RDW

An essay-project for a „perfectly ordinary” house or how to steal an hour’s living every day

An essay-project for a „perfectly ordinary” house or how to steal an hour’s living every day

text: Monica SACHE
foto: Vlad Eftenie, Daniela PUIA

Intro(ductory) statement. This is not a project designed by an architect who thinks he knows all the answers or drawing on a philosophy able to withstand the whole world.
This house has nothing special, no innovative building details, no high-tech know-how, no avant-garde approach: the structure is conventional, the materials are inexpensive, the building technique is rather primitive than modern, entirely based on the builder’s ability and skill. The importance of the project does not transcend the limits of its location; it is neither a prominent investment nor an engineering accomplishment. Only time will tell if it can grow into a valid solution to the housing problem or if it at least represents a correct understanding and an accurate interpretation of the place it was built in.

The essay-project

Our project came into being long before the actual building process began: the land was bought in the first decade of the 2000s, in a time when Bucharest was, much like today, virtually assaulted by investors: the building frenzy went hand in hand with illegal selling. There followed a period of economic „recession-depression-compression” and launching the project has become impossible while funds obtention turned into an inaccessible goal. In addition, the long span of the project involved a continuously restructuring design team: members who were solicited, volunteering, involved or obliged, each contributed their own characteristic skill, openness, determination or audacity. As the lack of experience turned into uncertainty, it generated increased attention and concentration paired with the constant need to communicate and verify my project. Hence, I constantly resorted to a comfortable environment, I discussed things over with close friends: the initial sketches were debated and clarified in the company of Ana and Adi, the technical solutions were developed together with Andrei and Mariana, Mihai assisted us in the virtual rendering of the house while Irina and Andrei monitored the building site.
One thing was for sure: the house was starting to take shape, was constantly changing and even when everyone thought it was „ready”, it transformed and reconstructed itself until it finally found its place and form. Given the intuitive design, the house was an ongoing lesson. It is no point mentioning here its „technical data” or characteristics, now that several years have passed from the completion of the building, as these are purely quantitative data more suitable for an Excel table; what we got is the lodgers’ subjective opinions and detailed experiences for now we have the chance to closely observe and verify if the representation of so many different life, functional and story scenarios was of any use.
The weight of the project consisted, first of all, in establishing the priority matrix, namely finding the right proportion between the planning requirements, investment retrieval, user comfort, dealing with the engineering constraints and other aspects. The house transformed into a composition, an essay comprising all the answers given to the questions formulated from so many different perspectives: we filtered and absorbed all the valid information we received, we complemented each other, we reconsidered or we simply validated the initial premises.

The built house: proposal themes,themes emerged in the process

In keeping with the general theme usually envisaged by the beneficiaries, material gratification or at least the retrieval of land investment, we focused on several themes that we tried to be faithful to throughout the entire development of the project.
Once the mathematical matrix encompassing the investors’ requests, the planning regulations and the personal understanding of the site along with the engineering and economic constraints was established, we introduced our own set of themes, a kind of a „story within a story within a story”:

What do we aim for?

1. A flexible current floor plan; to invariably preserve the possibility to redesign the entire floor in response to any of the investor or final beneficiary’s needs that may occur during their use of the house.
Compelled by the limits of the land, which is both too small to allow us to set up large interior courtyards and too big to allow for the natural lighting suiting our wish, we modelled the proposed volume and placed the vertical circulation and all the spaces dedicated to equipment at its darkest centre. We hence obtained a floor plan free of the configuration and inoperable spaces usually hosting house installations, we found the lowest common denominator for a habitation unit, thus sectioning the current floor so that it may be reorganized at all time: we kept the option of the five units in as many combinations as imagination paths.

2. The blessing of the sky: houses soaring into the blue. We tried to turn the disadvantage of the huge dead walls into a plus factor by turning them into structural slabs, the main supports that bolstered up the platform, which allowed us to completely eliminate the façade wall on the short side of the floor plan,. „Spaces soaring into the blue” became one of our sub-themes, very much like a „story within a story”.

