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high density

When thinking of high density, one of the most important issues is how we perceive it and how it affects us, the users of high density environments. The built environment affects directly personal relationships and neighborhood relations, while spatial configuration is an important factor in determining satisfaction of residents. Also, the experience of living in high density environments is much more complex than living in lower density environments. Thus, I believe that understanding the relationship between people and the built environment and the way in which high density affects human behavior and social relations is particularly important for designing and constructing new high-density residential environments.

Due to the urban way of life in which large populations of people live in artificially constructed areas, much of their behavior is thought to be influenced and guided by the architectural character of spaces and the qualities of the physical environment. The built physical environment manifests a direct influence on our behavior, on the social systems that govern our social group interactions and on our individual experience and behavior. People are in a permanent contact and exchange with their environment, and as Andrew Baum and Stuart Valins (1977) note in their book Architecture and Social Behavior, ”our behavior can be conceptualized as a dynamic sequence of adjustments and readjustments to our physical and social environment” (p. 1) [1]. The way in which the architectural configuration affects the behavior can be expressed as a function of ongoing or potential social dynamics and psychological orientations.

In the human interaction with the built environment and its influence on us, its effects are mediated by a number of variables with a high degree of complexity, which are involved within the framework in which the exchange between the individual and its environment takes place. In this framework, the effects of certain spatial configurations are manifested through complex interactions with other physical, social or psychological dynamics. Thereby, the effects of architecture are truly universal, overcoming aesthetic and symbolic properties, but they represent only a part of the overall effect that the environment has on us. Architecture influences our experience and behavior in the context of both general and specific variables. Thus inappropriate distance to certain objects, physical or social conditions of the built environment, spatial or functional distances between social groups can influence individuals, social behavior and the development of the group. Prior studies have shown that the variables of a configuration do influence the psychological and sociological processes, suggesting that some specific properties of the built environment affect social contact and its regulation, playing a key role in defining living conditions [1].

The implications of the high density environments on human behavior

The scientific concern for the effects of crowding on people started to take shape with the beginnings of industrialization and becoming organized in the 1920s, coinciding with the moment in which for the first time urban population exceeded the rural population in American cities. The studies on its negative effects of urban life and implicitly of agglomeration on human behavior increased after the Second World War, when American and European cities recorded an unprecedented real estate boom. The first sociological studies on the influence of density are based on the premise that urban life is a continuous source of aggressive behavior, frustration and conflict that generates as a final result a number of evils and social dysfunctions.

Density and social pathologies

One of the first studies on the effects of crowding is Calhoun’s laboratory study, conducted on a population of rats. In laboratory conditions, populations of rats were subjected to spatial constraints and limitations, while being provided with enough water and food supplies. While the only limited resource was space, the rat population instead of growing exponentially because of food suffered a dramatic decrease, exhibiting violent and aggressive behavior, high infant mortality, a decreased quality of nests and even a lack of nest building exhibited by mothers, cannibalism, deviant sexual behavior, followed by asexual behavior and total withdrawal from the community’s social life.

The grouping of those manifestations was defined by Calhoun as a “behavioral sink”, and the conclusions of the study and the term that describes them became very influential after they were published, migrating from the academic area into urban culture. A behavioral sink is described as being “the outcome of any behavioral process that collects animals together in unusually great numbers. The unhealthy connotations of the term are not accidental: a behavioral sink does act to aggravate all forms of pathology that can be found within a group” (p. 144) [2]. Still, explaining a pathology relying exclusively on the conditions of high density has a limitation that was proven by further studies, and the extension of the study’s findings on the human urban population has been proven inconsistent. In fact, Calhoun’s study rather refers to different degrees of social interaction than simple physical conditions of density, demonstrating the alteration of normal social behaviors of animal populations through the stress caused by crowding conditions induces by a high density environment.

Crowding and behavior, a necessary distinction. The theory of density-intensity

The psychologist Jonathan Freedman (1975) conducted a lab research on people based on the performing of different tasks under different density and crowding conditions. He demonstrates that it is not density that determines the degenerative behavior of populations, but crowding. Crowding does support excessive social interaction and a lack of control over unwanted social contacts.

Freedman defines the framework for the study of high density consequences, noting the important distinction between crowding in physical terms, as defined by lack of space and the perceived crowding, defined as the “sensation of being crowded”, a distinct feeling from that of having very little space. The study of human behavior is related to the physical state of high density and not to the sensation, and the main issue in determining the effect of density is the control of other social factors (social variables) with which high density is generally associated, such as poverty, level of education, ethnicity. He elaborates the theory of density-intensity which supports the idea that crowding increases the importance of other people to the situation, as “[…] crowding by itself has neither good effects nor bad effects on people but rather serves to intensify the individual’s typical reactions to the situation” (p. 89-90) [3]. Crowding intensifies the importance of other people involved in the situation, the individual’s reaction towards the other participants as well as towards the situation itself. His findings support the fact that density doesn’t generally have negative effects on humans, but it intensifies the typical reactions towards other people involved in the crowding situation. Density itself is not unpleasant, but its perception depends on the situation, by the fact that the situation might be pleasant or unpleasant for the person experiencing it [3].

