02 mayo 2011

Texto de David Cohn para la revista ORIS


The municipal government of Madrid has made its subsidized housing program a showcase for architectural excellence and investigation over the last decade, particularly in new planned developments around he periphery of the city. One of the outstanding results of this program is Carabanchel 17, designed by Madrid architects Atxu Amann, Andrés Cánovas and Nicolás Maruri, an 82-unit complex occupying a full block in a new planned neighborhood located in the Carabanchel district.

Most of the Carabanchel development is designed for the patio-block building type seen here, full-block structures of five or six stories built around a central courtyard. The model is an updated of 19th century city planning in Spain, as exemplified by the 1860 Cerdà Plan for Barcelona. Units have two exposures, street and courtyard, for cross-ventilation. This distribution replaces interior access corridors with multiple vertical circulation cores serving two units per floor. The type also results in relatively narrow floor slabs (here eight meters wide). A parking garage is located under the courtyard, which contains a grove of trees and an open area that lend itself to many uses, from children's games to casual encounters between neighbors.

Amann, Cánovas and Maruri have added to this formula the Corbusian amenity of a large outdoor terrace for each unit that extends across its full depth, an idea that first appeared in Corb's 1922 project for the Inmeubles-Villas. Maruri comments, "Le Corbusier was searching for a way to translate the advantages of a single-family house to the city apartment – garden, views, orientation." Cánovas adds, "It's a flexible, intermediate space that receives light, shade, breezes and even a bit of rain, an area of transition between the apartment and the city."

The terraces break up the monolithic mass of the building, emphasizing instead its collective character; it reads as a beehive rather than a block. To underscore the individual identity of units, the architects clad them in corrugated steel sheet in various vivid colors, distributed seemly at random. Stairs and elevators are integrated in the metal sheathing, and all exterior-facing floor-to-ceiling windows are hidden behind shutters of the same material (the large glazed areas of the living area open on the outdoor terrace). As a result, each apartment resembles a brightly-colored shipping container placed on the continuous exposed floor slabs. The "containers" are staggered in layout from one floor to another, while the regularly-spaced elevator towers on the roof mark a different rhythm, and establish the vertical axis of each circulation core, subtly holding the composition together. The architects compare these containers to the body of a car, and they are one of the few elements of the project that were prefabricated in-shop.

Unit layout follow the strict norms for subsidized housing established by Spanish legislation. The architects have zoned wet areas with tile floors –baths, kitchen and dining area– along one wall of the unit. The living area and bedrooms on the other side, with dark wood floors, are oriented for the best possible exposure. There are 40 three-bedroom units, 21 with four bedrooms or more (located in the block's corners), and 21 with two bedrooms (on the top floor, with slightly wider terraces).

The patio-block type has both advantages and limitations. In commercial projects it tends to convert buildings into private islands surrounded by underused residential streets, where commercial activity is sequestered to distant shopping centers. Amann, Cánovas and Maruri have created a bright point of attraction amid this anomie, while the individual terraces constitute an important improvement on the type. They bring a much-needed permeability to the public space of the central courtyard. They can also be seen as a modern interpretation of the traditional Madrid street balcony, and in this sense are actually quite Baroque and theatrical in their essential role of giving individual privacy a public face.