Oriental courtyard house, the future of housing?

Seminar and Workshop "Austrian-Iranian Dialogue"
X-CHANGE, Teheran, Iran
About the coexistence of house as a unit and town, and their influence on each other's development

Today, two thirds of the world population already lives in cities. This leads to an increase in land consumption which has become a defining factor in the devlopment of new housing forms. Considering the limited land reserves that are left in middle Europe, density with all its consequences is becoming the leading factor in new developments in housing design.

As far as new housing typologies with open structures are concerned, compact housing schemes impose new demands on planners. Due to economical and ecological pressures, there is an increasing demand on mixed use (living, working, and infrastructure). The interaction between the smallest unit (one's own flat) and the urban entirety is an essential point in this context since housing design cannot be pursued isolated from one's surroundings.

Some of the advantages of compact housing schemes are low land consumption, a better balance in energy consumption, reduced expenditure for the necessary infrastructure, and a higher urban life quality compared to the satellite cities of today in the outskirts of towns by means of private free spaces despite dense development. The typologies and structures that have been developed up to now are however no longer sufficient to handle these tasks. There is a need for new urban models and exemplatory solutions.

The following two built examples of conventional development models form a basis for comparison:

compact housing schemes
Residential House Leberberg, 1110 Wien

A communal residential building as a small section (consisting of 120 flats) of the biggest town extension project in Vienna on the southern outskirts of town with 4000 flats. Even though the assignment was a conventional building covering a whole block around a central green space, this idea was changed into a pectinated housing development directed towards a public green space.

Projektbeschreibung Leberberg (german)...
Residential Building complex Mühlgrundweg, 1220 Wien

A maximum density within the given structural possibilities of the project was attained in this peripheral development of classical lines of row housing. The insufficiency of this type of development is the lack of a comprehensive urbanity which means that the necessary space between buildings is merely a forced residual space.

Projektbeschreibung Mühlgrundweg (german)...
Urban Planning Competition Süssenbrunn, 1220 Wien

The opportunity to put the theme of urbanity in the outskirts into concrete form came up with an international competition in Vienna. The assignment was to come up with a suggestion for a housing development of 2000 flats on a 40-hectare area between a developed village center and an overdevelopment of single-family houses.

In this project inspired by historical models, the urban body is transported into green space. A collage showing a section of Cairo placed in a green field manifests the idea of the accomodation complex.

Clearly defined self-sufficient accomodation complexes of approximately 4 hectare each are to counteract urban sprawl in various development stages. The adjoining village center and the single-family houses are not connected by this new housing development. Due to the high density achieved in the 3-4 storeys, the demand on land is as little as possible, which helps preserve the existing country side in its context. The self-sufficient villages are surrounded by green space.

In order to achieve the claim on density, stacked garden-courtyard and roof atrium house types are developed and grouped in a linear fashion at first. The vertical access is placed strategically so that the 3 stacked house types can be used in one as well as separately.

Even though this contribution made it to the final round of the competition, a conventional linear town concept was prefered by the jury at the end, because our project did not offer extention possibilities in the green space between the accomodation complexes.

This prototype attempt for solutions in the outskirts of cities lead to another analysis of "accomodation complex" commisioned by the city of Vienna:

Projektbeschreibung Süssenbrunn (german)...
Urban Architecture Study Marchfelder Quartiere, 1220 Wien

This project was developed for 500 flats on a square area of 200 m side length. The housing scheme is organized in numerous sections with additional social facilities like school, kindergarden as well as other infrastructural facilities.

Two courtyard houses on 3 storeys are developed for the accomodation unit and grouped in a non-linear fashion.

The L-house is combined into 4 units with the pedestrian access on the middle floor. The two main floors function as 2.5-room apartments with a studio above.

The courtyard type is essentially a row house turned upside down with a roof atrium and a roof garden. A staircase is designed as a connecting element so that the three floors can be used and accessed separately by means of the middle "entrance floor".

Entrance switch elements, specially developed for this project with a special staircase enable various possibilities to separate and combine floors in accordance with different stages of development in the family. (Generations living together, different uses, etc.) Various combinations allow a flexibility in size where one flat can be as big as 150 m?.

The accomodation unit is so compact that it works like the staircase of a conventional multi-storey residential building. There is a central square on the access level in each accomodation unit with a common room underneath.

The idea of the accomodation unit was originally developed for residential purposes in the oustskirts in order to cope with the demand on density as well as the infrastructural requirements of the city.

Projektbeschreibung Marchfelder Quartiere (german)...
Urban Architecture Study Zentrumsquartier

Compared to a typical 5-storey high conventional building which covers a whole block around a central courtyard in which the stacked apartment units are accessed through staircases and closed ways, the central accomodation unit is structured in a flat fashion.

The 3-storey high residential building, made up of courtyard houses concludes the complex on the upper level. The high-quality roof landscape is meant for private use as free space. A lightwell for vertical access and common rooms connects the residential section with the infrastructure levels underneath.

Highly frequented facilities like supermarkets, restaurants, etc. are situated on the street level. The level above accomodates less frequented infrastructural facilities, flats for singles and elderly people as well as studios and offices. The demand on garage space for cars can be accomodated in form of an underground car park or a multi-storey garage.

As opposed to the block house, the accomodation unit can cope with various uses on a bigger scale.

The central element of the residential unit is placed on the roof level, which is advantageous especially in town centers with dense traffic and air pollution.

The following diagram shows the densities of the above mentioned projects in a comparitive analysis.

