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LIVE & WORK, A NEW PARADIGM OF HOUSING?

LIVE & WORK, A NEW PARADIGM 

OF HOUSING?

text: Mihaela PELTEACU

© Ene+Ene Arhitectură

Far from being a particular type, the dwellings associating professional life with family life have developed naturally throughout history, representing rather space combination and organization strategies essential to life than a typology as such. There are a few established terms generally used when referring to this type of housing: the artist/architect’s home, the apartment-studio, the loft, the commercial ground floor building or, a phrase which recently joined the debate, intentional community housing, a typology which entails relatively high scale ensembles comprising homes and shared spaces for work and community activities.
Even though family life, trade and work have been carried out freely inside the same property for centuries, starting with the industrial revolution, which brought about technology development and transportation diversification, this old housing formula underwent a gradual erosion; finally, it was discouraged or forbidden in the context of applying one of the fundamental principles of modern planning which introduced the concept of functional city zoning.
The end of the 20th century represents yet another special moment in the evolution of this housing type as the emergence of the internet and the opportunity for long-distance communication encouraged the entrepreneurial spirit and forced, to a certain extent, the reversal of this trend, especially in the western world.

The issues analyzed in detail by The Thematic Dossier advocates the architectural association of the two „lives” characteristic of Homo faber, the human maker of yesterday, today and all times – professional life and family life. The last decade’s relative expansion of this simple, intuitive and efficient way of organizing life which undeniably proved its viability and temporal persistence was not followed by an architectural debate to match.
In many of the world’s cities, the „live & work” hybridization resulting from pairing the home with the workplace acts a natural consequence of the growth in the number of those practising a liberal profession, illustrating a phenomenon directly linked, in its turn, to the pronounced spread of technology use, economic instability or the costs related to home-work mobility. All these seem to transfer a series of qualities onto live & work homes. The debate has become increasingly intense with the rise of urban overcrowding, the growing concern related to environmental issues and the life-style changes which brought about a reassessment of the notions of home and workplace as seen from a contemporary perspective.
There is no place here for a detailed presentation of the drawbacks or advantages of working from home; for a further development of the topic, the diversification of perspectives would be doubtlessly essential to an understanding of the wide range of problems it calls into question, ranging from environmental aspects to planning regulations, as well as financial or psychological elements.
Instead, the choice of texts and projects proposed by the current Dossier aims at launching a discussion and defining several debate themes, through (1) the reassessment of certain buildings that are, despite their notoriety, less known from the perspective of this association; (2) without any claim to making a rigorous example selection, the presentation of several contemporary homes projects, from the perspective of their spatial-functional availability/compatibility to make room for professionally related activities – a section which represents, above all, an attempt to gain insight in the various perceptions held by people in relation to this lifestyle.
Hence, despite the marginalization of homes associated to the profession throughout the 20th century, there still exist iconic Modernist buildings which keep the idea alive. It is widely known that many Modernist buildings combined housing spaces with those destined to professional activities, but such edifices were seldom regarded in the light of their hybrid character or of the way in which they were conceived and functioned. For instance, Maison de Verre (1928-1935) by architect Pierre Chareau (1883-1950) is a handy example in the given context: it is common knowledge that plenty of things have been written to make us understand and appreciate architecture, the extraordinary quality of light, the free plan structure and its design; yet we know and understand much less with respect to what it radically differentiates it from most buildings, namely the presence of the medical practice in all this delicate configuration. According to a recent confession of the person who had lived in the building in his childhood and who remembers that living in „the house of glass” entailed a set of strict rules and minutely organized life details, meant to keep out the parents’ concerns on the patients and the profession in relation to children, servants or guests.
Dan Marin re-examines such landmark projects, holding that “beyond the practical goal or their biographical meanings, these moments anticipate further evolutions or, more often than not, become turning points in the history of modern architecture”.
An in-situ documentation will undoubtedly reveal, anywhere in the world, the constancy of the association between the workspace and the domestic space. It is true that it might be a genuine urban adventure at the city level since almost all homes comprising working spaces seem camouflaged, either under the appearance of a domestic tranquillity of the windows conveying the idea of conventional housing, or, on the contrary, under the air of the street exuberance springing from the commercial or cultural activities masking the original design.
In this regard, Bucharest acts as an important case study through the identification and documentation of several house projects characterized by this extensive feature. The hybrid character sometimes emerges quite naturally – the dossier brings up two landmark buildings of Bucharest, representative of the embodied typology: the artists’ home (The Storck House, currently The Storck Museum) and the restaurant-home (The Beer Chariot on Stavropoleos Street).
The Storck House, built between 1911 and 1913 by architect Alexandru Clavel, displays a Romantic-inspired architecture strongly influenced by its beneficiaries, the couple of painters Frederick Storck and Cecilia Cuțescu-Storck. Thanks to the studio and the couple’s personal works as well as the items in their art collection, the house became gradually imbued with its residents’ artistic imprint. The house represents the expressive materialization of the organic fusions between the multi-level existence of the artists-collectors both working and leading a family and social life. The exemplary character of the edifice and its memorial load is tributary to the fact that the artistically supersaturated villa is a metaphorical expression of the hopes of an epoch. What makes it stand out in relation to other art collectors’ houses is the unique blend of architecture, visual arts and everyday life. (Kázmér Kovács and Mihaela Dumitru Trancă).
