Category Archives: Forgotten Histories

bits of history that aren’t remembered as well as they should be

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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.

singles and fours.jpg

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


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


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


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.


foyer oxford.jpeg

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


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’.



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.


• • •

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

• • •

Keeping it Real

If the history of the decline and fall of architecture ever gets written, it’ll mean we finally cared enough to learn from it, perhaps even restore it to being a noble activity. In that history, the name of Philip Johnson will feature prominently for introducing into architecture now-standard practices such as equating celebrity with worth and detaching publicity from truth. Johnson didn’t invent these practices but he did show architects how to use them. He was awarded the first Pritzker Prize in 1979.


Rockefeller Guest House, Philip Johnson, 1950

Johnson’s Rockefeller Guest House was never going to be a house as the rest of us might imagine one to be. There’s a kitchen, but it’s not part of the architecture. There’s stairs, but to where we don’t know. It’s another Johnsonian salon, this time for Blanchette Rockefeller to show art and groom guests into becoming MoMA patrons. It was she who called it her Guest House. A certain type of extremely wealthy person understands how the display of very little can be both opulent and understated at the same time. Blanchette Rockefeller was one of those persons, as shown by her pearls and simple neckline in this 1996 photograph by Bill Cunningham.


Rockefeller Guest House has an existence as architecture yet there’s zero evidence of its ever having been designed, documented or constructed as a building. I’ve never seen an upper floor plan, let alone a basement plan or a section. Even the building volume lacks conventional justification. Philip Johnson claimed the second floor was only added to give the house more presence from the street, thereby indicating to everyone his sensitivity to aesthetic problems and his ability to solve them regardless of cost. Money well spent is the message.


The Landmarks Preservation Commission report of 2000 repeats Johnson’s claim and, although it gives it equal importance, does provide some new information .


Even the Landmarks Preservation Committee has no interest in the second floor. I assume the street facade of that second floor does interest them otherwise we’d have the curious situation of a landmark without presence. Anyway, those unheated bedrooms face the interior courtyard across a flat and inaccessible roof. In this next photograph is all you and I are ever going to see of them.


The image shows the stairs leading up to the first floor corridor spanning the width of the building immediately behind those curtains. Opening off that corridor are either three doors – one for each bedroom and one for the bathroom – or, alternatively, there is one central door leading to a lobby with three more doors. This would mean that going to the bathroom doesn’t involve a nocturnal walk along E52nd should anyone ever open those inner curtains and not draw them again. But how any upper floor bathroom might drain is a mystery. Any internal drain would be visible and the ground floor walls of painted brick of course naturally show no chases.


Behind the front door is the kitchen. Panels conceal it when it’s not being used and, when it is, they fold out to screen it and the caterers from guests being greeted at the entrance. When the house was in party mode, guests must have thought this crude screen charmingly bohemian. It encapsulates Philip Johnson’s all-too-influential concept of what architecture is and does, as illustrated by this next photograph with a cooker and kitchen fan representing the workers and services on one side, and a sculpture and plinth representing wealth and culture on the other. My money’s on the sculpture being a Gaston Lachaise – the sculptor of the friezes on the Rockefeller Centre. At least that was public art.


Where the kitchen fan could exhaust to is a mystery as it’s not directly to the front of the house.



What I find curious about this house is the disjunction between how important it’s supposed to be in terms of fallback contexts such as the first example of Modernist architecture in New York, Philip Johnson’s only residential work in New York and so on, yet we never get shown the upper floor plan let alone the basement, the existence of which is only obvious from the break line across the staircase.

If the upper floor plan wasn’t necessary for programmatic reasons, then why not just have a double height space with a thick window rail as implied by the elevation? In other words, why not just build at the outset what one wants to show, rather than fake it with curtains?


Johnson knew people would believe anything he said. He could have answered “but the proportions would have been all wrong!” but this would’ve sounded like Mies. That Mies didn’t do double-height spaces was reason enough, though Mies was probably more annoyed Corbusier – Wright, actually – did them first rather than any distaste for their inherent wastefulness. Mies also didn’t do basements – most conspicuously for Edith – so neither did Johnson – at least not in public. Locating the basement servicing Glass House beneath Brick House eliminates the need for a tacky trapdoor.

The preservation report I mentioned earlier, refers to Rockefeller Guest House as having the same volumetric configuration as the previous 1870 house, and that it had a full basement. The kitchen fan might then be ducted down and into the basement and then out through the non-historic metal grate in the footpath.

Rockefeller Guest House

Perhaps the original basement had a coal chute opening onto the street where the non-historic metal grate now is. We must remember that the term non-historic, in this case, means anything that’s not a part of the house being considered by the Landmarks Preservation Committee and, perversely, not anything that might have been there before.


The report also mentions that the drawings for Rockefeller Guest House were submitted for approval as alterations to the 1870 house and this is an interesting for it means the Rockefeller Guest House would have had to retain those original building volumes. Submitting plans for approval as alterations is a clever call for various practical reasons but it does change how we view those volumes. We now know why Rockefeller Guest House has a basement, a second floor, and an internal courtyard.

One works with what one has. The space between the building and the outhouse (where the bathroom still is) was made to appear as if it were a consciously-contrived design feature. The presence of the basement and any unpleasant associations to Old World architecture and/or utilitarian concerns was simply denied. And rather than admit the history of the building and that what we saw was less than 100% original design, Philip Johnson invented a disingenuous and self-serving reason for the existence of the second floor. Merely ensuring a building has bedrooms and bathrooms does nothing in the way of personal or architectural myth making.

Philip Cortleyou Johnson lied about the second floor being there to create a presence on the street. He never looked back.