Architecture and behavior

One of the first sociological studies that relate the behavioral manifestations to the configuration of the built environment is that of Andrew Baum and Stuart Valins (1977) that compare the attitudes and behaviors of two similar groups of students that live in two different types of dormitories, with different planimetric layouts. The major difference between the dormitory layouts is a functional one, regarding the way in which the living units are grouped in relation to the common areas, while the amount of space provided per person is comparable. One of the dormitories has a corridor-design layout, in which the bedrooms are organized along one single hallway. The students who live in this configuration are exposed to a high level of interactions with a very large number of people. The other type of dormitory has a suite-design layout, with four or six person suits arranged along one central hallway. This configuration does sustain privacy and the possibility of filtering the unwanted interactions with other residents. The corridor-design dormitories, due to the spatial configuration of the layout, do not allow their residents to control the interactions with large numbers of students, also intensifying the consequences of interactions that can be perceived as stressful. The suite-design dormitories on the other hand offer their residents enough protection against unwanted social contacts, as well as control over desired contacts. The results of the study showed that students that lived in the corridor-design dormitories, being exposed to large groups and intense and uncontrollable social interactions have developed a greater sensitivity to group size and a lower tolerance towards crowding. Their way of adapting to the frequent and unregulated social interactions is generally withdrawal and avoidance of social interaction.

baum valins

The conclusions show that the perception of crowding is a function of the frequency of interaction and unwanted and uncontrolled social contact, and it becomes negative in relation to both friends and strangers, at the moment in which the frequency of social contacts reaches a point where regulating interactions becomes difficult or even impossible. The negative feeling generated by crowding in relation to the architectural layout is translated by the two scientists as “a syndrome of stress related to the breakdown of social regulation” (p. 102), associated with loss of control and unsatisfying and unwanted interactions. Its most obvious manifestations are stress and avoidance behavior. However, the consequences of stress caused by crowding do not have long-term effects and its manifestations disappeared shortly after students have moved to other dormitory types available in the campus [1].

Social implications of high-density housing

Robert Edward Mitchell (1971) has studied the effects of high-density housing and housing units on the emotional health and family role relations in a very specific environment, that of Hong Kong. The habitation situations of Hong Kong provided many types of relationships between residents, housing units being shared by either members of the same family or by members of distinct families or households. Mitchell elaborates a set of considerations relevant for the influence of residential density on residents, establishing primarily that physical characteristics of density within the dwellings do not influence the level of emotional stress perceived by residents. The decisive influence on perceived stress is held by the social characteristics of the residential environment, especially the social composition of the dwelling unit, through the structure of social life and social control of the neighborhood. Thus, individuals do not respond directly to housing, since the effect of the architectural features of housing exerts an indirect influence. Instead, housing affects the patterns of social relations, and the individuals react to those social patterns that are influenced and determined by the architectural configuration.

The main effects due to housing with high density conditions identified by Mitchell are: clear awareness of lack of space in the housing unit, the influence of social structure on the internal relations of the housing unit, respectively the differences perceived in the situation of cohabitation of family members or people without family relationships, the latter condition leading to a state of increased stress. Stress amplifies in the case where avoiding unwanted contacts isn’t possible, mostly due to the home’s location in the higher levels of the building, where withdrawal to neutral spaces or public spaces is not possible. Other effects are parents having a decreased control of children through the fact that children are given a greater freedom in spending time outside the housing unit, and finally discouragement of social practices of friendship between neighbors and friends, since the usual entertaining practices aren’t carried out due to lack of space. Also, the study showed that individuals can bear high levels of density in the housing unit, provided only that members of a single family reside it [4].

The relation between apartments and the perception of the surroundings

A recent study from the area of environmental psychology is that of Annie Moch, Florence Bordas and Daniele Hermand (1996) that studies density subjectively perceived by the residents of collective housing estates from dense areas of Paris, respectively the 13th arrondissement. The researchers note that the need for privacy in the home is a basic need in relation to housing, with decisive influences on social life, while the lack of satisfying this need can have extremely negative influence on social life. Also, the feeling of congestion can be attributed to a number of different reasons, such as physical, social or individual factors.

Human perception of density in relation to the apartments is influenced by a number of variables, such as residential satisfaction, but also factors that are linked with the presence of other persons within the collective housing, such as interpersonal relations and the possibility to have control over social interactions. The residential satisfaction of the internal density of one’s apartment influences the perception of density of the surrounding neighborhood outside the apartment. The more residents perceive their own apartment as being cramped, respectively the available amount of space as insufficient, the more this subjective perception will extend outside, upon the whole neighborhood that will be perceived as overcrowded. Also, the perception of density depends on the social relations, because as crowding is stronger perceived, satisfaction towards social interactions with the neighbors is decreasing.

Density seems to be generally perceived by residents through the filter of other factors that people normally associate with the presence of others, such as high levels of noise, cleanliness, odors or unwanted interactions with others. Generally, the well-being of people is inversely proportional to the feeling of crowding, meaning that as density increases so does the feeling of annoyance towards the surrounding environment [5].

Social and psychological implications of high density city space

Bryan Lawson (2009) discusses the influences that the spatial arrangement of the public space and the elements from the immediate vicinity of housing have on the quality of life, calculated by the satisfaction measurement of the need for privacy, and on relationships within territory. He studies different situations of the public space, in relation with the generic perceptions that these generate.

Privacy and loneliness are considered to be subjective indicators of social interaction in public space, which do not have universal values since their perception depends on cultural variations, some cultures being more gregarious than others. Privacy refers to an individual’s ability to control the amount and type of contact he has with others and Lawson suggests that satisfying the need for privacy by design should be achieved by offering spatial boundaries that users can operate in order to organize hierarchically their social contacts, both inside and outside the home. On the other hand, Lawson comments on the general belief that high density entails an increased feeling of loneliness and a lowered sense of belonging to the neighborhood in terms of spatial design. He considers high density as having an altering effect on social trust that occurs when the public domain is not designed with consideration for hierarchy and local conditions.