The figures refer to a unified area of building site; the area for an accomodation unit (approdimately 7000 m2)

The comparison shows that a very dense row house structure can reach a floor area density of 0.9 at the maximum. Density of floor area is the ratio of the area of building site to the gross floor area. The pectinated housing (multi-storey building) analized in this table reaches with its five floors, a floor area density of 2.5.

Compared to the row house type, the two-storey accomodation unit, designed for the outskirts of town, reaches a floor area density of 1.7 (with the same number of floors)

This leads to the conclusion that the garden city is gaining the upper hand in a long-standing debate about the efficient use of building sites; garden city versus superblock. Economically, these figures can remedy the the prejudiced position of horizontal forms of density compared to vertical structures to a certain extent. A comparison of the 5-storey central accomodation unit with the multi-storey residential house with the same number of floors results in a floor area density of 3.3 with almost 100% building density compared to the 50% of a multi-storey development.

OeBV Headquarters (office building), 1010 Wien

The courtyard, measuring 9x9 m has a glass roof and a translucent glass wall which serves as a light source. The body of light on the inside as a central theme makes it possible to combine elements freely.

It was possible to gather valuable experience concerning daylight under problematic spacial circumstances through this project, which turned out to be of great use in the following courtyard house projects.

Projektbeschreibung ÖBV (german)...
Urban Sanctuary Atzgersdorf, 1230 Wien

A double row with 44 courtyard houses is the first project of this kind that was built.

The deep gap site with its narrow side facing Ziedlergasse, measuring 36x139m, is surrounded by mixed structures (both residential and commercial). Coherent green spaces with landscaping arrangements are possible only in the deeper sections of the building site. This housing development which measures 114x26m is fitted into the gap site with an appropriate distance to the neighbors.

A multi-storey introverted atrium house type around an inner courtyard in form of an L was developed.

The streetfront is closed up in its structure in an almost faceless fashion. Two U-formed house types are turned to face each other. Thus a double atrium divided by a glass wall is formed. The two units are lined up back to back in two rows to make a superordinate 26 deep form.

The two main residential floors are raised by the height of a utility floor. This way, the actual residential courtyard is situated above the surrounding ground level.

By means of the two entrance and exit ways, cars can go in a big roundabout in order to reach the covered parking spaces right in front of the building. From here, one can reach the stairs and the cellar in the middle section trough a small vestibule.

On the roof level, the two main levels are expanded by a studio with a roof atrium in front, a pergola, and a large garden terrace.

The atrium house consists of 130 m? on four levels. Two rooms, flexible in their use, 20 m? each are situated around an atrium. A glass faced central zone that includes the staircase and the wet rooms combines the rooms into a compact triality. The ground plan patterns show an urban residential form with private green space. It is flexible and adaptable for various developmental stages and needs of a family. The caliber of the space and its size makes double functions like eating and living or sleeping and working possible. A family of three or four can live, sleep, and work floorwise separately in two 2-room apartments with 2 rooms, kitchen, bathroom, and toilet each.

The reduced amount of external wall area due to the linked up arrangement of the houses and the glass roof over the atrium reduce the energy requirements considerably. One can also create an additional room that can be used all year through by shutting these glass ?roof windows". The external walls have openings only for visual reference purposes. The air circulation and natural lighting on the residential floors are ensured through the atrium with generous glass portals.

Due to the direct access to the row houses from the secondary street there is no need for ?built access ways". This results in a very favorable ratio between overall floor area (including the atriums) and gross floor area (6152:7058= 87%). This access system also optimizes the technical maintanence and disposal of garbage of the complex.

Part of the accomodation complex idea could be realized in these urban atrium houses. However, essential urban aspects of the idea such as a balanced relation between building and free space could not be translated yet.

Projektbeschreibung Wohnarche (german)...
Competition Northern Style Housing Complex in Aomori, Japan

This contribution to a competition for Aomori on the northernmost island of Japan is a building complex which includes residential functions combined with urban use. The building site is in the center of town.

The harsh climate with an average temperature of ten 10 C? and 6m of snow every year demanded a special solution. The aim was to build and densify a heterogeneous development in an urban context.

Our suggestion was a clearly placed big building complex in japanese tradition, stacked vertically in 3 sections.

The multi-layer inner life of the building is a strictly vertical cross section out of "urban co-existence". The upper third section of the Building is a reaction to the northern climate conditions; a dense package of atrium houses with 2-3 storey high glazed courtyards. The residential level also forms the roof of the three storey high middle zone for recreational activities. The access to the houses is situated underneath the 3-storey high housing structure, protected from the influence of the weather. Thus the upper zone provides a quality in living by means of green spaces with lots of light and air in the middle of town.

The 9-storey high stack is held together and accessed by an active system of vertical connections. Twelve piers with staircases, elevators, service and technical equipment shafts create spaces with large spans. 5 big "light wells" cut vertically through the center of building and provide it with coherent spaces flooded with daylight.

Above the highly frequented functions on the street level, there is a spacious three storey high hall with Pavillons in superficial landscape for social establishments and entertainment facilities. During winter, the covered hall can be turned into a closed winter garden by shutting the glass outer shell consisting of vertical sliding elements. The covered but not enclosed open-air hall ensures a good air circulation in the recreation zone as well as for the atrium houses above, especially during the hot and rainy summer months.

Northern Housing, Aomori...
more information (german) ...
Wohnhausanlage Leberberberg 1110 Wien
Wohnhausanlage M?hlgrundweg 1220 Wien
St?dtebaulicher Ideenwettbewerb Süssenbrunn 1220 Wien
Marchfelder Quartiere Bebauungsstudie 1220 Wien
ÖBV Versicherungsgesellschaft Generaldirektion 1010 Wien
Wohnarche Atzgersdorf 1230 Wien

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