Philip Johnson Birthday Celebration, Four Seasons Restaurant, New York, New York, July 9, 1996
Seated on the Floor: Peter Eisenman and Jacquelin Robertson
First Row: Michael Graves, Arata Isozaki, Philip Johnson, Phyllis Bronfman Lambert and Richard Meier
Second Row: Zaha Hadid, Robert A.M. Stern, Hans Hollein, Stanley Tigerman, Henry Cobb and Kevin Roche Third Row: Charles Gwathmey, Terrence Riley, David Childs, Frank O. Ghery and Rem Koolhaas
Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

The primary purpose of Rockefeller Guest House was to facilitate soirées for future MoMA patrons. Original drawings may yet show an upper floor with multiple powder rooms, and a basement having capacious cloakrooms for minks and a full caterers’ kitchen for churning out trayloads of canapés and brandy alexanders. If the history of how the architectural media failed architecture ever gets written, it will conclude that the internet only exacerbated what was already accepted practice.


• • •

[This post was expanded from a contribution to OfHouses 18/01/2016–07/02/2016.]

16 Oct 2016: My friend Curtis tells me it looks like the first floor floor has sufficient thickness to conceal a 4″ waste pipe until it reaches the side wall where it would invariably be chased into the wall, brought down, and then led back to the location of the site’s sewer connection indicated by the position of this vent.


Also, this is the only photograph I’ve ever seen with the curtains opened. We can tell now that the glass is frosted, that the corridor is about 1 metre wide, and that the leftmost third of it appears to belong to a room, although we still can’t say if it is the original layout.


Also noticeable is the safety railing. I’m surprised it’s there as it doesn’t appear to be an historic safety railing. It’s still there though. That black box now on the roof suggests those upper bedrooms are now heated.


18 Oct. 2016: My friend Jonathan tells me (in the comments to this post) that there is, or was, a clause in the NYC building code that allowed any building work to any building to be classed an alteration if the 1st (ground) floor was retained. This allowed significant advantage particularly with respect to planning requirements particularly into relation to site coverage, the provision of rear yards and so on. Although I suspect Mr Johnson was able to work comfortably with the municipal employees to resolve particular points of disagreement. What work might have been submitted to the Building Department in 1950 is probably of little value, if anything ever was.
The volumetric equality between previous and present is more likely to have been a furphy. Estranged Australian me googled furphy to find it was 

Australian slang for an erroneous or improbable story that is claimed to be factual. Furphies are supposedly ‘heard’ from reputable sources, sometimes secondhand or thirdhand, and widely believed until discounted. Wikipedia


An important step in Le Corbusier’s career as an architect was the 1912 house he designed for his parents – he charged them a fee. The house was too expensive to maintain so they sold it in 1919. By then, Charles-Édouard had already decamped to Paris, bigger fish to fry. Little wonder his mother always preferred Albert.


In 1920, the not-yet Le Corbusier and new best friend Amédée Ozenfant collaborated on the art journal L’Esprit Nouveau. We might understand it today as an aggregator of and*


In 1920 Paris, the 6FF per copy of L’Esprit Nouveau could buy 6kg of bread.* It’s difficult to know how many people forsook bread to read ideas that were to eventually gel into the Five Points. It’s also difficult for us to appreciate how novel those five points must have been at the time. Students are routinely asked to name them but neither examiners nor examinees for the life of them know why. Me, I’m all for a general knowledge of history but only if it’s continually examined and re-examined for relevance.

What we do know is that The Five Points shot around the architectural world in an instant – as much as an instant was possible at the time. There was definitely something special about them, but what?  

The columns in LC’s Dom-ino House of 1914-15 had used the principle of the 1907 Dom-ino House but just held up the building without making a show of it. Their presence could maybe be inferred from the windows that were more horizontal than vertical.


There were growies on the roof in 1914 but the plantless rooftop space of the 1920 Citrohan House was labelled a solarium.

With the 1922 Citrohan House  MKII, LC used a grid of reinforced concrete columns to jack up the Citrohan House he’d made earlier. In patent offices, this is called an ‘inventive step’. The inventive step was to transform an economical house into a wasteful villa.

A grid of reinforced concrete columns is an inexpensive means of producing the potential to enclose space but, unless you enclose that space, all you’ve done is use a structure to display that potential. You’ve ‘defined’ a space for no reason other than to show it’s yours and that you’ve no practical need for it. It other words, it is beautiful.

The Fondation Le Corbusier claims the 1923 Maison La Roche was the first manifestation of The Five Points.

Maison La Roche is a double house, the other half designed for already-mentioned brother Albert. The two houses were once known as Two Houses at Auteuil but these days are known separately as Maison La Roche and Maison Jeanneret. Monsieur Raoul La Roche bankrolled the publication of L’Esprit Nouveau and thus features in the beginning and endgames of the Le Corbusier industry for ‘Maison Jeanneret’ is the current home of Fondation Le Corbusier that exists for the conservation, knowledge and dissemination of Le Corbusier’s workAlbert is written out of history in plain view. Revenge by proxy.

Whether divided or as a whole, the building suffers from insufficient program to fill a ground floor and force the main living levels into that neoclassic affectation, a piano nobile.  Even poor Albert gets a large hallway, staff quarters and a garage that in 1923 was almost certainly for show. Monseiur La Roche has all that plus a gallery-sized void. It seems to be crying out to be filled by cars but has only ever been indicated as landscaping. The only thing occupying this space is the idea of getting a building up in the air, at any cost.


As in 1914, there is again a roof garden and again, the plan is very much determined by the position of structural walls and so, for that matter, is the facade. The horizontal windows aren’t independent of the structure but they’re now trying to appear as if they are. Let’s work our way down from that horizontal window lighting the gallery.


The roof is supported by two columns painted dark to appear as mullions of the long horizontal window. These columns extend down into the curved wall that might have acted as a beam if it hadn’t been detached at one end by a door and balcony. The load at its middle is transferred to the ground floor column, the contrived displacement of which, I suspect, requires a rectangular web of concrete to transfer that load. I suspect this because of the effort that’s been made to conceral it. A piece of polished metal [or mirror?] is angled on the radius of the stair to create the impression none of this exists. Very messy.