On the perception of public space, an important role is played by the notions of private, public and semi-public space. Those notions are linked with the concept of territoriality, an attribute that refers to the social structure. The attachment towards certain territories, the clear awareness of borders and the tendency to defend them are manifestations of territoriality, and the modern city is a source of degradation of this feeling. The factors that are negatively influencing territoriality are: ambiguity of spatial design, uncertain borders and areas that are hard to defend. In relation to the environment, territoriality is identified with three needs: the need for stimulation, identity and security. The spatial configuration elements that can be traced by design in order to support the well-being of inhabitants are identified as: defining privacy by spatial borders that allow control over social contacts by the inhabitants of an apartment; offering relations for the apartment with public space that should contain also green areas with natural character, both visual and of access; maintaining areas with natural qualities in relation to urban spaces in areas of the city with high density, green qualitative and well maintained urban areas being considered to be the most important factor in determining the perceived quality of life in big cities; accessibility and quality of public transport; an increased level of security and a low level of anti-social behavior; noise control.

Through his study, Lawson proves that many of the problems generally attributed to high density are not in fact linked to numerical coefficients of distribution, but are more related to spatial geometry, although high density determines an increase of the negative perceptions of the environment. Thus, for a well balanced urban space in relation to the needs of its inhabitants, spatial configuration and the contents of that space are important, and problems of spatial perception could be avoided by an attentive design [6].

CONCLUSIONS

It is generally true that as population density increases, the greater the potential of emergence of conflicts and unpleasant situations. These negative manifestations of density are due to the increase of social contacts, and therefore of unwanted contacts, doubled by lack of control [1, 6]. They are not the result of physical density of people or spatial elements.

The determining factor influencing the perception of density by people who live in high-density environments is not density itself, as it’s tempting to easily deduct, but the combination of social and physical characteristics of space, decisive being the interaction between individual and the environment as a whole. Also, perceived density is influenced by a number of variables that are either individual cognitive attributes of the individual, or attributes of the environment in which he finds himself, so they may be physical, social, psychological and cultural [1, 6].

The built environment, both in terms of public space as well as building, if configured in a correct way can improve the perception of density, while if configured incorrectly may lead to a negative perception of density.  A correctly built environment can, by means of its own configuration help to improve the perception of density and can alleviate negative feelings perceived by its residents generated by high density. Central to the relationship between architectural configuration, people’s experience and their behavior is the way in which built environment meets the needs and social expectations of its inhabitants.

References

[1]  Baum A, Valins S. Architecture and Social Behavior: Psychological studies of social density. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1977.

[2]  Calhoun JB. Population Density and Social Pathology. Scientific American, Vol. 206 (3), pp. 139–148, 1962.

[3]  Freedman JL. Crowding and Behavior. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1975.

[4]  Mitchell RE. Some Social Implications of High Density Housing. American Sociological Review, Vol. 36, pp. 18-29, 1971.

[5]  Moch A, Bordas F, Hermand D. Perceived density: how apartment dwellers view their surroundings. Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography, 1996. URL: http://cybergeo.revues.org/294; accessed in 05.03.2012.

[6]  Lawson B. The Social and Psychological Issues of High Density. In: Ng E, editor. Designing High-Density Cities for Social and Environmental Sustainability. London: Earthscan; pp. 285-292, 2010.

Excerpt from the paper:

Contemporary High-Density Housing. Social and Architectural Implications

written and presented at the QUESTIONS workshop held in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, 14-16 july 2013; in process of printing at Acta Technica Napocensis: Civil Engineering & Architecture

Dense environments have always carried dual connotations – on one side they are considered positive due to the sustainable use of resources and the intense social links they generate, but on the other side they are recognized to generate negative effects on humans, such as stress. Starting with the industrial revolution, a strong debate arose regarding the benefits and downsides of density, especially regarding the relation between existing crowded urban environments and the programmatic development of new healthy environments. The debate remained unsolved for a long time, until recent studies have determined an important element that actually shifts the balance between good or bad density, namely the quality of an environment.

I’m currently reading cities full of space, qualities of density by Rudy Uytenhaak. He argues that the built density is the source of a loss of (natural) quality, and the role of urban and architectural design is that of neutralizing this effect by eliminating oppressive spatial configurations and by generating diversity through the design of “intelligent puzzles”.

rudy uytehhaak-desaturatedRudy Uytenhaak Architectenbureau

The quality of density is the most significant feature of the urban built context, and as Uytehnhaak R. points out, “without sufficient quality, density does not work – it even becomes dangerous”. This idea balances the previous interdisciplinary discussions about the justifications underlying positive or negative high-density architecture models of the architectural culture, determining the defining criterion for models with a correct functioning. Spatial quality, as he states, should be sought for in the architectural design of new buildings as a way of compensating for density and its potential negative effects.

Dietmar Eberle (Baumschlager Eberle), in a lecture held at TU Graz on Density, talks about density as determining the urban atmosphere, and that this atmosphere is mostly dependent on the character of the empty public space. The empty open space is what makes us relate to a place. After studying 4 different cities and 40 different locations within those cities, he concludes that the quality of density isn’t good or bad, but it simply has automatic fixed determinations upon quality, atmosphere, people  fluctuation etc. Also, the categories of density represent the current values of time and society. Currently, the quality of a neighborhood is proportionally related to the quantity of public owned open space – 30%…40% for qualitative neighborhoods. So, open space must be increased in order to obtain quality in dense environments. Buildings and open space remain un-ordered in built densities under 1,5, meaning that the position of buildings remains insignificant to other buildings and their organization is based on other characteristics of the interstitial spaces. With densities higher than 1,5, the open space and buildings start to become ordered in relation to the other buildings. higher density attracts also an increase in visual richness (important in relation to quality),in the careful care of public space, the walk-ability and the mixed-use quality of a neighborhood.

