Month: November 2013

Individual homes in Madrid (4)


This is no longer a pre-civil war design, but rather one from the sixties. Madrid was still a rising capital in a southern Europe country that was far from buoyant, but a minority was already able to look for a home in a peripheral setting to be accessed by car. So this is no longer inspired by social housing laws, being rather an affluent suburb that had learned, if not from Vegas, at least from Uncle Sam…

This being a large development, many of the lots were built in subsequent years.

Lot area is substantially larger, on average, when compared to precedent examples.

There are some offices, but homes are still most of the built surface.

Covered garages are common, but they are not present in all lots. Lot area allows for easy parking on gardens.

Individual homes in Madrid (3)


What once was an area created under the low cost homes act has become, just north of the posh core of Madrid, an exclusive zone.

Altough it is a pre-civil war development, there are almost no homes from the original period, as many have been demolished to build new ones or refurbished beyond recognition.

Variations in size between lots do depend often more on a series of rearrangements between neighboring properties.

In many cases homes have dissapeared (0 sq m of housing built area on the above image), as there are clinics, offices or restaurants. Nevertheless, housing is still the main use.
colonia3-supaparcGarages are rare but for some cases; but people park sometimes in their gardens.


Individual homes in Madrid (2)


Again an eastern neighborhood, but in a more central location and subject to clear transformation dynamics

Building year is not that homogeneous: there is a number of buildings dating from 1926, others were built just following the 1936-1939 civil war, and there are even some that have less than a decade. Visiting the area it is clear that there are many recent middle range interventions (the old suburb has become central, so it is more attractive)

Lot area is more homogeneous, taking into acount the irregular site.

Most of the lots still have dwellings, but a bunch have none. There is a set of private kindergarten, a restaurant and even a notary’s office.
colonia2-superfaparcIn 1926 a covered garage was an uncommon idea, but today there are many (the rest usually park their car on their gardens…)

Individual homes in Madrid (1)



Faced with the issues mentionned in biblio (66), I asked myself what is happening in Madrid. Some exemples follow regarding neighborhoods created at the begining of the XXth century, locally called “colonias de hotelitos”, a local version of the french or british garden cities; in some, Madrid has witnessed an evident gentrification, linked to their position in the city. Cadastral data, open to everyone on the web, show some elements.

This first case corresponds to an area by a freeway, on the east side of the city, surrounded by low grade 1960’s buildings.

Building year or last overall refurbishment year for each lot. Here, a nearly total homogeneity

Lot areas are different, but on a coherent range. A rather oddity in Madrid, the inner street is private.
colonia1-superficie vivienda

Residential built area by lot. Nearly all the buildings keep the original buildings.
colonia1-supaparcCovered parking area by lot. Only two here overall.

So, here we can conclude that the land use evolution is rather undevelopped.

Biblio (66) Subdividing individual homes in central Île-de-France

biblio 66-division pavillonaire ile de france


A new study directed by the Institut d’Amenagement et d’Urbanisme de la Région Île-de-France (the parisian regional planning agency) shows that in this region:

a) In most of the municipalities having experienced urban density increases between 1999 and 2008 there was no increase in land area for housing.

b) 25% of the new home units appeared between 2001 and 2011 came from pre-existing buildings refurbishment.

This has not happened in a uniform way across the regional space, with areas in which high real estate prices have driven a reduction in the number of homes (quite few and of small size), while others (most) have gone the opposite way.

Up until now the impact of these dynamics on individual home urban tissues was not well known. Some 2.000 homes are produced each year by subdividing some 770 individual homes, mainly in low- middle income areas with reasonable services and public transportation. Usually ownership transforms in rent units, to which young families go.

This text addresses something which is, in fact, a historical constant: as cities grow, their tissues usually densify, and now a time has come to see how a regulated urbanism copes with that on a massive scale.

