Bettina Götz, ARTEC Architekten.
If we speak about “housing”, in particular about “housing” at an urban density, then we always speak also about “inhabiting” the city, outside of our own four walls.
The most impressive and eerily beautiful example of the lack of these additional spaces is probably Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong – which was demolished in 1993: an organism that grew up over decades, at the end of its life stuffed full with functions, without leeway, without any public quality as a place to spend time – gated community – anarchy – demolition.
“Urban housing” therefore means finding and defining strategies, typologies and the requirements for a new kind of high-density urban structure that is worth living in. In our opinion such strategies must be conceived on the basis of a neutral basic model that is as abstract as possible: for example, a grid structure that is not just two-dimensional but very much spatial: e.g. worked out as a mesh or lattice.
Successful urban models, no matter whether they are European cities such as Barcelona or Vienna, American ones like New York or Asian like Tokyo, can be traced back to structures of this kind.
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In spatial terms the permitted building heights are allocated differently and this allocation is based on the chosen expansion of the urban body. From these rules, which are more or less arbitrary or can be determined by the topography, the entirely specific character of each particular city results.
For us analysing these useful models, interpreting them anew and abstracting them again is an elementary starting point for researching a new hybrid urban building block.
The grid alone cannot be the solution. More important is the definition of the empty places within it, the “air“ – that is the leeway necessary in the development, the which allows later additions, insertions and conversions and in this way individualizes the grid and makes it memorable.
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In the form of housing subsidies and the system used for awarding contracts such as developer competitions and the site advisory committee, Vienna, a growing city that builds several thousand new apartments each year, has a convincing model that can be used to ensure urban residential quality.
However, the reality of building in Vienna shows that housing subsidy instruments alone do not suffice to build new, future-oriented urban building blocks. Housing projects in the context of the existing functioning urban body offer a high level of residential quality and make use of existing infrastructures and public spaces.
But if we look at current urban expansion areas on the urban periphery the problem emerges more clearly; here housing subsidy funds must also finance the infrastructure, i.e. the streets, schools and public (play) spaces.
This increases pressure to exploit the sites, which results in building densities that are impossibly high for a location on the urban periphery and mono-functional housing use. Dead quarters are produced rather than a living piece of the city.
Therefore Vienna, like every growing large city, must look for development structures that contain the “air” for future needs referred to above: i.e. building structures that are “incomplete” in the best sense of the term and that allow free areas for a living use of urban space.
These functions are essential for quality housing in the city, if such facilities are lacking and impossible the city has squandered the advantage offered by a diverse range of extended housing space. Then it is simply better to live in the country.
Our project for “Spark City”, Bratislava, is an attempt to formulate a robust urban building block with enough leeway for future expansions: starting from a spatial mesh with its own laws (e.g. no formally shaped corner solutions , sun for all apartments) a complex basic spatial entity is defined, which offers a high level of residential quality in the structure as a whole as well as memorable public spaces that are quality places in which to spend time.
This makes it possible for the residents to identify positively with the quarter and produces sufficient elasticity for future functions.
The proportion of empty space is exactly large enough so that, on the one hand, the intended basic structure of the spatial mesh is recognizable, while also offering sufficient potential for individual additions.
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Our project “The Bremen Town Musicians“ can be employed as a generally usable typology.
Borrowing from the successful performance of the cockerel, cat, dog and ass in the Grimm Brothers’ story, stacking four housing typologies that are normally used separately provides
the concept for this stepped building.
Suburban two-storey typologies along with their specific allocated open spaces are stacked to form a dense urban package.
At the bottom there is an open space concept with a gallery at the rear and a garden in the front, on top of this a maisonette that faces onto an atrium is placed, then come two-storey row houses with a garden, and at the very top allotment garden-type houses with courtyards between the buildings.
Single-storey apartments with a double height loggia (“Casablanca typology“) augment the range of types.
In overlaying the project on the concrete site “Tokiostraße” the wing with the Casablanca apartments is positioned, elevated, along the street. A simple, graphic element that indicates the apartments in the façade gives the rigid block a physiognomy to public space and terminates the apartment on the street front.
The structure is accessed from an open hall in the middle. This space is very generously dimensioned, on the ground floor it offers “air” for future uses, while the access decks on the upper levels are sufficiently wide to function as an “expanded living room”.
A swimming pool on the roof of the Casablanca wing offers additional potential for leisure time and is a place to relax.
If the city lives, if the functions and processes can be flexibly and intelligently organised, then it is also aesthetic, economical and fit for the future.