of the building.

Taking it a step further is Yokohama Apartments by Osamu Nishida + Erika Nakagawa of On Design. Billed as apartments for artists and they may well be, but the building is essentially an exercise in co-living. Entry floor is shared amenities plus four staircases

leading to individual apartments but, Japan being Japan, not in any straightforward manner.

Building on the work of SANAA in monetising access alleyways, these apartments offer  balconies as landings. Private bathrooms and the opportunity for the preparation of simple food suggest they will be lived in as apartments. These apartments definitely have two different (and to our eyes, extreme) spatial experiences but both are intensified by the circuitous route connecting them.

This brings us naturally to the 2014 Alley House by Be Fun Design[Afterwards, check out some of their other projects – they’re not as silly as you might think.]

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They’d already found out with their 2013 Spiral House what happens when you give each tenant equivalent front doors accessing vertical slivers of four storey space. Alley House occupants also have equivalent front doors but this time they access three quarter floors spiralling up and around the building. There’s the same awareness of the perimeter walls as in On Design’s Yokohama Apartments but this time everybody experiences every side of the building. It’s not so silly.

This seems an appropriate time to remember the Double Apartment Building designed in 1921 by Nikolai Krasilnikov at the Vkhutemas studio of Nikolai Ladovsky.

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Krasilnikov manages to pre-empt BeFun’s internal experiments with Alley House and Frank Gehry’s volumetric ones with Vitra Design Museum and brings us back to the early 1920s and back to the (former) U.S.S.R. This next is Living Project on Rublevskoye Highway, Mosow, by Sergey Skuratov architects.

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The practice’s website is a triumph of substance over image but the many project images also appear on over on archi.ru along with the unhelpful description “The architectural solution of the towers is simple and dramatic at the same time. Each of the volumes has two “material” and two “penetrable” facades.” This doesn’t tell us why that might be a good idea.

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When the corner rooms of those corner apartments DON’T have windows facing in two directions, it becomes possible for the apartment to offer two different and distinct types of experience. All the corner apartments above do this but the effect is most pronounced in north corner apartment indicated as the kitchen is the room with the different daylighting and view. The apartment isn’t large at around 45 sq.m but, because it has more than one experience to offer and doesn’t reveal them both at once, it will always offer two distinct experiences regardless of the time of day, the room or the reason for being in it.

It’s not a thing of huge consequence but it might be time to start forgetting about spaces flowing together for the dubious advantage of creating the impression of having more. Not connecting rooms every possible way and not having windows on every possible surface suggest a different way of appreciating the space inside an apartment and the space outside as well.

It might be time to think about what the concept of spaces “flowing into one another” has actually done for us.