Documented by Daniela Puia, the edifice known by the inhabitants of Bucharest as the Beer Chariot (1899) is an archetypal example of a house where the trade activity (beer house) is located at street level; the upper floors are occupied by all or part of those involved in the business.
However, in most cases, the hybrid character is concealed and all the more difficult to decipher given that the progressive application of communist ideology triggered programmatic transformations which corroded the meaning and the initial content of such individual homes or collective ensembles.
This is the case for the inter-war buildings – essentially urban objects comprising, apart from apartments and offices, medical practices, homes for the staff employed in various services, shops, concert halls and others. The dissimulation of urbanity and the functional mix – a fundamental typological aspect -, paired with the restriction to a quasi-mono-functional programme, namely, apartments or offices with a commercial ground floor, affected architecture and notably housing quality. Consequently influencing the residents’ lifestyle, it also altered people’s perception towards this kind of programmatic structures.
The unveilment of the so-called „hidden nature” of the city is carried out through several investigations at different scales: first, the reconsideration of an archetypal typology in a brief reading of the Bucharest apartment-studio (1933) where architect Rudolf Fränkel worked and lived, accompanied by an original study in which Daniela Puia seeks to retrace, by means of a programmatic documentation, several mixed-use buildings, Modernist architecture landmarks located in the central area of the city (ARO Palace, Scala, Union, Adriatica and others), where the inhabiting units sometimes destined to temporary housing were designed following the same structure, along with offices and various healthcare, commercial or entertainment services.
Unlike the capitalist society at the beginning of the 20th century, which regarded the mixed-use building as guaranteeing an increased business return, nowadays, resorting to the unique residential function offers real estate developers investment safety, a formula seemingly allowing them to have control over the project. The inclusion of other functions is ignored or taken into account only if so requested by specific regulations. As an illustration of this trend, the homes on Dudeşti Road (architect Mihai Duțescu), represent an example worthy of further study. The availability of the architecture plan to make room for complementary functions (office spaces) is rendered evident by the spatial configuration, yet it fails to be valorized by investors and/or owners alike.
A particular case is illustrated by the building on Ostaşilor Street (architect Monica Sache): in the absence of a preliminary vision oriented towards a specific housing mode, there arises an interesting connection between the family’s living space and entrepreneurial activities. Progressive negotiations and adaptations of the initial version of the project took place throughout the execution phase and the workspace found its place inside the home as a new, special theme.
A matter of distance, impossible to elude when the house is outside the city, is assumed by the architect in a project signed by Ene+Ene Architecture Office. The project theme is laconic: „a house for a couple with two children and their close friends” situated in a residential park, a wooded area in the north of Bucharest. This residential development is expected to become „an autonomous, private and self-sustainable community”, a way of life deemed by the investors as „a turning point in European architecture and quality housing”.
The difficulty arising from the freedom of choosing the programme was overcome by the architects by relating to their own profession. The project acquired a special feel through the focus on the working spaces. The spatial theme of linearity was explored and intently entangled by the authors in order to detect different perspectives and touches in its relationship with the exterior; an entire carefully planned route reveals, one by one, the spaces of the house, from the shared and socializing rooms to the individual ones. This results in a spatial depth and density at the level of space perception, an absolute necessity given the relatively small surface. The furniture fusing with the vertical structure and the separating walls confer some homogeneity to the house while the workspace is both separate and connected with the rest of the house, always ready to materialize an idea or a project of its hypothetical residents.
In the Western world, the 1990s brought back to attention the concept of community which was subject of a debate on a somewhat larger scale in the past decade. Earlier, inviting the audience to a personal exhibition was a current practice for the artists who used the workspaces as their homes; at present, such spaces represent a means of communication among residents, the possibility of working on projects together and others. In our country, the interest is more prevalent in the academic environment as it was previously encouraged by the 2014 construction of the shared space collective housing project on Dogarilor Street – designed by ADN Architecture Office.
The case of Switzerland, where a live/work culture already exists, is perfect for concluding the initiation of the debate. The analysis of two such experimental projects witnesses the anchorage to the Modernist tradition of Swiss architecture and validates a series of cultural differences as well as the importance of academic discourse in the field of house design. It is about two ensembles in Zürich resulted from cooperative system design: Kalkbreite (2014, architect Müller Sigrist), currently one of the most special home and office buildings which are not served by cars and More than Housing (completed in 2015, Pool Architekten), a project contributing to the emergence of a genuine urban area at the northern margins of the city. The masterplan lying at the core of the project represents a proposal designated through competition, signed by Futurafrosch and Duplex Architekten Architecture Offices. Antonia Flueraș, student architect at „Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism, was in charge of the photographic documentation.
Despite the statistics placing Romania at the bottom of the list in terms of working from home, this dual theme focusing on the live-work couple can no longer be ignored in our cities; on the contrary, it must be discussed from a broader, long-term contemporary architectural perspective.
Far from offering an exhaustive picture of the topic, The Dossier initiates a debate which entails a thorough re-examination of former notions, such as mixed programmes/mixed functions or density but also an understanding of the contemporary realities and achievements that might generate a more profound debate on the city, grounded on a more complex approach: a housing paradigm as old as time, tackled from a new angle, that of stringent reality.

CONTENTS Of The Magazine no. 6/2018

„NEW” PARADIGM OF HOUSING

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