Category Archives: Performance-Beauty

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Architcture Misfits #26: Asnago Vender

That’s Claudio Vender [1904–1986] on the left and Mario Asnago [1896–1981] on the right. We can tell from the photograph that these two gentlement are stylish but haven’t been contemporary for quite some time. Their buildings however, remain both. You won’t find much information on them or their buildings. Here’s a bit from the NY site of furniture company Flexform.

Both Mario and Claudio received Architecture Certification at the Bologna Institute of Fine Arts in 1922. The first joint projects were for competitions, such as the Como War Memorial. In 1928, after obtaining the right to practice as architects, together they opened the Studio Asnago-Vender Architetti. 

Here’s some tables they exhibited at the Trienniale Exhibition of Milan in 1936.

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Here’s the Moka chair Vender designed for Flexform in 1985.   

Their partnership lasted from 1928 until Asnago retired in 1971. This post is about what happened inbetween. Their earliest projects show a simplicity that reflects the increasing influence of Rationalism and the decreasing influence of Novocento eclecticism.

Villa Arnaldo Marelli 1933
Cantù, Milan

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Palazzo di via Manin 1933
Via Daniele Manin 33, Milan

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Apartment Building 1934
Via Euripide 7, Milan

Apartment Building 1934
via Mosè Bianchi 22, Milan

Mixed-use Building 1935
viale Tunisia 50, Milan

Villa Molin 1935
via Previati 85, Luogo, Milan

Apartment Building 1935
via Col Moschin 3, Milan

Case Coloniche 1937
Tenuta Castello, Pavia [32km south of Milan]

S. Rita Apartment Building 1937-1938
via Euripide 1, Milan

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Three Interior Design Projects 1939
Milan

Villa Clerici 1940
Chiesa In Valmalenco [95km NNE of Milan]

Mixed-use Building 1939-1941
via Albricci 8, Milan

The corner of this building may be a 1941 extension or a completely independent building designed to appear as both extension and partial mirror of the building on the opposite corner. This is the first example we see of Asnago Vender’s urban contextualism achieved with nothing more than materials and window types and spacings. 1940.

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 Fabbrica Trattori Vender 1940
Via Manzoni, Cusano Milanino, Milan

Stabilimento Zanoletti 1940
Viale Ortles, Milan

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Cormano e Cusano Milanino 1942
via Manzoni, Milan

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The factories are only in the post-war reconstruction years. Most of Asnago Vender’s later buildings are apartment buildings or mixed use buildings. There are perhaps a dozen villas, one school, two churches and three factories. All are in and around Milan. Asnago Vender were content to repeat themselves, with differences guided only by the dictates of the brief and the site. There is aesthetic innovation but it is always low-key and always subservient to the building itself. Their buildings are not statement buildings.

Vezzani Storefront 1946
via Dante, Milan

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Apartment Building 1948
piazza S. Ambrogio 14, Milan

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All Asnago Vender buildings are part of their surroundings. This building is an apartment building from 1948. It manages to be part of its context yet at the same time have an identity of its own, resulting in a simple juxtaposition. This doesn’t seem such an amazing feat when the neighbouring buildings are also residential buildings but the fact this apartment building has this kind of fenestration and not some other, is a design decision just as conscious as those instances where the pattern is broken. This is characteristic of many of their buildings.

XXI Aprile Apartment Building 1949
via Lanzone 4, Milan

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Villa Bellioni 1950
Seveso, Milan

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Villa Roberto Strada 1952
Cesano Maderno, Milan

Mixed-use Building 1950-52
Piazza Velasca 4, Milan

Note the attention paid to the entrance mullion positions, the window spacing and how the stone is cut to suit, the two types of transom …

Apartment Building 1952
via Plutarco 15, Milan

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XXI Aprile Apartment Building 1953
via Lanzone 4, Milan

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Apartment building 195?
via Euripide 9, Milan

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Villa Vegni 1954
Barlassina, Milano

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Apartment Building 1954
via Faruffini 6, Milan

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Apartment & Retail Mixed-use Building 1954-58
via Foscolo 4, Milan

Elementary School 1955–59
Seveso, Milan

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Villa Fiorilli 1955
Seveso, Milan

Apartment Building 1956
via Senofonte 9, Milan

Isolato tra via Albricci e piazza Velasca 1958
via Albricci, Milan

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Apartment & Retail Mixed-use Building 1959
viale Caterina da Forlì 40, Milan

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This 1959 mixed-use building above introduces new variations with window size and presence/absence. The corner with the windows within screens on the street side of cantilevered balconies is seemingly the most irrational thing I’ve seen Asnago Vender do. They seem to be calling our attention to the gap between the buildings and the fact there’s a private space on the other side. It’s unlike them to call our attention to things like this. I suspect it’s a Vender touch.

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I say that because this is Villa Conti (in Barlassina, Monza e Brianza, Italy). It uses commonplace elements in a decorative manner, each of them calling attention to themselves. It was designed independently by Vender in 1959. We don’t know why, but it provides us with an opportunity to see what Vender brought to Asnago Vender and, indirectly, what Asnago brought to the partnership. You can see more images here on OfHouses.

Villa Lanzuolo 1960
Barlassina, Milan

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Mixed-use Office & Residential Building 1961
Corso Sempione 75, Milan

Casa del Contadino 1961
Sirtori [35km NE of Milan]

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Stabilimento Ceita 1961–64
via Fratelli Bandiera 12, Milan

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Building on via Rossini 1962
Via Rossini, Milan

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Casa Albergo 1963
Corso di Porta Nuova 52, Milano

Mixed-use Building 1962-1964
via Verga 4, Milan

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Mixed-use Residential, Retail & Office Building 1966
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ant’Ilario d’Enza, Reggio Emilia [120km SE of Milan]

Apartment Building 1966
via Pisanello 8, Milan

Wohnhaus 1967
Via Veneto 31-33, Milan

Condominio Via della Signora 1966
Via della Signora 2A, Milan

Villa Brenna 1968
Como [40km N of Milan]

Mixed-use Building 1969
Piazza Ss. Trinità 6, via Giannone 9, Milan

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Nearly all of these buildings are mixed-use or residential buildings in Milan or within 50km of it. Over the decades, the commissions became larger and more frequent but Asnago Vender had little appetite to design building types for which they had no experience, or in places with which they weren’t familiar. They did what they knew best in the place they knew best. They never had a media profile or a desire to be known beyond the people they worked for. They worked for their clients and their buildings worked for the city. 

The architecture of Asnago Vender is now almost completely unintelligible to us and what’s worse is we don’t even know what it is we’re not understanding. Asnago Vender did not prosthelytize, publicize, theorize, lecture or teach. It is up to us to learn what we can from their buildings and their professionalism. These are my suggestions.