3. Terraces and courtyards. We grew familiar with the neighbourhood, we got to know it and prize its qualities: what we found invigorating and attractive was precisely the surprising mix of volumes and overlapping layers of history. They all have something in common, the „feeling of home”, tranquillity and calmness only „your” own familiar place can convey: the small houses have little narrow green courtyards, people spend a good part of the day outdoors: they have trees, sunshades, bicycles, dogs, grassy walkways, the kind of simplicity so deeply rooted it cannot be contested anymore. The same scenario is found at the inter-war apartment blocks: the balconies and terraces layout resembles that of the courtyards below: clothes are hanging in the sun, coffee tables and flowers pots are found everywhere.
We wanted to attain that natural simplicity characteristic of the surrounding houses and borrow their atmosphere. How is this possible in the case of a commercial-oriented building: „a real estate project”, „a successful real estate development” whose value is primarily dependent on the square meter price?
Still, we were able to steal from the atmosphere of each street-front house and endlessly multiply it (or, anyway, as many times as planning laws allow us). How could we assign a segment of private garden to each „housing unit”, how could we eliminate that claustrophobic feeling typical of built-to-rent apartments? We chose to remove the fourth street-front wall and replace it with a transparent limit, which led to the apparition of full-height windows.
In careful observance of the continuous street front, we strictly divided each floor in as many „little houses” as street surface areas and provided them with „little gardens” – terraces large enough to comprise all the necessary utilities for outdoor activities. We elevated the structure to reach the level of the neighbouring houses, the maximum accepted height in relation to the street level and profile, and we repositioned the balconies on a „hard base”: we gradually receded the floors in order to obtain the terraces which would function as the courtyards of the upstairs apartments.

© Vlad EFTENIE
© Vlad EFTENIE

4. Gained time: the next-door office, working from home

The next-door office. A new theme emerged during the development and execution of the project: workspaces. The ground floor, originally dedicated to housing and related areas – the lobby or technical spaces, is assigned a new function, that of an office, which opens up new perspectives.
Through a fortunate conjecture, during the often visits on the building site, one of the investors noticed and judged the location from a subjective perspective and not in strictly economic terms: the atmosphere and tranquillity of the place, its rapid connection to the city centre and especially the feeling of „home”. It is during the execution phase that he decided to save several spaces in the building: the ground floor apartment and one of the upstairs apartments, which became the new headquarters of his family business and his dwelling respectively.
The office space comprises three work areas united by a central welcoming space. Although functionally separated, the street-level offices are visually united as they are delimited by transparent glazed walls. The spaces dedicated to welcoming guests and client meetings opens up to the cosy area of the green courtyard.
We later realized there was one more space in the technical area we could save: we transformed the hallway room dedicated to hosting the electrical installations (which we moved to the basement) and we obtained another office space.

Working from home. Working in the building where he lived proved satisfactory. He felt like his life was changing. His life quality improved. He was saving time and nerves, at least one hour a day spent in the traffic.

© Daniela PUIA
© Daniela PUIA
© Daniela PUIA
© Daniela PUIA

After the putting into service. The characters

Although not long has passed since the building was put into service and the new lodgers are perhaps still prey to the enthusiasm of living in a „new house”, they can certify if the initial design premises were correct and point out the pleasant and less pleasant surprises revealed by the actual inhabiting process, given the building no longer belongs to us, the interior no longer necessarily reflects the furnishing and the scenarios proposed by us as it acquired each lodger’s imprint. It is with great joy that we discovered a bit about each of these interesting people and their lives rich in experiences. We feel equally honoured and grateful for knowing them. We found out that many of the places in the house are dedicated to working purposes: the home office, the director’s creation space, the musician’s practice spot, the architect’s study area, the clothes designer’s inspiration room…
„The mornings are starting much earlier. I am (was) far from being a morning person, I used to sleep as much as I could and I tried to postpone my daily tasks as much as possible. Since I moved here, I realized a room flooded by the first sunrays can give you the courage you need every day to start afresh, can instil a sense of well-being, a kind of joy only pure light can offer.”

„The evenings last much longer now. I used to go to sleep as darkness started to fall and, once the apartment door closed, I would retire into the den that inevitably pushed me into a passive state. The terrace of the new house proves its utility, you can enjoy your own «courtyard» in the middle of the city, in the safety and intimacy of the sky; it makes you want to spend time outdoors, listen to the birds in the morning and watch the stars in the evening, listen to the urban hustle and bustle, count the city lights, read in open air, have outdoor talks with your friends under the sunshade, eat breakfast outside at your ease – it is starting to look more and more like a holiday. We moved the office at the ground floor, I simply cannot get accustomed to the thought I no longer have to go through all that traffic to get to the office nor fight for the parking space. To be able to run upstairs and allow myself a quarter of an hour’s rest and introspection whenever I lose patience or get angry with something. I actually stole an hour’s living every day”.

„Today my «cousins» came to see me. We played with water and chased the dog all around the house and terrace. It’s nice and bright, my parents are very pleased and glad, they say it’s the most beautiful house, but I still hope we can move to grandma’s house in the countryside as soon as possible”.
„The mornings are quiet and the nights are long, the rooms widely opening to the exterior make you feel you are part of nature’s urban rhythm; due to the house allotment scheme, the nearest buildings do not entail uncomfortable vicinities: the distance to the neighbouring houses is large enough and the apartments on the withdrawn floors are overlooking only the sky.”

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