Mirador in Madrid, Spain by MVRDV

On the heels of a building boom and housing shortage in Spain, MVRDV was commissioned to design the Mirador, a 21-story, 156-unit apartment building with local architect Blanca LleĆ³. Departing from the drab, conventional housing surrounding Mirador's site, the architects created a distinctive silhouette by grouping nine blocks arranged around a communal outdoor void.

The articulation of these blocks is apparent in the exterior palette, equal parts stone, concrete and tile. These white, gray and black colors are offset bands of orange paint that are supposed to the building's circulation. The strips of orange give the building an extra kick in its otherwise colorless exterior, like the center opening legible from a distance. Furthermore each block provides its own type of unit plan, offering then at least nine types of apartments for tenants.

Like Machado and Silvetti's Harvard dormitory, the Mirador uses a multi-story truss to create its unique expression. Looking closely at the image at left, one can trace the diagonal bracing where windows have been omitted. Structural solutions like this are not new to MVRDV, who have used dramatic cantilevers for similar effect. Here, the scale is larger so therefore the visual impact is greater, scaled to the urban vista and intended to dwarf its surroundings.

Beyond the novel form and donut silhouette, the communal plaza is the design's greatest asset, a communal space with the potential for some dramatic picnics. Early images show an unfortunately barren surface, broken by the occasional sunken pit for relief from the wind. Tall glass barriers at the edge are provided for safety, but hopefully over time the residents will transform the plaza into a functional environment for communal activities. This reciprocal relationship (creating something for both the city and the residents) raises the design over the norm. It should be interesting to see what the Mirador spawns in the future as more housing is built around it.