Monday, February 07, 2011

Book Review: Total Housing

Total Housing: Alternatives to Urban Sprawl edited by Actar
Actar, 2010
Paperback, 350 pages

In the realm of architecture books collecting modern and contemporary buildings and projects, the most popular are surely ones focused on houses and housing. Single-family houses may make up the bulk of these books, but as the suburban sprawl that supports them is increasingly realized as an unsustainable urban condition, more titles and pages devoted to multi-family housing. (Examples include DBOOK, HoCo, and Key Urban Housing.) This building type is also the domain for more and more creative architectural responses to dense and sustainable living. These range from infill projects with a few units to whole blocks with multiple buildings. Such is the case with this collection of 61 projects in 22 countries on four continents, examples born from last decade's building boom taking place around the world.

As the subtitle of the book illustrates, these examples are presented as "alternatives to sprawl." Given that the projects are presented with photos and drawings focusing on the architectural designs, they are alternatives in the quantity of units, site coverage (density), and height. Context is not really explored, even though it is is an important consideration when determining sprawl's antidote. Some projects are found in dense cities, while others populate new towns, such as those outside Madrid. But in most cases the surroundings are not clear (site plans are rare), so the way each project plugs into its milieu is played down in favor of how the units are articulated into what are in essence contained worlds, how the buildings are expressed on the exterior, and how the designs relate to each other (a handy unit-by-unit comparison begins the book). Here they are alternatives because they exist, because they are not single-family houses; they are examples of people living together rather than apart.

The projects are presented in order of the number of units, from 4 to 750. A number of the buildings are fairly well known, gracing numerous publications elsewhere (SHoP Architects' Porter House Condo, Elemental's Quinta Monroy, BIG/JDS's Mountain Dwellings, Steven Holl's Linked Hybrid); a few have been featured on this web page (SVA's Condominium Trnovski Pristan, Coll-Leclerc's LV Building Complex, MVRDV's Mirador, Lundgaard & Tranberg's Tietgen Residence Hall); and others are unknown (to me) gems that stand out from the rest (Senan Abdelqader's Mashrabiya House, NL Architects' Funen Block K, Njiric Arhitekti's Rural Mat, Koko Architects' Fahle Building). Overall the selection if exemplary, to agree with the book's own appreciative, back-jacket assessment. Even though the collection is fairly Euro-centric, the diversity is great, be it the number of units, project heights (most are mid-rise, but towers and walk-ups are included), and location. Accompanying the book is a Total Housing web page with supplementary videos and interviews.