Architect Statement // BARarchitekten
Just as an ecosystem consists of a complex mixture of organisms living in a particular medium, the city is also, by necessity, a mixture of people, and their varied economic, social and cultural activities, living together in the shared medium “city”. Modern developments, built to satisfy just one style of living, live off a drip feed provided by the existing city. The ecology of the city – urbanity – cannot depend on this diminishing historical fabric forever. We need to make new buildings that can positively contribute to this medium.
As interface between street and building, public and private, and working and living, the ground and first floor is the critical zone for the vitality of the city. Walter Benjamin described one version of this in Naples in 1925:
Building and action interpenetrate in the courtyards, arcades and stairways…. So the house is far less the refuge into which people retreat than the inexhaustible reservoir from which they flood out.
Having been vacated by the modern movement, the urban base was not rehabilitated by the post-modern return to perimeter block planning. The impoverished situation found in contemporary developments can be summarized as: commerce and consumption on the ground floor in good locations; otherwise, apartments on a raised ground floor (Hochparterre), with little contact to the street; or, worst of all, a parking garage and the rubbish bins. The reanimation of the base is not nostalgic – it reflects the real existing needs of the city, where living and working are not segregated, and are in a state of flux.
It makes strategic sense to focus attention on the base as a prototypical component of the city. For the peripheral zone that is in a state of transition – we propose a generously proportioned two story urban base that would fit under four (or more) floors of housing. The precise form of the base could be varied for other cities. All the spaces are “use-neutral”: they can be used for living, working, or a combination of the two. The use can charge as the context evolves. In all cases, interaction between street and building is encouraged. There is no Hochparterre. The section, with a stepped floor plate between ground and first floor, generates a variety of spatial qualities.
On the ground level, facing the street, there are high rooms, with the option of a mezzanine; they become lower at the back of the building. If used as living space, the ground level can be shielded from the street, with light entering the space through high windows. On the first floor, facing the street, there are studio spaces with external gallery access. At the back, there are two story spaces, also with gallery access. The standard unit width is four meters, though units can be joined together on the ground floor, if required. Our calculation is: small areas mean affordable rents, but this can be offset by the spatial quality – high ceilings and unfinished surfaces – and the enhanced social life inside the building and on the street.