A few housing-related tidbits that I’ve accumulated over the past week.
Richard Layman laments the lack of quality development, noting the difficulties involved with larger scale infill projects, especially when compared against smaller scale renovation projects of single rowhouses or small apartment buildings. The smaller scale renovations take on a more organic character, while the scale of the larger projects necessitates more centralized planning and development.
As for your point about “organic” development, in my experience, which I admit is relatively limited, my sense is organic (re)development that includes significant amounts of new construction is more about adaptive reuse of extant places, complemented by (hopefully high quality) infill.
Along similar lines, Rob Holmes over at mammoth points to a great discussion of housing in Haiti (Incremental House, Wired), with a particular focus on adaptation and organic elements. This isn’t the first time mammoth has mentioned the idea of incremental housing development, which Rob touched on in his very interesting list of the best architecture of the decade (including more infrastructural/engineered spaces like the Large Hadron Collider). Quinta Monroy, an incremental housing project in northern Chile, has a fascinating approach to both building shelter and also growing and adapting with the residents:
Quinta Monroy is a center-city neighborhood of Iquique, a city of about a quarter million lying in northern Chile between the Pacific Ocean and the Atacama Desert. Elemental’s Quinta Monroy housing project settles a hundred families on a five thousand square meter site where they had persisted as squatters for three decades. The residences designed by Elemental offer former squatters the rare opportunity to live in subsidized housing without being displaced from the land they had called their home, provides an appreciating asset which can improve their family finances, and serves as a flexible infrastructure for the self-constructed expansion of the homes.
Elemental’s first decision was to retain the inner city site, a decision which was both expensive and spatially limiting: there is only enough space on the site to provide thirty individual homes or sixty-six row homes, so a different typology was required. High rise apartments would provide the needed density, but not provide the opportunity for residents to expand their own homes, as only the top and ground floors would have any way to connect to additions. Elemental thus settled on a typology of connected two-story blocks, snaking around four common courtyards, designed as a skeletal infrastructure which the families could expand over time:
We in Elemental have identified a set of design conditions through which a housing unit can increase its value over time; this without having to increase the amount of money of the current subsidy.
In first place, we had to achieve enough density, (but without overcrowding), in order to be able to pay for the site, which because of its location was very expensive. To keep the site, meant to maintain the network of opportunities that the city offered and therefore to strengthen the family economy; on the other hand, good location is the key to increase a property value.
Second, the provision a physical space for the “extensive family” to develop, has proved to be a key issue in the economical take off of a poor family. In between the private and public space, we introduced the collective space, conformed by around 20 families. The collective space (a common property with restricted access) is an intermediate level of association that allows surviving fragile social conditions.
Third, due to the fact that 50% of each unit’s volume, will eventually be self-built, the building had to be porous enough to allow each unit to expand within its structure. The initial building must therefore provide a supporting, (rather than a constraining) framework in order to avoid any negative effects of self-construction on the urban environment over time, but also to facilitate the expansion process.
Obviously, applying this idea to a western city (as opposed to a slum) raises a whole different set of issues, but it’s a particularly interesting idea when contrasted against the highly planned and professionally designed structures Richard Layman notes. It provides a jumping point to look at the continuum between several of the elements that the Incremental House mentions in their self-description:
Much of the housing around the world occupies a space in between the planned/unplanned, formal/informal and the professional/non-professional, offering people a small space space to negotiate the tremendous shifts taking place in the urban landscape.
DC’s stability provides less of an opportunity to shift between those poles, but the idea is nevertheless interesting. Rob Holmes expands on what this means:
Elemental, in other words, have exploited the values and aims of ownership culture (which mammoth has suggested understands the house to be first a machine for making money and only second to be a machine for living) not to support a broken system of real estate speculation and easy wealth, but to present architecture as a tool that can be provided to families. While the project is embedded with some of the assumptions of the architects (such as that faith in the potential of ownership culture, for better or worse), this tool is primarily presented as a framework, a scaffolding upon which families are able to make their own architecture.
Framework is a good way to put it – much of the work in planning seeks to establish frameworks (legal, physical, financial) around which cities and grow, evolve, and adapt – Layman’s point shows there is more we can do on that front.