11/20/2009

Towards a Housing Renaissance? (part one)

I decided to open a long investigation on social housing and a new category «typology» with the review of two magazines: eVolo, a new magazine of architecture created by former students of GSAPP, and the new issue (issue 21) of Volume Magazine. These magazines deals with housing but with different approaches. eVolo poses the question of housing for the 21st century, that is, a new conception of building housing.
As for Volume, they draw a balance sheet on mass housing in 20th century and wonder what kind of new politics of dwelling can be made in terms of housing, especially social housing. The issue's title is The Block. Supplements entitled Mass Housing Guide Supersudaca Reports #1 and Microrayon Living are included. the term of "Block" contrasts with CIAM principles of large escale housing — lifting of floor (libération des sols), freestanding of building in open space, greenery (but minimum costs).
As one knows, the 20th century of council housing’s principles was to re-house people out of slum clearance areas, from overcrowded conditions or those threatened with homelessness. The aim of these policies was to permit to low-income household to access to houses. But the concentration of low-income households, then, most deprived households in estates accelerated the decline of council housing. Editor Arjen Oosterman argues that "In (…) Europe, we have indeed bid farewell to blueprints, repetition and uniformity", and I agree with him when he goes on as follows: "is that farewell as definitive as we think?". Drawing a balance sheet of mass housing is to interrogate the evolution of mass housing from the beginning to today and to pose the question of its failure, hoping that these mistakes will no longer be done. Simon Pennec starts by drawing an outlook of mass housing: Apartment living, world housing shortage in which core elements — dwelling, chart, household, PPD — are defined in a world circumstance. For instance, the top 10 Apartment housing shows that Hong Kong owes 82 % of Apartment housing, followed by Singapore and Russia (both 72 %). As for the typical residential heights and number of stories, Hong Kong dominates with 26 followed by Shenzhen (23), and New York (23), while the highest population densities of inhabitants per sq. km are Mumbai (23,088) and Delhi (26,276), two developing cities that are now facing with housing demands. Yet not only will the developing cities be concerned with housing shortage but also advanced cities, for instance France who is facing housing crisis (in particular social housing), will be confronted with a growing demand for housing while, paradoxically, confronting with demographic shrinkage.
I appreciate research on Russia and their large-scale housing policies, what we call micro-rayon. It seems that this housing policy can be a strategy to adopt in our new strategy of housing people. Maybe. What can we say about Microrayon? The principle of Microayon is to improve the quality and reducing the cost of construction. To a certain extent, this policy is the opposite of the CIAM's goal for lifting of floor, freestanding of housing in open space, maximum open space, and greenery yet minimum cost. I put this issue aside for I will go back to mass housing in a series of posts.
The Mass Housing guide edited by Henri Ng and Simon Pennec — this supplement will be available in Spring 2010 — draws an atlas of mass housing: Le Mirail (Toulouse, France), Yunusaband (Tashkent, Uzbekistan), Marzahnn (Berlin, Germany), Colonial mass architecture — The North African experience, Kim Liên (Hanoi, Vietnam), The Bijlmer (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), Ekbatan (Tehran, Iran), and Hikarigaoka Park Town (Tokyo, Japan), among others, are examples of large-escale housing which were examined. A "Grand Tour of Runied Mass Housing'" has been included in which the authors consider the demolition of large-scale complexes in cities, Courneuve, Paris (1964-2011, and I would like to add La Pierre Collinet 1958-2010, in Meaux, a medium-scaled town near Paris), Bijlmermeer, Amsterdam (1968-2009), to quote but few. A Mass housing glossary (very important for those like me who are recently working on typology of large-scale housing) completes this supplement.
This is Bart Goldhoom's research — Block City. Toward a standard for plot sizes, Standards, classes, formats, Open à la Russe — which mostly attracted me, in particular, the concept of "urban block" which "in contrast with the apartment building, [it] is directly accessible from public space, offering ample possibilities for the introduction of public and commercial program in the housing block. The second idea of "housing custom" is very interesting. I will go back to this idea in these series of posts, nevertheless, the difference between housing standard and housing custom is that the first one leads to conflict. "The standard building's footprints do not relate to the specific site. This means there is a margin between building and public space that is not being designed. This undesigned space is more often than not the reason why fences and walls appear whose purpose is to demarcate the property border" (Goldhoom Bart, "Block City. Towards a Standard for Plot Sizes, in Volume Magazine, issue #21, The block, p. 82) he goes on with "as a consequence the housing complex is cut off from public space resulting in insecure and unattractive urban spaces and a rising feeling of inequality that is a growing problem in many parts of the developing world." The series of posts that I prepare that will open a new "category" called "Typology" will illustrate the former strategy of maximum open space, minimum cost" that were the key element of the CIAM's Chartes of Athènes. Now that architects, modern urban theorists like Aldo Rossi, Rob Krier, Rem Koolhaas, to quote but few, have understood the failure of the politics of CIAM by proclaiming the superiority of the block structure over the CIAM principles of freestanding buildings in open space, urban planners now revert to "the urban block as the best way to regulate the relationship between public and private space". And following Bart Goldhoorn, the block structure can "solve the problem of monofunctionality: it allows the development of a mix between private and public program".

