Affordable housing should ensure demographic and community-amenity integration, build in job opportunities, be designed with flexibility and future maintenance in mind, and be regarded as key infrastructure. Adhering to these principles, we can fix social housing. Affordable housing should also be beautiful – in Europe, at least, this is a given. Perhaps it comes as no surprise then that one of the most elegant social housing projects completed in the past year is Dortheavej Residence, BIG’s prefab achievement in Copenhagen.
The curvaceous, five-storey building takes the Danish firm’s obsession with boxy pixelation – which it also refined with Stockholm’s 79&Park, a context-sensitive multi-unit project perched on Gärdet national park – to the next level, with 66 wood-plank-wrapped homes distinctly integrated into a cohesive, 6,800-square-metre whole. The units range from 60 to 115 square metres and feature 3.5-metre-high ceilings, full-height windows, south-facing balconies and a clean palette of exposed concrete ceiling and wood flooring. But most impressive is the architecture, which expresses itself in a checkered pattern, and curves in an inviting way that dynamically hugs its site.
Why we like it: It’s great to see BIG – which has made its name by innovating the multi-unit residential typology – bring its visionary prowess to affordable housing.
A vibrant red object in the middle of the lush Portuguese forest an hour from Lisbon, House 3000 gives the gable-roofed home a pulsating new life. But the home, designed by Rebelo de Andrade, is more than that. As Elizabeth Pagliacolo writes in the Jan/Feb 2019 edition, our Houses issue cover star was designed for maximum sustainability. Oriented for natural daylighting and partially clad in photovoltaic panels and solar hot water heaters, the house and its farm building – both built with cross-laminated timber panels in just three months – is off the grid. Rebelo de Andrade was so committed to sustainability that the firm worked with the Universidade de Aveiro’s civil engineering department to achieve carbon-neutrality.
Why we like it: Okay, the red paint job really makes it sing, but this house is also maximally respectful to its environment.
We hope Hercule’s architects considered the birds, but really, who doesn’t love a mirrored façade? This 446-square-metre, raw-concrete Luxembourg residence, situated between an old farmhouse and a suburban villa, reflects its surroundings in a dramatic way. The home has three levels, and most of the action, programmatically, is situated in the double-height basement. It is here that the architects placed the entrance, the garage and the amenities (laundry, wardrobe, and fitness area).
On a raised platform, the dining room and living area (above) are separated by a kitchen featuring an austere stainless-steel island. This capacious room opens onto an enclosed deck on the south-west side through floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors. Upstairs, the bedrooms have view-finder windows and the bathrooms feature glass doors with a silvery-finish – just heaven, really.
Why we like it: There is more to this home than meets the eye.
Located in the Eastern Townships, La Binocle is more than just a residence – it’s also a test case for 1000p2, or Mille Pied Carrés, a company that specializes in architecturally refined cabins in the woods. Designed by one of Montreal’s most in-demand firms, Naturehumaine, the 888-square-foot prototype makes the most of its perch on a rocky cape (the anchor for the home’s raw concrete foundations). Wrapped in charred wood and with a predominantly white interior, the double-volume – or binocular – building emphasizes the view. As Naturehumaine’s Stephane Rasselet says, it’s really all about “the sensation of being suspended in mid-air.” One module contains the living areas while the other houses two bedrooms. Between these two sloped-roof boxes is an entrance made with hemlock plans that connects them.
Why we like it: With its small footprint and fuss-free interior, La Binocle strips away all excesses to focus the living experience on nature.
From the front, Maison du Parc could pass for any of the squat brick duplexes lining Montreal’s Parc Lafontaine. From the back, it appears to be a singular rectangular volume, defined by two stories of floor-to-ceiling glazing. And inside, La Shed conceived of something else entirely, blending the generous proportions of early-1900s mansions with a dramatic monochromatic palette. The home’s standout feature – among many – is a winding, sculptural staircase at the home’s centre. It’s wrapped in glass partitions and illuminated from above by an oversized skylight, adding “mysterious depth,” according to the designers, and recalling the illustrations of M.C. Escher.
The rest of the house is no less impressive. From the marble-clad living room, with picture-window views of sprawling Parc Lafontaine, to a kitchen rimmed with monolithic black cabinetry to a surprising basement bathroom – in which a cylindrical basin sits in front of a partition mirror, making the bathroom seem transparent to users – Maison du Parc is a triumph of minimalism. It’s proof that, even when working with mansion-like proportions, restraint can produce surprising results.
Why we like it: Attention to detail. From a stainless-steel kitchen island raised by slender steel legs to the subtle texture of herringbone flooring, every detail of this house sings.
As we noted above, affordable housing and exceptional architecture aren’t mutually exclusive. But Future Towers, Dutch interdisciplinary firm MVRDV’s first project in India, is a standout example of cost-effective housing done right. Located in the rapidly expanding city of Pune, the first phase of the project – which was completed in the fall – will house 5,000 people in 1,068 units, many of which have unique floor plans and access to terraces. It’s a project aimed at capturing a wide demographic, with stock ranging from 45-square-metre studios to multi-storey, 450-square-metre homes built for multi-generational families. In total, the project has a 140,000-square-metre footprint.