In relation to dense residential environments, I am also interested in the study of collective housing typologies.

Collective or mass housing is defined primarily by quantity and it acquires its spatial quality through grouping. This type of dwelling houses large numbers of people with varying degrees of housing quality. Within it the housing units are closely grouped, according to rules of horizontal or vertical assemblage, generating spaces with public, semi-public or private character in which certain social practices of housing unfold. Collective housing draws its name origin from the way in which the building is accessed, namely by a common path serving all the units [1].
In an attempted typological classification of contemporary collective housing models of high-density, I turned towards a non-exhaustive generic formal classification, based on the studies of Mozas J and Per AF from the “Density Series” books [2]. Each of the typologies uses as starting point the individual housing unit, the apartment, which is consequently multiplied in an identical or variable pattern of configuration. The typological categories vary according to composition principles based on the housing unit, on size and by the way in which the building relates to the urban tissue.

Houses

Starting from the singular and abstract typological unit represented by the individual house, the first category is driven by multiplying, joining or overlapping multiple units. The configurations generated by those operations are either classical attached or row houses, either contemporary types of folded row or stacked houses.
The individual unit is usually related to the terrain, benefiting of a court or a terrace and of direct individual or paired access from the ground level. This category makes the transition from individual housing to collective housing of a higher degree of density.

1 HOUSES

Blocks

The second typology represents a quantitative increase in size, in number of individual units and scale compared to the “house” typology. The block height is moderate, usually ranging between 3 and 5 levels; this height is traditionally justified by the number of levels convenient for walking. Its relative low configuration, its flexible footprint on the ground and its scale allow the object to enroll organically within the context.
The block can be freestanding on the plot, it can have free sides or it can continue an existing building by cleaving onto a party wall.

2 BLOCKS

City Blocks

The city block  is an urban building flanked on all sides by streets in relation to the urban fabric. Its scale is directly related to the scale of the city. The city block generally involves a large spatial diversity and a relatively high privacy degree. It can have the same height as the block typology or higher, depending on the context. Buildings ranging between 4 to 7 levels are ideal in terms of energy footprint, which is lower than that of taller buildings.

3 CITY BLOCKS

High-Rise Buildings

The high-rise type, also known as tower block, is represented by tall buildings with multiple levels. There is no universal definition for the number of levels that determines a building to gain this status; this height is variable according to different geographic areas.
This typology is justified by economic considerations, not only in relation to construction costs, but also in relation to urban infrastructure and land resources. Their impact on the neighboring urban tissue is high and the main disadvantages are excessive shading and energy consumption.
The stacked units block is the most interesting type from my point of view, being able to generate spatial quality and diversity. It derives from additive processes of small scale units or overlapped uneven floors.

4_2 HIGH RISE

Mixed Solutions

The mixed solution typology involves combinations of the above, justified by context and project brief. There are no precise formal categories for this typology.

References:

[1]   Zahariade AM. Arhitectură Locuire Oraș, ALO 2009-10. Second year’s course, second semester. Department of Hystory & Theory of Architecture, Faculty of Architecture, UAUIM, Bucharest.

[2]   Mozas J, Per AF. Density: New Collective Housing. A+t ediciones, Vitoria-Gasteiz; pp. 14-17, 2004.

Population density is a phenomenon related to the way in which the population is distributed on the land surface. The population is unevenly distributed across the land, reaching high concentrations in large urban areas while large areas of land remain uninhabited, because people naturally tend to concentrate in areas with desirable conditions, like those of urban areas. The differences in population distribution are high both across countries and between regions of the same country [1], and thus the concept of density of the built environment has relative connotations when trying to compare indices of different areas.

Starting from this fact, it becomes clear that the exact definition of the term high-density architecture can be difficult. The term “density” is itself a complex concept, involving some diversity in terms, and defining it is important before beginning a discussion on density in relation to architecture.

The Definition of Density

High density refers either to physical density, namely the density of a large number of people or the built density related to the land surface, either to subjectively perceived density in relation to the environment and to other participants into a certain space. Physical density is a numeric measure of the concentration of individuals or of physical structures in a certain geographic unit, being a spatial objective indicator, quantitative and neutral. In practice, it only makes sense when linked with a specific reference scale. On the other hand, perceived density represents the individual perception of an estimated number of people present in a given area, of the vacant space and its organization. The character of space itself is important for the perception of density, but the interaction between individuals and environment as a whole is more important. Also the individual cognitive attributes and socio-cultural norms are factors that contribute to this interaction. Perceived density doesn’t only refer to the relative relations between individual and space, but also to the relations between individuals located in the same space.

The definition of density in relation to built environment can have different meanings or different quantification according to the method of analysis and spatial indices taken into account. There is no universal standard formula, only some of the formulas are being used more as opposed to others. Usually, in architecture and town planning, two categories of measurement are used for physical density: population density (Fig. 1) and building density (Fig. 2). Population density is defined as the number of individuals or households per given area, and the building density is defined as the ratio of building structures related to plot surface. All those measures are used in urban planning policies.

population density
Figure 1. Population density

built density
Figure 2. Building density

Building density has a complex relation to urban morphology, playing an important role in determining the urban form. Different combinations between the plot ratio and site coverage will manifest into a variety of different built forms, and urban development of the same density can take very different urban forms [2].

The differences between the surface distribution of population density and that of building density are visible when comparing data of almost every urban tissue. The following example illustrates the difference between the two densities in the case of Timișoara, by graphically expressing the data for the year 2011.

Z:1_PROIECTE63_pug4_work1_urbanism1_ETAPA ANALIZA2_PRED

Figure 3. The difference between the distribution of densities of people and buildings in Timișoara.

