XX_id_XX 624


Environmental interfaces in contemporary housing 


The workshop held by Cino Zucchi in MCH 2018 will explore a specific problem of housing design: the one of the “interface” or “buffer” between the private realm and the collective one, and of its possible evolutions in the light of the ongoing changes on urban and natural environments.


In the urban expansion of the nineteenth century, building facades were considered and designed as a simple backdrop of the urban scene, an unified architectural “dress” to screen the decorated variety of bourgeois interiors. The Functionalist attitude of the following century, dismissing previous practices as “formalist”, denied any figural autonomy to the vertical envelope of residential buildings, considering it the natural consequence of the correct resolution of a “typical” apartment unit.

But the scale of the single living unit and the one of the city, our need of a personal realm and the search for a shared space, are not able to dialogue directly without a mediating element.


This element is the depth of the building envelope, which it has also to perform a number of sophisticated tasks: modulate the light of the sun (directly or by the employment of screening devices) in relationship with latitude and geographical orientation; protect the interior from excessive hot and cold, wind, rain, noise, pollution; create inhabitable open air spaces for the dwellings, including fragments of nature; provide visual privacy to the interiors; act as a social mean of communication; give a meaningful form to the collective urban spaces.


On one side, this conception of the building envelope as the backdrop of collective public space could ignite new thoughts on the relative autonomy of it from the interior design of the single living units. On the other, the continuous appearance of new materials and building technologies, the changing lifestyles tied to the media revolution, our different sensibility in relationship to nature, the new forms of social interaction and the experiments on communal living: all these elements can change the form of things, and guide our quest for innovative solutions.


In the short time of the workshop, the participants are required to research on an architectural design response to many of these issues, and do that in a tight sequence of progressive approximations towards the final product.

This product will not be the design of a full housing organism completed in all of its parts, but rather of an architectural device enquiring on the “depth” of the interface between interior and exterior, between a housing unit and its urban environment.

How a housing complex touches the ground and generates a transition with the street, how it ends towards the sky, how it borders the space of the city, how it creates in-between spaces hosting private outdoor life: these quite “classical” tasks can and should be dealt with in very innovative ways.


The development of a given master plan by the students will go through a series of quick one-day design charrettes, each dealing with a single aspect of the theme.

The final product, realized by groups of not more than two people, will be a limited number of drawings (between 1:200 and 1:20 scale) and a physical model to the scale 1:50 to be assembled into a single artefact representing a cluster of living units bordering a common open space.

The overall massing of the buildings, the shape of the open space and the main elements of the housing typology will be given by the teachers, establishing the rules to obey to and the degrees of freedom which can give complexity and variety to the ensemble. The idea is therefore to concentrate the architectural task and to aim our efforts towards a very precise theme, in the belief that this focus can lead us in a short time to unexpected experiments and marvelous results.



Modes of work and delivery requirements

The workshop will alternate collective moments and individual ones, short lectures, discussions and a lot of work at the table. The structure requires a fast pace, where the series of quick sketch design acts will pile up to form the final product.

The participants will work in groups of two people maximum. The first day, a lottery will be held and each design group will have to design a building of a given number of floors and type inside a mass plan given by the workshop leader.

The material of the final delivery will be:

Ground floor plan, typical floor plan and roof plan 1:200

2 elevations and 1 section 1:100

Typical floor plan 1:50

Complete model 1:50

Details of “inhabitable screen” 1:20



Design program

The site chosen for the design task of the workshop is one urban block in a very large, unfinished development in Madrid, Valdebebas. The quarter between the Parque Felipe VI on the west and the Barajas airport on the east. Even if slightly disturbing, the almost total absence of historical context forces us to reflect on the environmental qualities that these kind of new developments can strive to achieve, and how these qualities depend on design factors.

 To accelerate decisions and to get to the required design scales in the short time of the workshop, we decided to work on the base not only of a given master plan, but also on given typological assumptions.


The general aim of the master plan is to determine a shared semi-public green space common to all the inhabitant of the block, to reinforce the urban front on the main boulevard of Valdebebas on its north-west border, to guarantee good solar insolation all year round to the green space and to all the apartment units, and to create a variety of shared spaces, spatially well-defined by the volumes of the buildings, yet visually open to the neighborhood. The overall massing has been then divided into nine separate parts marked by three typological schemes.

The first one is a thin, long type with a common circulation running on one side and the main outlook on the other, and one vertical circulation block serving an external gallery that gives access to all the units, ideally maisonettes and/or one-bedroom types (type A) its dimensions in plan are 9 meter depth by undefined length including the distribution gallery, and it is planned of being not more than 5 floors high.


 The second is a deeper body, with the vertical distribution attached to one side of the building so to leave the possibility of different interlocking units and flexibility over time in their rearrangement, ideally one bedroom and two bedroom units (type B), its standard dimension is 13 meters depth by 25 meter length; its height can go from 5 to 9 floors.

The third one is based on a central vertical distribution scheme, and the four fronts have free lookouts in all directions; its dimensions are 20x20 m in plan, and its height goes from 9 to 18 floors.


These given schemes can be taken in two possible ways; one is to keep only the given depth and the position and the interior arrangement of the vertical distribution block; in the graphic material given to the participants, there is also one possible complete typical floor, which can be freely used as a base to work on concentrating on the main theme of the workshop, the “inhabitable screen”. Each building type has a flexible perimeter – in the sense that it can be freely manipulated in and out to create more interesting environmental relationships between the interior and the exterior – and a 3 meter deep free depth around all sides that have outlook that can be used to design terraces, balconies, loggias, verandahs, bow windows or the like to respond to the theme of private outdoor space.


The first day, the 9 typological units (2 of type A to the north-west side, 4 of type B on the north-east and east sides, and 3 of type C on the south side) will be assigned to groups of two students each with a lottery. The design of the ground floor and the roofscape is part of the task, while the design of the open spaces between the buildings could be a collective design endeavor. The last two days, the models constructed by the single teams will be put together in one big collective one.



Workshop calendar

Monday, April 23rd, day 1


Morning: visit of the Valdebebas area in Madrid. Photographic survey of residential facades in Madrid’s inner city (students)

Afternoon: Lecture by CZ “The Campsite Shower Theory”

Evening: pin-up of morning survey and formulation of concept (students)


Tuesday, April 24th, day 2


Morning: sketch design of structure 1/100-1/50 (students)

Afternoon: lecture by CZ “Inhabited screens 1”, desk crits

Evening: pin-up and discussion of day work


Wednesday, April 25th, day 3


Morning: sketch design of interior-exterior spaces, shading devices, verandahs, hanging gardens (students)

Afternoon: desk crits

Evening: pin-up and discussion of day work


Thursday, April 26th, day 4

Material and detail

Morning: sketch design of materials and technological solutions, wrap up of previous work

Afternoon: desk crits

Evening: Pin-up and discussion of day work


Friday, May 27th, day 5 (final review)

(Back to) Urbanity

Morning: wrap-up work and construction of collective model

Afternoon/evening: final review


In this site, we use our own cookies and third party cookies to offer you our best service.If you keep on this site , we do understand you accept their use here