In 2020, prior to the start of the pandemic, our architects, namely James Saisakorn, RA, with assistance from his colleague and partner Alex Nizhikhovskiy, RA, set out to investigate the history and various models of social housing as they may relate to TTC’s own work. During their research period, they analyzed the errors and successes of past projects, and theorized how these observations can be applied to modern multifamily housing.
Over the course of our firm’s over three decade history, we have had the pleasure of designing, restoring, and furnishing spaces that bring people together, from private homes to public spaces. As we expand into larger, multi-family work, we continue our research into the patterns of how people occupy, use, and transform the spaces they inhabit.
While many outsiders envision architecture as a practice of design and construction, studying innovative past and present solutions, as well as finding novel approaches to address design problems is done not only out of interest, but out of necessity. If we continue to build forward without learning from the past, we are bound to repeat the same mistakes.
James and Alex’s findings, which will be presented over the next four months on our blog, extend beyond architecture and delve into social sciences such as sociology and anthropology. In these four distinct, yet connected entries, we will uncover the ways in which social housing of the past can help inform housing for the future.
Check in on the 15th of each month for a new entry from now until May.
Architecture and Urban Design are often considered two separate disciplines. We rely on architects to create the spaces and the buildings where we live, learn, work, and play. We rely on urban designers and planners to create the infrastructure around these spaces and buildings, and expect or hope that this infrastructure improves our lives, encourages human interaction, and builds community. If we fuse aspects of these two disciplines, could we create a sum greater than its parts?
In simple terms, one might say that the architecture of a building is the structure and envelope that functions as the scaffold hosting a program of spaces. Space planners might argue that ensuring the adjacency of spaces that share similar needs, functions, or occupancies is
key. If the adjacency of programmatic elements can be assured then successful interactions between these elements and their occupants should follow.
We often forget about the interstitial space between elements of a program. Due to constraints applied by clients or a restrictive budget, architects often engender a plan with efficiency, for as the motto goes, “Every dollar counts.” A square foot in an apartment is considered “rentable” or “sellable''; a square foot of hallway is seen as “wasted.” Space is considered a premium and inefficient plans seen as an indulgence. If we were to relax our notions of cost for a minute, and spread out the elements of a program, allowing them a modicum of breathing room, we find opportunity in the interstitial spaces. Learning from the design of cities, the elements so critical to the creation of spontaneous interactions can be reinterpreted and reconceived within the spaces that result in simply allowing a plan to breathe.
Image 1: Wikimedia Commons, Smallbones
Image 2: Pixnio, Cade Martin, Dawn Arlotta, USCDCP
THE LOBBY: A SPACE TO CONVENE
A multi-family apartment building can be reimagined as a microcosm of the city itself. A ground floor lobby like a park can be the civic forum, the stage set where residents of the building convene and interact. It should be warm and inviting, feeling less like a transition space between the public and private aspects of one’s life, and more like a place to congregate, pause, and just observe.
The periphery of the space should be soft with nooks to encourage close contact where neighbors can lounge, have a cup of coffee, exchange stories about each other ’s lives and families.
At the lobby’s center, a large staircase with risers for seating can function as a community forum connected to a stage or performance area in the cellar. It will act as the building’s heart, where all residents can come together to exchange ideas, discuss issues, or even watch or participate in a performance. Other opportunities for community building can include a communal kitchen and dining area, a music and recording studio, children’s playroom, a wellness center, a community lounge, a sauna, and a remote working space. These amenities should have direct adjacency to or be easily accessible from the lobby.
DIRECT COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
To ensure that the residential building doesn’t just become an island unto itself, an important component will be inclusion of a community facility adjacent to and shared with the residential lobby, an opportunity for the community within the residential building to literally engage with the vibrant community of Harlem.
The community facility can be an art gallery, cultural center, or even a daycare center bringing back a resource for the neighborhood, lost by the conversion of the existing daycare center to a residential building. It will ensure that there is a continuous and diverse mix of people interacting with the building’s residents.
VALUING CIRCULATION SPACE OVER EFFICIENCY
Continuing with the analogy of a building as a microcosm of the larger surrounding city, a corridor can be conceived of as an interior street or sidewalk. Like a neighborhood street wall, the walls of a corridor can be modulated through material change and planar shifts to diminish the sense of monotony and support a slower cadence while walking through the space. A corridor, much wider than the 36” or 44”required, could allow more opportunities for spontaneous interaction between neighbors. Wider corridors would also provide more room for maneuverability for differently abled residents above and beyond the standard requirements for accessibility.
Like a corridor, a stair can be conceived of as a vertical sidewalk, connecting residents on different floors with each other. Different than enclosed vertical stairs required for egress, an open stair could visually connect residents to each other and may be activated through common
spaces or lounges directly adjacent to the stair. Treads should be wide enough to encourage neighbors to pause, have a conversation, catch up with each other on their way to the rooftop garden or communal lobby.
In lieu of an apartment entry door acting as the sole arbiter between public (corridor) and private space (apartment), the entry door can be the final sentry of an entry area or zone that acts like a stoop, a transition between public and private space. This entry zone might have a place to sit and pause much like a stoop provides on a neighborhood street. Like areaways of ten adjacent to stoops, it could be a place for seating, plants, or a place to park a bike or stroller.
(all research by The Turett Collaborative, text by James Saisakorn and Alex Nizhikhovskiy, all diagrams by The Turett Collaborative unless otherwise noted)
(banner photo of apartment building lobby from Pexels, Kaique Rocha)