What the columns are doing is clearer here in this 1928 garden shed. They not only hold up the building but, more importantly, are telling everyone they do. Contrivedly detached from that structure, the ground floor walls define a garden shed with covered porch and axial entrance not visible from the driveway. The route the gardener takes to park his wheelbarrow is not clear.

The problem is that columns look puny when it comes to expressing wealth by enclosing unused or unusable space or by unnecessarily duplicating structural elements because, as with beams, they’re generally the size they’re meant to be. Pushing new boundaries of architectural poetry and innovation requires more massive and massively contrived elements enclosing larger spaces and for less purpose. LC tested this principle in the 1932 Pavilion Suisse.

pavilion suisse pilotis

It worked, but this doesn’t explain their attraction to the commissioners of social housing in Marseilles in 1949.

It was probably a combination of poor accounting and poor accountability that was responsible. We’re told the structure was originally intended to be steel but that ‘post-war shortages of steel dictated the use of concrete’. Did no-one see that coming?

The superstructure would have lent itself to steel framing and a cladding re-think but I can’t believe steel pilotis and transfer beams were ever on the cards. It would have amounted to building a bridge first and then putting a building on top. We’d be looking at steels larger than this.


Of the Five Points, pilotis were the greatest of Le Corbusier’s architectural inventions.

Presenting the display of wealth as aesthetic statement is what makes architecture different from building.

It’s clear now that the big difference between pilotis and columns is that pilotis are a more expensive way of doing the same thing. Pilotis force the client to pay for an expensive transfer slab to replicate the function of inexpensive ground. Pure genius!

Pilotis are thus more architectural than columns.

Horizontal windows provide a more evenly distributed illumination but the structural cost is lengthy lintels. Horizontal windows thus don’t feature in vernacular architectures and it is from this that their modernity derives. But if horizontal windows were merely modern, the idea of expensively delineating space that wasn’t going to be used was revolutionary – it was a new type of architectural beauty. The idea of pilotis found immediate and multiple expression throughout the architectural world in the late twenties and early thirties. Here’s a 1928 house in Brno by Jan Víšek.


This is the ground floor of Moisei Ginzburg and Ignatii Milinis’ 1928 Narkomfin building in Moscow.


Here’s a 1931 proposal by William Lescaze for New York’s first slab block housing on Chrystie-Forsyth street. [Remember, this is before America was supposed to know about stuff like this.]


The Casa al Villaggio dei Giornalisti in Milan by Luigi Figini. 1934.


Meanwhile, back in Moscow, LC’s Tsentrosoyuz (1928-1933) was getting off the ground.


Le Corbusier, Tsentrosoyuz building, Moscow (completed 1933)

Non-architects were unimpressed. They didn’t understand why a building needed to be raised, float or look as if it was not properly supported or permanent.

chicken legs1

chicken legs1 1

It is claimed that pilotis(/open column grids) return useful land at ground level so it can be used again but that land was never put to great use either then,

or for some time after.

The means to delineate space yet not use it in any meaningful way came to represent luxury for many years. These days, it is an expression of decadence not many are keen to continue paying for.

What hasn’t changed is how pilotis have come to represent architecture. Their continuing use indicates a building demanding to be taken seriously as architecture.

Here’s another yet to come online. [Clue: Fondazione Prada]


This early 20th century vernacular example from France’s Atlantic coast is something else entirely.



Lobby Living

Before the Type F V3.0 apartment configuration proposal of Critical Spatiality came this iteration with the upper living room entered from the half-landing of a straight stair. It’s okay.

  • The upper and lower living rooms were unobstructed by stairs.
  • There was 100% stacking of staircases.
  • The biggest negative was the stairs separating the kitchen from the riser, complicating water supply and drainage. The two or three workarounds to this don’t have the elegance of, say, a Knud Peter Harboe service run or a Colin Lucas riser.
  • I also didn’t like the kitchen extractor hood just filtering air instead of extracting it.


  • Bathrooms could be exhausted upwards to outside via the riser/mechanical space or directly vented to outside via the bedrooms and a duct concealed in boxing. Again, these are standard workarounds but not great.

On the plus side, the upper apartment has no wasted corridor area since bedrooms aren’t in line with the living areas. The first bedroom is above the entrances of the lower apartment anyway, and the second bedroom is above the entrance of the adjacent upper apartment. bedrooms.jpg

The lower apartment has no wasted corridor because the living area is used to access the other bedroom. This post is about using living space as a lobby to access bedrooms.

Lower Level

An arrangement similar to that of the upper apartment could avoid using the living room as a lobby – or it could be used to create a three bedroom apartment.

Type E V2.1.jpg

  • However, whether upper or lower, this creates the problem of end apartments having either only one bedroom or having one bedroom double the size.


  • Volume below stairs can of course be used as storage space but this seems an expedient justificiation, unlike in the previous version where the volume below and above the stairs at least added to the volume of the living room.
  • The value computation is the same as before.

Note: The areas indicated as sellable floor area are used to calculate the sellable volume (%) of the building.

• • •

Not that it matters! Improved apartments of either iteration don’t get built. Single aspect apartments of minimal area accessed from double-loaded corridors do get built and, what’s more, are the model for much of today’s housing (c.f. The Big Brush).


It’s easy to see why. If the site is deep enough for two apartments and a corridor then not only is building the baseline twice as profitable, it’s the only option if there’s insufficient site depth for two rows of improved apartments. Even if there is and profit equalizes (as below), other factors such as view, site usage, site coverage and speed of construction will kick in to again tip the balance in favour of the single building.

comparison 3.jpg

No wonder the Type F, despite all its advantages, never caught on. The baseline has an overriding economic efficiency of land usage that more than compensates for its many spatial deficiencies.


