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 have been presented over the last 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 have uncovered the ways in which social housing of the past can help inform housing for the future.
Thank you for joining us for this series, and keep a lookout for future architecture-focused blog series.
ORGANIZATION OF LIVING UNITS
Apartment layouts are typically inflexible, in the sense that they can’t easily allow for programmatic changes over time. Can a growing family’s needs be accommodated by the accretion of an additional bedroom? Can empty nesters “give up” a bedroom when their adult children move away?
To maximize plan flexibility, apartments in multifamily buildings can be conceived of as being comprised of two basic components, “Living Units” and “Sleeping Units” each supported by a functional backbone. Living Units (living rooms, dining rooms) should plug into a functional backbone that contains a kitchen, a water closet, a laundry room, and common storage. Sleeping Units (bedrooms) should plug into a functional backbone that contains a bathroom and storage facilities. A number of Sleeping Units can be grouped together to create adjacencies to a Living Unit depending on need. For example, should a family in a 2 bedroom apartment require an additional Sleeping Unit, one can be acquired from an adjacent apartment simply by moving a partition between the units.
BIOPHILIA - INTEGRATING NATURE
An opportunity that is generally missing from urban multi-family residential typologies is the provision for a greater connection to nature.
Sociologist Eric Klinenberg, in his book “Palaces for the People”, cites a 2013 study by the American Public Health Association (APHA) in which they reviewed scientific literature on how access to nature affects health. In it the APHA concluded that community gardens ”do more than provide shade and reduce the temperature in overheated urban environments. They foster interactions within and across generations, resulting in less social isolation as well as more cohesion, civic participation, and neighborhood attachment. They reduce stress levels for people who visit or frequently walk by them. They help children develop positive feelings about nature and facilitate scientific learning. And they provide healthy food...many in places where fresh food is hard to find.”
Housing complexes near parks can take advantage of their proximity to nature by using glass and other transparent materials on the ground floor. On multifamily complexes’ roofs, where sunlight is much more abundant, the establishment of a communal garden or farm may encourage community building and promote cohesion and civic participation amongst
the building’s residents. A space within the urban farm should be set aside for communal gatherings, where residents can convene and enjoy the fruits of their collective labor.
The integration of nature should not be limited to only the community focused aspects of the program. Regardless of the urban context inhabitants use these natural elements to demarcate their property from others and provide a form of self expression: gardens and large swaths of lawns in suburban areas, small patches of garden in a rowhouse areaway, or even planters situated on fire escapes appropriated by tenement residents seeking to establish their own patch of green. Integrating planters into the facade itself as well as at balconies and terraces will give residents the opportunity to establish their individuality - their green mark, on a place they call home.
Image 1: Wikimedia Commons, Robert R Gigliotti
Image 2: Wikimedia, Lamiot
PROMOTING NATURE THROUGH SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES
While access to nature is critical to our well being and may promote social interaction within a community, it is also important to consider our role as citizens of a global society. How are the materials that we
use to build our homes procured? What impact does building housing have on the environment? Can we reduce our reliance on natural resources that are irreplaceable?
Social housing should capitalize on the abundant local resources available, from locally and responsibly sourced materials, to reliance on local fabricators to limit the reach of our impact on the environment. Developers and architects can also explore technologies that limit and reduce our impact on the climate, use highly efficient wall assemblies coupled with ultra efficient mechanical systems, and employ alternative energy sources such as wind and solar to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and other limited natural resources.
Image 1: WIkimedia, KBISD
Image 2: Flickr, Anders Sandberg
John Dewey, the American philosopher and social reformer once said that social interaction is predicated on “the vitality and depth of close and direct intercourse and attachment.” “Democracy must begin at home,” he famously wrote, “and its home is the neighborly community. ”
In order to be better citizens who are engaged in a community we require close and direct contact with our neighbors . Ironically, the internet, which was meant to connect people all over the world has led many people to become increasingly isolated from each other and from those immediately around them. This isolation creates a sense of immunity from the troubles and travails of society, especially those that don’t have a direct impact on an individual. Often people
aren’t or don’t feel the need to be connected to others in their immediate community. The impact of this isolationism is catastrophic. On a global level, the rise in populism is leading to increasingly isolationist policies throughout the world. Unfortunately, the problems endemic
to our society - wealth disparity, social injustice, climate change - will not be resolved by individuals or groups of individuals acting alone.
Future multifamily projects are unique opportunities to combat the trend towards isolationism, a small step in an effort to create systemic change.
Can using the components of cities that make them lively places of exchange and interaction be used as the foundation to plan housing? Will the resulting building foster a sense of community and at the same time reduce its environmental footprint? Can we create a sustainable
model for housing that can be replicated locally, regionally, and even globally?
These are the key goals that we, as building professionals, must pursue as we embark on this effort together.
Image 1: Wikimedia Commons, Lumaxart
Image 2: Wikimedia Commons, Adjoajo
(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 green facade rendering from Pexels, Francesco Ungaro)