Some can see here a victory for public transportation, as this concentrates growth in well served areas; I think more data is needed to see which part of residential choice is induced by that, but no doubt this is also relevant in a congested area as metro Paris.

Columns (5)

Well, some of you think that perhaps is about time I disclose why this sudden interest in columns and computer generated imagery. Besides the obvious fact that I’m an architect that happens to have an eye for urban planning, a broad field, but is still interested in the physical shape of things, there is also a series of increasingly repetitive references around me to 3d printing as the next big think. Which I happen to agree with, even if my knowledge of the field is quite limited.

I will stick to the basics: 3d printing (or additive manufacturing, in a more technical jargon) allows the production of nearly anything that can be described in a 3d object description language, even if it is a composite object with multiple materials or even moving parts (or regardless of other qualities of the object itself). The cost of production is still unknown in the long term, as it is still developing as a technology; I do not know how it compares in economic and environmental terms with other manufacturing systems (will there be superfund sites associated with future 3d printing mills or their supply chains? Chances are, as with almost any other industrial system). But I think it can change many things depending on some elements:

There is much talk about how much market share 3d printing will grab in overall manufacturing. From a massive point of view, in terms of architecture, I think we are again facing the problem of prefabs, only from a different perspective. Some decades ago, people thought that prefabrication would be the future of architecture, but the current reality is rather mixed: sure, you have standard building elements in all advanced countries, but some things are simply not that convenient to prefab, as foundations. On the other side, prefab housing has got a negative image (at least in parts of Europe) as it is associated to social housing that has problems enough. The fact is that being able to use what is seen as a better technology will not always translate into effective use. Some will contend that 3d printing allows to just do what prefab could not: give specific answers to each problem, and a better quality.

And therein lies the rub. I do not know how much market share 3d manufacturing will capture, but there is what I would call an “intelligence cost” in architecture (or in any other production system) that probably will work against personalized elements from becoming the norm. Just assume you are to buy a home and you are on a tight budget: you will probably like customized architecture, but chances are that if you are offered an affordable price, you will go for a standard solution. Sure, you can use an algorithm to make each home different from the ones on each side, but getting a pleasant result requires a hard work, that has to be paid (well, architects have been doing it for centuries). So probably the incremental improvement of the industrial products we have come to be used to relating to computing will extend to material stuff, but in a subtle way. I can think of better I-beams, in which you can have, for instance, variable thickness flanges, increasing the efficiency in the use of steel, but this is something that will be invisible to the lay man. Right now it seems less likely to see in a near future every home being totally personalized (unless in some posh suburbs). And I’m not sure to see building sites as large scale plotters printing whole buildings at a rate of 1 mm per minute (in fact, concrete structures are already rather additive…), or as sets of robots moving from column to column building each to a specific design. Putting something in contact with the ground, which will deform under pressure, has complexities that seem hard to address with this kind of manufacturing.

A column is a structural element. Hansmeyer’s experiments are to be followed as morphogenesis is always interesting, but they are sometimes far from structural efficiency. That is not bad in itself, but just means it will somehow be for a niche market.

Given a chance to put a personal touch on your home, would you build something with your own hands (Christopher Alexander said architects should always put that touch on their buildings) or with a 3d printer? For most people, 3d software will be awkward. But some will make interesting contributions; or just think of what Ferdinand Cheval or Justo Gallego would have done with a 3d printing machine

Image by Yu. Khasanov

Let’s go back to Djuma mosque in Khiva. What is interesting there is that you have all the intelligence you need to produce that outstanding building, integrating the production systems and the technological knowledge. Columns are different, and I suspect that it is, among other things, for the same reason that stones have mason signs in European churches: a carver was paid for the elements he produced, so they had to be somehow recognizable. From a structural point of view, the elegance of the basis of the column comes from the fact that the surrounding walls are quite thick; I have never been there, but a wood post with this configuration is clearly unable to transfer lateral loads to its base, so this is a logical conclusion. Can 3d printing give us a better architecture? Just if the architecture is better, construction is just a part of it.

