2. Objective, Methods, Scope
The aim of this paper is to broaden notions of collective housing by bringing together ideas, approaches to, and experiences of care and the commons from political, economic and socio-cultural discourses into architecture. As we will try to demonstrate, necessary broadening, which is both a conceptual task and a situated practice, requires a discussion of the idea of extension itself.
To do so, etymology is a useful point of departure, a first method for the analysis, since it helps situate the main ideas and keywords of such a discussion.
Beginning with “extension”, “to extend”, from Anglo-French estendre, derives from the Latin word extendere, which is composed of the prefix ex, “out”, and tendere, “to stretch”. It evolved into a synonym for “increase, make longer/broader, prolong, continue and lengthen”, both in space and in time. Also, its contemporary meaning has endured as a synonym for “amplify”, from the Latin amplificare, “to enlarge”, which is related to amplus, “large, spacious, abundant”, a term derived from the lexeme plus, which simply means “more”, or “in addition to”.
In architecture, the question of “adding more”, as an aspiration and a possibility, as a value but also as a source of potential conflicts, pertains equally to both the quantitative and the qualitative, the tangible and the intangible. In the specific case of collective housing, this article examines what we need or wish for most, particularly, what those necessary or desirable things may contribute to accomplishing better dwellings and better architecture for more inclusive futures.
A second method to deal with such challenges is a historical and historiographical investigation. That is, the establishment of a framework that helps visualize the extent to which some of the most significant theoretical and practical contributions in the recent history of collective housing have understood that the role of architecture is not always to solve specific problems but also to present them in a different way that allows us to envisage new tools and approaches in order to cope with emerging issues in the field.
A third method is the analysis of two local case studies in Alicante and Murcia, Spain, whose contributions to the architecture of collective housing and to its relationship with the city can be explained through a combination of the nine ideas set forth in the section below, all of them illustrated by contemporary cases of recent Spanish housing projects created by women architects.
The aim of the following two sections—respectively, Section 3
as an exercise in conceptualizing such a comprehensive framework for the examination of current challenges and opportunities of housing; and Section 4
as the discussion of the two case studies selected as representative of the current situation in the Southeast of Spain—is thus to mobilize and expand ideas of the care and the commons into a more wide-ranging discourse on the architecture of collective housing. In order to achieve a more livable built environment, there is an urgent need for us to consider what has been neglected or forgotten so far and to develop new attitudes that incorporate the ethos of living and thinking in common. In this sense, the “care for thinking” is essentially a “matter of care” [5
], a care for speculating [6
], communicating [7
], and building together.
Therefore, this article aims to engage the idea of extension, which is formal (the aforesaid physical and conceptual nature of space [8
]) with the idea of the common, which is political, through the notion of care as the most sensitive form of reciprocity, that is, “the co-activity” defining “the basis of the political obligation” of what is truly common, as Christian Laval and Pierre Dardot have described [9
] (p. 28). It is no accident that the words “mutual” and “common” share the same Latin root munus
, the exchangeable gift.
Finally, the conclusions are drawn as a precipitate from the most significant notions detected in the theoretical development of disciplinary and extra-disciplinary discussions that can contribute most to this matter, as well as the experiential analysis of the case studies provided by this research paper, whose selection and relevance is further explained at the beginning of Section 4
3. Culture of Care and the Common Space
We need to establish a starting point as to what we understand as architecture, aware, as we are, of the complex relationship it has with language [7
], and that the very idea or architecture, as well as the meaning of the large words we use to think it collectively—domesticity, function, nature, space, type, etc.—have been constantly changing over time. For example, the notion that underlies the “aggressive”—according to Kenneth Frampton [10
] (p. 55)—yet technologically driven definition of the house as “a machine for living in” [11
] (p. 4), i.e., the artifact, is not an invention of Le Corbusier. It is there, at least, in the oldest source of architectural treatises, Vitruvius, and his understanding of architecture as the “art of building” [12
], which has been continuously adopted throughout the majority of its founding modern histories [13
Yet, from a wider, contemporary perspective, we understand architecture as a series of socio-spatial, material, and symbolic assemblages [14
] connecting the private and the public realms through multiple cross-scale relationships, which interweave buildings with cities and cities with the infrastructures [15
] and territories giving them support [16
]. Architecture, and particularly that of collective housing, involves a complex knot of conflicting agents, interests, policies, and technological forces, which shape our habitat and have a significant impact on the construction of subjectivities [16
]. According to Andrés Jaque, architecture is the result of a form of “transmaterial” production, a “processes developed through the coordination of different material media (the built environment, the biology of beings, online interaction)”. This concept is the basis of Jaque’s research and design projects, which help us “rethink daily life as the trans-enactment of heterogeneous technologies, materialities, performativities and practices” [17
] (p. 14). Similarly, it should be emphasized that to extend architecture is not only connected with expanding that which is built, that is, a problem of physical nature, but also as Rem Koolhaas intimates in his discussion of scale [18
], a conceptual matter.