Context

The 1941 extension terminating this 1939 building has different window sizes but continues the same mullion pattern of the earlier building. This is all that identifies it as an Asnago Vender building. Note also how that one irregular gap in the window spacing mirrors the building opposite. The colour also changes to match, as if stitching the streetscape together.

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Commitment

I’ll use the term commitment (to a place) to indicate a different dimension of contextuality. It’s a better term than regionalism which has come to mean nothing more than localized stylistic affections resulting from climate and materials. Apart from the excellent construction and finish, the appearance of an Asnago Vender building has nothing that is identifiably Italian or Milanese. All their buildings have structures and building elements common to buildings everywhere. However, their apartment building in via Lanzone is adjacent to another of their buildings.

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Via Euripide has three of their buildings, two of them adjacent.

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A block away on the corner of via Senofonte and via Plutarco 15 are two more adjacent. 

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The three sides of the block bounded by Piazza Velasca, via Albricci and via Cannobio (in the distance) has four adjacent buildings constructed within ten years of each other. I have never heard of this happening anywhere else.

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Occasionally, architects design monolithic buildings as apparent assemblages of smaller buildings. It’s a known device to reduce the visual impact of a single large building and maintain a scale more in keeping with some historic one. It’s also dishonest.

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The instances of adjacent Asnago Vender buildings are all natural occurrences due to them being commissioned by either the same or neighbouring clients. This shows that both the landowners and clients know how to work with each other for the long-term good of their city. Situations like this do not occur when either the client or architect is short-termist or opportunistic. They also do not occur when architects are chasing fame and prestige through the publicity associated with overseas commissions. [Who started this? When did it become the norm? Why? And why is it thought to be a good thing?]

Subtlety

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Returning to this building on via Albricci, at the top of the building is a open frame that, by being there and not being there, bridges the height difference between the left and right buildings. I expect that a curved boundary on one side of the corner site accounts for the slight curve on that side. However, the spacing between the windows increases almost imperceptibly towards the corner but on that side only. The building to the left is probably why.

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Photo by Filipo Poli

Note also how the corner is turned at street level. We’re probably looking at a maximum permissible cantilever being used to determine the curve. To the left, two of the far piers are recessed ever so slightly, possibly due to the influence of its neighbour. A transom is repeated but not in the same line.

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At the corner on the first and second floors are those vertically-paired, offset windows that are the only remant of the lower-level banding along via Albricci. Let’s take a closer look at the adjacent building to the left, on Piazza Velasca.

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The horizontal spacing of the windows appears regular but you will have to look very hard to find repeats or symmetries. The irregularities are below the Venturi threshold for complexity and contradiction. Perhaps these slight differences are things we respond to even if we don’t notice them, like those asymmetries of the human face? I mentioned in the MILAN post how this building maintains the floor heights of the adjacent buildings yet makes no attempt at lining through of lintels, cills or masonry joins. It works – something of identifiably the same scale results.

None of this is noticed when walking along the street. The question we must ask ourselves is: Is there such a thing anymore as design that is not meant to be noticed? See the slight angles on the balconies to the front of this building? It’s subtle.cd901370e575ecbbba9176699f12f8f1Something not so subtle is happening and a great many times on the (ZHA) building opposite.

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Redeeming the Trivial

The following quote [googletranslated from the Italian] is from here.

The research area of Asnago and Vender is still dictated by the city and by its rules: they have to operate within the framework of economic and housing laws need that imposed detailed rules and conditions for new buildings; these charges were not seen as limits by the two designers, but rather as an opportunity to redeem the trivial. The buildings of Asnago and Vender, mostly intended for the good Milanese bourgeoisie, do not break with the desire of urban homes comfortable and dignified, but that the nourish, to ennoble they can be studied with interventions and elegant. This conciliatory attitude is foreign to elite choices or controversy; the building techniques are sublimated into a pure language, abstract, where you avoid a break with the habits they can be redeemed for the inside; by doing so the two Milanese architects manage to redeem the trivial, the already seen, the usual, giving a renewed quality where details count and clarity of purpose.

Decoration

Early Asnago Vender buildings had forms of decoration not surprising for the time.

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Both these buildings of theirs can be said to have decorative balustrades.

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Many Asnago Vender buildings have some complex things happening with offsets and windows sizes and these are decoration of sorts. I’d previously said a 1970 house of Kazunari Sakamoto’s was the first instance I knew of offset windows being used as a decorative device and then I found a 1966 building of Togo Murano’s with offset windows. I now place the origin further back to 1940 and name Asnago Vender the inventors.

Economy

Seventy-five years on, offset windows have become a kind of shorthand for design effort that doesn’t need to be justified in terms of plan or context. The following examples are just four I saw over the course of a few days. The two buildings on the right probably have plans causing the fenestration hiccups, the two on the left probably not.

arxyre3p6rp5l0kyvuw6We’ve become accustomed to think of offset windows as contemporary and not as a form of decoration that costs next to nothing because it is not applied. Asnago Vender mostly used various window positions and shapes to add a contextual liveliness and meaning to the facades of utilitarian and much-needed buildings in the post-war Italian economy. They did not waste resources. Around the time when the architectural world was debating the relative merits of Farnsworth House and Glass House, Asnago & Vender were making useful buildings with inexpensive contextual devices that, like the buildings themselves, have staying power.

Design Flair

Design flair is the skill of doing something unjustifiable yet perfect. Togo Murano had it. Luigi Moretti had it. Asnago Vender had it. These mullions are from a 1969 mixed use building of theirs. It was to be one of their largest, and one of their last. There’s no reason why these mullions should have this pattern rather than any other. I notice a square, and another square, and perhaps a few golden rectangles but it is not intended to be clever, or probably even noticed. It is simply like this and it is good.

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Design flair is nothing more than the sense of knowing when it’s okay to do something unjustifiable, and when to stop.

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• • •

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Signori Asagno e Vender,

for showing us how to do it

misfits salutes you!

• • •

Misfits’ Guide to MILAN

The 20th century chronology of attention-getting buildings is over represented by America. It was only Le Corbusier who presented a sustained individual challenge to total American architectural dominance. Sustained national challenges were mounted by Scandinavia, Japan and Italy but, whether we were paying attention or not, Italy never ceased being a source of architectural intelligence and construction excellence. In Milan, I will look for evidence to back up this claim.

