Hrvoje Njiriç, born in Zagreb in 1960 and graduated from the Architectural Faculty of the University of Zagreb (1986). Between 1979 and 1986 he went into a partnership with Helena Njiric in Zagreb and Graz. He has been Visiting Professor at the TU Graz, Austria, the AF Ljubljana, the Facolta di Architettura, Ferrara, Italy and at the ETSAM Madrid. He also was professor and head of the Institute for Architectural Typologies and Housing at the TU Graz (successor of Guenther Domenig).
Since architects in the last century have been mostly focused on the city, a concern on inhabiting the countryside has remained very limited. Statistically, 50% of the world population still lives in the rural conditions and thus it is relevant to focus on these issues as well. Furthermore, we can trace an exodus of urban population toward the rural alternatives, motivated by radically different living conditions, by the economy of giving over their city dwellings to tourists and by the possibility to pursue the dream of an Arcadian welfare. We shall take this notion as a point of departure for our exercise and observe various durations of this voluntary drawback, be it for a weekend, for the summer or, fed up of urban frenzy, even permanently.
The village of El Atazar, 50 km north of Madrid, offers a perfect test-bed for our research. Protected by nature and legislation, it has to be maintained carefully – in terms of size and density. This terra incognita should be mapped with great precision. It would be wise to get rid of embedded preconceptions of village life, because nothing is really as it seems. The farmers have embraced the cutting-edge technologies to cultivate and produce, the new settlers have imported a number of typical urban activities to the countryside. Landscapes are digitally monitored and maintained, combined with industrial plants popping out everywhere and changing the perception of the territory. The land costs have reached new peaks and therefore our planning has to be driven by these circumstances. This is why we shall try to investigate to what extent dense collective housing schemes could be introduced into a typical single-family house environment.
Any similarity to the Neue Heimat movement from the 1920s in Germany, however motivated by a different ideology behind it, is worth considering. Any similarity to the utopian concepts of the 1960s would be welcome too. We should not forget to check out some of the Spanish efforts to repopulate the country such as those designed by Fernandez del Amo's Vegaviana. What typologies could be transferred from the city and what has to be conceived anew? How would different price categories influence the layout of the settlement? Could we take over the standard access and communication patterns from urban situations or shall we come out with some more appropriate repertoire of staircases, walkways, galleries and landings? It would be operative to understand our planning as a process, as a settlement that can grow or even shrink. What would be the extent of an initial phase? How to introduce and adjust the (semi)public domain into these configurations?
Finally, how could a concept such as the “slow living” influence our designs?