Saturday, 11 May 2013

Different apartments

I spend a lot of time helping architects in Sydney, Australia, design apartment buildings. My role as a consultant architect is to help achieve compliance with the requirements of the local Residential Flat Design Code, especially for mandated minimum solar access.

So I am always a little surprised and shocked when I see most European apartment buildings that are singled out for illustration on the design blogs.  The latest to catch my eye is a 20 unit mixed use block by Narch architects, in La Parada, Spain.

With my biased reference framework, I see an almost complete absence of orientation sensitivity for passive solar design, and an apparently indiscriminate symmetry in the disposition of the operable sun control screens on all four elevations.  The balconies are but a nominal sliver of outdoor space.
All of which contrasts markedly with the codes with which my Sydney colleagues struggle so mightily. The local codes require minimum sizes for balconies to function as 'outdoor rooms', and there are requirements for most apartments in a building to have three hours of direct sun in winter to living areas (in the middle of the day, no less!).

And then, as usual, I slow down to think.  I will start by acknowledging the extreme rationality of the planning.  In a long tradition of squeezing beautifully resolved plans into minimum area, this one's plan has an additional mandala-like hypnotic quality.  The vague allusion to a swastika, even, is to that of India, rather than its corrupt forgery.

Looking more carefully, I see that in spite of somewhat pointless technical illustrations that accompany the obsessive external imagery (as in this article in, it becomes apparent that
  • all the apartments do get some winter sun (for amenity, if not equitably for energy efficiency), because even the one that is mostly on the north facade sneaks one room around the corner;
  • every apartment is cross ventilated for summer cooling;
  • the movable screens are needed on all facades, because early morning and late afternoon summer sun do shine on the northern windows; and
  • the only way to make sense of  the connection to outdoors from the living spaces is to see the big sliding doors of the living rooms extending the space seamlessly to the veiled edges of the balconies (rather than seeing them as separate 'al fresco rooms'.
In fact, these apartments would pass Sydney's codes easily.  Even if the obstructive planning officers of the municipal approving authorities had to be frog-marched to the court that deals with planning appeals.....I'd love to be giving expert evidence for the applicant.

See the original article in archdaily, with quite a few more images and drawings, here.


ZiHeng Zeng said...

It is undeniable to say that the sustainable Architecture or Design has been greatly recognized by an increasing number of architects on a worldwide scale. The apartment design is treated in such unique ways that Architects have to take account into local building regulations, environmental factors and human factors etc.
The example in here, a 20 unit mixed use block by Narch architects provide us with an exotic perspective of the design work but share some common building design techniques or principles with Sydney.
It is important to acknowledge that many Australian based Architectural firms are aiming to create better environmental awareness buildings. Ian Moore Architects are one of them who advocate Architectures are mixtures of our climate and the current needs of our society. And ‘138 Barcom Ave’ could draw some similarities:
• All units are orientated and face north, north-east or north-west
• Every apartment is cross ventilated
• The moveable screen could let sunlight into the balconies with a certain manner
• The louvers to the skylight also frame the light of exterior and interior
Link to more details of ‘138 Barcom Ave’:
I agree with what Steve has mentioned in the blog, ‘The indiscriminate symmetry in the disposition of the operable sun control screens on all four elevations and balconies are but a nominal sliver of outdoor space.’
We see a more comprehensive response to the local environmental factors through ‘138 Barcom Ave’.
Despite the fact that both apartments adopt passive environmental strategies, the heated debate of how to improve sun control, achieve maximum amenity will be still ongoing.

Anonymous said...

As Zeng has mentioned, the apprehension of “local building regulations, environmental factors and human factors” are only few to an array of essential considerations to apartment design. The fact that the 20 unit mixed use block by Narch architects, in La Parada, Spain could act as a precedent to Sydney Apartments with consideration to Residential Flat Design Code only comes to show that humans generally (but respectfully) want the same thing in their architecture – light and space . How both the 138 Barcom Ave and 20 Mixed Use Blocks have portrayed cross ventilation, changeable lighting conditions through louvers and screens, connection between outdoor/indoor is a fantastic starting point for architects to improve on future design proposals with larger consideration to passive environmental strategies.

Yes Steve, you are right to take a rational bias on passive solar design. It is arguably one of the many downfalls for what would seem like great architectural design proposals of our modern era. Archdaily and such, so often seem to exploit what you call "singled out...illustration on the design blogs" and pass them as recognisable precedents for future architects to learn from. Keep in mind, although they can be a great resource, one must be cautious.

wei wei said...

Apparent from the blog and previous comments, as far as i am concerned, it really significant to have a clear understanding and thoughtful application of the knowledge of solar access and cross ventilation when we confront the design of apartments.
Undoubtedly, these two aspects are the ground plane of our design and also carefully regulated by Residential Flat Design Code and other regulations.
At this stage of study, i think it is more about incorporating and integrating the knowledge of overall planning, materials selection and shading devices and etc, instead of relying solely on orientating towards sun and disposition of openings.
As the apartment nominated in blog(20 unit mixed use block) and the example of "138 Barcom Ave", they managed to meet the minimum requirement of the regulation and responded the local site context well. Moreover, they intentionally and carefully respect human factors through its own unique way of performing and experiencing, since each building possesses something valuable in integrating different aspects like facade treatments and overall planning.
i do agree on viewpoint stated above, and If we have a close look at the general planning and internal layout of both buildings, there are clearly some rationales behind that, and there must be a strong driven idea about creating a operable and porous facades in "20 unit mixed use block", gratefully, the building works really well and dose give the building a sense of presence.
Finally, there is another apartment to have a look, which does have some similar ideas presented.

mike shen said...