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1915–1925

Ca’ BruttaVittorino Colonnese, Giovanni Muzio, Pier Fausto Barelli, 1922
Via della Moscova, Milano

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This perimeter apartment block was one of the first reinforced concrete frame buildings in Italy. It had underground car parking, and heating and hot water were centrally provided. It lack of ornament borrowed from the Secessionists in reacting to Art Nouveau but earned it the name ‘Ugly House’.  What ornament there was was variously accused of being inconsistent, playful, ironic, a detachment from reality, a primitive mysticism and a reaction to rationality. Decades later, bizarrely and without irony, post-modernists would scour this pre-modern building for proof they were right. Papers would be written. 

Palazzo dell’ArteGiovanni Muzio
Viale Alemagna 6, Milano
 

Another Muzio building. Whether by coincidence, contemporaneity, association, design, or sheer bad luck, this building gets described as fascist architecture even though masonry arches with little or no decoration are typical of Muzio whose style seemed fully formed with his 1923 Palazzo dell’Arte and wasn’t noticeably different thirteen years later with his Palazzo dell’Arengario in Piazza del Duomo. I think I’d prefer to see Ignzaio Gardella’s 1934 proposal there instead. Either would be unthinkable now.

1925-35

Casa Toninello, Guiseppe Terragni
Via Perasto 3, Milano

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The upper floor has been filled in but this building is still doing what it was meant to do.

1935-40

This period was the one where Rationalist design met urban verncaular construction to became mainstream. This suggests that Rationalism and its emphasis on structure and configuration was a more useful way of understanding the same technical advances than was style. The result is that many of these buildings look very ordinary today. They’re easy to pass by. This is either a virtue or a failing, depending on what you expect of buildings in a city.

Casa dei GiornalistiGiovanni Muzio
via Appiani, 23-25, Milano

This is the third of five Muzio buildings here, all except the Palazzo dell’Arte being within a few hundred metres of each other and each on a prominent intersection. This suggests a close connection with a local landowner. Note with this one how the end windows are slightly larger. We find this strange, as if expression and denial are the only two choices.

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Casa Rustici-Comolli, Giuseppe Terragni
Guglielmo Pepe 32, Milano

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Check those paired side balconies executed as a reinforced concrete truss. We’re looking at an idea we are to see again in Casa Rustica.

Casa Ghiringhelli, Guiseppe Terragni, 1933-35
Piazzale Lagosta 2, Milano

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Here we see the protruding central portion of the previous two Terragni buildings, as well as paired central balconies on the symmetrical main facade. The top floor is again set back and defined as was the original roof on Casa Toninello. The same pieces are being continunally rearranged according to site, program and budget. There’s no compulsion to be inventive beyond that. These four buildings are in the same corner of town, again suggesting either a single landowner or word-of-mouth referrals between local landowners.

asa LavezzariGuiseppe Terragni, 1934-35
piazza Morbegno 3, Milano

This one’s a favourite, and for that reason.

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Following the streets allows rectilinear construction except for the elevator lobby and entrance hallways where it is an asset, and for the stairwell where it doesn’t matter.

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Casa al Villaggio dei giornalisti (House in Milan)Figini & Pollini, 1933–35
via Perrone di San Martino 8, Milano

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This is all we get to see of this house that previously appeared in the Pilotis post. You can find more information and the plans on www.ordinearchitetti.mi.it.

Casa Bonaiti, Giovanni Muzio, 1935-36
Piazza della Repubblica, Milan

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These apartments are of the same time as Muzio’s other ones and solve much the same problem using a symmetrical layout with various adjustments. It was here I first began to notice the Milanese love for balcony planting. You’ll see many impressive and sometimes extreme examples.

Partly because of this and partly because Stefano Boeri is Milanese, I began to warm to his Bosco Verticale, a building I’d previously thought overly tricksy. The planting on this building is only slightly more outrageous than much of what you will see on balconies around town. I noticed that taller trees are prevented from blowing over by ventical cable stays suspended from the balconies above.

Bosco Verticale is part of a much larger new commercial centre development called Porta Nuova, west of Repubblica.

Off to one side of the park area beside Boscso Verticale is this building that looked rather interesting and built to last.

Casa Rustici, Pietro Lingeri & Giuseppe Terragni, 1935
Corso Sempione 26, Milano

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There’s not much rusticity on show at Casa Rustici. The building is urban and urbane. It’s parade of balconies have more than a hint of Terragni’s Casa del Fascio completed the following year.

Villa Pestarini, Franco Albini, 1937-38
Via Mogadiscio 2-4

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The top floor is an addition but I get the feeling Albini would have approved. Here’s what it looked like in 1938.

1945-55

Edificio per abitazioni e uffici, Luigi Figini & Gino Pollini, 1947–48
via Broletto 37, Milano

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Much of what you see in Milan will just look ordinary and decent – in a good way. Figini & Pollini were well-known architects but this looks just like any other sturdily-built 1930s building in Milan. On the other hand, it’s often the case when walking you’ll see buildings such as this next one that look like you ought to know who it is by. If someone had told me this was Terragni from 1928 I would’ve believed them. Instead, it’s just the natural result of architectural innovation and vernacular construction both having something to give each other to become the new normal.

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Casa AlbergoLuigi Moretti, 1946-1951
via Corridoni, Milano

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Why am I mentioning this? It’s an example of a post-war apartment hotel designed as a city-in-a-city with a entrance lobby, access corridors, a restaurant, library and shared amenities in a podium linking the twin high blocks and the single lower one. The building was designed as a repeatable typology with the shape of the podium altering to suit different site geometries. It’s good contemporary thinking. It’s 1946.

Casa Tognella (Casa dal Parco)Ignazio Gardella, 1947-54
Via Jacini Milan

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It’s often mentioned how the design and construction of this building took seven years but, considering its location on a single block of land overlooking Milan’s most central and largest historic park, seven years seems surprisingly short to sort out permissions. Either Gardella had a gift for dealing with municipalities or the clients had some serious money and influence. The alternate name Casa dal Parco is not wrong, but seems somehow diminutive.

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Internal planning has the strict public and private division typical of the class and era but is relatively relaxed regarding staff and occupants sharing corridors and stairs (but not elevators). The service areas of the apartment are zoned, rather than compartmentalized. The lady of the house might even enter the kitchen.

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There’s little reason to break the rectilinearity, apart from getting more south light bouncing off the master bedroom wall, and getting more west sun into the living and dining room. Gardella took a Rationalist approach as the starting point for many buildings, but adapted it as circumstances dictated such as with Casa alle Zattere in Venice four years later.

Condominio di v. Marchiondi a Milano
Ignazio Gardella, Roberto Menghi & Anna Castelli Ferrieri, 1949-1953
via Marchiondi, 7, Milano

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That’s it in the back. It faces a private park and is completely hidden at the back by other buildings and at the front by trees.

