Page E2.2 . 09 August 2006                     
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    Sustainable Housing Prototypes


    Housing in India

    Piercy Conner Architects have focused their practice on vast postindustrial urban landscape, where brownfield sites can create new opportunities for expanding cities. They believe urban sustainability is as much to do with discovering new economically viable mixed-use relationships as it is about saving energy.

    The competition program called for a five-story apartment building in the new town of Rajarhat, 6 miles (10 kilometers) northeast of the central business district of Kolkata. The building was to include eight three-bedroom apartments of 1200 square feet (112 square meters) plus a community hall and parking.

    The building was expected to respond to its tropical climate with mechanical air-conditioning minimized by natural ventilation and shading. From June to September, the average rainfall in the Kolkata region is 62 inches (158 centimeters), so the architects were asked to respond with onsite rainwater collection and storage. The structure would need to resist cyclone-force winds and Zone 3 seismic loads.

    Piercy Conner Architects' proposal consists of "folding steel trays" with a permeable outer skin created from steel panels positioned to respond to sun path, rainfall, views, and need for privacy. The resulting facade is reminiscent of many screens and friezes found in Indo-Islamic architecture, and they open the spaces to cross ventilation.

    The so-called SymHouse standardizes component sizes and assembly processes to achieve an acceptable finish quality while making construction costs low and predictable and taking advantage of India's abundant unskilled labor pool.

    The prototype design is also flexible in terms of adaptability to other site locations where taller buildings may be required; the building's mass can be increased by adding extra stories. This can lead to greater economies of scale, with more units sharing the foundation, roof, and community space costs.

    The jury was struck by the simplicity and lightness of the scheme and especially its provision for ventilation across every space. "The inclusion of the roof terrace and the potential for the plan to provide open and closed zones within apartments was also striking," they noted.

    Housing in Poland

    Receiving the award for the Warsaw prototype housing was the Dutch firm Architectenbureau cepezed. For 30 years, this medium-sized firm has worked at every scale from interior design to town planning, and they have explored customized building using industrial construction methods.

    The program for the Polish portion of the competition called for a five-story, 20-apartment building targeted at young professional couples and 3- to 4-person families. The one- and two-bedroom apartments were required to be of 650 to 860 square feet (60 to 80 square meters), and the building was also to incorporate parking and a community hall.

    The architects were asked to design for a temperate climate with warm summers, cold winters, and annual precipitation of 24 inches (600 millimeters). They were to minimize mechanical ventilation and to maximize solar heating, rainwater harvesting, and use of ground heat pumps.

    Architectenbureau cepezed devised a prefabricated system with simple, flexible floor plans. Each living unit includes a load-bearing frame of welded rectangular, hollow steel profiles. These frames also are a part of the facade, enabling easy expansion of units.

    Fifty-percent of the unit's facades are glazed panels or sliding doors. Closed wall panels complete the facades and are made of steel sandwich material, which comes with a selection of light weight cladding for architectural flexibility. The prefab bathrooms come complete with ductwork and piping, and the roof is PVC or rubber-based foil over thermal insulation to avoid potential water build-up.

    Most of the components are manufactured of recycled materials such as car tires, anhydrite, and steel. Optimized manufacturing methods and design engineering further reduce overall raw material use and minimize the amount of material lost as scrap or waste during production.

    Beyond manufacturing, energy consumption will be minimized during the dwellings' operational life because of light construction, high insulation, and air tightness. The hot water supply will come from a system that uses warm ventilated air (accumulated from internal loads), passive solar energy, and the space-heating system. Glazed facades and attention to orientation ensure a passive solar heat supply, supplemented by a heat pump on overcast days or cold nights. Natural ventilation alone cools the dwelling in the summer.

    The entire dwelling was designed for disassembly at the end of its useful life, whereupon all components will be 100-percent recycled or reused.

    Murcutt observed: "We were very impressed with the entry from Architectenbureau cepezed for Poland... The flexibility of the layout will enable full advantage to be made of ventilation and daylight." The scale of the proposed design and, in particular, how the configuration of the building can respond to its context also impressed the jury.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    The competition was sponsored by Living Steel, a consortium of steel companies and associations worldwide. Through this competition, Living Steel promotes innovation in the design and construction of housing using steel. The winning submissions are being developed for construction beginning mid-2006.

    The winners were selected by an independent jury and approved by the International Union of Architects. Besides chairman Murcutt, the jury included Charles Correa, James Berry, Andrew Ogorzalek, Jaime Lerner, and Nicholas de Monchaux.



    ArchWeek Image

    Flexible rain and sun screens of the Piercy Conner Architects proposal for sustainable housing in Kolkata (Calcutta), India.
    Image: Piercy Conner Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Maximizing natural ventilation in the tropical housing scheme.
    Image: Piercy Conner Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Transparent facades allow in breezes while blocking sun and rain.
    Image: Piercy Conner Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Perforated metal facade screens.
    Image: Piercy Conner Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Prefabricated, steel-frame unit of the Polish housing prototype by Architectenbureau cepezed.
    Image: Architectenbureau cepezed

    ArchWeek Image

    Prototype housing in Warsaw.
    Image: Architectenbureau cepezed

    ArchWeek Image

    Prefabricated, steel-frame housing unit.
    Image: Architectenbureau cepezed

    ArchWeek Image

    Prototype housing in Warsaw.
    Image: Architectenbureau cepezed


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