Tag Archives: co-housing

Repeating Crevice Revisted

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

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

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This might help.

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So might these.

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This definitely will.

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

• • •

Here’s what I mean about The Expansible Home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes just knowing someone else is at home is sufficient.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assumptions

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

    Firefighting_shaft• • •

Repeated Crevice, Revisited

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

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

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

VIEW FROM TOP

 

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.