Standard high-rise apartment buildings in dormitory districts have become a norm. A norm, that nobody likes, but to which a few see any alternative. In this article we gathered stories about housing developments that we, being architects, liked; and all that in a bid to show that they may vary greatly. There’s no ideal formula for good accommodation that would fit everyone and at all times. The examples gathered show that good architecture is a point of a dialogue of a dozens of concerned parties. Still, the major party (i.e. future residents) should be the most demanding. If we start discussing what we would like our homes to be more often, expanding for this purpose the notion of a home – we will discover that the accommodation should not necessarily be merely square meters of space.

1. Silodam, MVRDV (Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

Demassification, renovation and social dialogue

The Silodam is an economically mixed accommodation in a dock district of Amsterdam engineered by architecture studio MVRDV. The studio cofounder Viny Maas called the project “a mirror of political and economic relations of Amsterdam”. Having held numerous negotiations with different parties: local politicians, planning authorities, possible future residents —  architects discovered that  all the representatives pictured absolutely different dwelling. Being a studio interested in sociology and politics not less than in the aesthetics, MVRDV exercised an unconventional approach. The Silodam residential complex became an intriguing example of demassification and liaison of different economic and social strata in a single community.

The complex consists of 157 living quarters and offices of different size, space configuration and price, incorporated in a 10-storeyed multicolored unit. The building stands up on piles in a harbor just like a moored container ship. Sideways Silodam looks just like a gigantic Lego construction. Each of the clustered blocks is coded in color from inside the building for more convenient navigation. Certain living quarters alternate with enclosed courts, balconies, small harbor for boats and main terrace on the roof.


2. Mehr als Wohnen, pool architekten (Zurich, Switzerland)

Housing cooperatives and social diversity

Thirteen buildings engineered by five architects in Leutschenbach district is just what its name suggests – more than just a group of apartments gathered together (Mehr als Wohnen is translated like “more than accommodation”). The district development was initiated by Zurich association of housing cooperatives. The project itself represents striking antithesis to dormitory districts – it’s a whole urban micro world. There are two restaurants, a hotel, a café, shops, a number of studios and offices, a music club, a gallery, a kindergarten, a nursery and many others.

The project should have become the cooperative’s answer to the question: “What we would like future dwellings to look like?”. Achievement of social diversity was the major guideline. For this purpose, the price of this accommodation was in average 20% lower that on Zurich’s free market.  The major share of these apartments is four- and five-room family apartments, range of types of which covers plenty of lifestyles: from students and young couples to single and aged people. 20% of apartments were reserved for the families receiving social allowances. Significantly, they are distributed in different buildings to avoid formation of ghettos. Besides, there are forseen apartments for disabled people and orphans as well.

The city transferred the territory to the cooperative association for 60 years with lease extension possibility. That is rather common practice for Zurich. Today, about 10% of all accommodation in Zurich (about 50,000 apartments, with the Zurich population being 390,000 people) belongs to cooperatives. According to the municipal legislation, this figure must advance to 33% by 2050. This decision was taken following a referendum of 2011. We suggest watching a presentation in which the cooperative members tell how they agreed with the city about this project, how much it cost and much more.


3. Social-Housing Units in Paris, Atelier du Pont (Paris, France)

Working with context, garden and insolation

The project mildly fits in a dense group of residential architecture of the Paris street Rue de Nantes. The building elevation is fronted with black enameled brick-red tiles, reflection of which varies with the intensity and direction of light. Thus, the elevation makes for an elegant continuation of the adjacent building constructed by Philippe Gazeau in 1993 for Toit et Joie.

A stepped configuration from the first to the sixth floor creates large south-facing private terraces. Such configuration ensures essential insolation in such a dense urban development. Apart from free space in the inner yard, apartments have their own terraces for their residents to have more contact with the sun.

4. deFlat Kleiburg, NL Architects + XVW architectuur (Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

An example of renovation of a standard housing dating back to our “khrushchevka”.

A residential house Kleiburg is a part of the surviving modernist development in Balmer district in South-East Amsterdam. The district was developed in 1970’s at the outskirts of Amsterdam and was conceived like a verily Utopian project. The architecture repeated a comb pattern that could be seen only from the sky, — favorite technique of modernists. However, isolation from the rest of the city turned out to be the biggest problem of the district: there were no schools and shops, and it was really inconvenient to get to the downtown. An underground was launched only five years after the district was completely settled! The city administration did not manage to ensure due servicing of the district and people started leaving it.

In 1992 an accident took place: Boeing 747 crashed against one of the buildings leaving 43 persons dead. The tragedy resulted in even greater fall, nobody wished to buy or rent an apartment there. The idea of a common housing blocks brought discredit upon itself. The houses were gradually demolished and substituted with new ones. In 2011 developers repurchased the last building, which long since then had been unfit for living, for 1 euro only. There’s a 50 minute film about the history of the whole project: interviews with former residents, archival shootings and etc.

In recent years one may observe revaluation of modernistic architecture. And more likely, revaluation of its aesthetics rather than its social ideals.  In this wake Kleiburg reconstruction project won in 2017. Standard 100 square meters were substituted with new typologies uniting a number of apartments vertically and horizontally. The first floors were adapted to accommodation, windows at the front elevation were enlarged, additional transit areas were created. The president of the jury said that the project challenged all current solutions of housing shortage in European cities, while more important issue about the type of housing to be constructed, remained open. And even though due to the renovation Kleiburg apartments became very cheap, the fact that after all these victories some of them were sold at exorbitant prices turned out to be very ironic.


5. Richmond Housing Cooperative, Teeple Architects (Toronto, Canada)

House as an ecosystem and housing cooperative

The RHC represents a natural reintegrated housing cooperative. All its residents work in hospitality industry and are members of local union called Unite Now. They co-manage a restaurant on the first floor. A public garden on the terrace of the sixth floor provides food for the restaurant, while organic wastes from the restaurant’s kitchen are used as compost for the garden. The vegetable garden is irrigated with rainwater from the roofs. This creates a self-maintaining cycle known as urban permaculture. Being at the forefront of sound innovations, the project gained certification LEED Gold for achievements in the field of environmental care.

The architecture acts as a medium for growing greens, air cooling and cleaning and rainwater absorption. All the project roofs are green surfaces that help to isolate the building. The customer’s requirement for relatively low service costs likewise inspired many for development and sound renovations.