Living Steel Competition 2007
Soil conditions posed significant constraints. The soil's low weight-bearing capacity meant that the Brazil designs needed to exploit steel's potential for lightweight construction. Entries also needed to take the tropical climate into consideration, and were asked to minimize the need for mechanical air-conditioning in the summer.
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Andrade Morettin Arquitetos Associados responded with a design for a permeable four-story building. Called Essential Architecture, the plan optimizes natural ventilation to fully eliminate the need for mechanical cooling. Vented outdoor screens, open apartment interiors, and medium-height room dividers help optimize cross-ventilation. Solar gain is minimized through shutters and low-mass materials finished in bright colors. A large steel roof cantilevers off the structure, providing shade and protecting the glass-free facade from rain. Looking beyond the isolated building, the firm envisioned that additional blocks could be spaced to allow air flow between buildings.
The building is elevated on columns with light steel structures to accommodate the soil conditions and to protect the structure from flooding. All of the steel in the building can be recycled.
Marcelo Morettin, a principal in the firm, says, "Besides choosing an architectural repertoire that reinvents local solutions, such as elevated column structures and shaded balconies, we imagined extremely flexible buildings, truly open floor plans, where we have the ability to deal with unpredictable current and future events."
Given the concentration of housing need in the world's tropical zone, the firm also sought to develop a housing solution that would be adaptable to other similar cultural and climatic situations.
Jury chair Andrew Ogorzalek commended the design for its "simplicity and elegance... and its appropriateness to the culture and place." The jury praised the proposal for floor plans that allow flexibility "with clear reference to Brazilian housing."
Recommendations for the project included the addition of staircases at the ends of the building and more thought given to landscaping and outdoor spaces.
Agro-High-Rise for China
For the China project, entrants were charged with designing a high-rise apartment building for low- and middle-income families in Wuhan, a city of eight million people in the subtropical monsoon zone of central China. The program called for an 11-story building within a larger development of multiunit buildings. The number of apartments was left to the discretion of the entrants, with the average floor area specified at about 75 square meters (810 square feet). Designs also had to include ground-floor parking.
Wuhan's climate is very hot and humid in the summer, and cold in the winter. The average annual rainfall is 127 centimeters (50 inches). As in the Brazil program, entrants were asked to minimize the need for mechanical air-conditioning. The target construction cost was €200 per square meter (€19 per square foot).
In its proposal, Knafo Klimor Architects also responded to the dual trends of urban migration and urbanization, which contribute to weakened social communities as well as strained resources. The defining element of the firm's Agro-housing design is an inset vertical greenhouse, a significant space in which residents can interact while growing some of their own food. The greenhouse is equipped with a drip irrigation system that reuses gray water, and its climate is controlled through natural ventilation and a heating system.
The building's rooftop is communal space, too, with a garden and a "sky club" to host social gatherings and celebrations. A kindergarten on the ground floor takes the community one step further toward self-reliance. The apartments feature very flexible interiors. The building's footprint was minimized to keep the ground surface clear for gardening and rainwater harvesting. Paving is limited and made of recycled materials.
The Living Steel jury lauded the project's greenhouse space, which "adapts traditional models of communal space to a high rise topology" in addition to providing a food source. Jury member Glenn Murcutt called it a "gifting" to the residents, an extra measure beyond the program requirements.
The jury said, "the scheme could provide an exemplar building demonstrating how traditional sustainable communities could be created within the high density urban environment."
Further emphasis on the greenhouse component was suggested, as well as extension of daylighting to all the apartment units.
For the UK component of the competition, the jury did not feign enthusiasm; its members were "disappointed with the submissions for the UK and the lack of innovation."
The program for the UK portion of the competition was notably looser that those for Brazil and China, raising questions about whether perhaps the competing firms were hampered by a lack of constraint rather than freed by it.
No specific site was chosen, although the general area was specified to be the Thames Gateway area on the east side of London, much of which consists of brownfield sites and floodplains. The designs were to incorporate a range of housing heights and typologies, with an emphasis on flexibility of unit plans to accommodate a variety of demographic groups: low- and middle-income groups; single people, couples, and families over a range of ages; and immigrants and nonimmigrants.
Submissions were asked to meet "the highest sustainability standards," and were specifically asked to address energy efficiency, materials, water usage, runoff, and other variables. The target construction cost was €1,500 per square meter (€140 per square foot).
To meet these demands, Cartwright Pickard Architects designed a modular housing complex. One module size forms the basis for the units, with a second, smaller module allowing expansion either horizontally or vertically. The complex would center around an enclosed courtyard.
James Pickard, a principal in the firm, says, "Our key philosophy is the way we approach housing design using steel, recognising that you don't want what I call 'potato-stamp architecture' — monotony, repetition and sheer quantity — for the sake of affordable housing. What is needed is a very flexible kit of parts developed from standardized components, from which you can create a very wide variety and choice in housing."
The proposal includes many energy-efficient and environmentally friendly elements, including air-to-air heat exchange, shared biomass boilers fired by wood pellets, solar water heating, and glazed southern exposures to allow wintertime solar gain. Rooftops support green roofs to manage thermal loads in the summer, sun rooms intended as extensions of the living areas, rainwater capture for nonpotable uses, and the solar hot-water arrays. Modular construction reduces site waste and local construction impacts, and facilitates a factory-controlled scrap recycling process.
About the winning design, the jury members indicated that it "represents the best entry available," but went to some lengths to outline the kinds of changes that they believe will be necessary to ensure the project's success, such as consideration of alternative layouts to increase daylighting and further development of the ventilation and light systems in external walls.
The jury did recognize Cartwright Pickard's "concentrated effort to design a comprehensive family of suitable dwellings using offsite modular construction," and expressed hope for a positive "collaborative development process."
Over 1,100 entrants participated in Living Steel's 2006-2007 International Architecture Competition for Sustainable Housing. Eighteen proposals were shortlisted — six for each of the three project sites. This year's winning submissions are being developed for construction beginning in 2008.
Planning and preparation is currently underway for construction of last year's winning prototypes in Warsaw, Poland, and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, designed by Dutch firm Architectenbureau cepezed and British firm Piercy Conner Architects and Designers, respectively.
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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 winners were selected by an independent jury approved by the International Union of Architects (UIA). Besides chair Ogorzalek and member Murcutt, the jury included architects Jaime Lerner (UIA), Cui Kai, Roberto Loeb, and Nicholas de Monchaux (UIA), and developer James Berry.