SO THEN, to stay ahead of the game, let’s take what we’ve just developed, strip away everything that can be perceived as wasteful (i.e. everything that’s nice) and see how far we can push it. 

  • In retrospect, having living rooms with extra volume to compensate for smaller bedrooms wasn’t an evolutionary advantage. Living rooms may as well have the same ceiling height as bedrooms and corridors. We still have two bedrooms per living room.


  • We now have some extra building volume so let’s put some more bedrooms there, along with some bathrooms and second riser. We now have three bedrooms per living room.

3 .jpg

  • We could get rid of one of those living rooms and double-load the landings above and below. We now have eight bedrooms associated with one living room but we now have two entrance hallways accessing one living room – not good.

4 .jpg

  • We could of course put the kitchen there but that’d be a step backward. Let’s look ahead. Who needs a guest bathroom? Look how much building volume is being used to access those entrances! Let’s put two more bedrooms there so now we have ten bedrooms for each living room. We still need to access them so let’s join all the living rooms together into one long, social, access corridor entered from each end. There’s now ZERO SPACE not used/sold as living space. This has got to be a killer housing product! Spatially, it’s imperfect but, as we’ve seen, perfect things aren’t necessarily the things that get built. Hello future!


We’re more desperate now than in 1928 when a configuration like this was first proposed by Moisei Ginzburg and his Stroikom team.

E-1 a

  • Staircases were stacked.
  • Landings were minimal.
  • Rooms were hotel-style.
  • Living area was communal.
  • Living-area was used as corridor.
  • Living areas were on the side of the building with better daylighting and/or view.
  • One sixth of the building was used for living area / access. The image below shows different floor surfaces with part of the living area still functioning as access corridor. The open access corridor and the open stairs make the living area appear larger, as well as more social.


It’s oddly familiar. We know this space – it’s an airport departure lobby with activity and rest spaces dispersed along a thoroughfare. IKEA made this living lobby easier for us to imagine with their 2012 branded departure lounge at Paris Charles de Gaulle’s Terminal 3.


For that matter, here’s some IKEA stores. Imagine all the sofas and kitchens and tables evenly distributed and people actually living there using them.

If we add bedroom furniture into the mix we’ll have flatpacked Archizoom’s 1971 No-Stop City proposal.

no-stop city

There’s no need to go there yet. Misfits’ updated Type E-1 co-housing proposal has ten bedrooms associated with every nine metres length of living area. Each of those unit areas is probably going to need a space for food preparation, eating, lounging and maybe even working. Kitchen utilities and drainage are no problem as risers now pass through the living lobby every nine-metres.

Type E-1V.2 masterplan.jpg

Movement up and down need not be limited to the floors immediately above and below as additional staircases can cross-link living rooms


• • •

Re-distributing building volume by eliminating the access corridor is a current and urgent problem some architects have identified and are already working on and trying to get it right. 1532 Harrison Street Group Housing by San Francisco firm Macy Architecture has nine bedrooms associated with each living area. The principle can’t be any clearer.


Baugenossenschaft Kraftwerk 1 Heizenholz  by Adrian Streich Architekten has living areas cross-linked via a split level external terrace.


DIALOGWEG 6 by Duplex Architekten of Zurich has two amorphous living corridors horizontally cross-linked by an elevator lobby but vertically cross-linked by an open stairwell and atrium.   csm_hunzikerareal_4_grundrisse_regelgeschosse_dialogweg6_363669d729

Perhaps over time the various living areas will evolve different moods, functions.

Or perhaps they will tend towards a universal homegeneity, as airports and IKEA stores do.

We don’t know but we’re going to find out soon.

• • •

Hotels have a single, entrance-level lobby leading to an elevator lobby and corridors accessing rooms rented without tenancy agreements. Occupancy is managed on-site and there is immediate payment by cash or credit. Buildings with this form of tenancy and with the lobby disguised as a living room are being misleadingly labelled co-housing.

Communal housing is when all functions other than sleeping and bathing are centralized and shared. Typically, these include cooking, eating, laundry and recreation rooms of some sort. Communal housing of the 1920s Soviet ideal had a library and a gym as recreational spaces. Communal housing of this typology is still with us today as school or military dormitories, or as care homes for the elderly. Tenancy is by contract and may come as part of an employment package.

Co-housing is when communal living areas are dispersed throughout the building, not centralised. Co-housing has shared facilities that are necessary and not the selection of baroque amenities currently associated with upmarket apartments. Co-housing is freehold property sold with rights to use the shared spaces in the same way as apartments are sold with rights to a shared garden. Occupancy is autonomous. There is no concierge or person to manage occupancy but there is most likely a superintendent for building operations and a doorman for building management.

1930: De-urbanism

Vladimir Paperny’s Architecture in the Time of Stalin contains the following wonderful analogy.




Paperny uses it to describe the kind of ideal “horizontal society” imagined in the late 1920s in the Soviet Union in which all goods and population are uniformly distributed. Russian Futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov wrote of the possible evolution of mass communication and transportation and housing. He described a world in which people live and travel about in mobile glass cubicles that can attach themselves to skyscraper-like frameworks, and in which all human knowledge can be disseminated to the world by radio and displayed automatically on giant book-like displays at streetcorners.

Untitled 2

De-urbanism was the name given to this movement as an urban theory.

Untitled 4

I expect this comment refers to David Greene’s 1966 Living Pod for Archigram.

“The outcome of rejecting permanence and security in a house brief and adding instead curiosity and search could result in a mobile world – like early nomad societies. In relation to the Michael Webb design, the Suit and Cushicle would be the tent and camel equivalent; the node cores an oasis equivalent: the node cluster communities conditioned by varying rates of change. It is likely that under the impact of the second machine age the need for a house (in the form of permanent static container) as part of man’s psychological make-up will disappear.”

De-urbanism extrapolated developments in transportation and their implications for the city. The person responsible for it was Mikhail Okhitovich. This is the only known photograph of him.

