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The thesis proposal of Growth and Change was for a high-rise housing complex with integrated, smaller commercial and social programmes. The proposal was situated in Hackney in London. With the aim to enable loose social interaction but close, community-like relationships between the inhabitants, the project was developed on the basis of the concept of habitats in combination with the natural phenomena of growth and change. In this manner, the project assimilated ubiquitous urban dynamics and deployed this to stage private and public life within a “vertical city” organisation.

Habitat

The concept of habitat was understood as having the capacity to engender a symbiosis of shared spaces with circulation and private space. By networking the organisation of these main type of spaces, the hypothesis was that social habitats would emerge.

Paul Rudolph’s The Colonnade Condominiums (Singapore, 1980) served as a principle reference for planning the design work. Rudolph’s residential high-rise project exemplifies an innovative use of a repetitive structural framework that accommodates one-storey, double-height, prefabricated cuboid units. The Colonnade comprises of four rectangular towers, each organised by the expandable three-dimensional grid while the vertical circulation is placed between the towers. The structural organisation allows for a flexible use of open and enclosed programmes that in turn generate shared and intimate spaces within each apartment.

Growth and Branching

With the ambition to stage a dynamical design process with the potential of engendering habitats, research was undertaken on the phenomenon of living formation in mycelia, the vegetative part of a fungus through which mushrooms absorb nutrients from their environment as they spread out. Mycelia form a robust, self-organised network and has a high capability to dynamically change its structural properties. The organisation of mycelia exemplifies the redundancy capacity of vast networks which allows for relative independence for individual nodes within a whole that is given by neighbouring relationships. The hypothesis was that this flexible branching property could be digitally simulated and linked to the organisation of private and public zones within the housing complex. Of particular interest were form, proportion and scale within the emergent aggregation that resulted from the branching dynamics. The growth and iterative branching dynamics was simulated with the software Processing.

Project

The simulation of the growth and branching process gave rise to atriums that serves as organisational nodes within the space of the high-rise complex. The project organises its apartment modules on the various levels around these atriums which also become the nodal centres, both horizontally and vertically, for the circulation network. Each atrium spans in height over more than one level, thus vertically connecting select neighbouring units in addition to those on a single level. This organisation supports social networking and relationship-building between inhabitants around an atrium since it defines a local zone within the vast space of the high-rise. Thus, the atriums generate social habitats that comprise adjacent apartment units across two and three levels. Small shops and centres, offering select social services and amenities, supplement the programmatic make-up around each atrium. In this way the atriums, distributed throughout the vertical space of the housing complex, enable a replete, local social life to emerge as micro-cosmoses throughout the vast building.

The social dynamics and material-programmatic make-up within each habitat is not pre-programmed but emerges as a result of individual lives, initiatives and social interaction. The formal and programmatic organisation of the habitats fosters a “shareconomy” - an environment based on interaction, participation and sharing, both in social and economic terms. In addition to the semi-public programme content of the habitats, the housing complex features a market hall and a roof-top garden, both of which are public areas. These serve as relaxation points where inhabitant and visitors can meet.

Flexible composition of the apartments enable affordable homes for individuals, couples and families. Moreover, the habitats - which comprise of short-distance networks with their capacity for accommodating gatherings, meetings and a general interface between the inhabitants - make possible the necessary flexibility and interaction between individual and smaller collective social needs to offer a viable alternative to the dominating typology for these kind of housing projects.