There’s a famous anecdote about modern housing: mothers living in the massive low-rise housing developments of 60s Denmark would write their unit numbers on the shirts of their children who, upon returning from a day playing in the neighborhood, wouldn’t be able to recognize which front door was theirs.
Who knows how true this was. But it does illustrate the extent to which the conversation about modernism and housing was stifled after the seventies. The issues at stake during that time were more complex than the aesthetic monotony for which they were sometimes criticized. And disappointingly, most of those conversations were left unresolved (or, at least, discontinued).
Some (actually, many) think the timing is right for a revival. One project in the UK is being couched as the catalyst – click through to take a look.
Says Peter Barber (of Peter Barber Architects),”There’s been a resurgence in interest in housing, where people have been designing museums and galleries for too long. It feels like we’re in the right place at the right time.”
Barber recently completed work on the Donnybrook Quarter, the set of 42-unit housing modules in London that seems to have reignited the discussion on high-density housing.
Donnybrook is totally unlike many of the high-rise council flats that surround it, in several ways. The most obvious is the swatch of semi-public space that cuts through the development, forming a T shape that outlets onto the street three times. This interstitial space is crucial in engaging a sense of community in the dense fabric of English housing blocks.
The irregular whitewashed forms of the apartments make pronounced references to Le Corbusier and, in some senses, Alvar Aalto. Aalto was famous for orienting his housing modules so that each individual garden had access to sunlight (he compared them to cherry blossoms). In this case, the architects chose to prioritize access to the interior streetscapes themselves. Barber has said that too often, circulation spaces that are supposedly ‘semi-public’ become cold, lifeless access routes along which hundreds of people move each day. The strategy employed at Donnybrook Quarter is to eliminate the interstitial access routes and allow all of the units to empty out into the same intersecting interior streets.
Interestingly, Barber told a Gaurdian journalist that these shout-outs translated somewhat differently than he expected: “We were thinking, Le Corbusier, Adolf Loos, JJP Oud; the residents were thinking, ‘Spain! Holidays! Marbella!’ I’m completely happy with that.”