Here’s a note of his. De-urbanism was the opposite of centralization.


The question Okhitovich, and later Moisei Ginzburg, aimed to solve in 1929 was how housing should be organised for the entire USSR now it had its new society.

Untitled 5

The principle, if not the appearance, was not unlike Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City except Broadacre City didn’t exist as an idea until 1932. Ginzburg and Okhitovich developed an easily deployable collapsible and transportable dwelling unit.

no7 - Ginzburg desurbanist unit


They designed buildings for 100 persons.


These were to be distributed throughout the country in an isotropic grid with every place connected to every other place.


In 1930 Okhitovich, Ginzburg, Zelenko and Alexander Pasternak produced a plan for the Green City Competition for the new city of Magnitogorsk. It was to be a ribbon city.


The state would grant each person a prefabricated lightweight house, letting that person free to combine and arrange the modules, from the single unit to the family or community clusters, using highways, rails, automobile and airplanes to link them. The houses could join, grow and split according to the evolution of the family within. Sounds good.


It was not to be.

Untitled 3

Lenin did not like this idea and Stalin was not pleased. Le Corbusier was none too happy either. You can skip these next two letters if you like, but you’ll miss LC’s objections to de-urbanism and Ginzburg’s response to them. I expect these communications were originally in French, and that what’s in bold was originally underlined.

Le Corbusier was to later compile his criticisms into The Radiant City.


Other criticism came from Rationalist avant-garde architect Nikolai Dokuchaev of the rival architectural group, ASNOVA. According to Paperny,

“by the end of the 1920s, several competing creative organisations existed (OSA, ASNOVA, ARU, VOPRA and others), each of which independently sought its own commissions and, to some degree, protected the material interests of its members. Competition among these organisations was, in the main, commercial. Commercial rivalry led to the situation in which organisations exaggerated their creative differences.”

There’s no reason to assume LC was any different.  Over the the period 1928-1932 he was making frequent business development visits to Moscow [and which in another post I intimate prompted the hasty re-design of Villa Savoye] but they were to abruptly stop when he wasn’t made winner of the Palace of The Soviets competition.

De-urbanism and Mikail Okhitovich had an unhappier end. In 1932 came an edict announcing the union of all rival creative organisations under the same banner, outlawing creative difference. One of those rival groups was VOPRA – the All-Union Society of Proletarian Architects. Mikhail Okhitovich was denounced by VOPRA villain, Arkady Mordvinov arkadymordvinov.png , and was shot in 1937. Those who challenge the status quo are usually praised for challenging the status quo but Okhitovich is the only urbanist ever killed for his beliefs. Okhitovich believed in de-urbanism but it was his ability to convince others that was more likely the real threat.


Михаи́л Охито́вич (1896—1937)

• • •

It is no surprise that the freedom of movement imagined by Khlebnikov and re-imagined by Archigram never occurred. The closest we’ve come to savouring the sentiment was this re-enactment of its representation in an animated movie. That’s already four degrees of separation from any social or political meaning.


This combination of the idea of a building, the whimsical representation of freedom, and the absence of any political significance or social utility made it the perfect architectural content for our times. Derrida may claim there’s no conceptual order amongst signifiers but how quickly we all imagined ourselves on board sailing away rather than left on the ground despairing the elusiveness of home ownership. It’s not that social or political meaning have ceased to exist as if by edict. We’ve just been groomed to not see architecture that way. One of these days some architect is going to come along and suggest architecture can be an agent of social change and we’re all going to be oh so impressed as if it’s some astounding new concept.

Meanwhile, governments instinctively discourage the free movement of people. In a world in which increasing numbers of them will have no fixed address, we’ve yet to see if our governments will be any more accommodating than Stalin’s.

Pietro Lingeri and the New Realism

New Realism implies a Realism just as Neo-rationalism implies a Rationalism, or Post Modernism a Modernism that once was. They’re all moveable feasts. Neorealism we know from Italian cinema, the most widely-known films being Obsessione (1943), Rome, Open City (1945) and Bicycle Theives (1948).

Neorealism kept it real and gritty but, as the memory and reality of WWII faded, it came to be too real and too gritty for the Italian people who began to hanker for more ‘optimistic’ American movies such as Singin’ In The Rain. Be that as it may, New Realism as a term came at least fifteen years after the event. Post-Rationalisationism?

Pietro Lingeri first enters our architectural memory with his 1927-1931 head office building for the Italian Motorboat Association of Lario (AMILA), Lario referring to Lake Lario, the other name for Lake Como.


I falsely remembered it appearing in Hitchcock & Johnson’s The International Style. Perhaps it didn’t make the final edit for failing Hitchcock’s exacting standards for signage?

Or perhaps, for a boathouse, it was taking the boat/building thing too literally when buildings were supposed to allude to stuff maritime? But no, they had no qualms about that.

San Sebastian clubhouse

“The marine character of the design is justified by site and purpose.” Essentially, this makes Post Modernism the new Modernism, resplendent with meaning in 1929 and identified as such in 1932. One learns something new every day.

Leaving aside my conjectural history of architecture and returning to my conjectural history of events, it wouldn’t have been that hard for Johnson to swing by Lake Como on his way down to Cortona and check out Lingeri’s boathouse if he’d wanted to. The trains were running on time.


As he was more or less in the area, he could have nipped across and visited Eileen Gray at E1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Maybe she didn’t answer the door.

If AMILA  and E1027 were missing from The International Style then we must either doubt Hitchcock & Johnson’s editorial judgment or conclude they had some agenda these buildings didn’t support. With E1027 it may have been something as simple as the blue canvas and life preserver.


There is an excuse however for him not including Pietro Lingeri’s Houses for Artists on Lake Como’s only island of Isola Comacina. They weren’t yet designed.


The three houses were part of an effort to develop the island as a centre for the arts. There are less inspiring places an artist could be.

