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Friday, February 08, 2013

28 in 28 #8: Townhouses

February is Book Month on A Daily Dose of Architecture. The "28 in 28" series features a different book every day of the month.

Construction and Design Manual: Townhouses by Hans Stimmann
DOM Publishers, 2011
Hardcover, 300 pages

When I was taking a virtual tour of Berlin's blurry buildings last year, little did I know that the row of townhouses I honed in on is home to DOM Publishers, headed by architect Phillipp Meuser. Since 2005 the imprint has released book after book of helpful and well-made architectural guides and construction and design manuals, among other types of titles. Falling into the construction and design manual category is this book on townhouses, a topic that DOM and Hans Stimmann should be familiar with, given the former's location within the blurry Friedrichswerder ensemble (the longest chapter in the book) and the latter's role as Berlin's Senate Building Director for Urban Development for 15 years.

Stimmann's background tempers much of the book, particularly the introduction's "farewell to the machine for living in," a post-WWII history of housing in Berlin. He is in favor of the city's traditional urban morphology over modernist slabs and other typologies at odds with it. In his tenure as building director he capped building heights below 10 stories and instituted other measures in favor of "the uniform streetscapes and piazzas of old Europe," as the New York Times described it. His positions also favor private development over public housing, with the former taking shape as townhouses and the latter indicative of the slabs that betray the city's organic morphology.

So Stimmann's manual of townhouses is also a document of his impact on Berlin, studied in 50 projects completed since he retired in 2006. He sees that "the bourgeois individual has returned from the suburbs to the city in search of the urban" (certainly not a condition limited to Berlin), but where is the urbanity in a 700-sm townhouse? Does it provide the density and diversity that is truly urban? In this vein the best case studies occur where multiple families and mixes of uses are found in one building, and thankfully there are a good number of those.

My initial consternation with the lack of color photographs for the exteriors of the townhouses was abated slightly by the catalog of elements (facade, entrance, living room, kitchen, bathroom, staircase, exterior) that ends the book. This section includes color photos that are placed side by side for easy comparison. The resulting variety may not be as great as the historically organic cityscapes that Stimmann embraces, but the variations are where the book's value can be found. This is not a manual that says, "this is the way to design a townhouse." Rather, it's a collection of alternatives that inspire and have potential application beyond the confines of Berlin.

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