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Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: Density Is Home

Density Is Home: Housing by a+t Research Group by Aurora Fernández Per, Javier Mozas, Javier Arpa
a+t, 2011
Paperback, 400 pages

The latest in a+t's Density Series -- following Density, Density Projects, DBOOKHoCo, and NEXT -- extends the collection of remarkable collective housing, this time focusing on the individual units, the context, and the subjectivity that links the two. The editors want to focus on dwellings that are desirable, like the Ernesto N. Rogers quote in their introduction: "A house is not a house if it does not contain a corner to read poetry...I want a house which resembles me (the best of me): a house which resembles my humanity." Architects should be the best people to create desirable homes in buildings with ten or even a hundred or more other apartments, yet this happens only when they go beyond the developer's requirements, a tricky proposition. An ideal urban home should give the resident a layout they like to be in, inside a building that successfully interacts with its surroundings, even improving its context in the process.

It is evident that the 37 projects in this collection aim for that sort of goal, but the same can be said about those found in the other Density Series books. But here the presentation plays down the data mining of the other books. To be sure, some stats are found at the beginning of each project, but photos and drawings dominate the page layouts. Fourteen of the 37 projects are further illustrated with plan sketches (like the cover) that highlight various experiential aspects of the homes, be it flexible living spaces, common circulation, facades, or even energy use. The bulk of the book places the projects into five chapters, each based on a different urban context: Dispersed City, Expansive City, Modern City, Core of the City, Recycled City. Previous titles in the Density Series ordered projects based on quantitative factors, mainly density but also housing costs. The theme of context here is a nice and appropriate change of pace, elevating the importance of the architects' responses to their surroundings, linking apartments to the various urban situations that are being filled in as people move back into the city.

All but two of the projects are in Western Europe, a higher percentage than the previous titles. While I would have liked to have seen North and South American projects (the two projects outside the EU are found in Japan), I'm not sure they would have worked within the context that the editors have set up. The historic core, for example, is much different in Western Europe than it is in the United States. Further considering social structure, daily life, and the floor plans that result -- not to mention construction and other factors -- the resulting projects allow comparisons to be made across a fairly narrow spectrum. Does this mean the book will only appeal to those involved in similar projects in Western Europe? Hardly. There are a lot of great designs with solid documentation, giving other architects something to learn that can be applied in different ways, whatever the context may be.

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