The planning is clearly Gardella’s – it’s beautiful! Only he can plan elevator lobbies and entrance halls like this, and extract maximum effect from angled walls whether he’s forced to or not. They never result in peculiar or wasted spaces.

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Edificio per abitazioni ed uffici (mixed-use building)
Mario Asnago & Claudio Vender, 1950
Piazza Velasca 4, Milan

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A ground floor with three floors of offices above, four floors of apartments and what looks like a recessed top floor. The offices have a stone facade and office windows, the apartments have a brick facade and apartment windows. The office window grid aligns with the upper left corners of the apartment window grid, but that grid isn’t regular. We don’t see the trope of lining through windows and masonry with adjacent buildings. Instead, identical floor heights are maintained and the buiding naturally assumes a complementary scale regardless of wind0w size and proportion. It’s subtly and quietly brilliant. Asnago & Vender buildings are ego-less architecture and, as such, near invisible.

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Quartiere Mangiagalli, Ignazio Gardella & Franco Albini, 1950
via De Predis, via Jacopino da Tradate

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The intelligent use of external angles immediately marks this building as one of Gardella’s.

So does the planning. He would normally have narrowed the stair landings towards the entrances but instead has made a screened void to keep the access balcony away from the bathroom windows. Once inside however, the entrance hall characteristically narrows towards to the living room and the living room narrows towards the view. The only internal triangular space created by the unusual geometry is used to widen the passage from living to kitchen. Note also how the bedrooms have their own corridor, separate from the entrance corridor? And how that circulation space below the bathrooms can be configured to make either two x 2-bed apartments, or 1 x  1-bed + 1 x 3-bed? Clever.

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On the way there from Lotto (M1) Station, you’ll probably pass by this development on via Roberto Sambonet. It’s worth a look.

Corso Italia Complex, Luigi Moretti, 1951 & 1956
Corso Italia 13-17, Milano

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The two office and residential towers at the rear of the site came first in 1951 and the two front blocks later in 1956. The pointed one overhanging the street and containing three apartments per level is perhaps the most wilful of all the buildings so far. [Plan from archidiap.]

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The mixed-use building is a common typology in Milan and, like the 1950 Asnago & Vender mixed-use building, effortlessly combine the two. There’s no logic to those three well-placed subtractions on some of the balcony ends. Moretti has that gift we call ‘design flair’.

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It’s also evident in the subtle bend of the north side having those balconies. Moretti pulls off that difficult feat of making the unnecessary seem right.

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The four grouped flues at the end of the building don’t appear to be original but they’ve been added in a good way.

Pirelli Tower, Gio Ponti, 1953
Via Fabio Filzi 22, Milan

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This building remains as idosyncratic and elegant as it was in 1953. Gio Ponti achieved international fame with this building that’s the only one of his I’m going to mention here. He “put Italian architecture on the map”, as they say. This was good for him and good for us because modern buildings in Italy became Italian architecture worldwide. It wasn’t necessarily a good thing for Italians as architecture wasn’t a local activity anymore. Italian architects now had their eyes on international recognition. The more Italian architecture became, the less concerned it was with Italians. In short, it lost its innocence, albeit not all at once and not across the board. Career Case Study #7: Gio Ponti is forthcoming.

Torre Velasca
BBPR (Gian Luigi Banfi, Lodovico Barbiano di Belgiojoso, Enrico Peressutti, & Ernesto Nathan Rogers) architectural partnership, 1954
Piazza Velasca 5, Milano

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This 1954 building is also claimed, in hindsight, to be a precursor to Post Modernism because of its alleged historical reference to Milanese towers, the closest I suppose being the tower of the Castello Sforzesco but I’ll save that thought for some other time. I’d never really noticed the offset windows before. It might be the result of different internal layouts or it may be totally gratuitous for all I know. For now, it seems to be another case of someone making no effort to either hide something or express it.

The history of accidentally or contrivedly offset windows now goes back to the 1950s. Curtain walling doesn’t feature largely in Milan and there aren’t that many examples of the contemporary type we’re so familiar with.

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Casa del Cedro, Giulio Minoletti, 1951-1957
via Fatebenefratelli 3, Milano

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Having earlier admired the architectural insouciance of Asnago & Vender, I was prepared to dislike this proud little building but couldn’t. For pushing 70, it’s looking fantastic and in good health. I’d be surprised if it has any solar gain, thermal bridging or waterproofing issues.

1955–1965

Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista alla CretaGiovanni Muzio, 1956-1958
Piazza S. Giovanni Battista alla Creta, 11, 20147 Milano

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This is a curious little building – Muzio again! He always had a feel for brick and now he’s making something that’s obviously decorative yet can’t have been Post Modernism because Post Modernism wasn’t supposed to have been around in 1956. I find it easier to think of Post Modernism as a resurgence of what there was pre-Modernism. Muzio was always a bit behind the times but then the times went back to meet him, as with Ca’ Brutta. I’m not sure if any Italian architect has ever been a ‘modernist’ but at one stage Figini & Pollini, the authors of this next building, were very identifiably Rationalists.

Edificio per albergo e abitazioni (mixed-use building)
Luigi Figini & Gino Pollini, 1961-1965
Largo Augusto 2, Milano

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I include this to show how Figini & Pollini became less shy about decoration as the century progressed. I have no evidence, but wouldn’t be surprised if the decorative balconies have a Venetian ancestor for they recall the ones Gardella was to use on Casa alle Zattera in 1958. Here, the absence of balconies from one floor seems irrational and difficult to justify as design flair despite it being the dominant aesthetic decision.

Torre Turati, Giovanni Muzio, 1966

Via Turati 40, Milano

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This is the last Muzio building here. That’s it on the left, forming one half of a gateway to Piazza Repubblica. The building cantilevers out to provide increasingly large balconies to the upper apartments but this is not obvious when seen from along the street.

These two buildings show two different ways of working to the same rules but the one on the far side extracts maximum volume from the cantilever concession. It also produces that building-on-top-of-another-building effect that found recent popular affectation.

Edificio Residenziale al GallarateseAldo Rossi, 1969-1970
via Enrico Falck 53, Milan

If Gio Ponti put the new architecture of Italy on the map, Rossi was the Italian face of Neo Rationalism that was, rightfully or wrongly, presented and understood internationally as Italy’s spin on post modernism. People saw whatever they wanted to see in it. Italians presumably saw the rational side and non-Italians saw a kind of classicism stripped down even more than Muzio’s as this time there were no arches. The most disturbing new development is Theory. In Rossi’s case, the theory was about urban artefacts being responsibile for the essential nature of the city. This is a convenient truth for an architect to claim but my perception of Milan is that it is not the sum of its landmarks but the sum of everything else.