It seems evident that more construction does not necessarily mean more architecture, as has been shown by the developmental growth and expansion of our cities [19
]. What is more, the qualitative nature of the notion “extending architecture” may also be applied to the elimination of excesses of all types, where space is freed through reclassification. We can also speak of architecture achieved through reduction or simplification, a position taken by n’UNDO’s think tank and technical office [20
]. A surgical procedure which, in view of the subject at hand, may be beneficial, as we will further elaborate.
There are also other ways of decoding Le Corbusier’s formula. It is enough to underline the verb “living”, as Viollet-le-Duc alludes to in his Histoire de l’habitation humaine
], and not the noun “machine”, in which, moreover, lies the unquestionable provocation intended by its author. From this point of view, that of human habitation, architecture acquires a philosophical, moral, and even metaphysical dimension. Heidegger [22
] establishes the condition of the inhabitant as pertaining to the human being, who inhabits that which is built, which leads us to take, at least, two circumstances into account: one physical-utopian and the other anthropological.
The physical-utopian circumstance is referred to in the paradise lost and yearned for, a recurrent metaphor both in Islamic culture and in the Western tradition—where it has numerous biblical connotations—and to which Semper alludes in his beautiful formula of the “tiny world” [23
] (p. 13). The anthropological is paramount to Classical treatises, from Rome onwards, with constant references to the forms and figure of the human body, which, incidentally, is always masculine and Caucasian. In this Western tradition, as Joel Sanders states, from Vitruvius to Le Corbusier, in their attempt to legitimize the principles of design practice, architects turned architecture and masculinity into mutually reinforcing ideologies [24
]. This is also Palladio’s proposal of “uno intiero e ben finito corpo
” (a whole and well finished body) [25
] (I-1 pp. 6–7). To be happy in your own skin and enjoy a welcoming environment are also two of the most fundamental aspirations of architecture throughout time and place, giving us the definitions that we are most interested in here: architecture conceived as a second skin (or third if, according to Hundertwasser [26
], we consider our clothing) and a new Eden regained.
It should be said, that in the middle of the Anthropocene [27
] or, rather, Anthrobscene
], this alluded to and longed for well-being does not and cannot solely refer to the human, but it also calls, on a horizontal plane, to the non-human [29
], to other entities beyond the human existence, with which it is necessary to make a new natural contract [30
]. In such a way that, as Alicia Puleo proposes, the slogan of the French Revolution should be reformulated to “liberty, equality and sustainability”, giving rise to an “enlightened ecofeminism” [31
] (p. 39). We share Andrea Díaz’s view [32
] that this interpretation of ecofeminism is especially successful and useful when formulating effective strategies to work on a fairer future. In Puleo’s own explanation, it must be understood as an ethical-political reflection on the relationship between humans and nature. Although there is a diversity of insightful approaches and lines of actions pertaining to ecofeminism, such as those put forth by Ariel Salleh [33
], Mary Mellor [34
], Bina Agarwal [35
], or Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva [36
], we engage here with two of the main aspects that characterize Puleo’s critical ecofeminism. Firstly, her discourse obliges us to underline that the said earthly paradise banishes violence as a source of alienation. Yet, Puleo’s proposal does not shy away from conflict as an opportunity for exercising critical spirit and discussion, as for her, the longed-for well-being is not a defense of self-absorption but a sine qua non
condition for the compassion of which this author speaks. Secondly, it “fosters the universalization” of the values associated with care for “humans and nature” [31
] (p. 42).
The culture of care, which Carol Gilligan [37
] had, already in 1982, elevated to the “ethic of care”, is intimately and directly related to one of the two definitions which, in its origins, includes the German word bauen
, which means “to build” in the sense of to erect, to construct, but also “to cherish and protect, to preserve and care for” [22
] (p. 349). This way of understanding building, not to produce but to cultivate and to foster growth, leads us to the “dwelling” which, paraphrasing Heidegger, adds up to constructing, sheltering and caring.
Izaskun Chinchilla has devoted her latest book, La ciudad de los cuidados
(City of Care
], to characterizing caring architecture, whose properties point to this qualitative and positive extension, which we seek to explore in this paper. To do so, first, we suggest a series of valuable examples of collective housing by Spanish women architects, which illustrate the parameters of our analysis, and then, we propose two more cases-studies for deeper discussion.
