HOUSING YOUNG LONDON: Quantified Quality Review

by Antonis Papamichael, AADipl2014
27 March 2015 AA Lecture Hall, Bedford Square   After the talk on ‘Housing Young London: Are we facing an Exodus?’ as part of the Housing London Lecture Series this term, I was surprised by the panel’s heavy reliance on numbers, graphs and figures to generate a discussion. Never have I witnessed a conversation about housing where architecture seemed to have so little to do with it. I am not denying that quantification plays a role towards our ongoing goal of solving the housing crisis, but I am questioning the consequence of its rising importance.     [caption id="attachment_4138" align="alignnone" width="360"]The niches are no longer rooms. They act as furniture where even though the space is well below current standards, they remain pleasant spaces for one to be in. The niches are no longer rooms. They act as furniture where even though the space is well below current standards, they remain pleasant spaces for one to be in.[/caption] The housing crisis existed since housing began. (Why else would housing exist?). However, in our aim to solve the crisis, we try to invent a vocabulary and a toolbox that standardise housing; that make it legible and universal. This is the aim of quantification. However, the problem with quantifying housing is that it makes it very easy for us to pat ourselves in the back and show the world that we are on the right track, doing a good job. The reason being, that thanks to quantification, we can now comfortably maintain discussions about housing that are both incredibly precise and incredibly abstract at the same time. Sure, the maths behind it is sound and accurate, but what it means architecturally remains unclear. What does become clear is that one can make anything out of statistics, which at the end of the day means nothing to the individual. The ‘stats’, depending on who generates them, may show you that we are winning the battle against the housing crisis, or vice versa. The core issue though is something stats cannot tell us: quality of living in relation to built housing.   The current attempt to bring quality into the equation is by once again quantifying elements of housing: what we know as housing standards. We are expected to accept that standards give us a good picture of what a dwelling might be like, simply because of their square meterage, or their orientation. Quality is a much more complex goal that cannot be reduced to a series of checkboxes. What these checkboxes do with success, is provide the architect or developer a list of exactly how to make money by doing the bare minimum and how to get around rules and regulations so that quality once again remains out of the equation and is compromised.
Before we simply criticise the current system with which housing is generated, we must ask ourselves if we can work with it. Is there a way where we can quantify quality in a successful way? Can we, as architects, address the abstractness resultant from our reliance on numbers, in a precise and concrete way? Can we come up with a dwelling whose quality is so inherent in the proposal, where it can be described simply through square meterage and orientation? This was the challenge I addressed in my Diploma project and the position of Alcoves is an optimistic one.       PLAN [caption id="attachment_4139" align="alignnone" width="360"]Alcoves proposes the adjacency and juxtaposition of two elements: a single large space vis a vis a series of independent and self-contained elements. Even though adjacent, they do not compromise their respective qualities. Alcoves proposes the adjacency and juxtaposition of two elements: a single large space vis a vis a series of independent and self-contained elements. Even though adjacent, they do not compromise their respective qualities.[/caption] The interior must come to the fore, in order to revisit the way we have constructed housing. During the discussion there was talk about mechanisms of flexibility, which is what ‘Alcoves’ - my Diploma project - attempts to reinforce. It takes the position that the plan is a mechanism: the mechanism with which one can organise space. Alcoves increases quality of living within the current system of operations, by removing compartmentalisation of flats and seeing space as the commodity, rather than overall floor area. ‘Alcoves’ suggests that we need to revisit our obsession with the bedroom/living room combination. It proposes a flexible plan which provides the inhabitant with one single room of undetermined use, which is framed by two walls that host a series of monofunctional niches. As a result, we are no longer obsessed with layout. The inhabitant can reshuffle the niches without compromising the quality of the single space in between.
Most importantly however, the single space in between corresponds to the floor area that developers love to talk about.   To put it simply: we currently speak about housing through numbers without involving space organisation and quality of experience. ‘Alcoves’ suggests a plan that is so simple, where the quality and space organisation take precedence over square meterage, but they are dealt with in such a way that they can be described through numbers, quantity without compromising quality - a triumph for both architect and developer.   A single space is the way towards quantified quality.   [caption id="attachment_4141" align="alignnone" width="360"]The space is desirable for its potential. It is shown as abstract space without a predetermined function. The inhabitant may then change its use over time. The architecture remains as current as the inhabitant. The space is desirable for its potential. It is shown as abstract space without a predetermined function. The inhabitant may then change its use over time. The architecture remains as current as the inhabitant. [/caption] For more information: Antonis Papamichael on AA Conversations Housing Young London: Are we facing an exodus? Lecture Video Studio Abroad