Source: illustration from the board Development Analysis I 13_Densities, General Urban Plan (PUG) of Timișoara, drawn by Vitamin Architects based on data provided by the City Hall of Timișoara and used with the consent of Vitamin Architects [3].

In reality, especially when the geographic reference unit is one at large scale, the distribution pattern of people or buildings can vary significantly. To solve the spatial variation of density, different measures have been introduced, such as density gradient or density profile. The density gradient is a composite measure of density and is defined as the rate in which density decreases in relation to the distance towards a reference location, usually calculated according to concentric circles (Fig. 4). By comparing the patterns of density over a period of time, the process of spatial evolution of the city can be depicted, showing either decentralization with a drop of population density in the center and increased density towards the outskirts, either centralization with a growth in population density in both center and outskirts, and the expansion of the borders (Fig. 5) [2].

gradient densitate ENG

Figure 4. Population density gradient for an abstract case.
Figure 5. Density gradients over time: (a) progressive decentralization; (b) centralization.
Source: Illustrations adapted and redrawn after Vicky Cheng (2009, p. 8).

From the perspective of rapid urbanization, the relationship between urban density and built form has always been an important focus of research, determining massive mathematical and geometrical investigation upon the spatial benefits of buildings with multiple levels. The presented definitions and measurements of density are the most relevant ones in relation with the subject of density from an architectural point of view, but they are not the only ones.

References:

[1]   Freedman, JL. Crowding and Behavior. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1975.

[2]   Cheng V. Understanding Density and High Density. In: Ng, Edward (Ed.). Designing High-Density Cities For Social & Environmental Sustainability. London: Routledge; pp. 3-17, 2009.

[3]   Public document downloaded from the City Hall of Timisoara web-site: http://www.primariatm.ro/uploads/files/PUG/URBANISM/parte%20desenata/03_ANALIZA%20DEZVOLTARE/13_ad_DENSITATI.pdf.

The growth of population is currently one of the general global issues, its severity being increased in relation to resource depletion. From the perspective of the continuous growth of population, generating built environments capable of housing the entire population and adapted properly to the context is a major challenge of contemporary architecture. Proper relationship to a dynamic context in which the social, political, environmental and economic components are constantly changing is even a greater challenge.

However, density as unique criterion for generating built environment and urban quality has limitations. General attitudes towards high density architectures so far are dual. The positive arguments take into account the rational use of urban land resources, in relation to maintaining a compact urban and infrastructure development, with minimal impact upon the surrounding rural and natural areas, with efficient use of urban transportation systems and fuel resources. Also, areas including major population become themselves sources of variation and intensity, providing a very rich exchange of ideas, as Patrick Schumacher1 notices. On the other hand, negative implications arise in relation to the same urban components, identified by the congestion of urban landscapes, reduction of urban green areas and the occurrence of heat islands, deterioration of urban networks and traffic infrastructure by overloading, and not least an increase of psychological stress for the inhabitants.

Architecture is cyclically rewriting its formal and morphological language, generally as a counteraction to previous negative experiences in relation to context changes. In the past 30 years, constructions of large scale developments were accompanied by homogenization of the built product, resulting in maximizing the economic value of the project at the expense of social value2. Today, we are witnessing a new transition in the writing style of architecture, where the expansion of the built environment based solely on making a profit and speculative investments becomes abandoned by the manifestation of the recent economic crisis. Urban societies undergo a subtle transition in parallel, due to jobs migration from the perspective of the same crises and recent changes in family structure. The mononuclear monogamous family as it existed in the last century is no longer exclusively the norm. In relation to this background, new rules are needed for composing the built environment.

Architectural experience so far has shown that large-scale urban projects are generally incapable of long-term adaptation, generating urban and social conflicts and eventually being blamed in the end by being left empty. A design that vertically multiplies the same plan scheme or over determines constructions while looking for the perfect match of form and function is no longer viable in light of current changes. The main theme of contemporary design is relating to a constantly changing context. The process of urban development itself is a complex process constantly evolving, and the nature of contemporary urban life is very different from that of the traditional town, being more complex, heterogeneous, interrelated and dynamic3. For the contemporary city, consisting of a dense and varied overlapping of layers, information, populations, activities and relationships, a complex design strategy is required, able to incorporate all these components.

50 years ago Jane Jacobs, in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities4, identified a series of principles that support a dense and vital city. The same principles remain valid until now, namely supporting the density of the built environment through diversity, of constructions as well as of activities, through multiple functions, small building components forming larger units, a mix of buildings of different conditions and a high concentration of population, all for the purpose of supporting diverse actions and interactions. Density of the built environment itself cannot generate quality and direct benefits by exclusively applying principles of quantity, for density must be related to other factors such as building shape, mixed use or organisation of activities, in order to generate environments of rich activities. The principle of sustainability is also important in relation to the qualitative aspect of future developments. Architectures must relate in a sensitive manner to the existing urban character, to incorporate local influences while promoting diversity and being adapted to climatic, cultural and social local character.

The key to sustainable future high density architectures lies in generating built environments capable of adapting to changes. These models will be flexible, renewable, adaptable and capable of transformation and self-redefinition in relation to context changes. The adaptability of the built environment in a future scenario can result either from the compositional pattern of designing the whole, either through over-engineering and bio-mechanization of building materials and technologies. I am interested in the first approach, that of context adaptation through the composition of the whole made out of small-scale units, various and vaguely defined, basically a large-scale object constructed ​​of many small sub-units. The granulation of the whole is what generates spatial quality as well as quality of use, enabling the adaptation to context. A possible future scenario includes large-scale spatial organizations made up of multiple parts that can interact in complex ways and generate simultaneous responses to the challenges of context. Their adaptation can be achieved either by changing the inhabitants and the use, either by physical regeneration done by removing or grafting new subunits according to needs.