We must also emphasize the condition of “care” as inextricably linked to an urgent global change of paradigm of which architecture must be a reflection. Indeed, it is important to remember that etymologically, not by chance, the word “care” is itself the result of a conceptual inversion. The origin of this term, in Old English caru, meant “sorrow, grief”, and also “concern, anxiety”. Its current meaning derives from a reaction to counteract these negative feelings, “to not care”, which eventually evolved to its opposite meaning, “attention with a view to safety or protection”. The English word and its main sense—that of inward grief—is not connected with Latin cura, care. Significantly, in Spanish, the word for care, cuidar, comes from Latin cogitare, which means “to think”. Thus, this allows us to reformulate the incorporeal, and thus uninvolved, Cartesian vision “I think, therefore I am” to “I care, therefore I build” or, even “I inhabit, therefore I am satisfied”, free and at peace.
Returning to architecture, what is important is the inhabited space which gives it its meaning. “A home is not a house”, proclaims Reyner Banham [39
] and isolates himself naked inside a bubble. A house, however, must be a home. Chinchilla, for her part, also insists on this idea in her project “hogar sin casa
” (“home without a house”) [38
] (p. 137) in which, taking away the need to construct private second residences, the use of this space is made available to the citizens as a whole. To inhabit is a necessary, although perhaps not sufficient, condition of all architecture. Only by living in it in common can we understand and enjoy it fully.
Within this conceptual framework, the idea of extending architecture is concerned with, on the one hand, ways of inhabiting—the house, the city, the planet—based on mutual care. All of which suggests a different rhythm to the interplay with respect to space and time, with its delays and pauses. Those material and symbolic elements of architecture that care for people and the environment should be considered. Our survival depends on them. Architecture relates to both the supports and those activities, beyond the purely domestic, which allow people to live and cohabit in habitats which foster their self-fulfillment and their relations with others. To inhabit, then, is, both in ontological and entropic terms, to interchange with. It requires of architecture a physical condition, which implies design and production (efficient solutions which minimize their impact) and, also, maintenance (the efficacy of policies and economies), and other social condition, which lead to the forging of emotional ties and resilience.
On the other hand, we cannot imagine an extension of architecture without considering the common, that is to say, that which emerges somewhere between the private and the public and, thus, is the result of an equal balance, an even dialogue. The common, staying true to its etymology—munus
, which is simultaneously what must be actively fulfilled (a task, a function, a commission, etc.) and the gift that we are obliged to repay in exchange for that obligation [9
]—it is, as Marina Garcés reminds us [40
] (p. 125), “that which articulates the empty space of the community”, the debt or the moral responsibility that we are obliged to contribute to the other members of our community.
In view of this, the following presentation is a conceptual and political agenda consisting of a series of ideas or idées-force
(driving ideas, ideas in action—to reinterpret Fouillée’s theories [41
]), exemplified by collective housing projects that are not particularly media-friendly or are apart from the hegemonic and geographically canonical discourse. This selection of cases pays special attention to those partially or wholly undertaken by Spanish women architects, which aim to sustain and illustrate the following reflections:
To facilitate the provision of care, we need:
More free time, or the necessity of restful peace and quiet;
More empty space after disposing of unnecessary obstacles;
More ways of inhabiting and becoming involved;
More inhabitants determined and with the will to inhabit.
3.1. More Free Time, or the Necessity of Restful Peace and Quiet
Space and time are concepts that correspond to each other. Haste, for example, which supposes a lack of time, “narrows” the space, as demonstrated by the rapids of a river caused by a narrowing of the landscape where the river passes; or the so-called musical stretti (literally meaning narrows) of a fugue, known as such because the entry of the voices in counterpoint pile up on and overlap with each other. In the case of the river, it is the space which is narrowed; in that of the music, it is time, but in both cases the consequence is a velocity that accelerates events.
Online culture, in that it rewards and insists on the dominance of “now” and “real time”, is a contradiction of the sense and sensibilities of space. To linger, to pause, however, dilates and prolongs the sensation of time, expanding our Bergsonian perception of time [42
], holding it back. Even though this is merely an illusion, it is fundamental for the social psychology of space. Architecture in combination with time contributes to this therapy, whose imaginary character makes it no less efficient. Care is interlaced with rest, which means relaxation and support, in both a literal (base, fundament) and metaphorical (assistance, stimulation) sense.
Far from achieving their objective of connection and interconnection, the technologies of simultaneous presence have not reduced the working day, neither have they contributed to saving time, which we can devote to other aspects of life and other ways of living together. On the contrary, the unstoppable advance of digitalization, first, gave rise to a new social contract in which the increasingly vulnerable classes rendered their talent and dedication to a market that has greatly profited from their vocation [43
]; and, then later, with the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic it renegotiated flexibility in terms of complete availability. Thus, in the isolation and fragmentation of our homes, we are subject to the threat of an absolute control, which can always disconnect us at will, as Slavoj Žižek reminds us [44
It is here where architecture must decide how to react in order to overrun this controlled space with a new design logic, which allows us “to smooth, collapse, or expel the stratified mechanizations of lived time” [45
] (p. 5). According to Jill Stoner, here “emerges the sense of the political with which minor architectures are concerned. As conflict rises up, it reformulates collapsed time back into an undifferentiated stream. Fluid time (and its attendant space) surrounds and overwhelms the management of lived time; it is a contestation to management” [45
] (p. 5).