Lingeri was a contemporary of Terragni’s so the 1933 designs were Rationalist but the project didn’t get approved until 1939. When they were, they were built within a year.


The speedy construction is said to result from Lingeri mixing the local Larian vernacular of timber and open galleries with sensible construction and Rationalist tropes such as glass blocks and horizontal windows. Even his horizontal windows are more rational in that they don’t force rock or concrete across long lintels. The three houses were rationally named A, B and C.

The houses had a period of neglect but were fully restored in 2009-2010 by Rebecca Fant Architect. Their current lack of grittiness may be due to too loving a restoration.

The walls are built from Moltrasio stone blocks, plastered with lime on the inside and with a glossy stucco in bathrooms and kitchens. The upper floors, the inside stairs, the doors and windows are made from chestnut wood, while the load bearing structure and the roof frame (with reversed pitches and covered with slate) are made of pine. The composition, which juxtaposes the stone planes of the walls against the inside volume of wood, is most evident at the points of contact. 

Lingeri’s artists’ houses are said to have been influenced by a Le Corbusier vacation house which must be Le Sextant (1935) in Les Mathes (on the coast, downstream from Bordeaux) where he attempted to recreate the loose-fit of E1027.

The only problem with this theory is that Lingeri’s houses predate Le Sextant, so it must have been Corbusier’s 1929 De Mandrot Villa which is generally omitted from the accepted history that has one believe he only discovered the rough stuff with the 1959 Maisons Jaoul.


We’ve no way of knowing if Le Corbusier was serious about rock. He’d been in trouble with local stonemasons’ associations before for not using enough of it – hence the huge rock wall in the 1929 Les Maisons Loucheur.


Despairingly, all this gesture to appease the local stonemasons has left us with is an architectural legacy of technical boxes on rock walls.

We simply don’t know if the use of rock in 1929 was a result of skills and labour shortages,  responding to the local vernacular or appeasing the local masons, or whether this sudden penchant for rock, timber and simple construction meant anything more than a quaint rusticity to city folk. We should be careful of extrapolating, particularly in the case of Le Corbusier where, like a true Post Modernist, simplicity often only represents simplicity rather than actually being a simple way of doing things.


If Corbusian Modernism is really just proto-Post Modernism, then Lingeri’s New Realism now starts to look a bit too sweet as well. At least Lingeri’s roof is rationally framed.


In a 1959 article, The Italian Retreat From Modern Architecture* Reyner Banham questioned the Italians’ ‘commitment’ to ‘The Modernist Project’.


The article continues, railing against Italian architecture for its historic willingness to cater to the borghese. Banham wouldn’t have warmed to Lingeri’s Villa Leoni for being on Lake Como to start with but he’d also have objected to it being designed for quite well-off people to use as a weekend summer house, although I don’t see what makes a weekend summer house in Como any different from a weekend summer house in Poissy or a weekend summer house in Bear Run.

Villa Leoni is situated on the western side of Lake Como, close to the Strada Regina. The villa dominates the basin of the Comacina Island and the neighbouring complex of Saint Maria Maddalena of Ospitaletto and its famous bell tower. The villa, commissioned to the architect Pietro Lingeri by Raffaele Leoni and his wife Diana Peduzzi, was built for the family Leoni Malacrida, manufacturers in the confectionery field, who settled their summer residence right by the shore of Lake Como. Projected in the same years of the artists’ houses on the Comacina Island, Villa Leoni represents for Pietro Lingeri one more step in the study of a rational and mediterranean architecture, which is the common feature of the italian architecture between the two World Wars. In 1941 Alberto Sartoris described Villa Leoni in the first edition of the “Encyclopédie de l’architecure nouvelle”, to attest the rationalism vocation to be mediator between abstraction and nature. Commissioned in 1938, Villa Leoni was built between 1941 and 1944, the years of Rationalism. 

Villa Leoni is another of these houses the history of architecture has no need for. You’ll try in vain to find a plan other than this one you can buy and download. Even deliberate obfuscation can’t hide its clarity of organisation.


There are probably worse places for your wedding, event or filming.


In line with the house’s current incarnation as a backdrop within a backdrop, the current landscaping is overly dramatic.


Similarly, the contemporary exterior illumination is artfully and dramatically designed for added ambience at evening events.


There’s not much New Realism on display today but, to be honest, there wasn’t that much to begin with. Rock was no longer roughly hewn and laid but shaped and smoothed and, importantly, back outside where it belonged.


Inside you’ll find no grittiness or grim reminders of the inescapable unpleasantness and unfairness of life.

The New Realism quickly became the New Unrealism. Despite this, Villa Leoni still has a rational plan and organisation of space, sensible finishes and that ever-solid Italian construction. All these things exist in a dimension isolated from style. These things can never be fashionable to start with and so they never go out of fashion. It’s often said Italian buildings age well. It’s also said that true style is an attitude, not a look.

• • •

Further Reading

The 1+1/2 Floor Apartment

The first time a one-and-a-half floor apartment featuring a double-height space crossed the architectural horizon was Richard M. Hunt’s Tenth Street Studio building in New York in 1857.

Designed specifically for artists, it had large windows lighting double-height spaces. Apartments were arranged around a central gallery space that was skylit and that served as an exhibition space. Some apartments also had rooms offside for the artist to live.

As the first American to attend the Ecole des Beux-Arts in Paris, Richard Hunt and his Tenth Street Studios had cred. His new building typology linked ‘the mythic lifestyle of the artist with larger cultural ideals in relation to housing.’* What those larger cultural ideals were, was still unclear however, as New York circa 1865 had a population of about one million and about 15,000 tenement buildings. Society patrons of said artists soon brought some clarity to the matter. Having seen what excellent receptions populated by charming and cultured people could be held in rooms with high ceilings and north light, they began to want some of the space and light they saw in those studios.