This one project is all I have to show of Rossi’s buildings in Milan, and even with this there wasn’t much to see.

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The famous elevation on the other side is now completely obscured by planting, somewhat oddly as the building faces a park, but I suspect it’s to deter the architectural paparazzi.

I remember the building more from the endless graphics that announced it.

The apartment layouts however, are archetypal.

I preferred the neighbouring Aymonino Buildings [Via Cilea 34, Via Falck 37], designed by Carlo Aymonino & Studio Ayde (Aymonino & Rossi), and constructed between 1967-74. We can at least see them as they look over the street to the playing fields and parks beyond.

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To be fair, the Rossi’s Gallaratese Apartments also did at one time and he’s not to blame for their current vegetative state. Nevertheless, his famous building exists only for its occupants and even then not how it does in our collective imagination. This can’t be a good thing.

The entire area around Bonono station however is a delight. On a late summer’s afternoon, the dream of high-density buildings set in parkland seems to have been realized. There’s an abundance of well-kept towers, grassy areas, parks, sports grounds, and people walking dogs. It seems like a nice place to live.

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Edificio Polifunzionale in piazza San Marco, Ludovico Magistretti, 1969 – 1971
piazza San Marco 1, Milano

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This also seems like a nice place to live but now there’s external ornament that places these buildings firmly as self-conscious, post-modern Italian architecture. Its very clever with its revealed frame and its various rhythms but that cleverness is what now dates it. Despite that, life goes on.

• • •

I’ll stop it there. The only buildings I’ve mentioned are the ones I can put an architect’s name to. What struck me most about all of these buildings was how many of them were produced by local architects working within a very small radius. There’s no building here that can’t be visited with a day pass on the Milan metro. Terragni did most of his work in Como and Milan. Gardella worked mainly in Milan even though one of his early successes was his 1938 Dispensario Antitubercolare 75 km to the south-west in Allesandria.

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As his reputation spread, Gardella worked as far east as Venice and as far West as Genoa, neither more than 300km away. If I’d extended my range to Seveso 20km to the north of Milan I could have included Terragni’s Casa Bianca.

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If I’d gone on to Como another 20km north, I could have included Terragni’s 1936 Casa del Fascia, and if I’d gone the extra mile and a half I could have included Cesare Cattaneo’s 1939 Casa d’affitto a Cernobbio, a favourite.

But they can wait for some other time. What I like about Milan is that architects working locally had access to connections and knowledge and perhaps sensitivities others didn’t. It explains the buildings of Asnago & Vender that give shape to unspoken expectations so well that we don’t even notice them doing it. There’s client loyalty.

Local architects are more likely to have an innate respect and affection for a place that’s their home town. They’re unlikely to grandstand. For the first time in my life I had a feel for the ‘fabric’ of a city as a tapestry of old and new, of adjustments and allowances for materials and technologies that, though they may appear different, are still being used to for the same ends. It’s a rare thing to appreciate and a tricky thing for an architect to aspire to, let alone achieve. I leave Milan thinking that designing buildings for people is an honorable thing to do.

• • •

Since the 1970s, more Milan buildings are being designed by architects who aren’t local and whose first architectural obligation is not necessarily to the city or its citizens. In the image below, the building on the left is by Asnago & Vender whom we shall meet again in Architecture Misfits #26. The building in the distance is Generali Tower by Zaha Hadid Architects.

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• • •

tripadvisor: http://www.ordinearchitetti.mi.it/en/mappe/itinerari/repertorio

• • •

 

Architecture Misfits #24: Rural Studio

A 308 sq.ft Katrina Cottage can be delivered for $70,000 including construction. That works out at $227/sq.ft.

The affordable IVRV House designed by SCI-ARC students for a low-income Los Angeles neighbourhood was constructed for $200,000 ÷ 1,185 sq.ft = US$165/sq.ft.  

The 2015 house designed by Yale architecture students as part of the Jim Vlock Building Project was 1,000 sq.ft and had a budget of $130,000 – excluding labour which was provided by students. Assuming labour at 60% of the cost-in-place, that’s $217/sq.ft. (*1)

The ÁPH80 transportable house by Madrid firm ÁBATON offers 291 sq.ft of living space and sells for €32,000 (US$40,000) which is $138/sq.ft. 

Diogene by Renzo Piano Workshop is 81 sq.ft. and sells for $45,000 which represents $555/sq.ft. A deluxe model with rooftop photovoltaic panels costs $75,000 and works out at $926/sq.ft

Rural Studio’s 20K House costs US$20,000 but, they explain, it would have to sell for more in order to pay a living wage to builders. Materials cost $14,000. At 500 sq.ft the $20K represents $40/sq.ft.

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Rural Studio have been attempting to perfect the 20K house since 2005.

These houses aren’t the end product of a journey of aesthetic discovery but represent twenty years of research and the refinement of the design approach and of prototypes.

The 20K House program evolved out of frustration at starting from scratch each year on each client house. The new program’s current instructional model is to test typologies, rather than producing idiosyncratic individual houses, which allows us to build iteratively on previous and concurrent work. In fact, each year’s 20K House outreach team passes on a book of information for the following class, exemplifying Rural Studio’s founding premise of learning both by practice and from reflection. [Slate 19/05/2014] 

This house below is a refinement of the 2009 (v8) Dave’s Home which itself is a refinement of the 2006 (v2) Franks’s Home. 

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Rural Studio’s 20K houses look low-tech but associate director Rusty Smith says “They’re built more like airplanes than houses, which allows us to have them far exceed structural requirements.” This I believe. I’ve mentioned before how the aircraft maker Sukhoi treats every aircraft as a prototype for the better performance of the next one. Iterative design aims for perfection rather than preconceived notions of beauty.

The Sukhoi S-47 [on the left, below] proved impractical to develop and maintain as a production aircraft. The T-50 [on the right] that succeeded it is the 1985 SU-27, substantially modified. Engines are the 117S derivative of the economical and high-performance AL-31 engine. The T-50 is economically efficient, low maintenance and has a planned service life of 35 years.

In the same way and for the same reasons, Rural Studio made the decision to test typologies but concentrate on building iteratively on previous work. Such an approach still requires high-level and densely-packed design intelligence. In the case of residential buildings, it amounts to a conscious process of vernacular design accelerated over decades rather than centuries. We can all learn from this. Some of the rules can be identified from decisions made.

Economy of means

The self-imposed cost limit of $20K forces attention towards the cost of every element and design design. Windows are a major cost item. “We are very precise in the placement of windows of doors,” says Andrew Freear, studio director. “Typically, we can afford two doors and seven windows, and how do you use those the fullest? Cross-ventilation, bouncing light, putting a window near a table as a reflective surface. In Joanne’s House, in the kitchen, the refrigerator is perpendicular to a window and bounces natural light into the space.