The winning project at Europan-Spain 7 in La Unión (Murcia), by Gálvez + Wieczorek (2003), is representative of this discourse, in that it puts forward a series of spatial experiences that seek to make human desires and collective imagination habitable. In order to do this, the creators propose that notions such as silence and rest become categories that define the habitation of the living space (Figure 1
3.2. More Empty Space after Disposing of Unnecessary Obstacles
One efficient and non-aggressive way of expanding space is to clear it of barriers and obstacles, emptying it out. “Fewer” things “is more” space (we understand this as referring to objects, but above all, pointless divisions and partitions). Some of the lessons learnt from modernity are still valid in this respect. If to this empty space (il vuoto
) of which Bruno Zevi spoke [46
] in his defense of modern architecture, we add transparency—physical, social and political—which can extend inhabitable space, we gain a wider range of angles of sight. Because, in fact, the empty and quantifiable space of modernity [47
], with its radical detachment from all that is outside architecture, as Pier Vittorio Aureli states [48
] (p. 46), “precisely reflects that which one cannot see: the generic space of interchange and reproduction”, which is typical of capitalist logic.
Many years hence, Amos Rapoport [49
] declared that the primary quality of space is quantity, but let us not fall into the trap of fantasizing about limitless space. Architectural space is limited by the material elements that define it both in terms of quantity and quality. Since Bruno Zevi [46
] and particularly after Aldo van Eyck put forth his “in-between” notion in 1962 [50
]—an idea later appropriated by Herman Hertzberger [51
] and more recently explored successfully by Atelier Bow-Wow [52
]—the conceptual achievements of spatialism have favored a very fertile poetry of vacuum and concavity, but also one which is achieved only when the space becomes perceivable. Neither time nor space, when considered as absolutes, are the concern of architecture but of philosophy and science [53
Caring architecture requires both material and immaterial design and production. Yet, it always bears in mind that more matter means more deterioration [54
]. In line with the Heideggerian “to build” polysemy, the immaterial nature of care—diversity, trust, networks of affection—is inextricably linked to material technologies, which are the basis of the dwelling. Frequently, the architect acts as an intermediary between the desires, resources, as well as life patterns of the inhabitants, and the way in which these things occur in space and in time. The architect brings their expert knowledge, which interprets a series of immaterial demands in terms of spatial, material and symbolic culture [56
]. For this reason, production must be reduced to the essential minimum in terms of achieving the maximum potential. Not only as a guarantee of minimizing consumption of resources, but also of the determinism related to the production of modern space. In this sense, if we invert Joseph Raphson’s axiom to read, “Action is pure space”, as Jill Stoner proposes, “then then we encounter architecture’s back door. Yet there is no arrival; instead, this door is an exit toward uncertainty” [45
] (p. 15). The possibility of not having a clear objective has been little explored in architecture—beyond a resistance to convention or to following a well-travelled path—however, sometimes it is not necessary to know where one is going, it is enough to know where one does not wish to go [57
Peris + Toral Arquitectes’s projects of collective housing for elderly people in Barcelona (2008–2017) and social housing in Ibiza—currently under construction—exemplify this search for essentiality, for fluid and interrelated spaces, open to promising transformations and consequently different appropriations. In the first of these cases, the building’s natural organization around a central core facilitates the sharing of spaces for common uses, whereas, in the second one, the sequence of communicating rooms makes the domestic easily reconfigurable (Figure 2
3.3. More Ways of Inhabiting and Becoming Involved
For several decades now, debate has opened up on the capacity of architecture to accommodate and even promote new ways of inhabiting [58
]. Architectural practices are capable of fostering or hindering multiple, alternative ways of experiencing domesticity, beyond and sometimes in resistance to the traditional structures of modernity, which conceived the inhabitant as being within a homogeneous series of spatial, social, and gender categories. The idea of the houses that we live in being machines had been rendered obsolete even before the first post-modern debates on new family, affective, or identity models began to put their focus on the specific user rather than a generic customer [60
]. As Marina Otero writes, “The ruins of modernity along with the new technologies have engendered other forms of homogeneity, control, and exclusion, but also a series of collective human and non-human assemblages where the categories of subject and object are dissolved; archiurbanisms of conflict and of affections, of disputes and dissidence, of fear and eroticism” [61
] (p. 13), online/offline domesticity, in sum, as a political arena, as defended by Jaque [62
Moreover, there are many diverse Spanish proposals and research studies that address the question of an “expanded and increased domesticity” [63
] (p. 85) through new relationships of functional interdependence, through devices and technology which connect the dwelling both to its immediate surrounding and to the wider network of services and infrastructures. Among them, Anna Puigjnaer’s Kitchenless City
, which explores the model of shared housing, or the projects set out by María Langarita and Víctor Navarro in Barcelona (2015) and Málaga (2017), where they proposed the creation of new ways of inhabiting from the starting point of social cohesion and urban diversity, as well as strategies that go beyond the limits of construction (Figure 3