Columns (3)

Lets keep playing with the cube. Now with increasingly open cubes, that this time turn around themselves in the three axis while they go up, so we have a vertical column.

columna-a1 columna-a2 columna-a3 columna-b1 (2) columna-b1 columna-b2 (2) columna-b2columna-b3The geometrical code for this last image is as follows (povray again):

#declare cubhuec= difference {

 box {<-1.05, -1.05, -1.05> < 1.05, 1.05, 1.05> pigment{ color rgbf<.54, .55, .99,0>} } 
 box {<-1, -1, -1.3> < 1, 1, 1.3> pigment{ color rgbf<1, .3, .2,0>} } 
 box {<-1, -1, -1.3> < 1, 1, 1.3> rotate <0,90,0> pigment{ color rgbf<1, .3, .2,0>} } 
 box {<-1, -1, -1.3> < 1, 1, 1.3> rotate <90,0,0> pigment{ color rgbf<1, .3, .2,0>} } 

#declare hcolumn=7;
#declare n=0; 
#declare ndiv=1;
#while (n<ndiv)
object {cubhuec scale <1,1,1> rotate <360*n/ndiv,360*n/ndiv,360*n/ndiv> translate <0,0,n*hcolumn/ndiv> }
#declare n=n+1 ;

box {<-10, -10, -4> < 10, 10, -1.2> pigment{ color rgbf<.99, .99, 1,0> } } //floor

Columns (2)


Well, let’s do for a moment something that could seem like what Michael Hansmeyer has done. He worked with cubes, altough he decided to subdivide the cubes like folding them; here the issue will be simple rotations of the cube, that can give you unexpected results. Hansmeyer has used in his works processing, a graphic software that is open source and free, and I’m using here something older, albeit somehow simple and effective, povray, which also happens to be free to download and use at will (some are even using it to 3d print sugar elements…). In the end, this could be a design for a part of column.


If you ask the cube to spin around a vertical axis, you get in the end a cylinder (the upper image is made of just 10 cubes, so it is not still there).


But if you gently ask your cube to rotate also around an horizontal axis as it turns around the vertical axis, some things start to happen. The upper image shows 10 iterations of that, and the lower one 100 iterations.

column4 column-b-1

To better grasp what happens, lets use two slightly shorter red and green slabs in the upper and lower parts of the rotating cube…

column-b-2 column-b-3 column-c-1

Shape becomes rather flamboyant (and, to be honest, not architectural at all) when you change the proportion of the green and red companions.


10 iterations


100 iterations

column-c-41.000 iterations

The geometrical code for that last image is, in pov terms, as follows:

#declare n=0; 
#declare ndiv=1000;
#while (n<ndiv)

 box {<-1.1, -1.1, -1> < 1.1, 1.1, 1> translate <0,1.5,0> rotate <0,360*n/ndiv,360*n/ndiv> pigment{ color rgbf<1, .9, .5,0>} } 
 box {<-.1, -1, -.1> < .1, .1, -3.1> translate <0,1.5,0> rotate <0,(360/ndiv)*n,(360/ndiv)*n> pigment{ color rgbf<1, 0, 0,0>} } 
 box {<-.1, -.1, 1> < .1, .1, 3.1> translate <0,1.5,0> rotate <0,(360/ndiv)*n,(360/ndiv)*n> pigment{ color rgbf<0, 1, 0,0>} }
 sphere { <-1.1,-1.1, -1> 0.5 translate <0,1.5,0> rotate <0,(360/ndiv)*n,(360/ndiv)*n> pigment{ color rgbf<.7, .8, 1,0>} }
 sphere { <1.1,1.1, 1> 0.5 translate <0,1.5,0> rotate <0,(360/ndiv)*n,(360/ndiv)*n> pigment{ color rgbf<1, .5, .5,0>} }

#declare n=n+1 ;