AGIOS NICOLAOS SOCIAL HOUSING
Location: Cyprus – Larnaca
Plot Size: 2.766 m²
Built Surface Area: 3.559 m²
At a time when social distancing is becoming mandatory due to the Covid-19 pandemic, social housing should, if anything, be assessed on different criteria and with a completely new approach, at least as regards to assembly and isolation.
We should no longer take for granted the fundamental right of everyone to benefit from decent quality housing with basic amenities at an affordable price, regardless of social level, but we should also ensure that everyone has the right to benefit from necessary and minimum safety and health parameters, both in everyday life as well as in crisis situations, adverse events, pandemics and extreme conditions.
The social (to say the least) distance can nowadays be considered as luxury, without any dose of exaggeration.
A luxury that architecturally translates into minimal cost, since it is the void, the unstructured, urban and public infrastructure, that can be transformed into open air green spaces, parks and natural, landscaped ‘lungs’ among the structured networks of the city.
However, the void may also have additional advantages such as that of its exploitation, configuration and transformation, depending on the circumstances, conditions and needs.
In order to do this, it must be standardised, as well as structured, so as to ensure methodology and organisation, avoiding what may in one particular era be considered right and necessary, but in another and under different circumstances, factors and events, prove to be, if anything, outdated.
The main pillars and inspiration of the proposal for the Agios Nikolaos Social Housing Complex in the Municipality of Larnaca, are the instable factors of a society that not only modify it but also evolve it according to the conditions of the specific era.
Adaptation to all these unstable, mutating or even unknown (for the time being) factors is an opportunity and an imposition for a variable construction, the typology of which can be shaped, transformed and adapted to the needs and conditions of the time and/or given moment.
Global factors of all kinds (politics, economy, health, technology, environment, nature...) are constantly evolving and/or being modified, hence architecture and urban features must be placed on the same path of evolution, concerning modularity and flexibility, let alone when the urban planning factors themselves and legislations are also constantly amended (as regards to building, covering, floor, height factors...) as are the factors requested in this project which "may benefit from the discretion according to the law" with regard to the permitted urban planning factors.
The architectural flexibility and typology of the proposal is therefore perhaps the most important part in terms of the formation of the volume, shape, operation, functions and as a result of them, the aesthetics and the choice of materials, elements which play an important role in the final aesthetics as well as in the total cost of the project construction, as a result of all the above mentioned characteristics.
The possibility of future configuration, modification, extension, partitioning and even increase of units and/or apartments is ensured in the simplest and most economical way through the flexibility of the standard architectural grid and structural body, which can be extended vertically and/or horizontally, as a grid that can accommodate the standardised shapes and layouts of the units and/or apartments, in full response to the respective urban planning factors, laws and social parameters of the respective era.
Even if detailed specifications and information have been given regarding the requested structure of the project and the number of units, as to the type and size of the apartments, who could say for sure, not knowing how the demographics will be shaped, let alone the social data of Cyprus and/or Larnaca, what number and/or size of apartments will need to be incorporated or even modified in this project, let alone in any social housing, in the near or even long term future?
Hence, the main building block of the proposal, namely the structural metal grid, has been created in such a way that the unbuilt voids can be shaped and modified from gardens to terraces and/or structured interiors, depending on the needs and conditions of the respective season, factors and events that correspond to it.
The unbuilt voids have been formed in outdoor, semi-outdoor gardens, terraces and general areas of greenery, vegetation, rest, controlled assembly and temporary 'escape' from the interior and private areas of the apartments, without having to leave the apartment building itself, in case of emergency and/or extreme events such as the one that arose due to the pandemic of Covid-19.
Whenever deemed necessary, these voids can be modeled to form extensions and/or various typologies of 2 - 3 - 4 bedroom apartments.
The standardization of the units and/or apartments and their various spaces and/or uses in general, was initially conceptualized by taking the necessary specifications and dimensions of a grid that can accommodate the necessary parking spaces, which, based on its steel column structure, benefit from large stretches of covered areas on the ground floors of each separate building.
The subdivisions of the grid by multiples of 3m, depending on the desired usage, creates surface areas of 9m2 - 18m2 - 27m2 - 36m2 (and so on) which can form square, rectangular or even complex formations, thus offering unlimited possibilities, volumes and shapes.
Inevitably taking the latest events and factors due to the Covid-19 pandemic into account, the association of social housing with social distancing, influenced the architectural concept, form, aesthetics and general idea of the proposal, as the main concern was not only not to upgrade the misunderstood term "Social Housing", but also to architecturally define the very interpretation and substance of the term, without this necessarily meaning the increase in cost due to expensive materials.
The choice of materials was therefore decided on the basis of the methodology of construction and the deliberate architectural concept as well as the factors of the prefabricated and mutated construction, which will act as a host for various uses and functions that predefine a sustainable social housing complex.
Hence the structural metal grid creates architectural axes, based on the specifications for comfortable parking spaces and extends, horizontally and vertically, as a metal mesh in which the standardised volumes and typologies of 2 - 3 - 4 bedroom apartments can be incorporated and adapted, just like the public, shared spaces such as outdoor traffic corridors, stairways, semi-outdoor gardens (for the exclusive use of the apartments) and private terraces.
Any exterior and/or common (between the apartments) masonry is made of thermal / acoustic insulated bricks, while the interior walls and any false ceilings are also made of thermal / acoustic insulated dry plasterboard.
Both the structural elements of the project and the materials selected shall bear the appropriate and necessary fire protection standards, on the basis of the respective laws.