Monolithic spatial growth / fine-grained spatial growth

Img 1 – Monolithic spatial growth / fine-grained spatial growth

From a functional perspective, projects being build, managed and adapted incrementally can accommodate a wide range of functions and users. In relation to function, it is important to avoid both formal and functional over-determination in the design process, the primary objective being that of generating various support spaces with vague definition that can accommodate manifestations and activities as varied as possible. Those spaces are capable of physical and moral sustainability in the long term, compared to rigidly modeled spaces correlated with a unique function, whose chance of survival is small if the function vanishes. The solution is to produce spatial ambiguous models, whose ambiguities can support functional changes or ongoing uses and may lead to changes in the urban tissue in relation to changes in context. Viability of an architectural model is ultimately verified by its user’s satisfaction and the built environment must be able to negotiate almost in real-time with the needs of each actor involved in urban life.

Decomposition of a solid into micro-units / model of adaptive growth consisting of micro-units

Img 2 – Decomposition of a solid into micro-units / model of adaptive growth consisting of micro-units

Adaptable spatial growths, fine-grained and composed of agglutinated micro-units already exist as architectures of the limit, of vernacular architecture, in slums and in the areas illegally occupied by the poor communities. Spontaneous architecture is an incremental process, and its developments are able to constantly adjust to the situation of the physical and social immediate context, being more adaptable to changes and thus more resistant. To imprint these qualities to a large scale high density architecture can generate an architecture that’s sustainable and responsive towards its context, and the product acquires regenerative qualities. There are a series of contemporary projects of exploratory type in this regard, much of them being generated by architectural competitions. Projects using principles of spontaneous growth have emerged in studies, exploratory researches or competition projects, suggesting possible models of adaptive architectures. One such project is Scrap Skyscraper belonging to the group Projeto Colectivo, which uses a fix vertical circulation core and a solid base for generating a housing complex with augmentative growth, consisting of residential units that add up over time, with an additional exoskeleton-like supporting structure that enhances and extends in relation to the growth of the built body. The master thesis project Favela Cloud developed by Johan Kure, Kemo Usto and Thiru Manickam proposes a fluid incremental growth model composed of micro-units with different functions consisting of a mix of housing and cultural functions, related to knowledge and learning processes. The composition of units is the result of a computational process that follows the growth principles of the favelas and the generation of a compact “cloud” hovering above ground, placed on stilts.  Similar principles have begun to migrate towards constructed projects such as 56 Leonard Street by Herzog & de Meuron, a residential skyscraper  in New York, which proposes a series of 145 residential units with unique character, although diversity here appears to be more a commercial asset.

An important challenge in generating adaptable architectures is related to the design process, which involves the integration of diversity as a constructive force, as opposed to the multiplicative process so far. Either it is sought to design a generic framework that functions as skeleton, onto which basic modules are inserted, while other modules will appear or disappear over time, driven by the change context, either a finite object resulted by running all possible future scenarios. The process of growth and adaptation in the first case is not necessarily programmed by design, the original framework acting as a directing skeleton onto which growth can occur spontaneously.

One of the main challenges of the future is adaptation – to the decrease of resources, to the sociopolitical and economical context, to climate changes. Architecture will have to find its own way to adapt.

  1. Patrick Schumacher, My kind of town, http://www.architecturetoday.co.uk/?p=22997, accesed in 10.09.2012
  2. Nic Clear, A Near Future, in: Castle, H., Clear, N. (eds.), “The Near Futures”, Architectural Design Vol. 79, No. 5, September/October, Wiley, London, 2009, p. 6-11
  3. Chye Kiang Heng, Lai Choo Malone-Lee, Density and Urban Sustainability: An Exploration of Critical Issues, in: Designing High-Density Cities for Social and Environmental Sustainability, Edward Ng (ed.), Earthscan, London, 2010, p. 41-52
  4. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Random House Inc, New York, 1961

The need for housing is a basic need, which in its elementary form is translated as need for spatial support and shelter, being a direct follow up of the population growth and of people’s migration towards large cities. Globalization, urbanization and other sociopolitical factors have also heightened the dynamic of the relationship between cities and their surrounding outer urban areas. In relation to rapid urbanization, more people are attracted to cities in a dynamic shift from rural to urban. Most of them leave behind an agricultural life just to start from scratch in an environment they are unfamiliar with. Employment is one of the major factors in determining migration.

DEFINING THE SLUMS. DETERMINING CONDITIONS, TYPOLOGIES AND NUMBERS

All large developing cities attract slums, as a natural and necessary part of the urbanization process. By attracting cheap labor that exceeds the possibility of the city to ensure housing in accordance to the needs of the newly arrived, overpopulation in poor peripheral areas is created. Most of the people that come to large cities in search for work are poor and cannot afford to pay rent. Therefore, living in slums becomes the norm for many, simply out of necessity and not by choice. According to current numbers, one in seven people live in squatter communities – illegally grouped communities or neighborhoods on terrains on which they lack ownership. The act of squatting can be either linked to poverty and to basic deprivation, being also described as “third world squatting”, or can be based on political grounds. Squatting due to poverty derives out of a conflict between power, property and urban development that creates the need for housing but fails to provide a solution. As a result, people are trying to solve the housing problem on their own, generating social and legal conflicts.

