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quality of density

From the direction of my studies insofar, I tried to focus on the following question: how could we design better high density environments, and especially collective housing environments?

The research from the previous post has led me to a set of general conditions for designing built environments that could improve the perception of density.

It appears that 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. In this regard it is useful to attempt to establish the general conditions which could support a positive perception of high density while alleviating the effects of high density. These conditions or requirements are formulated according to the needs identified in the perception and social behavior of residents of high-density environments. They do not represent predetermined spatial configurations, but are topics that can be traced by design in order to be translated into spatial configurations. Pursuing these requirements through design can lead to well balanced future living environments, to an improvement of housing and environment quality as well as an increase of residential satisfaction in high density conditions.

The conditions that support a positive perception of high density built environments could be formulated as:

  • achieving a fair balance between the need for privacy offered by housing and the need of interaction and expression in the wider community.
  • reducing unwanted social interactions, while supporting positive interactions that reinforce a sense of community.
  • maintaining satisfactory group sizes at satisfactory residential rates, depending on the conditions of the project, since contact with too many people in the common areas of residential buildings will discourage close social interactions and the sense of community.
  • presenting in the immediate vicinity of residential buildings qualitative outdoor areas, appropriate for social interaction and group control, that community members can use frequently.
  • providing availability and quality in relation to various functions and services. Also, providing easy and diversified access to those facilities is important, as well as the possibility of walking to most of the facilities needed for the daily routine.
  • providing availability and quality of transport, and also diversity for transport, such as bicycle lanes and good public transport links.
  • offering visual relationships and accessibility with qualitative green areas and support in various ways contact with nature. The green public areas in high density settings should be large, coherent, well-landscaped and well-maintained.
  • presenting a high-degree of safety and discouraging vandalism through the configuration of open, public space and also intermediary, semi-public space.
  • presenting sustainable and ecological features in the design of the housing buildings.

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Image: Project OASE 22 :: studio uek, ARGE Köb & Pollak / Schmoeger, goya: (Wien, Austria)

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

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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.