The standardisation of the dimensions and the selection of the materials, allow industrial prefabrication and repetition in their production and construction, which significantly reduces the cost but also allows their future, identical reproduction in case of need due to extension and/or modification of the configuration of the project.
Structural metal frame, aluminum (outer cladding of thermal / sound / waterproof insulating corrugated panel, openings and shading) as well as wood (internal furniture, kitchens and bedrooms) are the main materials that reflect the aesthetic proposal, while the floors of reinforced light concrete poured on trapezoidal metal sheets, are covered with pressed wood finishes (living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and hallways), and/or durable, waterproof and non-slip vinyl finishes (baths and toilets).
Another additional aesthetic feature with environmental / ecological benefit is the element of vegetation which, with the help of vertical and/or horizontal surfaces made of light metal mesh, both in semi-outdoor gardens (for the exclusive use of the tenants) and on private terraces, climbs and creates additional shading, privatization but also offers a more environmental friendly approach, in relation to the landscaped green spaces of the surrounding areas (part of the proposal).
All balconies and stairways are also constructed with metal mesh so as to enhance vegetal climbing and/or hanging, adding to the environmental and ecological aspects in particular, since shading contributes to the reduction of heat in the summer, while simultaneously creating privacy.
The anthropocentric approach of the project emphasizes the relationship between private, shared, semi-public and public space. The large private terraces and semi-open gardens of the buildings, rich in vegetation, act as connecting elements between the houses and the surrounding public green spaces. These outdoor and semi-outdoor spaces are an opportunity for the controlled assembly of residents as well as play areas for children. The vegetation and nature present on the verandas, semi-outdoor gardens and public green spaces are of Cypriot traditional variety so as to highlight the relationship and coexistence of the projects green spaces with that of the the surrounding public green areas.
The modular form of the project creates a mutating concept of aesthetics in the buildings’ aspect via empty and structured volumes. Material differentiation according to the uses and functions, remain of light weight construction so that they can be easily shaped and modified according to conditions and needs. Vertical and horizontal movement is emphasized through climbing vegetation in which the inhabitants of the complexes themselves can give their own stigma and care by stressing the opportunity of socializing with each other but also through nature itself, setting a new way of life.
An important parameter in relation to the aesthetics, quality and comfort of the architectural configuration and/or layout of the apartments, as well as their orientation, is that no bedroom, living room and/or terrace is visible from any other nearby apartment, thus ensuring the discretion and personal privacy of those who will benefit from these social residences.
The large verandas, as well as the semi-outdoor gardens (for the exclusive use of the apartments) also contribute to the bioclimatic approach of the proposal since the cantilevered extensions of the slabs above the verandas ensure the necessary shading and thus coolness, especially on the South facade, as in association to the large elongated axis of expansion of the project from East to West, it allows the inflow of desired winds, through the various recesses and gaps created between the apartments, ensuring greater projections of shading and coolness in summer and at the same time greater collection of solar heat in winter when the sun is lower.
In this way, the thermal insulation specifications of the project’s construction materials and the necessary bioclimatic conditions of thermal and optical comfort are ensured with the most extensive use of passive cooling and heating systems, since the large area on the roof permits maximum space utilization of solar energy panels as an ecological and renewable source of energy.
Large planted surfaces positively affect temperature and gaseous pollutants while the various voids act as non-contiguous surfaces interacting with the many angles and changes of direction, allow better distribution and natural filtering of the air.
Protection from the sun in summer via large covered verandas and/or gardens, which also act as large surfaces exposed to the lower sun in winter, combined with the exploitation of cool winds and the removal of excess heat in summer, create a natural bioclimatic and environmental architectural approach.
These passive specifications of natural cooling through the ventilation of the building which remove excess heat keeping the building cool in the summer months, ensure natural renewal of the indoor air from the immediate natural environment.
All the above technical and/or physical specifications of the architecture and construction materials of the project result in very beneficial conditions regarding the electromechanical installations and equipment of the project and contribute greatly to energy saving and minimal consumption, both in the operation of split unit heating and air conditioning systems, as well as in the exploitation of solar energy by solar panels and roof water heaters and/or supply.
The landscaped green spaces between and around the two buildings, upgrade the environmental approach of the project and that of the immediate surrounding areas, in need of green spaces to be enhanced by traditional Cypriot vegetation, contributing to better air quality via the introduction of aromatic plants and herbs.
The quality and enhanced living conditions of social habitat in such residential projects, is assured not only through the housing itself but also via the comfort created both interiorly and exteriorly to the units themselves.
Following the recent situation and without knowing what the evolution and/or outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic will be, the luxury of exterior spaces via the creation of large verandas, let alone gardens and green spaces to be exploited by the inhabitants themselves, becomes a non-negotiable necessity in all ranges of the architectural and urban approach of such a project.
Even the possibility of sustainable urban cultivation, however small-scale it may be, becomes a parameter that can change everyone's way of life for the better, as can public, semi-outdoor and/or private controlled assembly spaces, which become the protagonists of a better social and human behavior among the inhabitants of a social housing project.
Finally, as the competition introduction rightly states, it is given that as the housing crisis spreads, the need for social housing will increase and in conjunction with the care to meet housing needs, the current urban approach requires that social housing projects become a continuation of the urban infrastructure, integrating itself to the surrounding area and spaces of the city.
Last but not least, the integration and the relationship between the city and the society itself is ensured by the project’s flexible architectural and urban concept adaptation to the existing infrastructure of the city, creating quality and luxury through the evolution of the building process around the void elements and the direct coexistence with the surrounding public green spaces, hence coexisting, shaping, mutating and adapting to any urban factors, let alone to the social requirements of the respective housing needs.