Sherwood Studios was completed in 1880 on 57th Street which was soon to become an art and residential hotspot. Its studios were designed specifically for living and included a parlour and bedrooms but no kitchens. Residents, married and single alike, ate at the restaurant downstairs in a successful co-living and working arrangement. First residents were artists but this was soon to change.


The Sixty Seventh Street Studios were completed in 1901.

Gainsborough Studios, completed 1908, at 222 Central Park South on Central Park South is still a fine place to live or paint.

By 1920, artists were the minority in studio apartment developments. Over in Europe, artists and architects alike were attuned to the New York art market that had so enthusiastically kept the French Impressionists alive but, as far as architecture was concerned, light and a feeling of spaciousness were now a commodity and the new standard by which modern living as set by the fashionable affluent was to be judged. 

Le Corbusier had designed and completed Maison Ozenfant in Paris in 1922. Ozenfant was a mere painter though, but apparently a successful one for his studio was merely a large and well-illuminated room above a sizeable house. It was fit for purpose and implied no new way of living even though there is a mezzanine. You can just see the handrail leading up to it on the right in the photograph below.


Corbusier’s 1922 Villa Besnus had no mezzanine or studio but studios soon came thick and fast. Villas Lipchitz-Miestchaninoff 1923. Villas La Roche-Jeanneret 1923. Maison Ternisien 1923. All had mezzanine studio spaces for artists we don’t know whether they cared that much for space and light or whether they wanted to attract same patrons in they same way their New York colleagues were.

LC’s 1924 Artisan/Workman Houses were a classic example of a one-and-a-half-floor dwelling. We don’t know if this project was genuinely intended for artists but, if artists studios were being designed for the general market in New York in 1920 then we shouldn’t assume Le Corbusier’s artisan houses of 1924 were any different.

The curious little proposal is nevertheless an inspired marketing masterclass in covering all bases. It was mass produced but for artisans or craftsmen. It could be for workmen if society went that way as it had just in Russia, but could be brought into service for the fashionably wealthy as was the case in America.

Any need for ambiguity was gone by 1925. The Pavilion de L’Esprit Nouveau at the Paris Exhibition was one-and-three-quarter floors of bourgeois housing. Mezzanine floors and the life of artists had arrived as a housing product in Europe!

The painting displayed on the easel in Pierre Chareau’s 1928-31 Maision de Verre now makes perfect sense. It’s not as if the Dalsaces couldn’t have afforded an extra wall.


Farther east, Russian architects saw the potential of increased vertical volume to compensate for reduced floor area by way of better lighting, ventilation and this new sense of spaciousness. Double-height spaces and half floors featured in many of the proposals for the 1927 USSR Comradely Competition for Communal Housing. Moisei Ginzburg’s team proposed apartments that began life as one downstairs apartment having a bathroom that could be shared by two people upstairs and one more across the hall. It was a one-floor apartment with about one quarter of the living space double height.

A-1 plans

When the economic situation of the people occupying the main space improved, all three spaces were to be combined to make a one and 3/4 floor apartment with a spiral stair leading to a mezzanine above the grand piano.

A-1 plans

The proposal by Alexander Nikolsky’s team also had a living room double the height of its connecting rooms.


Nina Vorotynzeva and Raissa Polyak reasoned that if the living space is double height, it doesn’t need to be twice is high as a full-height kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms. Their proposal saves volume by having reduced heights for these spaces and by the living room having a height less than the combined height of those spaces. Reversing the plan on alternate floors repeats that advantage but duplicates vertical pipes.

The proposal of the Ohl team also duplicated servicing but this time all pipes and, importantly, corridors weren’t running along the outside of the building anymore. This made private balconies possible and was a better use of window space. The downside was a reliance on mechanical ventilation for the internal rooms now sharing a shaft.

This idea of a corridor connecting interlocking apartments of one and a half floors was also developed by Ivan Sobolev’s team for the same 1927 competition. Their proposal featured a double-height living room and a design and construction module that could provide 2-, 4- or 6-bedroom apartments.

Sobolov axo

Sobolev correctly reasoned that bathrooms need to go above and below the corridor but this wasn’t possible for the kitchen as it needed to be adjacent to the dining area and also to share the floor of the living space and not its ceiling.

sobolev section

The problem is better seen in this next plan. If we enter from the corridor into the half-floor living room having a kitchen then there is no problem. We go up the stairs to a bedroom level that unfortunately has some space not used very well. However, if we enter from the corridor into the top half of the living room then we have to immediately go downstairs for everything. The kitchen can now go in a that unused space which is good, and although the living room is still double height there is now no mezzanine.


The competition results were published but, instead of a clear winner, Ginzburg was asked to form and lead a team to continue developing apartment building prototypes by . These developments combined advantages of the competition proposals and created new types of apartments. (See 1928: The Types Study for more.)

The B-Type took the volumetric advantage of the Vorotynzeva and Polyak proposal and simplified its construction. The disadvantage of duplicated pipes still remained.


The Type F is a combination of all of these ideas plus some more. The middle of the three levels is the corridor from which you either go up one third of a flight of stairs to the living level of the upper apartment, or down two thirds of a flight to the living level of the lower apartment. The lower apartment has a sleeping area on the same level but of reduced height beneath the corridor. The upper apartment has a sleeping area up another third of a flight of stairs at a raised level above the corridor.

This arrangement produced three main advantages.

  • The reduced ceiling heights for non-essential areas resulted in a lower percentage of corridor space for the building as a whole, and thus economies of materials and construction costs.
  • Servicing was more efficient and less expensive as all pipes are down one wall only.
  • All living rooms could be on the same side having afternoon/evening sun and all sleeping areas on the side of the building having morning sun.

As with the Sobolev proposal, inverting the apartments around a shared corridor is always going to produce different results for the two apartments. Paired apartment volumes can be rotationally symmetrical around a shared corridor but staircases can’t because of humans and gravity being how they are.