A single waste pipe runs beneath the porch to link all wet areas. The layout is determined by this as much as anything else. Siteworks are a major cost item and cantilevering the floor joists past the foundation piles reduces the area of sitewaorks.

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Maximum efficiency of each element

Cantilevered floor girders act more efficiently as beams, making smaller and less expensive timber sections sufficient. Floor joists are cantilevered from the girders for the same reason.

Conventional technologies and standard parts

Standard components are easier and less expensive to source, maintain, repair and replace.Windows and doors are more obvious examples of standard components but the 2×4 framing system is itself an example of conventional technology and standard parts. It’s a construction system and, once the cladding is on, a structural system as well.

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In passing, the 2 x 4 construction system is also a technology with minimal waste as the log is sawn to leave little waste timber.

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There’s also little waste within the system as cutoffs can be re-used as jack studs or nogging.

Design without waste

In my previous post I mentioned how Rural Studio were the only US practice invited to participate in the 15th Venice Biennale 2016, and how they used the money they’d been given to purchase local products to create a theatre that could be dismantled and its components used elsewhere afterwards.

It is possible to eliminate building waste by regarding every component as something with a potential future use. Native Americans famously used every part of the buffalo they hunted – meat for food, bones for implements and weapons, hides for clothing and so on. It’s no accident that this is called being resourceful. Resourceful cooks can save money and resources by making a meal out of scraps and leftovers.

Identifying Inefficiencies of Process

It’s often the case that new and better ways of doing something bump up against resistance due to instituional inertia, psychological resistance, or perhaps due to simple lack of knowledge. This last can be overcome by taking the time and making the effort to explain and educate. Rural Studio found that more effort needs to be made to change local zoning laws that regulate against small houses. They also noted that banks charge the same for a loan regardless of whether that loan is for a small house or a large house. This makes loans for less expensive houses proportionally more expensive.

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Without the $20K cost limit forcing scrutiny of all cost items, no-one would ever have known this or thought it relevant to the provision of housing.

• • •

The process of edcuation should not stop there. If design intelligence has been spent tweaking minor things to make them more efficient or to multi-task some component, then the general public and the world of architecture at large, also needs to be educated to appreciate that design intelligence and the benefits it can bring.

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As it stands now, Rural Studio are widely admired for doing what they do but are destined to exist outside of mainstream architectural consciousness. For one, Rural Studio is not a practice. It is an undergraduate program of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture at Auburn University in Hale County, Alabama. You can read more about its history here.

The program for low-cost and socially-useful housing was begun by Dennis (D.K.) Ruth and Samuel Mockbee in 1993. Andrew Freear became director upon Mockbee’s death. This coming semester, Xavier Vendrell will be Acting Director while Freear goes on sabbatical. Rural Studio has a director but no figurehead. It is not personality-driven. It is not media driven.

Rural Studio are ineligible for a Pritzker Prize, for what it’s worth.

  1. Mockbee died in 2001 and Ruth in 2009. The Pritzker Prize is awarded to a living architect.
  2. Not only that, the Pritzker Prize is awarded to a living architect who has produced a singular body of work. The output of Rural Studio is a singular body of work that has consistency and development and many other qualities that mark it as the output of a single consciousness. It is not awarded to a team, let alone an amorphous team that includes a ever-changing roster of students. This condition seems particularly unfair when starchitect practice figureheads routinely curate and claim authorship of ideas generated by an intern farm.

In our current cultural landscape it is usual for architects with any degree of fame to rush into teaching to extend their media reach, ideally at an Ivy-League university. Rural Studio is doing things the other way around. It is in Alabama not New England. It is not staffed by architects who teach but by teachers who build. They are teaching us as well, as their direction of twenty years has now been appropriated – perhaps maliciously so, but time will tell – by architecture at large. Rural Studio’s presence at VB2016 shows they are continuing to do what they do as best they can and guided by what they think is right.

• • •

tumblr_lgm5beEDCU1qdugrxrural studio staff

Rural Studio!

to all of you whoever you are at any given time

for your ceaseless work of genuine benefit to fellow human beings,
for showing us how to make things better by making better things,
and, most importantly, for making it about building,

misfits’ salutes you!

• • •

their site
their 2015 newsletter
Slate article

*1 Thanks CBW!

Downmarketly Mobile

It’s always been the case that wealthy people own a number of houses or apartments in various places around the world and spend time in them according to the season or whim. Some don’t even use them – they just like to know they could and high-end apartments in Western capitals suit them quite nicely.

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People of lesser wealth might have a vacation house in another country or perhaps a summer weekend house in the countryside. Timeshare ownership of property in other countries and the relative ease of travel have made living across properties, climates, cultures and landscapes more accessible to more people.

Co-living in any city in the world for a fixed monthy subscription is a development of this trend and makes this type of living more accessible to more people. Typologically, it’s what Youth Hostels Association (YHA) has been offering for decades to student travellers albeit not in a joined-up way around the world.

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So hats’ off to ROAM for identifying an existing type of residential use and marketing it as a value-added form of co-living. “Sign one lease, live around the world.” They have some decent endorsements.

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ROAM is a network of global communal living spaces that provide everything you need to feel at home and be productive the moment you arrive. Strong, battle-tested wifi, a co-working space, chef’s kitchen and a diverse community.

It sounds very attractive, better than some places I’ve called home over the years, not to mention the clean sheets and towels.

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This angle – for it is an angle if generic functionality is being remarketed for the same purpose it always was – circumvents the argument that co-living implies student living. It doesn’t. The “Learn by living somewhere different” suggests gap years for all but the claim you can “be productive the moment you arrive” implies a new attitude to moving around – you take your work with you but the hardware remains the same. A single system of tenure spanning different locations is what’s new. In principle, there’s no reason why a similar system couldn’t be applied across multiple properties in the same city.

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In principle. If such a system were applied within countries or cities, it would be abused by people refusing to move on and make room for others. To discourage this, the price point has to be more expensive than conventional tenancies for the medium term, and cheaper than conventional hotels for the short term. So far, the best suggestion has been to add a surcharge for ‘expensive’ cities such as New York and London but this only fuels the strong suspicion that co-housing is hotels in disguise. It is in some cases, but the disguise is what’s at fault, not the living in hotels.

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It’s not that living in houses has become unattractive, it’s just that the likelihood of ever owning one is slipping away.

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Now that owning property is less likely, it’s difficult to know whether any forthcoming ideas will be visionary solutions, expedient workarounds, or simply a race to the bottom with new methods for the old exploitation. Permanent ownership of fixed houses is a burden if people have to relocate, and relocating across town, the country or the planet for employment is already a fact of life. The idea of mobile living crops up periodically but never actually comes about.