For MVRDV, flexible layouts constituted a primary goal, and the firm achieved this by creating a constellation-like series of nine wings that, at ground level, rise and fall like a mountain range. The slopes of Future Towers create recessed and L-shaped balconies, while colourful, cave-like cutouts – which MVRDV calls “scoops” – create suspended common spaces, all while allowing light to pierce the building. Sitting on a hexagonal grid, Future Towers rises to 30 storeys at its highest, and encircles a valley-like square, with commercial and public amenities. Better yet, the next two phases of Future Towers will add 3,500 more units.
Why we like it: Low-cost, high-quality homes paired with beautiful, context-sensitive architecture is always a win.
Made entirely of local timber, Rode House by Pezo von Ellrichshausen of Chile is unusually fluid for an all-wood domicile, the panels and shingles covering its various geometric volumes flowing and cresting like waves in motion. Not coincidentally, the house sits in a meadow on Chiloé Island, a southern coastal community well-known for its carpentry, a tradition that the architects reference in their complex use of wood.
On one side of the semicircular structure punctuated by a rectangular tower, rigid boards arrayed horizontally comprise a weather-resistent, fortress-like facade; on the other, a pitched roof that slopes toward a partially paved courtyard is clad with the thin shingles typical of the area. Inside, wood walls, floors and pillars create a warm yet austere setting, their inherent richness complemented by equally streamlined furniture.
Why we like it: Exalting the warmth of wood, this home is an architectural work of art.
In Vietnam, 75 per cent of the population makes its living from rural agriculture, even as rapid industrialization and urbanization have encroached on arable land, a phenomenon that has disenfranchised nearly three million workers. At the same time, the country’s population has been steadily rising, resulting in a need for considerably more housing. Agrinesture House, designed to evoke “a cube of earth cut out from a field,” aims to address the dual demand for housing and growing space simultaneously.
Easy to replicate and inexpensive to build, it consists of a two-storey, reinforced-concrete frame topped by a green roof with its own rainwater collection and storage system. According to its architects, Hanoi-based H&P, the house can be extended up to three storeys if required and clad in a variety of local materials, from rammed earth to vines. The home pictured here, in Vietnam’s Quang Ninh Province, has been covered in local bricks and outfitted with black metal window and door frames.
Why we like it: According to the architects, this model can be employed in a variety of vulnerable contexts, including rural areas, flood-prone zones, and resettlement, low-income areas.
The team at São Paulo firm Studio MK27 refer to Planar House, a lakeside project in Porto Feliz, Brazil, as “a radical exercise in horizontality.” And though the portfolio of founder Marcio Kogan is chockablock with similarly sprawling homes that lay low over lush landscapes, this one creates a more intimate dialogue with its site than others we’ve seen from the architect.
Positioned at the plot’s highest point, the house is almost camouflaged from above by a green roof that overhangs the main structure to shelter generous indoor/outdoor spaces. The grassy roof helps keep the interior cool, and is peppered with skylights to draw natural light inside. Below this “fifth facade” the interior is split into two programmatic volumes: one containing shared spaces such as a TV room, a gym, and a play room, the other housing five bedrooms, each with its own ensuite bath. Rough concrete ceilings are contrasted with walls and furniture in warm wood.
These materials continue into the two living rooms, found at either end of the structure. In each of these spaces, glass doors wrap the exterior walls and slide away to transform the rooms into open terraces. At one corner of the waterside terrace, a multicoloured chair hangs from the ceiling, providing a cozy spot to take in the tree line, the pool, the lake, and everything beyond. But from the main seating area, which hugs the interior walls, the roof and floors stretch before you, forming a massive viewfinder that forces the eye outwards to create a more curated view. (Images of Planar House by Fernando Guerra.)
Why we like it: Under the shelter of the cantilevered roof, the living room seems to merge with surrounding natural landscape, and yet feels completely private, like a secret hideaway.
The best design and architecture is never truly a fait accompli, and is instead ready to evolve as users’ needs – and the world at large – changes around it. And the best architects and designers are the ones who find the ways to make this happen.
With Big Space, Little Space, Buffalo firm Davidson Rafailidis transformed a 1920s masonry garage into a home that also adapts seasonally, growing from a cozy 464 square feet in winter to a sprawling 5,165 square feet in the warm months. Working with a modest budget and a sizeable floor plan, the team divided the interior by inserting an insulated living space within, leaving a larger, uninsulated area that is used by the clients – a creative couple – as a workshop.
The roof deck and generous yard expand the living space considerably when the weather is favourable, but during the chilly Buffalo winters, the indoor living space is built to accommodate a range of needs. Aside from the kitchen, none of the four main rooms are dedicated to a singular purpose. For instance, if the owners decide to throw a large dinner party, the bedroom becomes a dining room at the drop of a hat.
Why we like it: The fact that they’ve maintained so much of the building’s natural character, makes this a fantastic example of how smart and simple adaptive reuse can be. This year’s AZ Awards jury agreed – it was one of two winners in the Residential Architecture: Single Family category.
From resplendent single-family houses to imaginative, affordable and sustainable multi-unit dwellings, we select the top 10 residential projects of 2018.