Once again, primum vivere
(first living), that is, life itself, has surpassed the discipline, deinde philosophari
(then thinking), and it has been filled with innovative, creative, affective, and sympathetic ways to understand the act of living together, intimately and collectively—also with non-human inhabitants. Extending architecture in the above sense, aimed at widening its gaze, and incorporating new angles of sight, like those that gender perspective brings in order to nurture and favor, through our homes, new and diverse ways of life, among which is vegetation—largely forgotten, falsely justified, or reduced to mere ornament by architecture, and yet vital for our future on this planet. For this reason, these new ways of inhabiting and cohabiting, of living in common, add up to real extension as they mean living in places which are kinder, more comfortable, and more inclusive, as elaborated later, for instance, in the discussion of the first case study (Section 4.1
). Consequently, this extension cannot limit itself to merely being an architectural redesigning of our dwellings, but also it must seek to be an authentic paradigmatic cultural shift. In order to achieve this, “caring speculation” [64
], as an alternative design strategy suggested by ecofeminism, allows us to unveil the invisible, to reveal the contents of the black boxes that oversee our lives and, to ask ourselves “what would happen if...”, to rethink that which exists “so that other narratives and other futures may emerge” [64
] (p. 381). Among them, one in which the architecture of our dwellings converts them into the vital hubs of our network and economies of care, allowing us to immerse ourselves in and enjoy the world around us, no longer as the universal space of modernity but as a place which offers a true physical and metaphysical mix similar to that which sustains the symbiotic relationship of plants that support life on Earth [65
There, precisely, understanding the need for architecture to overrule its own institutionalism and interweave itself into new ways of political and social action, which surpass the logic of formal design, is where architecture becomes more vulnerable, but also, more relevant.
3.4. More Inhabitants Determined and with the Will to Inhabit
Extended architecture is not that in which the most possible people can fit, but that in which the biggest diversity of them feels comfortable. As opposed to architecture designed and built with segregation in mind, that which expands its horizons welcomes complexity, difference, and the mix of people, which does not end up in conflict but in enrichment and a variety of sensibilities and experiences. The gender perspective is wholly pertinent to this aspect as it brings with it a viewpoint where the other, the others, the minorities, those excluded from the hegemonic discourses, become the focus of attention on which the alternatives may be built.
We should ask ourselves if architecture can be extended, in terms of the superior quality of built objects [66
], to all the strata and tiers of society. The answer would be yes, if, as with other material and spiritual goods, adequate conditions were in place for a fair and equal distribution of economic and cultural wealth. However, with the understanding that economic power without an adequate system of cultural values does not guarantee architectural quality. And further to this, there is no doubt that architecture must and can well assume the shape of an economic—which is the opposite of cheap—construction and, more importantly, without the need to aestheticize precariousness. There are good examples of it, not at all Elemental
, it must be said, as their essential cause is always of a cultural nature.
In this context, the idea of extending architecture concerns, on the one hand, as we have seen, ways of inhabiting and the reciprocal relationship between space and time. On the other, it is not possible to conceive this expansion without counting on that which is common, which, as the historian and architect Reinhold Martin points out [67
], must not be confused with that which is public. On this point, it should be remembered also that both the private and the public indicate who is the owner of something: an individual or various people in the first case, and the state or other administration in the second. Over and above ownership, which, of course, we have to consider, however, stands use and usage, this is what brings us to distinguish between single ownership (belonging to an individual) and the common (to several individuals).
Common things, according to Roman law, and by their very nature, do not belong to anybody and their use is common to all; they play a special role in the quality of architecture as the environment and the basis of individual and shared life. The common, itself, points to an idea of free association, without an a priori or previous categorization, in order to undertake a collective activity orientated towards the future; this is the point of connection, invoking a constructive horizon. It is a type of community production that guarantees the participation of those affected in the decision-making and which in the words of architect and philosopher Jorge León Casero [68
], is not “merely a simple form of collective management which is more or less minority or isolated, but a new civilizing project completely apart from the ownership logic that has dominated Western civilization for the last two thousand years”. Marina Garcés [40
], starting from what we have learned from critical thought and the social movements of the last two decades, calls on us to discover the “common world” in which we are already immersed and the possibilities that open up when we share what separates us. In this way, she ratifies the current strength of feminism and its ever-stronger alliance with ecology—the abovementioned ecofeminism—defended among others by Yayo Herrero [69
], and with different forms of anticapitalism.