Here it is again, this time called Kasita. 320 sq.ft.

This Forbes article suggests it’s what you’d get if you crossed an Airstream with microhousing and parked it in an automated parking garage. Not unlike this by Glen Howard Small (1977-1980)

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crossed with a bit of the following.

This can’t be economically sensible since the structure for stacking and the structure for enclosure and integrity are different. Shipping containers have a single structure for both because they’re designed from the outset to be stacked. This means structural redundancy if there aren’t eight or nine stacked above it  but different configurations at different times shift that redundancy to other containers. You can’t have it both ways.

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It’s thus a good idea for a dwelling to have an optimised, dual-purpose structure. In the past, demountable and transportable houses delivered by helicopter or off a truck implied permanent ownership or long-term tenancy of land and were solutions to the expense of mobilizing construction labour rather than any direct amenity gained from the mobility itself. The house was moved to some new location and connected to utilities.

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Transportable homes are another variation. This company will either sell you a house or you can rent it by the week. Either way, they’ll deliver it to your property and all you have to do is connect it to utilities. This is their open plan studio for NZ$40K (US$31K).

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Their two-bedroom w/pergola is looking good.

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The loftcube did the circuit not too long ago. Same idea, but with added architecture and pretence.

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Here’s the Eco-Capsule, with updated design affectations and added eco-stuff.

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All these designs are transportable homes. With the new Kasita development, you buy and have your pre-designed pod transported to some property and connected to utilities including wifi [which is somewhat perverse, given what wireless is]. The difference is that the property is now stacked. It’s a Dom-ino house where the entire house is now freed from the tyranny of structure. The innovation bit is that the house can move with you but it’s not clear why you should want it to if they’re all identical. You can think of this as as freedom from packing and unpacking your suitcase, or perhaps as travelling inside your suitcase and living in it when you get there.

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Mobile homes, on the other hand, aren’t designed to be stacked. Their dual structure for enclosure and self-support has no structural redundancy and can therefore be optimised. Mobile homes are not designed to remain in the same location forever and so have wheels to enable towing from place to place. This becomes redundant mobility when used as permanent housing.

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Unsurprisingly, mobile homes imply temporary homes and, as such, don’t articulate the possession of land that is one of the fundamental and historical concerns of architecture. This is more than a simple problem of language. It’s a matter of historically ingrained prejudice. The mobility of mobile homes is something to be ashamed of and disguised when they are used as permanent housing.

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Yet, the wheels and mobility of micro houses are flaunted when they are used for recreational/unnecessary housing. This is what you get when you cross a trailer with a tiny house.

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Both types of structure are the same animal but, in the first situation we have actual housing with its mobility disguised whereas, in the second, we have a vehicle representing housing and its mobility flaunted. The fact nobody questions the right of mobile tiny houses to be called tiny houses suggests our perception of mobility is changing faster than our notions of ownership and tenure.

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Grouping tiny mobile houses around shared facilities is even seen as attractive and novel if they are rented out as hotel rooms. In this next image we see the gentrification of gypsy caravans and hobo fire barrels. Not a problem.

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As usual, architecture always moves in the direction opposite that of greater utility. It’s up to people to invent new ways of living and these naturally collide with existing regulatory frameworks, as they did with Dignity Village and other spontaneous tiny home settlements.

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Here’s another idea borne out of necessity.

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This initiative brings together tiny houses and a mobile lifestyle. We might just be looking at a new way to live.

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The only thing architecture can do is give representation to the shared amenity bits, as is already happening in this recent masterplan for Nanjing in China,

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or these two high-rise developments.

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.

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  • 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.

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

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  • 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.
Comparison

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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!

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

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  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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• • •

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.

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

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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.

Critical Spatiality

I’m uneasy with this new notion of everything being architecture, weary of pondering space as Deleuzian or Derridian, and find it difficult to care if heterogenous space is a democratic space different from the homogenous universal space of Modernism and the incongruous hereogeneity produced by Post-Modern collage. It’s time for a vacation.  

As a midsummer break from architecture about anything and everything but buildings, I want to go back in time to when being an architect meant applying intelligence and skills to organize spaces into buildings for people

◁◁

Type F V1.0 (Moisei Ginzburg, 1928)

  • The idea was to not waste building volume/resources by overbuilding the volume needed to access living space. To this end, bedrooms, bathrooms and entrances had lower ceiling heights and were stacked, with apartments entered either upwards or downwards from the sandwiched access level. [1, 2]
  • The living room was on the side of the building having better daylight, and bedrooms and access on the side where daylight was less needed. This is something we still endeavour to achieve today as it’s still a decent thing to aim for. We still appreciate sunlight for its effect on our health and well-being even if preventing tuberculosis is no longer a priority.
  • We also still appreciate the well-being due to natural ventilation and cross-ventilation in particular.

The Type F was a near-perfect thing. Splitting the levels meant internal stairs but those stairs were the sole circulation space in the upper unit and the only additional circulation space in the lower. They were inclined corridors.

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1928 Russian society wasn’t ready for private kitchens to be replaced by communal kitchens. Later Type F iterations included compact kitchens intended to remain until such time as society was ready but it never was. The idea of a kitchen not being a separate room stayed ahead of its time. Only six buildings were built with Type F apartments.

Type F V2.0 (Serge Chermayeff, 1943)

Ginzburg’s idea for the more efficient distribution of building volume was forgotten until Serge Chermayeff adapted its principles for mid 20th century Americans and presented it as his Park Hill Apartments Study in 1943.

  • Apartments were larger and organised across the width of the building.
  • Staircases were placed centrally and sideways so as to use less space close to the windows.
  • The living areas and bedrooms were generously sized.
  • There were balconies.
  • There was a separate U-shaped kitchen.

park-type-apartments-1

Chermayeff’s solution had some drawbacks, some unavoidable and others the product of their time.

  • The stairs for the upper and lower apartments were at opposite ends of the living rooms and could not be even partially stacked, introducing wasted area.
  • The dining area had to be associated with the kitchen which was on a different level from the living room. The relationship between the dining and living areas is not as strong as is usual today.
  • The upper apartment had to have a corridor in order to access more than one bedroom.
  • The plan implied occupancy by a nuclear family.

• • •

Later experiments with interlocking apartments introduced complexities of levels and access but without any of the volumetric advantages of tailoring room heights.

Unité d’Habitations (Le Corbusier, 1949)

CORBGRAPHIC

  • The rotational symmetry produces non-equivalent plans (since humans walk on floors and not ceilings). Having the kitchen-dining as the mezzanine instead of the bedroom produces an unacceptable living area at the foot of the master bed.
  • Spaces requiring most natural ventilation have least of it.
  • 50% of living rooms have the unpreferable daylighting.

