what about density: a delayed introduction

I started this blog quite abruptly, and missed out on a proper introduction, but not unintentionally. I  focused more on the concept of density and its meaning, and I’m still pondering things. So, this would be a kind of delayed introduction…

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The continuous growth of population in relation to a constant earth surface and to the limited or hardly renewable resources is one of the global concerns. The year 2006 represented a key moment in the evolution of the phenomenon, because from this point on the inhabitants of the cities exceeded half of the world’s global population. It is estimated that in the near future the population, and particularly urban population, will continue to grow, at such a rate that two out of three people born in the following thirty years will live in cities [1]. The population growth requires a physical and spatial support and directly attracts the demand for housing. In this context high-density architectural forms and dense urban environments represent the most viable models for the future in general and for housing in particular.

The implications of high-density architectural models in the current moment overpass the realm of the architectural object and acquire social, ecological and urban meanings. The connotations of contemporary density and the relations they have with the city are important for understanding the way in which high-density architectural forms return to the international culture after a period in which they have been perceived and discussed as a negative phenomenon [2].

The forms of dense architecture have dual connotations, both positive and negative, and the balance between the two is a fine one, based in part on scientific evidence and partly on subjective perceptions. On the one hand, design that uses principles of high-density is more compact and manages to conserve important land resources, reduces required distances for transportation and therefore the energy use, and represents a more economically efficient model. There is also the assumption that areas containing high numbers of people are themselves sources of variation, of intensity and diversity, and that densely populated areas provide a communication experience with multiple possibilities and therefore a very rich exchange of ideas [3]. On the other hand there are potential negative implications directly linked to increased noise or lack of intimacy, or more subtle implications, supported by a number of sociological and behavioral studies that identify crowding as a source of stress and as a factor that can cause behavioral changes in people, in conjunction with the architectural environment [4]. Recent researches in neuroscience come to support sociological speculations about the implications of crowding on stress, recently discovering that people born in large cities and involved in a larger social network have an increased amygdala compared to other people (amygdala being a region of the brain associated with memory and emotional intelligence) [5].

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I will try to focus my future study on dense architectural forms in relation to housing, because housing is one of the most inciting themes of architecture, by its universal character and its relation to one of the most basic human needs, that of dwelling. Additionally, the forms of housing are the result of multiple overlapping contexts, namely political, social, cultural, geographical and beyond. High-density collective housing is being reconsidered as a viable design solution in the current context, but although life planning, social rituals and economic conditions are constantly changing the architectural support remains yet stable. Currently, collective housing is an architecture program in which innovation is not actually perceived, compared to the museum program for example, and the principles of spatial and planimetric configuration remain the traditional ones. The rooms and the functional relations between them remain those intended for a traditional family in relation to a society in which the classical family tends to disappear, being replaced by other dynamic social structures defined by complex relationships [6]. The justification of that is partly linked to the commercial interests of the construction industry seeking maximal results with minimal risks and investment, and partly to the conservative mentality of the population in relation to housing.

Taking into consideration the implications of the recent economic crisis, most of the major current crisis are based on real estate crisis. A large number of families have recently lost their homes which they bought by credits that they couldn’t really afford, aiming for an ideal home and ignoring their real possibilities of purchase. The number of those that can afford an individual home on a plot with a garden is continually decreasing, and the environmental implications of individual houses are negative, respectively a high consumption of energy for transportation, an increase in the number of private cars and pollution generated by burning fossil fuels. However, this dream seems to have been the only available alternative until now for a family in relation to the available housing typologies [7].

It is obvious that traditional design methods are no longer viable under current conditions, and finding new ways to design high-density built environments is a necessity. These new concepts should achieve a balance between the dream of a rural house and the reality and necessity of living in dense urban areas, combined with the real economic possibilities.

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[1]   By the Editors. Street-Savvy: Meeting the biggest challenges starts with the city. Scientific American, Volume 305; pp. 38-41, 2011.

[2]   Clemente MC. High-Density Collective Housing and Urban Space. In: Segatini MA. Contemporary Housing. Milano, Skira editore, pp. 17-23, 2008.

[3]   Schumacher P. My kind of town, http://www.architecturetoday.co.uk/?p=22997. Accessed in 21.05.2012.

[4]   Baum A, Vallins S. Architecture and Social Behavior: Psychological studies of social density. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc, 1978.

[5]   Katsnelson A. The Stress of Crowds. Scientifica American, Volume 305; pp. 38-41, 2011.

[6]   Schittich C. The Challenge of High-Density Housing. In: Schittich, Christian (Ed). High-Density Housing: Concepts Planning Construction, In Detail. Műnchen, Birkhäuser Architecture, pp. 8-11, 2000.

[7]   Maak N. Japanische Architektur als Vorbild Der Fluch des Eigenheims. Frankfurter Allgemeine, Feuilleton, 04.01.2012.


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