Do you see me when we pass?
This housing prototype was developed in collaboration with the Community Land Trust Brussels. The work of the CLT represents an emerging trend in land acquisition for affordable living. Their methodologies question and speculate on the nature of land as it pertains to residential architecture. Following CLT’s wishes to make housing as inclusive as possible, we have provided this organization with a design strategy capable of transmuting the cooperative form of land acquisition into an architecture of home. In this way, habitants can live together and negotiate their own space in an elastic manner through time. This goal is pursued by devising a plan based on the even subdivision, so that the housing is a sequence of equal bays framed by thick walls which contain all the fixed utilities (bathroom, kitchen. etc.). This disposition allows further collegial partitioning of the bays if needed. Following the bay’s structure, secondary partitions can be built or disassembled so apartments can grow or shrink according to the different needs of the inhabitants. For example, two apartments can share a bay to accommodate their shared caregiver. One family can release a bay when their children leave the house, so that another family can expand. Two households can share a kitchen and a living room while retaining the privacy of their lodgings.
Following architect Avi Friedman, we define this concept of habitation as ‘evolutive housing’. Evolutive housing consists of spaces for habitation which follows as much as possible the transient nature of family living through years and decades. While characteristics of traditional housing caters mostly to the nuclear family, contemporary households include radically different ways of living that range from single to assisted living. The proposal can still service traditional ‘average’ family models, but it is paramount to consider the ways in which this definition of ‘average’ shifts, and evolve towards befitting spatial arrangements. We want to emphasize the fact that our interpretation of the concept of ‘evolutive housing’ pursues not flexibility per se, but more accurately, the idea that households should not be rigidly defined. In other words, the house should accommodate all the seasons of life – youth, adulthood, elderly – rather than hypostatize family living as a timeless norm.
Evolutive housing thus requires a completely different approach to building homes compared to traditional forms of residential architecture. Within traditional typologies, walls and partitions are rigid structures and inhabitants are often confused on what are the load-bearing walls and secondary partitions that can be rearranged. This leads to immutable housing frameworks difficult to modify. This spatial rigidity is further reinforced by the way building codes and ownership regimes which force inhabitants to dwell within unchangeable boundaries and to situations, to the detriment of subjects beyond the typical nuclear family. In order not to remain an abstract idea, the concept of evolutive housing should be addressed not just in terms of typology and construction, but also in terms of policies; ownership and building codes.
This interpretation of the concept of evolutive housing is supported by a building system based on cross-laminated timber (CLT) which is more expensive as material than concrete but it greatly reduces on-site construction costs and accelerates construction since all pieces are prefabricated and easy to assemble. We have devised a system of thick walls that contains all the fixed utilities (bathroom and kitchen) so that the rest of the house can be arranged in different ways, using partitions that can be easily mounted and dismantled.
Our proposal was developed in three parts: as a siteless prototype that puts forward general guidelines for the development of CLT housing; as application of the prototype to two specific sites for which the CLT is about to develop affordable housing schemes; and as application on currently unused land in the city of Brussels. This last kind of application aims to see the community land trust as a more general model of land acquisition for affordable housing.
While responding to the specific needs of users, made possible by the benefits of CLT construction, these applications aim to propose a repeatable and adaptable model that combines affordability and density.
Do you see me when we pass?
Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara, with Mariapaola Michelotto, Harry Waknine Freire, Gianluca Bernardi
In collaboration with Community Land Trust Brussels