Corringham (Douglas Stephen & Partners, 1960)

  • The complex internal planning is said to result from giving all residents a view of the communal garden on the side opposite the living rooms that face west. This is misleading. Half the units have stairs up from the access corridor but it is only the other half with stairs going down from the access corridor that have the sight lines shown in the section below. All living rooms face west for better daylighting even if the architects were oddly reluctant to admit it. 
  • The single riser accessible from the access corridor is good.

• • •

There has been no further development of apartments that interlock to reduce the building volume required to access them.  It is time to update the Type F model and bring it into line with how we seem to want to live today, but without losing the volumetric advantages identified by Ginzberg and appreciated by Chermayeff. 

  • Return the kitchen to the living room: The shrunken kitchen as part of a living room has come to pass whether it is the ‘social kitchen’ of contemporary upmarket developments such as 100 East Fifty-Third Street or the conceptual downgrading suggested by Lacaton & Vassal (as seen in Architecture Reductions).
  • Stacked stairs: Chermayeff’s sideways staircases retain Ginzburgs principle of being used as circulation space but are wasteful of building volume as no part of them is stacked. Unused volume above the upper stair and below the lower stair is inescapable, but should be minimal.
  • No upper corridor: Building volume no longer used for external access should not then be wasted on internal circulation.
  • Co-living potential: Bedrooms should be treated as equivalent chambers surrounding communal living space and not imply any one type of occupancy in particular.

Type F V3.0 (misfits’architecture, 2016)

Type F V3 Principle in Section

  • The type and position of the staircase is critical. Upper and lower landings overlap the corridor, the length of which is determined by the width of the staircase plus the openings to access the lower living area. In the upper apartment, the half-landing is used to access the living area.
  • Both living areas are effectively two rooms separated by a staircase but the space above and below the staircase is returned to the living areas to be used and appreciated however. Both living areas appear as single large rooms.
  • Both apartments have two bedrooms but a three-bedroom apartment can be configured by extending the stair downwards from the lower apartment to appropriate the left bedroom of the apartment below which now becomes a one-bedroom apartment. Similarly, the staircase of the upper apartment can extend upwards to appropriate the right bedroom of the apartment above. In the section above, the red wall becomes a party wall splitting the corridor.
  • Split shafts (as Chermayeff had) pose no problem for drainage and water supply.
  • The façade isn’t arbitrary but its construction and the amount/type of glazing and sun control will vary with location and climate. It is a separate design problem.

• • •

Value

Built and sellable volumes were approximated (and expressed) as the above areas. The sellable volume of the baseline was three times the entry level area of the improved, and representing three levels of two-bedroom apartments.

Comparison.jpg

The 65 sq.m/700 sq.ft baseline floor area approximates the London affordable market standard. Apartments are accessed from a corridor having the same ceiling height as the apartments. For reference, these two apartments are approximately 80 sq.m/850 sq.ft.

If we assume total profit is some function of the number of apartments (A), their area (B), and the % of the total built area that can be sold (C) then (A) x (B) x (C) gives an index of 983 for the IMPROVED as opposed to 854 for the BASELINE – a 15% difference.

• • •

  • If it is about the number of apartments that can be built, then it is better to build 18 baseline apartments than the 12 improved apartments.
    However,
  • If it is about liveability, then it is better to build the 12 improved apartments than the baseline 18.
  • If it is about a more efficient use of building resources, then it is better to build the 12 improved apartments than the baseline 18.
  • If it is about daylighting and natural ventilation, then it is better to build the 12 improved apartments than the baseline 18.
  • If it is about catering to households of different sizes and configurations, then it is better to build the 12 improved apartments than the baseline 18.
  • If it is about affordability, then it is better to build the 12 improved apartments than the baseline 18, and to pass the savings on to purchasers.
    Failing that,
    housing cooperatives can obtain better value for money by building these improved apartments for themselves. 

• • •

For anyone wanting a summer sanity break from the world of architectural media posturing, I recommend keeping it real by attempting your own update of this better way to configure living space. 

Type F V3.png

 

Architecture Misfit #23: André Lurçat

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André Lurçat
[1894 – 1970]

André Lurçat was born three years after Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris and died five years after Le Corbusier’s final swim. Lurçat was not only a French modernist architect active over the same period, but also a landscape architect, furniture designer, urban planner and founding member of CIAM. His and Le Corbusier’s careers were mostly parallel until the late 1920s when they diverged as much as it is possible for the careers of two architects to diverge.

Lurçat was born in Bruyères, studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Nancy, and worked in the office of Robert Mallet-StevensIn the twenties, Lurçat was in the loop and counted amongst the movers and shakers. His architectural ideas were very much a product of that time and that means they were generally pretty good. Here’s his 1925 Maison pour M. Bomsel in Versailles. It still exists.

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[1920’s Versailles was a bit of an architectural hotspot. Here’s Auguste Perret’s 1924 Maison Cassandre. It still exists.]

 

 

 

This is Lurçat’s 1926 Casa Guggenbuhl in Paris,

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his 1926-7 Casa Froriep de Salis in Boulogne,

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and a Parisian double house with the two names of Maison Double de Frank Townshend and Villa Seurat, on Villa Seurat, after the painter.

Villa Seurat

Adrian Yekkes’ blog tells us Lurçat was responsible for nos. 3 and 4 Villa Seurat which were his own home, as well as 5, 8, 9 and 11. [Auguste Perret and Ze’ev Rechter did 7a. No. 6 is also interesting.] Let’s take a walk. It’s quite the enclave. No. 3 is Lurçat’s house with the bowed facade and his office must have been 4 across the road with the plants. Here we also see no. 5. 

3,4,5 Villa Seurat

No. 11 is the one with the sun reflecting.

No. 11 Villa Seurat

Of the same period was Lurçat’s Housing in Villeneuve-Saint-George. This was featured in the Russian Constructivist journal SA issue 6 in 1927. The plans show a concern for housing many people with dignity and without wasted resources.

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In 1929, André Lurçat was one of the three architects Charles de Beistégui asked for a proposal to remodel his apartment on the Champs-Elysées. Never knew that.

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Lurçat’s 1929 Hotel Nord-Sud in Calvi, Corsica is relatively well known as it was included in Johnson and Hitchcock’s 1932 book The International Style which, as we know, was a hit and miss affair. The hotel is very much the artificial object juxtaposed with Nature which, depending on what you want to believe, is either some contrived Modernist aesthetic or precisely what to expect when you build an artificial object on a piece of rugged landscape.

nord-sud3