The definition of slums is complex, depending on a group of factors that point out the basic deprivations in the living conditions in poor neighborhoods, according to UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme. The main deprivations are: the nature of housing, not being permanent and durable, sufficient living space, easy access to safe water, access to adequate sanitation and the security of property. These deprivations are not homogeneous for all slums and do not necessarily manifest themselves simultaneously [1]. Overall, one in five slum dwellers suffers from at least three basic deprivations and is living in extreme poverty. Slums can also generally be defined as invasions of public or private land with self-build shelters developed by poor groups; the groups of dwellings lack infrastructure and planning. Those communities lack ownership in a legal sense, lack government and city services. Living conditions in all slums are very low, and basic urban services like water, sewers or electricity are missing. The main reason they exist and function is that they offer cheap housing and also ways to earn a minimal living, while the cost of housing here is much lower than in legal urban areas.

ARCHITECTURE OF SLUMS. GENERATION, COMPOSITION AND FEATURES

The architecture of the slums is determined by local conditions and local materials, and can be therefore defined as vernacular architecture. Slum architecture itself doesn’t follow any trend or architecture style and is solely the outcome of direct sheltering necessities. Still, this architecture manages to bear similar characteristics all over the world, being done in a similar fashion and having an easily recognizable image for everybody [2]. The pattern of land occupation, the size of the outer volume and the interior dimensions of a living cubicle are all derived from minimal living necessities. All those characteristics, as well as the similar general image of slum buildings lead the architecture of urban slums to become a global phenomenon, with slight regional differences given by site conditions. The main reason why an architectural phenomenon outside the boundaries of legitimate architecture manages to generate a global current is found in the constant similarity of the contexts of implementation – slums are almost organic growths generated in urban environments, inside urban landscapes, and have similar composition principles. The overall way of construction and composition is not planned, being random and lacking hierarchy. The relation between parts is chaotic, but the assembly take a precise account on all the characteristics of the natural or artificial terrain, onto which it moulds onto, as in the slums of Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Figure 1. Comparative study of occupation patterns and urban grain.Some common features of slum housing recognizable everywhere include: similar building indexes and similar densities; the minimal character of the volume, being a minor architecture build according to possibilities; similar sizing of the interior space generally defined as a unique multifunctional and fickle space in which the life of a whole family evolves; making use of simple volumes and construction techniques; very short construction time, compared to the period that other urban structures need to grow and develop, partially due to the simple building method that doesn’t require long building processes and also due to the lack of planning phases prior to the beginning of the construction; the constant need of improvement and renewal due to the temporary character of the constructions.

Figure 1. Comparative study of occupation patterns and urban grain.

The houses build by the poor are the direct outcome of the opportunities, building skills and knowledge of the owners in relation to the location, to resources and to the economic status, houses being build by their owners alone or in cooperation with their neighbors. The former dwellers of the rural areas have enough vernacular construction knowledge due to the specific activities sustained in the rural environment, where they usually built their homes by themselves or benefited of the support of the community and where grew their own food. The materials used for buildings are generally scrap materials, recycled or recuperated materials, which directly influence the quality of housing. Those dwellings are actually shelters, constructions of temporary character that need constant maintenance, refurbishment and re-construction. They generally offer a simple protective shell, which in most cases doesn’t even guarantee the most basic protection for their inhabitants. Bad housing conditions are the main cause for physical illnesses, due to the absence of minimal sanitation and poorly insulated construction elements, but they also draw other more subtle dangers, such as the lack of education due to lack of electricity, lack of security due to lack of construction sturdiness, but also risks of fire and burglary. This is also the main reason why slum communities are the most endangered group in case of natural disasters. It becomes obvious that a bad housing quality directly affects a large number of people, and therefore perpetuates poverty. Still, sturdier constructions are only generated where the local government policies accept the slums and do not fight to eradicate them [3]. Otherwise, it makes no sense to invest labour and money into a building that might be demolished anytime in the near future, and therefore the slum remains primitive in its composition.

 SUBTERRANEAN ECONOMIES, MARKETS AND EMPLOYMENT

Although slums are located right on the edge highly developed urban areas, their inhabitants often remain inside the limit of the slums and are only active within them, remaining apparently unseen for the rest of the city. Major slums are partially or totally self-governed by persons within the group and develop specific economies in the form of light industries, commerce and services. All those activities manage to produce enough money for the inhabitants in order to ensure them a life from day to day. Beyond the direct benefit brought to their dwellers, subterranean economies directly help the economy of the broader urban body of which they belong. In relation to the developed city, the prices of products resulted from slum production are highly profitable, and the market of the slum is a fertile trade ground. In slums, street vendors and various non-licensed operators managed to generate sufficient jobs for all residents out of sheer necessity of survival. Those small enterprises have proved to be competitive in the global market economy. On the other hand, many major corporations have admitted the possibility to explore the power of unlicensed entrepreneurship, such as the case of the mobile telephone industry that uses the slum retail market [3]. Informal economy is characterized by a larger dynamic compared to its legal forms, strengthened by a great sustainability of specializations. Another feature that helps to the success of these businesses is the fact that they take place in urban areas, and due to the high density of slums, business activities cover a small area of land in relation to the city, so that there is no need for transport services towards users. It is much cheaper and easier to provide services and products in a small area, offering a service from a fixed location, or providing services that require minimal travel by primitive transportation means that do not consume fuels that might lead to increased costs. Still, the paradox of this functional informal economy is that the poor earn exactly enough money to survive, but never enough to advance up the social leather.