As an illustration of this point, we highlight Casanova + Hernandez Architects’ project in Groningen (2001–2012) (Figure 4
). This is a work that examines the integration of diverse types of inhabitant, including those with disability, by way of a hybrid—residential and healthcare—program that is distributed and mixed through the housing building made up of different typologies and requirements depending on who inhabits them. The project is a search for social interaction within collective living space based on protection. Consequently, its exterior, which is rather neutral, is far from the usual image of a hospital that one would imagine.
In order to nurture and strengthen the emergence of the common in architecture, we need:
More shared space instead of merely flexible types;
More crossed gazes;
More urban culture to facilitate exchange;
More balance, definitively;
And fewer (false) utopias.
3.5. More Shared Space Instead of Merely Flexible Types
The problem of extension is, as is the case of freedom, your own ends where another’s begins, a problem of limits or, looked at another way, of balance: How far does it go? Extending without “occupying” the common would be a more than justifiable objective to consider. This leads us to the practice of sharing, facilitating, through architecture, at least three types of spaces: common areas, such as hallways, doorways, stairs, patios, roofs, etc.; transition areas [70
], such as porticos, porches or the traditional Japanese engawa
; and polyvalent and/or multi-use spaces, both outside and inside the dwelling itself.
On the most radical edge of this, as Josep Maria Montaner points out, the search for new systems that are as flexible as possible, could even lead to “the negation of any typological structure, breaking it up into totally free floor layouts”, where use is facilitated by systems of objects, as previously proposed by Ábalos & Herreros [71
] (p. 78).
On this point, we need to lay emphasis on the fact that adaptability and versatility are not synonymous with flexibility. The meaning of the latter is sometimes overly associated with precariousness and insecurity, but even so, as Oliver Wainwright warns, the seductive myth of flexibility and the dream of endlessly adaptable modular systems still have an intoxicating hold on architects. Wainwright criticizes the alleged flexibility and lack of quality of, among other increasingly small contemporary spaces, the new workplaces promoted by tech companies, the growing industry of ‘co-living’ housing developments, and fashionable pile’em-high micro-homes. All of them are “marketed as a mechanism of freedom, liberating the user from the shackles of fixed surroundings”, and yet they have precisely the opposite effect. “The culture of ‘hot-desking’ is merely a means of cramming ever more workers into ever smaller spaces, while homes with ‘flexible’ interiors serve to disguise the relentless eradication of space standards” [72
] (p. 79). Again, affordable cannot and should not mean cheap.
In a context closer to home, the complex of apartments for young and first-time renters by Blanca Lleó in Barcelona (2005–2006) opts for a series of shared community spaces, among which a day care center and a kindergarten complete the program of the building. It is a volume perforated with open spaces, terraces, covered patios, and intermediate areas between the private and the public (Figure 5
3.6. More Crossed Gazes
Extension is a question of horizons, both visual and mental. In the case of the first, we have already referred to the extension produced by empty space and transparency, through which the space is expanded beyond its limits. In the case of the second, this is a theme that entwines the inhabitants with their habits, more especially, in the way they inhabit beyond the particular type of habitation. It is no accident that we speak of “broadening our horizons”. Reasons and emotions are also factors we should consider.
It is worth remembering that in Japanese landscaping vernacular, the expression shakkei exists, which refers to the background landscape, which prolongs the depth of a framed vantage point in a garden. This borrowed panorama takes advantage, if that were possible, of the apparently limitless open space, restricted only by the horizon.
The intergenerational housing project in Poblenou, Barcelona, by Renau Bartumeus (2004–2008), is comprised of a series of articulated and differentiated pieces that seek to provide solutions to the spatial constraints of the urban context in which it is built (Figure 6
). The project interacts by connecting with the nearby streets and public spaces, seeking continuities and a dialogue with the scale of the city. These women architects generate a vast interior empty space divided into two parts: one more public intended for younger people, and the other more private intended for the more elderly. These exterior spaces are complemented by other interior community spaces that lead up to wide corridors. These, in turn, allow access to the living units, which make the most of the views and orientations.
3.7. More Urban Culture to Facilitate Exchange
When considering the extension of architecture, the lessons learnt from urban morphology and its capacity to respond to changing lifestyles—via its relationship with space types—can be very useful. This means concepts of “extension” (to grow in an orderly fashion) or of “interior refurbishment” (change, normally realigning and refreshing), with all their benefits, successful experiences, and also their historic fiascoes. The dialectics between the public and the private produce a whole sophistry from this discourse, which touches, on occasion, upon contradictions such as the notion of “private cities” [73
] (p. 85), which are closed and suburbanized.
