Principal Architect: ACHA_ZABALLA. Cristina Acha, Miguel Zaballa
Loft Study House is an initiative of the Housing Department of the Basque Government.
For some time now there has been a general reflection from diﬀerent perspectives on a series of urban issues suchas the revitalization of varied urban areas, the need to reuse what it has been built as an alternative to incessant growth, the attention to diversity, the need of inclusion of diﬀerent user profiles in our communities.
The Basque Government, aware of the potential of a disused heritage such as the ground floors of publicdevelopments that remain empty today, promotes the Loft Study House project. It is a clear tribute to JohnEntenza’s initiative that promoted a research on housing modernization in the North American context in the 50s -60s.
Lethargic streets fronts with empty premises or boarded up ground floor facades are common in our cities. Thesuccessive crises, the changes in the behaviour of commerce activity and also the excess of confidence in a typesolution of urban growth based in the block with retail space in ground floor plan has resulted in urban areas with anexcess of spaces that the lack of intensity on commercial demand has led to its abandonment.
The assignment to ACHA ZABALLA studio begins with the drafting of a design guide for the conversion of vacantpremises into homes. The goal is to turn spaces that were neither designed nor built as such into a ‘home’. It is amatter of analysing what conditions these transformations face and how to give them a satisfactory response ontheir double scale. On the one hand, comfort for the user and, on the other hand, revitalization of the street.
To endorse the concepts included in the design guide, ACHA ZABALLA architects plan and direct a pilot initiative tofit out four empty premises in the Santutxu neighbourhood in the city of Bilbao. Three public rental homes areprojected on the ground floors of three nearby buildings around a square created in the early 2000s, in an urban regeneration intervention carried out through public housing developments resulting from the Europan 4 competitionfor young architects.
The three houses look at each other through this urban void to which, until now, the surrounding building plinths have turned their backs. They are spaces at street level with wide façade openings intended initially for retailfacilities.
This project is an exercise in reflection on what builds 'a home'.
Which elements are essential in the definition of the domestic atmosphere?
How to give a flexible enough response to an undefined user?
All this within the conditioning framework of a public promotion in compliance with current regulations and limitedbudget.
The construction of the intimacy, of the home comfort, is achieved through complementary resources.
The definition of filter spaces and multi-layer facades, in which it is also possible to incorporate vegetation. Thisallows users at street level to combine privacy with the desired visual contact with the outside space. Withoutsubjecting the climate of comfortable domesticity (bright, airy, visually related, placid) to the necessary search ofintimacy.
The order on the program disposal. The sequence in the distribution of uses builds a logic from outside to inside that coincides with the degree of intimacy of the spaces, from shared to individual.
Given its condition of social housing, universal design is encouraged. The layout of the program, of the components, the definition of thresholds, pursues through the design the absence of clear limit between an 'adapted' and 'non-adapted' home. There will always be specific needs for specific users, but it is about defining a user-friendly base without sacrificing a cosy domestic atmosphere.
The rounded forms, the minimization of edges, the use of colour result in a warm aesthetic, outside a range of specific temporary style, somewhat ambiguous, that wants to overcome the inertia of the original inhospitable ground floor. It is settled, not a newcomer. That house… it was always there.
In any case, it seeks to guarantee direct contact with the outside as a healthy measure for the house as well as forthe street. Understanding ‘healthy’ in its positive sense, such as a physical and psychological state, 'feeling well', apositive contribution to the emotional development of residents. It is about injecting maximum optimism into theintimate atmosphere through good lighting, ventilation and views.
It is a matter of reaching the definition of the domestic in a balance between the concept of security against intrusion and comfortable habitability. In any case, one is fleeing from a bunkerized accommodation that, in its zeal to protect, completely denies straight vision, which emphasizes a message of insecurity by formulating the solution as a reaction to a supposedly hostile environment. In a bunkerized accommodation it is possible to think that the residual or the marginal is inhabited. And the positive influence of the inhabited front towards the street is lost. That is why it is emphasized that the construction elements that function as security guarantors are treated with the same criteria of harmony and composition as the rest.
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