Another way to rethink mass housing is proposed by the new fresh magazine eVolo. The magazine was firstly conceived in 2004 by a group of graduate students at the so-called prestigious GSAPP (Columbia University). The first issue has been launched in spring.
As Carlo Aiello wrote, eVolo has been created in order to provide «a forum for showcasing the most innovative, the most avant-garde designs that will define architecture in the twenty-first century». This is now a new challenge for new/existing magazines. But let’s put that issue aside and lets back to the question of a possible housing renaissance.
The first issue deals with mass housing. But their approach is different that of Volume Magazine. For me, eVolo is firstly a magazine of architecture for architects: some projects are described by architects themselves, others by specialists of architectures. Then it includes another way of building: the computational methodology for rethinking architecture (and urban planning) which shows the ambition of the magazine, that is: an inscription in the 21st century, or how to link new problematic such as the information age to architecture itself. To a certain extent, it is interesting in this regard to note that we now have included other type of spaces such as rhizomic space. Parametric urban system, morphogenesis, that is, computational methodology, are considered as new tools to apprehend spatiality today. In fact, not only spatiality. As American architect Tat Lam shows about his project « Housing + Infrastructure: An Active Planning Strategy Subdsidizing Low Income Public Housing» (Lam Tat, «Housing + Infrastructure: An Active Planning Strategy Subdsidizing Low Income Public Housing», in eVolo, issue #1, Housing for the 21st Century, pp. 94), a new approach of building low income public housing is announced. Tat Lam argues that «A public housing project in the 21st century must help low-income families obtain better living quality without the associated high costs». This viewpoint is shared by many architects. FOA’s Social Housing in Carabanchel public housing (2006, Madrid, Spain), ecdm «social housing, 45 rue Louis Blanc» (2006, Paris, France), or MVRDV’s Mirador (or Housing in Sanchinarro 2001-2006, Madrid, Spain) are among many examples of this new approach of social housing. In few words, we are facing new demands of housing with the transformation of our «way of dwelling» (in French Mode d’habiter). Many architects are conscious that one must interact with previous urban conditions but, with the inclusion of new parameters such as information age, unstable space, hypermobility, climate change, population shrinking, and new way of dwelling, hence the concept of rhizomic spaces. German architects Mathias Thiel and Florian Rieger argue that «Housing for the 21st century should be a dynamic of organism that incorporates the latest technology and becomes a dynamic body that mutates constantly in response to different kinds of stimuli», and that «this type of housing will be a structure capable of recognizing the most important characteristics of an existing urban context and developing the necessary elements for unification» (Thiel Mathias, Rieger Florian, "Becoming a Living Space", in eVolo, Issue #1, Housing for the 21st Century, p.112-115). The interaction of objects such as people, urban space, housing space, and information space, etc, to build a more liveable space, is now the goal that not only urban planners, developers, policy-makers, architects, but also inhabitants must take into account. This is what the two architects want to say with the concept of «inbetween Living Space» (p. 113). Architect, designer and researcher (MIT Media Lab) Neri Oxman sumed up brilliantly this introduction of computational methodology in architecture and the shift for a new approach of housing when arguing that «today, we live in an age which may be described as the Material Age as a result of new developments in materials and technologies, which have dramatically altered the way in which we build and live» (Oxman Neri, «Pavane for the Well-Tempered Typology», in eVolo, issue #1, Housing for the 21st Century, pp. 76-79). Yet would it be accompanied with a growing housing cost? No if we consider FOA’ Social Housing in Carambachel’s envelop which is made up of old bamboo. The bamboo façade works as solar protection shutters. Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Aravena have used it because it appeared to be cheaper than wooden façades. Given their interest for the function of the form — from the structure of the building itself to the details (like façade), to a certain extent, it would seem that FOA addresses the question that ‘houses are second skins, not isolating fortresses», to quote Neri Oxman (p.76). To be continued…

Last word:
At the beginning of this post, I wanted to write a review on these two magazines, but the questions they pose push me to go further and explore issues on social housing. I consider this post as the introduction of the introduction of a series of posts on social housings that I am working on. I, thus, will develop new categories, as I mentioned above, entitled «typology» in which I will try, with modesty, to understand architects, urban planners, and urban designers’ projects. I will start with a typology of housing that I call 1st generation of large-scale social housing, or «grand ensemble». The concept of «tower and block», suggested by Volume Magazine (see the glossary of the supplements) is the most interesting example to apprehend these «grand ensembles» that major city are facing with. It will take times to post these new posts because I am perfectionist, but I will try to do my best to do quick.

Quick glossery
microrayon: microdistrict or microraion (Russian), a type of residential complex found in the Soviet Union and post-Soviet states constructed of standard scales, repeated residential blocks distributed typically over 10-60 hectares.
Tower Block: a multi-unit high-rise apartment building. Occasionally they may be referred to as MDU or Multi Dwelling Unit.

Source:
eVolo, Housing for the 21st Century
Volume issues #21, The Block
Verb Boogazine Crisis

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