The Type F appeared in four buildings, most famously at Ginzburg’s Narkomfin  in Moscow where it occurs along with Type K apartments that have a double-height living areas and attendant advantages for heating and illumination but no special volumetric savings other than shorter and fewer corridors.

Welles Coates’ 1939 10 Palace Gate is the next entry in this history of split level apartments.

They have three floors of regular height rooms but the height of one quarter of the apartment is split between the living room and the room above it. The height changes occur on the line of a split in plan but this isn’t used to any spatial advantage. [Here’s one that was on the market.]

The apartment Welles Coates designed and remodelled for himself in 1935 is more interesting. It doesn’t return the idea of artist to the space but it does return the idea of living with reorganised priorities in a smaller space.

The advantages of the Type F were to live on for a while longer. If he is remembered, Serge Chermayeff, is usually remembered as the architect of De La Warr Pavilion of the same 1935 in Bexhill-On-Sea, UK.


In 1943, and now in America, Chermayeff published the Park-Type Apartments study that showed how a wide range of apartment sizes and types could be contained within the massing of a conventional apartment block. Here’s a closer look. They’re good.

Park Type Apartments-1

Adding some more width to the corridor level enables the kitchen and dining areas to stay together on that level as a functional unit. The lower apartments have no division between dining and living and the upper apartments have the dining area overlooking the living area in an equally sensible arrangement. This neatly solves the problems Sobolev faced. Moreover, the stair with split flights side by side can be used for both apartments and with the same advantages for internal circulation.

Le Corbusier may have known of Chermayeff’s study for, unlike Sobolev, the apartments in the 1949 Unité d’Habitations in Marseilles are entered on the level of the kitchen-dining area and the relationship with the living area discounted since, as with Chermayeff’s solutions, it is either on the same level as the living room or overlooking it, albeit from a full level above.


Rotating a section in this way is all very well but the problem is that humans, unlike flies, can’t flip between walking on floors and walking on ceilings. It’s fine for the main bedroom to overlook the living room in an upper apartment but in a lower apartment the kitchen/dining overlooks the combined main bedroom and living area.


This next image is of an apartment of that type, although the master bedroom appears to now be being used as the living room. Judging from the plan above, the master bedroom has been lengthened to where the stair begins. The apartment seems to be available for the holiday season so that bookcase might yet be concealing a bed.


The Sobolev and Corbusier proposals share this flaw of rotating an apartment section vertically and horizontally around a double-loaded corridor even though the apartment plan can’t be inverted without some loss of functionality. The problem with the Unité planning is that kitchen/dining and main bedroom spaces are spatially but not functionally swappable.

As with the Artisan Housing or Pavilion de L’Espirit Nouveau, there’s no problem having a mezzanine if it is not inverted. Or as Chermayeff and Ginzburg showed, there’s no problem with mirrored double-height spaces if they occur on the line of a split in plan. Le Corbusier’s desire to reprise the mezzanine at Pavilion de L’Espirit Nouveau is what screwed everything up. He wasn’t one to admit an error. The same flawed arrangement is repeated in the ‘classic’ unité apartments at Nantes-Rezé of 1952-5, Briey-en-Foret in 1956, Berlin in 1957 and Firminy in 1960.

Despite Chermayeff’s study showing how spatial efficiencies could be pursued in high-rise housing, 1960s experiments focussed on creating a sense of space through complex internal planning confounding any perception of an enclosing envelope.

The stated rationale for the diabolically complex internal planning at Corringham by Douglas Stephen & Partners in 1960 is to give all residents a view of the communal garden.


With Giovanni Pasanella’s Twin Parks West completed in the Bronx in 1974, the goal again seems to have been internal spatial diversity confounding the perception of an enclosing envelope.

The one and a half floor apartment makes a re-appearance in Charles Correa’s 1983 Kanchanjunga Apartments. A single-level apartment changes into a one-and-a-half floor apartment and then into a two-storey apartment and then a double height outdoor space which becomes a primary living space for this different climate. 


All these historic ideas and techniques for making life better are still valid .  

Reversing the plan to squeeze the apartment on alternately opposite sides is precisely what  Nina Vorotynzeva and Raissa Polyak were doing in 1928 and Ginzburg too with the Type B a year later. There is still the same principle of having less height where it is least needed and diverting that height to reversed apartments above and/or below.

Many of the other ideas seen in the historic examples feature in this next contemporary proposal having one and a half floors and a double height living space.

  • The sleeping area, bathroom and kitchen have lower heights than usual but the greater height of the living rooms is presented as compensation but, in terms of priorities and benefits, more than compensates. Its anticipated benefits are the same as those seen by many of the Comradely Competition entrants.
  • The double height is not a mezzanine but a split-level and the staircase sensibly follows that split as Chermayeff found best.
  • The corridor is single sided to allow light and cross ventilation to the upper level, but also to the corridor itself.
  • The corridor is more of an enclosed balcony than a conventional corridor.


You could ask ‘Why not extend the bedroom over the corridor so it can have a full window? And while you’re at it invert the apartments around the same corridor so it’s double loaded for better efficiency? – like Corbusier did in Marseilles.’ This would be possible if the entrance corridor / kitchen activity space came down the centre of the apartment to also access the stair and bathroom.

In fact, it would be a better solution internally as the kitchen activity space would then overlap more circulation space and produce more useable area. Doing this would create no problem for the upper apartments. As ever however, the lower apartments would have the kitchen separated from the table below, this time by eleven rather tricky stairs.

For now, you can’t get any better than the one-and-a-half floor apartment as devised by Ginzburg and perfected by Charmayeff

but let’s not forget Richard M. Hunt and the Tenth Street Studio for causing this whole space and light thing to kick off. 

Who’d have thought the person to first realize the value of what were to become the essential qualities of modern architecture would turn out to be a Beaux-Arts alumnus?

Tenth Street Studios

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Further reading: