Tag Archives: a+t

10 Stories of Collective Housing

10 Stories of Collective Housing: Graphical Analysis of Inspiring Masterpieces by a+t research group
a+t, 2013
Paperback, 496 pages

Spain's a+t separates its output into magazines and books, with titles in each often fitting into series. The last of the books I reviewed was Density Is Home, which documents 37 contemporary housing projects through the usual high-quality presentations that a+t is known for. But where the drawings, photographs, and statistics help readers learn about the projects and compare and contrast them, the 10 or 12 pages per project mean that there is still room for more to be learned about the buildings. Enter 10 Stories of Collective Housing, which steps back some decades (projects span from ca. 1920 to 1980) to give in-depth case studies on "inspiring masterpieces."

Hillside Terrace, Fumihiko Maki, from 10 Stories of Collective Housing

The spreads collected here on Fumihiko Maki's Hillside Terrace give a sense of what is included for each project. Of course there are photos—both historical and contemporary—but also plenty of plans, axonometrics, diagrams, and other drawings that explain the projects but also how they developed over time. In this case the three authors of the a+t research group—Aurora Fernandez Per, Javier Mozas, and Alex S. Ollero—included information on Maki's ideas of collective form (below right) to help explain Hillside Terrace's theoretical basis and how the project was designed to change over time over phases. On the same spread are three projects/places that inspired Maki's design, indicative of the many projects—both inspiring and inspired by—included to give a greater context to the architectural solutions of collective housing.

Hillside Terrace, Fumihiko Maki, from 10 Stories of Collective Housing

Even though this book delves deeper into buildings than most a+t titles, the graphics, format, and layouts fit in with the publisher's larger oeuvre, even as the book doesn't directly resemble other titles. The consistency of these three pieces throughout the book allows the 10 projects to be compared with each other, though this aspect is not as valuable here as it is in a+t's relatively cursory studies of contemporary buildings.

What helps make 10 Stories so good is the selection of projects, which is not nearly as obvious as it could have been. Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation is not included, for example, nor are other projects that are easily masterpieces yet already studied extensively. I didn't know about most of the projects in these pages and was glad to learn especially about Michiel Brinkman's Justus Van Effen Complex (Rotterdam, 1919-22), Ignazio Gardella's Housing for Borsalino Employees (Alessandria, 1948-56), Ralph Erskine's Byker Regeneration (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1969-82), and Jean Renaudie's Jeanne Hachette Complex (Paris, 1970-75). This book offers something for everybody, with plenty to learn in the thorough case studies that many of the best ideas in housing have already happened.

Hillside Terrace, Fumihiko Maki, from 10 Stories of Collective Housing

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a+t 38: Strategy and Tactics in Public Space

a+t 38: Strategies and Tactics in Public Space edited by Aurora Fernández Per, Javier Mozas
a+t, 2012
Paperback, 176 pages

The third installment in a+t's Strategy series takes aim at an increasingly popular subset of architectural design: tactical urbanism, D.I.Y. urbanism, provisional urbanism, whatever one wants to call it. As I also mention in this week's dose, a trio of actions in Brussel's Red Light District by Alive Architecture, it can be defined as the localized, bottom-up approaches and subsequent interventions for small pockets of urban space around the world. Proof of its popularity lies in books like this one, which document and theorize the fairly uneven terrain of tactical urbanism (the preferred term I'll use here).

As the name of a+t 38 implies, the issue is split between strategies (space-based landscape urbanism) and tactics (time-based interventions). This split arises from Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life, which articulates tactics as "actions which take place on enemy territory" while strategy "is always enacted on home ground" (quotes from the editorial). Javier Mozas explains the strategies, tactics, and their differences in his introductory essay, ultimately trying to explain how tactical urbanism acts on public space; not an easy feat. While I'll admit my reading on tactical urbanism is lacking, I think it is an area that by its nature abhors theorization, outside of the basic structure of bottom-up, designer-generated plans responding to an immediate need. Attempts will be made to provide a theoretical framework for tactical urbanism, but one if its defining characteristics is that it is localized and therefore unique.

One particular gray area within tactical urbanism though is the legality of interventions. For example, Mozas's essay points out Jugaad urbanism as an influential yet questionable method for pragmatic solutions with minimal means. But in the context of Tom Vanderbilt's book Traffic, which I've been reading lately, the same phrase is synonymous with bribery. In a sense, improvisatory and corrupt methods both respond to a government that is not fulfilling the needs of all of its citizens. Yet what is the result of interventions that skirt the larger participatory process? Or does tactical urbanism call the process into question, pointing out the deficiencies of governments in addressing the needs of the underserved?

One complication of tactical urbanism is that its presentation differs noticeably from traditional architecture. One look at the strategies and the tactics in this issue of a+t makes it more than apparent. The photos, plans, and other documentation of projects like Interboro Partners' Lent Space and Rural Studio's Lions Park are more immediately appealing than the project lumped under "Tactics". Exceptions to this can be found, but the general idea is that tactical urbanism is more persuasive when experienced, its qualities often harder to convey through traditional means of architectural photography, for example, which focuses on form and surface.

The cover of this issue of a+t is a great exception to this commentary. The project, a temporary amusement park in Lima, Peru, latches onto an unfinished elevated railway, using tires and other cheap or free materials. As the photo attests, the results are a successful place of fun. It is also a suitable alternative to strategies like the High Line, which are out of reach for many cities because of cost and maintenance. By showing the activity generated by the tactics, the qualities of the intervention becomes tangible, making a strong case for tactical urbanism in its various guises.

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a+t 37: Strategy Space

a+t 37: Strategy Space
a+t, 2011
Paperback, 168 pages

Strategy Space is the second installment in Spanish publisher a+t's Strategy series -- the first, Strategy Public is reviewed here, and a review of the third, Strategy and Tactics in Public Space, is forthcoming. The series "breaks up the approach to [each featured] project through its strategies, delimiting the project and marking out a path, while permitting the project to be seen in its entirety." Further, it is "a way of integrating it into general knowledge, through several anchor points, which are the objectives and the strategies." By tackling urban public spaces in this issue, from the small to the very large, the strategies that the editors incorporate into the presentation of the various projects are able to highlight considerations at various times throughout a project's long duration. This a fitting approach, given the way these predominantly landscape projects span years, decades, or more.

The strategies are also ways to link the projects and give readers a way to follow their own interests and concerns throughout the book. The strategies are listed at the front of the book and grouped within broader categories -- habitat, users, fluxes, lighting, etc. -- that are then keyed to the projects and their location in the book. The reverse also happens, so each project's strategies are keyed to the grand list at the front of the book; at the start of each project the strategies are further located within a matrix with an X-dimension of scale (territory, site, object) and a Y-dimension of contextual concerns (environmental, social, formal). This level of organization may be more helpful for the editors than the readers, but the more one uses the book the more it all helps to create a mental map through the strategies. The only thing missing are page numbers where each strategy is listed, something that would be helpful in the longer entries, such as the Madrid Rio project by West 8 and others, which spans almost 30 pages.

The selection of projects range from the obvious (High Line by James Corner Field Operations/Diller Scofidio + Renfro) and the attention-getting (Centro Abierto de Actividades Ciudadanas in Córdoba, Spain by ParedesPino Studio) to less flashy infrastructure (Saragossa Tramway by Aldayjover) and small parks (Erie Street Plaza in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by Stosslu). The Madrid Rio project sits in the middle of the volume and takes up a good chunk of it, not surprising given the massive scale of the project. Just about every strategy in the book, or at least almost every square of the matrix, is represented in this project. Like the other projects, it is presented with an aerial, maps, plans, and plenty of photos. The last range from helicopter views that take in the scale of the park built over a submerged roadway to details of the fixing systems for newly planted trees. It's indicative of the volume and the series as a whole, in the thorough presentation and the even more thorough organization.

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Density Is Home

Density Is Home: Housing by a+t Research Group by Aurora Fernández Per, Javier Mozas, Javier Arpa
a+t, 2011
Paperback, 400 pages

The latest in a+t's Density Series -- following Density, Density Projects, DBOOKHoCo, and NEXT -- extends the collection of remarkable collective housing, this time focusing on the individual units, the context, and the subjectivity that links the two. The editors want to focus on dwellings that are desirable, like the Ernesto N. Rogers quote in their introduction: "A house is not a house if it does not contain a corner to read poetry...I want a house which resembles me (the best of me): a house which resembles my humanity." Architects should be the best people to create desirable homes in buildings with ten or even a hundred or more other apartments, yet this happens only when they go beyond the developer's requirements, a tricky proposition. An ideal urban home should give the resident a layout they like to be in, inside a building that successfully interacts with its surroundings, even improving its context in the process.

It is evident that the 37 projects in this collection aim for that sort of goal, but the same can be said about those found in the other Density Series books. But here the presentation plays down the data mining of the other books. To be sure, some stats are found at the beginning of each project, but photos and drawings dominate the page layouts. Fourteen of the 37 projects are further illustrated with plan sketches (like the cover) that highlight various experiential aspects of the homes, be it flexible living spaces, common circulation, facades, or even energy use. The bulk of the book places the projects into five chapters, each based on a different urban context: Dispersed City, Expansive City, Modern City, Core of the City, Recycled City. Previous titles in the Density Series ordered projects based on quantitative factors, mainly density but also housing costs. The theme of context here is a nice and appropriate change of pace, elevating the importance of the architects' responses to their surroundings, linking apartments to the various urban situations that are being filled in as people move back into the city.

All but two of the projects are in Western Europe, a higher percentage than the previous titles. While I would have liked to have seen North and South American projects (the two projects outside the EU are found in Japan), I'm not sure they would have worked within the context that the editors have set up. The historic core, for example, is much different in Western Europe than it is in the United States. Further considering social structure, daily life, and the floor plans that result -- not to mention construction and other factors -- the resulting projects allow comparisons to be made across a fairly narrow spectrum. Does this mean the book will only appeal to those involved in similar projects in Western Europe? Hardly. There are a lot of great designs with solid documentation, giving other architects something to learn that can be applied in different ways, whatever the context may be.

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Immaterial World and a+t 36

Immaterial World: Transparency in Architecture by Mark Kristal
Monacelli Press, 2011
Hardcover, 216 pages

a+t 36: Strategy Public edited by Javier Mozas & Aurora Fernandez Per
a+t, 2010
Paperback, 320 pages

As I've mentioned on my web pages numerous times when reviewing books, collections of contemporary architecture need some sort of conceptual reason for choosing and presenting the projects in their pages. Gathering buildings by typology (houses, offices, retail spaces, hotels, etc.), on the other hand, are good for architects hoping to gain some inspiration and knowledge on a narrow field of vision, the one pertaining to their project at hand. Collections based on type range from cursory presentations with a paragraph or two from the architect and some color photos to in-depth case studies that highlight the unique aspects of the designs, from the general to the detail in photos and drawings. The same range basically applies to collections based not on type but on something else, be it sustainability, materials, geography, or some other conceptual thread. These two books stake out different territories in their contemporary collections, though each should be commended for conceptual clarity as well as quality architecture.

Mark Kristal's previous book, Re:Crafted, looked at contemporary notions of craft in a wide range of primarily residential projects, from the traditional to the quizzical. In Immaterial World the first impression is a subtle translucency, as evidenced by Thomas Phifer's Salt Point House that graces the cover. Yet this is not the case, Kristal is not aiming to present projects that seem to dematerialize themselves and the boundaries between inside and outside (even though a number of the projects inside do just that). His conceptual backbone is more nuanced; he presents a number of again varied projects in terms of transparency. Trying to find a building's essence, he contends that "transparency has enabled me to find my way into even the most resistant designs." So while the projects do not all share a predilection for perforated metal facades or super-clear glass, for example, their explanation is aided by Kristal's approach. In this sense the book is aimed at a more general audience, not directly at practicing architects like collections based on building type.

So how do Kristal's analyses in terms of transparency hold up? A few examples might help, one transparent, one translucent, and one primarily opaque. In the case of the first, he explains that SANAA's Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art uses physical transparency to achieve programmatic transparency, so views across galleries are present as are views of the workshops, places normally closed off from the public gaze. For the second and Phifer's Salt Point House, Kristal talks as much about the skylights and glass flooring as the perforated steel exterior that acts as a "thermal envelope" while giving the house an ethereal quality. Lastly, from certain angles UNI's XSmall House appears to be three solid wood boxes, but the windows are strategically placed to maintain privacy for its residents and the nearby buildings in a "residential compound" by the architects. In these cases transparency is respectively literal yet linked to program and history; varied in terms of percentage and exposure; and minimized to control views in and out. To me, this works quite well.

Strategy Public is Spanish publisher a+t's first issue in the new Strategy series, coming on the heels of Hybrids, and before that Civilities. As publisher and editor of magazines and books on contemporary architecture, a+t appears to value organization and categorization in their efforts to present buildings and landscapes. Their themes respond to what is happening in architecture and urbanism, without catering the different series so certain buildings can be included. For example, the Hybrids series presented urban developments that combined different programs in various ways. Sure it featured Steven Holl's Linked Hybrid and some other high-profile architecture, but the theme was rooted in observations on the urban condition and architects' attempts to integrate mixed-uses and vitality into large projects. Strategy is, like Kristal's collection, a means of analysis. It is a way of backtracking from a building's finished product to its genesis, finding important design strategies in this reverse chronology that are then cross-referenced with other projects. The result is a matrix that is focused on landscape urbanism (small letters, not the capitalized words and its semi-controversial movement) in its first issue.

Before getting to the projects, the reader is presented with the various landscape urbanism strategies. These range from abstractions like "connecting" and "integrating" to physical ones like "managing rain water" and "regenerating waterfronts." Each of the 22 projects is found in more than strategy, and these are highlighted in a matrix on the project page; the matrix is gridded with scale across the top (territory, site, objects) and approach down the side (environmental, social, formal). The combination of strategies and scale/approach matrix can be a bit overwhelming at times, but a designer utilizing the book as a tool for finding examples of, let's say, reusing parts of the site will find the book quite helpful. Likewise, if an individual project sparks one's interest, the matrix illustrates the various strategies, so exploration based on particular aspects of the design is aided. The project documentation follows the trend of other a+t titles, meaning its fantastic in its combination of photos and drawings. Here the strategies are layered across this content...literally, as the strategies are also placed next to relevant photos. As somebody who absorbs plenty of contemporary collections, I'm again impressed with a+t; as an architect I'll be even more happier if the next issue focuses on buildings.

Immaterial World:
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a+t 36:
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Growing Urban Habitats and HoCo

Growing Urban Habitats: Seeking a New Housing Development Model by William R. Morrish, Susanne Schindler, Katie Swenson
William Stout Publishers, 2009
Paperback, 256 pages

HoCo: Density Housing Construction & Costs by Aurora Fernandez Per, Javier Mozas & Javier Arpa
a+t architecture publishers, 2009
Paperback, 464 pages


The design of housing in the 21st-century is as exciting as -- if not more than -- single-family houses, the typical domain of experimentation and investigation by modern architects. While houses for individuals or families still get their fair share of press, many of the topical ideas explored by architects today (social justice, sustainability, urban regeneration, etc.) are better suited to the large scale of multi-family projects. These two books provide numerous examples of how architects are pushing the boundaries of housing in various ways. Neither is exhaustive, but each stakes out a niche and finds overlap in the subject and some shared sensibilities.

Growing Urban Habitats documents the 2005 Urban Habitats competition, organized by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville and the Charlottesville Community Design Center, but it goes beyond merely presenting the winning designs for reworking a trailer park in the Virginia city. The book aims to be a resource for designers, developers, city officials, community groups and residents. It does this by using the competition as a structure for presenting other multi-family housing projects in the United States. Each project is fitted into one of four chapters dedicated to an urban habitat goal (affordable, dense, compact, sustainable), with each chapter further broken down into four different mind sets for achieving the goals. In effect a spectrum of categories is created, highlighting different approaches and areas of emphasis for the projects included, allowing urban actors to use the book as a guide for rethinking problems of urban housing. What this means after 75 pages of material almost exclusively devoted to the competition is that the winning entries get lost in the mix, since the book's design puts all projects on an even plane within the 4x4 framework. So as a competition document the book is flawed, but as a resource for "growing urban habitats" it is an exemplary collection of built and unbuilt projects diverse in character, geography and demographics. It's a refreshing collection of designs that stresses ideas over eye candy. The book also draws attention to some up-and-coming architects in the competition entries; that they creatively address problems of urban housing bodes well for the typology and the profession's future.

HoCo, on the other hand, presents the primarily European examples of completed housing on their own terms, within the framework of a+t's consistent and high-quality graphic design and drawing standards. The projects are ordered, like other titles on housing by the publisher, but instead of density ruling it is costs. So as one moves from front to back the budgets increase, from $436/sm ($41/sf) to $2,248/sm ($209/sf). Other data is illustrated (density, area, #units, demographics), but as the title indicates, the latest entry in the Density Series investigates the relationship between cost and construction. Within each of the 32 projects this relationship is not always clear, as it depends on the text supplied by the architects as much as the objective data and the excellent construction details provided. An appendix with "construction solutions" compares the facades and roofs in as close an apples-to-apples manner as possible; brick facades are presented side by side, green roofs are done in the same manner, etc. All tolled the information provided goes well beyond what other publications fail to take the time and effort to produce. The extras allow a fuller understanding of the individual projects but also a means of seeing how they relate to each other. What becomes particularly important in these collections is the editorial selection of projects, and the fairly narrow geographical reach is not surprising from a+t. Here it is a limitation, as the interrelated factors of construction and costs still reflect local conditions as much as global markets and migrations.

for Growing Urban Habitats

or for HoCo

DBOOK

DBOOK: Density, Data, Diagrams, Dwellings, edited by Javier Mozas & Aurora Fernandez Per
a+t architecture publishers, 2007


Collections of contemporary architecture tend to ignore the means of their making, even though some are obviously compiled of the architect's own project descriptions and imagery, while others go the extra effort to create original descriptions and use unique illustrations for publicatiton. This impressive compendium of 64 recent multi-family residential projects is the best of both of these methods, and it isn't shy about that fact. At the outset the editors even show the reader a completed form returned by one of the featured architects, addressing the data statistics that shape much of the book, from its ordering to its appearance.

Each project includes an abundance of graphic information (PDF link): diagrams illustrating density, population, income and function; site and urban-scale imagery; scale plot plans with open space ratios; plans; photographs and more; all in a consistent format that allows for comparison on the part of the reader. Additionally each architect contributes a description that is accompanied by an editor's note, in many cases the latter relating the project to the wider aims of the book. Lastly, a survey filled out by the architect illustrates the level of sustainability in the project or, in some cases, the unwillingness of the architect to participate in the survey. Ordered from lowest to highest residential density, the book concludes with details from some of the projects and a thematic analysis of all 64 projects* in the different realms of density, from the building to the city level.

Like Density and Density Projects, DBOOK aims to "promote the compact development of urban settlements." This goal is illustrated via the data visualizations already described, but the importance of context on such a consideration only comes across in two pieces of data: district and city density (though one does see how the projects do impact their surroundings via the introduction of uses like retail and schools). Combined with the aerial views and site plans , one achieves a small glimpse of how each project fits into the surrounding fabric, but not enough to grasp how density equates with quality of life. This is a paradox of focusing on data in architecture: where does data give way to more subjective, intangible measures? How is one persuaded by arguments for density when the benefits of density (proximity to shopping, recreation, work, public transporation, people, and a diversity of such things) are not present in the data? It's a minor criticism for an ambitious book that finds merit in an attribute of diverse and sustainable cities.

*All but ten of the projects are in Europe, with a few previously featured on my daily and weekly web pages: Seewurfel by Camenzid Evolution, Londres-Villaroel Building Complex by Coll-Leclerc Arquitectos, Moriyama House by Ryue Nishizawa, Accordia in Cambridge by Feilen Clegg Bradley, and Bikuben Student Residence by aart a/s.

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