Co-operative Housing in Zürich, Switzerland. Introverted Urbanity

Co-operative Housing in Zürich, Switzerland.
Introverted Urbanity

text: Mihaela PELTEACU
foto: Antonia FLUERAȘ
drawings: Daniela PUIA

In Western Europe, a contemporary approach appealing to a wide audience is communal or community housing, namely the revival of an older formula as a variant of the so-called cluster apartments (e.g.: several small-sized apartments with the bedrooms and the bathroom grouped around a common space, generous in terms of surface and atmosphere). Widely debated in the past decade, this housing model has a dynamics that can no longer be ignored in some European countries. The demand for such housing is recording an important increase, not only from single people or couples, as we would have expected, but also families with children; the interest is due to the permittivity of the model offering a private space for teenagers who can thereby continue to live with their parents. Many parents, especially in large cities where life is expensive, regard this housing method as a possibility to provide children an independent place to live during the studies.
While in our country such community experiments may seen utopian and bursting with negative connotations marked by a genuine aversion to collective property reminiscent of the sad historic experiences in the communist period, in the Swiss cultural space they are already concrete and feasible realities. In contradiction to what the term suggests, the „housing cooperatives” in Switzerland do not seem to suffer from any ideological stain and simply define an assumed lifestyle. It is a very sensible thing which, far from any socialist connotations, rather places itself in the wake of a long tradition tributary to the Freidorf model, the ensemble built by architect Hannes Meyer in 1919, at the request of the Swiss Cooperatives Union. Back then, Freidorf was seen as „the product of an incomprehensible epoch and a complex situation; an absolute compromise. From a social point of view, it was a hybrid between the individual and social life; from a formal point of view, it was a compromise between the urban and the rural”1.
Today’s projects are generated, in their turn, as reactions to a difficult economic context, at a time when the new ideas in the field of housing are deemed as having a crucial importance, especially in Zürich.

Introverted Urbanity: Kalkbreite

Kalkbreite (2014), built by Muller Sigrist Architecture Office upon winning a competition, is currently one of the most special experimental live/work housing projects that are not served by cars. One of the particular requirements underlying the elaboration of the project was the integration of an almost three-level high existing tram shed owned by VBZ Company. With the size of a neighbourhood, Kalkbreite comprises a cinema hall (Houdin Cinema), 97 apartments for approximately 250 people, a surface of 5000 square meters hosting commercial spaces, boarding accommodation facilities and a shared courtyard built above the tram shed.
The interior layout concept entails, at the level of all housing units, an average surface of maximum 35 sqm/person including the shared/community spaces.
Such a goal could be achieved only by observing the minimum occupancy regulations (one person per bedroom), the externalization of all those functions that are not absolutely necessary to the housing process (e.g.: the guest room, the work space, the guest kitchen and others), and by means of a combination of homes with several large-sized apartments, with up to nine and a half rooms.
The conditions leading to the emergence of Kalkbreite Project were the desire and the will to create a community and revive a modernity value: the cooperative housing that has been practised in Switzerland for over 100 years.
To some authors, the project was a machine for living in, in spite of the fact that the 250 residents of Kalkbreite monolith cannot rival the 1500 envisaged by Le Corbusier for the housing unit in Marseille: a pertinent comparison from many other points of view.
The massiveness and the monolith-like nature are not mere formal options in Kalkbreite as they clearly reveal the community character of housing and an inner urbanity, alluding to that „conformant size” suggested by Le Corbusier, which assumes that the ensemble size is not established arbitrarily but „corresponds to the correct scale of the collective group, the unity of the sociological character, as is the case with a village or a small town…”
The extraordinary size, the outline of the location transferred „entirely” into the built space seems to have a clear meaning, that of distinctly asserting the social dimension of the envisaged group, beyond individuality.
Unlike the housing unit, the community’s manner of expression is not confined to sharing various activities and services; it is a housing mode which recalls into question housing as such.
Housing is no longer seen as that space designed to host the standard family but becomes an authentic instrument meant for social and/or generational blend.
Kalkbreite displays a feeling of introvert urbanity contributing to the horizontal and vertical distribution system, the variety of apartment entrance ways, the interior windows connecting the shared circulation areas with the interior of the apartments (that is, their public areas: kitchen, hall, interior circulation etc.).

More than Housing

In Zürich’s northern area, in the vicinity of the Leutschenbach School built by Christian Kerez, lies the largest real estate development cooperative in the city. In 2007, a group of more than 50 smaller cooperatives gathered under the name More than Housing (Mehr als Wohnen) to take action together and establish themselves as the unique beneficiary of the project. Their common goal was the construction of a high quality mixed-use neighbourhood for almost 1300 people.
The project was launched through a masterplan selected through competition, a proposal made by Futurafrosch and Duplex Architects; they came up with various housing typologies deemed as innovative by many critics – 13 monumental residential buildings with a depth of up to 32 metres – distributed on an L-shaped land.
The unbuilt space was a real concern, given the importance of its revitalization at different times through adequate functions in the subsequent phases of the project. In this regard, the character of the place was defined with the aid of exterior spaces2. It is important to note that the masterplan aimed at clearly determining those „qualities that are bound to emerge and not the exact dimensions”.3
The plans reveal interesting patterns through which the architects succeeded to create an accurate spatial configuration given the exceptional depth of the built volumes (up to 32 metres). Through this oversizing, the masterplan proposal foresaw and counted on the possibility to convey an intrinsic urbanity deemed as utterly important in the context of quality collective housing.
The public squares and the streets were designed bearing in mind the late-nineteenth Western cities or the medieval towns, the images of these spaces acting as prefigurations of the actual buildings. The manifest intention was that of not conditioning the project of the future constructions through the masterplan, thus allowing complete freedom to the architects appointed to complete this process.
Several architecture firms – Müller Sigrist Architekten, Miroslav Šik, Duplex Architekten, Futurafrosch and others – had the mission to design one residential complex each.
The configuration of the 370 apartments considered a variety of familial typologies: cluster apartments, studios, duplex apartments etc., along with childcare services, shops, a bakery, a restaurant, a boarding house and various spaces destined to work and professional activities.
At the centre of the site lies House G, the Pool Architects office building, representative of the community character of the neighbourhood. The maximum extension of the housing surfaces resulted in a compact building with no balconies or terraces. In this case, light is brought into the apartment through a deep section in the volume, a large-dimensioned glazing made of the joined angular panes of the two-storey living rooms, which dovetail and break up the otherwise rigorously structured volume. Hence, the building distinguishes itself within the ensemble thanks to the open character provided by this type of windows. The ground floor boasts large spaces opening the building to the exterior and making room for functions like trade or common activities.
As expected, in a demonstration revealing the profound anchorage to the Modernist tradition of Swiss architecture, the architects equally aimed at providing the necessary comfort and a type of representation essential to any housing project, constantly working with the boundary between „inside” and „outside”, the public and the private, individual and collective.

1 Hannes Meyer, „Siedlung Friedorf 1925”, apud Raquel Franklin, „Le principe CO-OP. Hannes Meyer et le concept de design collectif”, in TRACÉS No. 18 / 2016, p. 8.
2 Kornelia Gysel in More than Housing Cooperative Planning. A case study in Zürich, p. 41.
3 Idem, p. 42.

TRACÉS No. 18 / 2016
Margrit HugenTobler, Andreas Hofer, Pia Simmendinger (ed.) More Than Housing. Cooperative Planning. A case study in Zürich: Together! The New Architecture of the Collective.




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