Whatever the case, it would not be unfitting to think through the proposals put forward by the slow cities
], such as the “15-minute cities” concept and its improvement of quality of life, to which compact, dense, and prone to socialization types, such as courtyard housing, typical of the Mediterranean urban fabric and culture, can contribute. The evidence is there, once again, that slow mobility, based on the pedestrian nature of the citizen, the act of going slowly, is capable of extending, if not in reality, in the perception and the experience of urban space.
Hartmut Rosa [75
] is a scholar of acceleration in contemporary society, who speaks of the “dynamic stability” imposed by modernity as a cultural superstructure. This is related to the social alienation created by movement, which generates a syndrome of dislocation and a loss of roots. Similarly, people are constantly moving and no longer belong to a place. Many just live through their screens. They lose contact with their existential and physical space. The reality is that to stabilize the current system means an acceptation of the productive dynamics associated with indefinite growth. It is also true that the developmental, extractive system works all on its own. It is conservative because it entails what Habermas [76
] calls “the exhaustion of utopian energy”. Today’s utopia may well be, perhaps, the idea of “serene de-growth” [77
One representative example might be the work of Carmen Espegel in Lavapiés, Madrid (2001–2004), who took advantage of the circumstances imposed by the urban landscape to successfully transform and adapt the characteristic corrala
—or patio of typical neighborhood dwellings (Figure 7
). The building designed for the rehousing of local residents adapts to the topography of the street and the identity of the neighborhood, increasing the possibilities of its inhabitants by creating a progression of transition space: the street, the patio, the walkway, and the stairs.
3.8. More Balance, Definitively
It makes no sense to speak of any strategies of extending architecture without considering the tension between the private and the public. The possibility of success and continuity of any adopted solution lies in the successful balancing of these two factors.
Another equilibrium that is essential to achieve is that of the horizontal (the floor plan) and the vertical (the height). The first is limited. The second might be unlimited. Yet, when the idea of extension tempts us to take flight, to erect cantilevers, high and wide, private and privileged, in detriment to the horizontal common floor space, conflict arises.
Something similar happens when we mount air-conditioning systems with exterior condenser units. In this case, the façade becomes an energy boundary between the private and the public, which guarantees individual comfort at the expense of loss of common environmental quality [55
When buildings rise and expand, the urban landscape around shrinks. The population grows so the area per inhabitant decreases [79
]. The joies essentielles
(essential joys) of the surrounding area are also decreased: less sunshine, less air, less light, less greenery for all, all for the benefit of the few. Their privileges override the well-being of the community. The pedestrian on the street loses what the private property owner gains.
Finding inspired solutions to the numerous and diverse challenges and conflicts of collective housing is thus a major concern to professionals and stakeholders in architecture, civil engineering, urban planning, landscape design, and urban ecology. Therefore, it is a matter of balance between expert and non-expert “situated knowledges” [80
]. Inhabitant’s satisfaction vis-à-vis their built environment is consequential not only in terms of indoor comfort parameters and the quality of nearby facilities and amenities but also through confident, constructive relationships with neighbors, which can be facilitated by means of an integrated, balanced design.
The balance between public and private space is seen as a primordial aspect in two housing projects in Coslada, Madrid, by Temperaturas Extremas Office.
The first one (2004–2006) shows a concern for generating transition spaces, which enables relations between neighbors (Figure 8
a). They are spaces that lack hierarchy and are open to multiple possibilities of use where habitability and sociability meet.
The second (2005–2012) is a hybrid complex, composed of 118 dwellings, commercial units, offices, and parking facilities (Figure 8
b). The architects propose a public space on the ground floor, which leads through a series of strategically located series of stairs and elevators to a large, elevated plaza. This forms the nucleus of the project, by way of the lobby of the four residential blocks, which connect common areas and the access to the complex.
3.9. And Fewer (False) Utopias
The current environmental and health crisis has destroyed the city as we knew it, turning it into a hostile, unhealthy, and dangerous place, or simply a place that has been emptied out of all its activity. To emigrate to spaces that we believe are unpolluted—although fewer and fewer of such places exist in what is left of the world [81
]—to seek the promise of a new life in nature is simply equally as irresponsible as trying to solve the world’s problems by turning to the life of a hermit. In these times of epoché
, of the suspension of sociability [82
], of hyperreality, and “destructive plasticity” [83
], only coexistence can save us from the complete dismantling of life.