Hi Steve, I would like to say something about this post with different apartments. It’s a great time and opportunity to view this post at this stage, which comes to the end of the semester with both of environment 2 and studio design study. Gradually, more and more lighting and acoustics consideration come into my mind when I was doing the studio work. As can be seen from my blog post about the design studio project Bondi apartment, which is about the process of my present work with sun access analysis and shadow diagram. As you always emphasise on the lecture about the important role of physical and digital model in the solar and shadow analysis, I have finished both of them before the start of the analysis. The goal of all these analysis is all about showing the evidence that all the apartment units can have at least three hours of direct sun to living areas in winter(in the middle of the day). At the same time, as your blog mentioned, the movable or adjustable louvres is a good way to protect from the summer sun shine on the north or west windows.
I’m quite interested in the research about the horizontal and vertical louvres to fix on the window. Also with the consideration about the view point and the elevation of the building. There are quite a few my precedent study of apartment and housing complex design with the Louvres, such as EDO apartments Woolloomooloo, Barcom avenue apartments in Darlinghurst, and Rose Bay Apartment. These are really good example of apartment design in Sydney especially with a good consideration about the solar access and shadow issue. I would like stick on that with my later study to find out more about solar access issue with Residential building.

Yue Lu said...

After read this blog and the comments that my classmate posted, have to say that

the issue that mentioned in the article is quite common in today's architecture. But

their one thing that shocked me is this issue were appeared in Europen. In my point

of view, it is reasonable to find this kind of apartment in developing countries, but not

in European. Especially Spain, the country with hundreds of remakable buildings such

as the The Royal Palace in Madrid, Batllo apartment, Goel Park et cetera.

Compare with other famous buildings in Spain, the apartment that in this blog were

considered as inappropriate, irresponsible and lack of consideration. It ture that the form

of this building is simple ,clear and shows a sence of beautiful, just as Steven said: In a

long tradition of squeezing beautifully resolved plans into minimum area.

However, when you look closely at this apartment's plan, the repeatation of the residence

and some rotation to fit in the form. Expecially the samll balcony which is way to narrow

when you compare with the statement in Residential Flat Design Code. The ventilation for

this apartment was reluctantly feasible, but the solar control and consideration were


In conclusion,a good apartment should not only focus on the aecthetic form, sustainability

material and the environmental consideraion, such as lighting, acousics and ventilation.

The following link shows another kind of flat design code but much more specific. In my

point of view, architect should design the apartment follow the building code sometimes

even considered more than it.

Anonymous said...

Talking about the sustainable architecture, what in my mind is good design with passive environmental relationships and high energy efficiency wherever the site is. I think this is the thing every architect should concern in their design to create so-called "good architecture" nowadays. For the apartment design, in order to create a habitable environment for large group of people, there are local apartment codes and guides for architects to comply to ensure certain level of amenity.

For instance, it is fair to say that the 20 unit mixed use block by Narch architects in Spain has met the solar access and ventilation requirements from the Sydney Residential Flat Design Code, as all the apartments has at least three hours of direct sun to the living area in winter and cross ventilation. Despite of this, it is true that there is absence of orientation sensitivity for any passive solar access design, as the building is in simply geometry and the units inside have perfect symmetry in layouts for 4 units per level. In regard of the layouts, a translucent metal veil that works as sunscreen and privacy barrier, has been installed on the exterior. The metal shutters are movable along the entire facade to attain high flexibility for controlling the natural light access and ventilation in different periods, temperatures.
It may be a good idea to install shutters for buildings with limited orientation due to site restrictions. Moreover, shutter design could be a significant issue to improve the amenity of the building.

There is an example apartment that adopted a special metal fold shutter, Strip of Six Apartments in Eze by CAE Architects.

Those shutters can half fold to work as sunshade, and when they are opened entirely, the building become a 'window apartment'. Apart from that, there are other sunlight access devices installed, for example, daylight can enter the building by the communal corridor where the stair shafts and the skylight diffuse light into bedrooms and bathrooms. This maybe alternatives for us to control daylight access in our design.

Last but not least, there are many ways to attain amenity for our building design, it depends how creative you are. Nothing is wrong in design if one has enough evidence support. However, we should ,at least, follow the building guides as a basis to start the design and keep learning from precedents. Perhaps, we would be inspired during the design process to get a outstanding result.

Shixiao said...

It is true that sustainable building which responses to the local climate is recognized by an increasing number of architects. However, I cannot help to think about why there are still many “bad” buildings all round the world, especially in developing countries.

My answer is “profit”. Property developers always tend to get higher profit, therefore in this situation, they have to sacrifice solar access or ventilation-n exchange for higher RSR. From my point of view, what Steve have done as a consultant architect is quite helpful to reduce this kind of situation. More importantly, it is necessary to complete and improve the Residential Flat Design Code and regarded it as a Mandatory Legislation . (It is necessary in some countries, but this may stifle architects’ creativity)

On the other hand, solar access is a significant factor that may influence the building’s appearance. In my opinion,movable screens is relatively passive to control the access of sunlight. Hiroshima’s Optical Glass House is a good example which creates a buffer space to minimum the direct sunshine and increase the access of daylight.

The courtyard which formed by translucent glass wall created an external space which is only owned by this house.
The plant in the courtyard stopped the direct sunshine and the translucent wall maximum the daylight.
Besides, the courtyard opening to up also provides the potential of good ventilation.

This is an example of different ways to achieve the good lighting quality.