SLUM QUALITIES, RESOURCES FOR THE GLOBAL FUTURE

Throughout history, most of the major cities have been built using poor populations that contributed in the construction itself and in strengthening the economy of the central urban core. In contemporary culture, poor satellite towns and slums were considered sources of conflict and negative areas compared to cities in development, but now their importance in the overall process of urban growth is being reviewed. Many contemporary viewpoints consider the slums as a resource for the global future, by the force embedded in this dense structure of people, activities and relationships. The specific force of slums is based on the dense environment, on the social relations and the resilience of their inhabitants, strengthened by the age of the population, which is generally young. The entrepreneurial spirit of the inhabitants keeps the community alive through the economy and the constant housing rebuilding, while the social ties within the slums are very tight, based on relationships of caring, arising from the condition of poverty. Slums contain qualities often invoked by architects and urban planners as attracting the quality of an urban space: they are easy to navigate on foot, containing mixed functions obtained both by the practiced trade and through the multiple uses of housing, and have high density [4], while they are in a continuous process of rewriting and transforming.

One of the most appreciated qualities of slums in this moment is their extremely low energy footprint and their ecological quality, despite low sanitary conditions. Although it seems rather hypocritical to appreciate a quality resulting partly from extreme poverty and partly due to the closed manner in which these communities work, in a world concerned with minimizing the energy footprint per capita it is essentially to study the patterns that regulate this mechanism. The compactness of housing units in the settlement makes the slum itself an ecological model of maximum energy efficiency. Another environmental quality of these communities is their extreme inclination towards recycling, which in most slums represents a way of life. All materials that can be used for constructions are collected and recycled, and the job of collecting garbage for recycling purposes is an occupation that ensures survival. Perhaps the greatest virtue of slums lies right within the qualities of the people that make up the community. Most people are originating from rural areas where they grew their own food and built their own homes, so their knowledge in these areas is vital for surviving in minimum conditions. In addition, the resilience of people from rural areas to harsh conditions is increased and exercised, compared to people raised in urban areas, less trained in the sense of surviving in minimum conditions and with limited resources available. Among the specific spatial qualities that stand out are the opened private spaces, especially in warm climate environments, and the strong relationship with the exterior, their openness towards the public space and neighborhood. Each one sees and is seen constantly, and this fact leads to strengthen the communitarian spirit and lowers crime rates. Slums manage to generate a continuous space of activities and social communication.

CONCLUSIONS FOR FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS. OPERATING WITH SLUMS

For the future development of cities and especially that of architecture, understanding the mechanisms that lead to the functioning of slums is essential. Therefore, the architecture of slums can serve as a model for improving the living conditions in slums, as well as for the future design of sustainable high density residential environments. Concerning the way of operating with these urban growths, it is clear from past experience that denying or destroying them without following any coherent politics of compensation will not bring any positive outcome. Leading an official punitive policy by using force, unrelated to the reality of life in slums, is wrong. Collaboration between government, local municipality and slum communities is necessary. Those communities contain within them a huge social and economic power, managing to survive and resist to all forced attempts to remove them.  A possible solution in managing these growths is to regulate them partially, in a fragmentary and elastic manner, providing legal support and a minimal utility network that would work like a vague framework. The main principles to be followed are retrieving principles of composition from existing built structures of slums and the direct involvement of the community in the construction process. The community is in fact the main actor in shaping and determining the built environment [5].

Minor architecture, of marginal areas and slums, represents s process of densification from within, made out of growths done by additive transformations, sensitive to context and to vicinities. Spontaneous architecture is an incremental process, and those developments are capable of constant adjustment to the physical and social immediate context, being much more adaptable to changes and therefore more resistant. Spontaneous growths, through the lack of regulation and design, include a greater capability for adapting. They are flexible and vibrant urban structures, which can be sustainable physically and socially in the long term. The principles that can be extracted from the architecture of slums can theoretically generate sustainability for any pattern of high density architecture.

One of the main challenges of the future is adaptation – to decreasing resources, to the socio-political and economical context, to climate changes. In this regard, correct future planning involves generating a complex agglomeration of multiple organisms, whose parts interact in rich and complex ways, in order to meet in synergy the city functions.

References

[1] UN-HABITAT, United Nations Human Settlements Programme,http://www.unhabitat.org/documents/media_centre/sowcr2006/SOWCR%205.pdf

[2] García, Tere,The Vernacular Architecture of Swelling Cities, February 8, 2011, 12:41 pm, http://archithoughts.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/the-vernacular-architecture-of-swelling-cities/, accessed in 5.07.2012.

[3] Neuwirth, Robert, Global Bazaar, Shantytowns, favelas and jhopadpattis turn out to be places of surprising innovation, Scientific American, Volume 305; 2011, pp. 56-63.

[4] Tuhus-Dubrow, Rebecca,  Learning from slums, March 1, 2009, http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/03/01/learning_from_slums/?page=full, accessed in 20.07.2012.

[5] Quick Guides for Policymakers no. 1 – Urbanization, Housing the Poor in Asian Cities, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, 2008.

http://www.photomichaelwolf.com/hongkongarchitecture/unten.html

photo by: http://www.photomichaelwolf.com/hongkongarchitecture/unten.html

The continuous growth of the human population is stressing out profoundly the global resources, out of which one is physical space. It is expected that in the near future the population and especially the number of people living in the cities will continue to rise. The population growth must be provided with physical and spatial support in the form of dense urban environments and architecture with similar qualities. Under those conditions, high density architectural forms represent the most viable models for the future in general and for living environments in particular.

The architectural object is a spatial system that offers support for a complex network of social relations that facilitate mutual proximity. Understanding the models of high density architecture can offer a key to successful and healthy architectural design. The main concern should focus on identifying best models for future living environments, and how they can offer a correct support for residents in relation to the crowding degree.

I would first focus on studying social implications of high density environments, followed by a definition of the concept of density in relation to the build environment, and further on an overview of the relations between highly populated environments and the forms of dense architecture, following especially positive models of design.