Book Review: Global Housing Projects

Global Housing Projects: 25 buildings since 1980 edited by Josep Lluís Mateo & Ramias Steinemann
Actar, 2008

Intended as "an inventory-cum-manual" on housing projects from 1980 to present, this book is part of the Architectural Papers series from ETH Zurich. A product of teaching practice at the Swiss school, the selection includes buildings that have proven their worth over a rather short amount of time, such as Charles Correa's 1983 Kanchanjunga project in Mumbai and OMA's Nexus Housing in Fukuoka, Japan. At the same time the more recent projects are not granted this sort of hindsight, and their eclecticism exhibits the shifts in architectural thinking and practice over this brief, roughly 25-year period. And even though the selections aren't as global as the title indicates (2/3 of the projects are in Europe), there is a diversity in the housing in terms of scale, context, form and layout.

To avoid being solely a "floor plan atlas" the presentation of each project includes a text description, site plan, sections, and photographs. Each building is afforded eight pages, eliminating any preferences among the 25 projects, though sometimes this leaves one wanting more, be it drawings, photos or text. My favorite presentation is Kanchanjunga, which includes sections of the individual units, complex interlocking ones reminiscent of Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation, but with more variety. In concert with the plans and photos, these drawings help one understand the spaces, they help one locate themselves within the unit. Following the 25 projects are a number of varied essays on housing, and while their relationship to the projects is not direct, their presence layers additional considerations over what's found in the preceding architectural output. It's the "thinking" portion of the book, balancing the "practice" that came before. Overall it's a less-than-definitive account of housing's recent past, but one with some unknown gems and a lot to think about.