As an illustration of this idea, which necessarily implies learning to confront disputed values, managing conflicts, and forging alliances, we want to put forward the case of the regeneration of the degraded Aeropuerto neighborhood, in Madrid, by Mireya Reguart and José Luis Delgado (Figure 9
). This is a project, currently in process, which seeks to re-establish the citizen values and identity of the neighborhood by way of the rehabilitation of its housing units and open spaces. In order to do this, they have faced numerous problems and difficulties, among which: the necessity that, while the work continues, its inhabitants are able to still live in their homes, and this along with the management of grants and subsidies by the architects or the financing that the construction company must assume until public finance is made effective. It is, thus, an example of ambitious and implicated architecture carried out from the standpoint of social responsibility demonstrated by the architects who make the most of the scarce resources they have at hand. The optimal, Jaque reminds us, is always worse than the available [62
5. For Further Thought…
Collective housing, especially that which is linked to programs and policies of public housing, has been at the very center of disciplinary debates as an essential concern of modernism. As Josep Maria Montaner argues, during a large part of the 20th century, “it was one of the essential motors of the evolution of architecture and of cities” [100
] (p. 13), and the most talented architects devoted their energy to it. In this sense, Le Corbusier’s vision of architecture as a necessary step towards a better future, as well as his conviction that the housing question was “at the root of the social unrest” [11
] (p. 8) of his time are still pertinent. Nevertheless, architecture’s commitment to collective housing, while a necessary condition, has not been enough. It is of course a fundamental theme, to which notable buildings have contributed; it is sufficient to recall the distinguished proposals of the latest EU Mies van der Rohe Awards, from deFlat restauration in Amsterdam and Lacaton & Vassal’s Grand Parc Bordeaux to the most recent nomination of La Borda Co-Housing project in Barcelona [101
]. Yet, the issue of collective housing, because of its many difficulties and implications beyond the discipline itself, is far from being resolved by architecture alone; architects have learnt indeed that they cannot plan all the contingencies of people’s lives from their drawing boards [102
], nor manage the uncertainties of future.
At the height of World War II, urban planner and housing expert Catherine Bauer already remarked that collective housing has three intertwined aspects to be considered: “as a vital industry in terms of its efficiency, stability and effective consumer’s market; as a prime social problem” and “as a major element in the physical structure and quality of cites”. Progress in these three categories, she further explained, was not always synchronized [103
] (p. 18). Soon afterwards, Bauer explained that real evolution was only achieved when all agents involved in the production of housing recognized—even if reluctantly—“The responsibility they all hold in the life of the community and the need for official action and regulation in favor of the public interest” [104
] (p. 242). And that only occurs, adds Bauer, in times of authentic social emergency, those in which citizens finally realize that responsibility “for the environment, for their cities, for their homes” lies with all areas of government and, “hence, with they themselves” [104
] (p. 247). That is, when it becomes a common concern.
In effect, only by thinking in common can we assume the ideas set out in this research article. Partly, due to their intrinsic complexity and partly because this investigation interweaves dialectic relationships whose synthesis is a difficult and delicate balance. A weighing up and a series of nuances which require that beyond addressing the problems and challenges of contemporary housing from the standpoint of the public-private dichotomy, it is reimagined as a common, instead of a commodity. Indeed, “just as there is no such thing as ‘a private’, only things held-in-private, there isn’t ‘a common’, only things-held-in common” [90
] (p. 45). In truth, as Manuel Borja-Villel expertly argues, the common is not a mere extension of the individual, but something that never comes to an end: “the common is only developed through the other and by the other in the common place
, in the fact of being-in-common
] (p. 1).
More than ever, the emergencies and isolation of these months show that the notion of collective housing, beyond the success or failure of particular cases, must be extended by way of proposals that, above all, favor cohabitation and care and, in this way, truly feeling part of a community, we are capable of constructing and devoting our enthusiasm to a new collective project. If, as Sara Ahmed [106
] (p. 18) writes, emotions are impressions upon or made by others, ideas or bodies, individual or collective, and this association is contingent—“it involves contact”—then the challenge that faces the architecture of today is that which Álex Grijelmo reminds us, “‘transmission’ and ‘contact’ “are from their origins twin ideas, kindred spirits of vocabulary” [107
] and, just as contact transmits the virus, it also transmits the emotions that nourish our ideas [108
Re-imaging the architecture of collective housing as a common project is essentially a relational process moving from the center of that which is established and apparently well known to the uncertainties and opportunities of its margins. Limits and limitations usually reveal themselves as the true places of contact with otherness. Then, “thinking with care” and “care for thinking”, to rephrase María Puig de la Bellacasa [5
], become the two sides of a vital requisite for fully living in interdependent worlds where the extension of thought, that is, thinking otherwise, is a critical imperative. One that necessitates a broad vision of caring (“thinking-with, dissenting-within and thinking-for” [109
]) in order to be ready for and open to the unexpected [110