Programme Research Statement

The Architecture of Collective Living

Each cohort of Projective Cities examines a common theme as the starting point for individual research agendas. The current theme is the Architecture of Collective Living. The ambition is to investigate, by comparative analysis, the different organizational, formal, programmatic, and material particularities that define the Architecture of Collective Living in series of historic and contemporary case studies. The different political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions are reflected in a number of parameters that emerge by a series of conflictual aims and ambitions. Different social groups and their interests, different conceptions of social, familial and gender relations, management and decision-making protocols, procurement models, public and private development strategies define the diagrammatic and formal relations of how we live together. All these points define a network of diagrammatic relations that emerge in a series of conflicts and their interrelated scales through which housing and the city are conceptualised: the scale of architecture, its specificity and typological analysis, the urban scale, its configuration, limits, and centralities but also the political and socio-economic realities that organise it, the national scale and the establishment of a citizenry, and the regional scale and its economic and geopolitical realities. The Architecture of Collective Living therefore opens up a discussion of how the urban can be understood through specific architecture and its design, and how its effect as an urban armature is not only of spatial importance, but equally organised by larger political and social discourses.

The spatial organization of the Architecture of Collective Living is reflected on a series of informal and formal relations between subjects, between spaces, between structural and non-structural elements, between objects, and protocols of use and occupation. Any form of collective living is characterised by this multiscalar network of power relations that is specific and particular to each social group and collective that lives together. A series of asymmetries and conflicts emerge that require a resolution framework or at least protocols of conduct. What architecture does is to set up some of these parameters, mainly the definition of units, the relations between parts and the way groups of spaces and people are organised.

Architectural typologies of collective living are shaped by these distinct social diagrams but could vary spatially and formally. Typically, collective living organises part to whole relations that set levels of interaction between individuals: rooms, dwelling units, horizontal and vertical circulations, spaces of collective activities and programmes, complexes, and larger groupings. Distinct types -courtyards, towers, linear blocks- and composite and hybrid types organize the ways and the spaces these different interactions could occur.

Collective living and its politically, historically, socially, economically, and culturally specific characteristics have the capacity to challenge the fundamental diagram of modernity: domesticity. The domestic is a spatial and social diagram that sets very specific hierarchies and relations -gender, age, and programmatic. Today, the single-family dwelling is challenged by the realities of contemporary urban environments. New subjectivities have emerged: many live outside family structures, a younger generation shares housing and working spaces, an increasingly precarious and migrant working force requires short term, serviced accommodation, elderly population has become more present and active in cities across the world.

The reality of the real estate market, the available design tools and building methods and standards are not necessarily reflecting upon the above transformations. Often, the challenges of new forms of collective living are tackled as a financial problem, or an issue of density and lifestyle. However, historically collective living and forms of living together has had the capacity of opening up social and spatial imagination. Today, there is an array of incredibly interesting experimentation in collective living protocols and architectural configurations, such as new forms of cooperatives that have proposed new types of collective living units, such as the ‘cluster apartment’. Moreover, public administrations and private stakeholders are seeking new ideas that would allow for an imaginative transformation of how people live in cities, in urban and rural areas across the world.

Thus, one of the challenges arising from the Architecture of Collective Living is how architecture can respond to changing political, cultural, economic, and urban contexts and how to propose new effective design ideas and models. What is the agency of architecture? How do we develop a pedagogical model that allows for a more effective relation between academic institutions and practice?

Caption: Gianna Bottema, Housing & Care Cooperatives in the Netherlands: Spatial Diagrams of Cluster Living, detail, 2019.

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