[Originally published in Mark Magazine #27]
Social housing is among the most regulated–and least glamorous–areas of architecture. While all housing is normally subject to a set of minimum room dimensions, social housing is additionally governed by stringent maximum dimensions which happen to be almost equal to the minimum ones, leaving little margin for architectural maneuver. When, moreover, the building envelope is predetermined by a master plan, then little more than the façade and the entrance lobby are left for design consideration. Yet these two elements make a significant difference, as this 77 unit social housing tower by Barcelona’s R+B Architects shows.
Part of an urban master plan by Viaplana & Piñon for L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, the Plaça Europa apartment tower was designed, according to architect Miguel Roldán, “from the top-down”. What he really means here is that from the outset, the program was packed as densely as possible into the given building envelope descending from the top floor down, allowing the ground floor communal entrance lobby to become a larger interior street of sorts. On the exterior, three-story high groupings of deeply recessed windows give the fifteen story tower the appearance of containing only five floors, a nod to the traditional lower buildings nearby.
With its elegant façade and generous lobby-cum-interior street, it’s hard to believe this is social housing. R+B have certainly upped the ante with their top-down tower. The downside, however, is that housing regulators now have a new pretext for reducing the architectural margin even more.