Building blocks to a new mass housing

‘Block City’ at Prague’s Jaroslav Fragner Gallery, presents the good, bad and ugly sides of mass housing (and the potentially beautiful)

Arts & Leisure
Guest Writer | 07.02.2012
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that support Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Block City, now underway at the Jaroslav Fragner Gallery, presents Dutch architect Bart Goldhoorn's concept for future mass housing
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks, - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that supports Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Dutch Architect Bart Goldhoorn looked at various fields of production, including shoes, which like his Block City concept introduced a standard that still allows for diversity in design
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. In this author's eyes, some of the executions failed to take the mass out of mass housing
Paradoxically, one of the consequences of the former Soviet Union's transformation from communism to capitalism was the introduction of borders. To protect their possessions, people placed gratings on their windows (these were imported from Russia for the exhibition)
EDDEA from Spain was the winner of the closed portion of the A101 Block City competition, which was designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks. Four international architects were asked to design a master plan for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow with the requirement that 80% of the blocks be standard sizes
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that support Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Block City, now underway at the Jaroslav Fragner Gallery, presents Dutch architect Bart Goldhoorn's concept for future mass housing
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks, - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that supports Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Dutch Architect Bart Goldhoorn looked at various fields of production, including shoes, which like his Block City concept introduced a standard that still allows for diversity in design
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. In this author's eyes, some of the executions failed to take the mass out of mass housing
Paradoxically, one of the consequences of the former Soviet Union's transformation from communism to capitalism was the introduction of borders. To protect their possessions, people placed gratings on their windows (these were imported from Russia for the exhibition)
EDDEA from Spain was the winner of the closed portion of the A101 Block City competition, which was designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks. Four international architects were asked to design a master plan for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow with the requirement that 80% of the blocks be standard sizes
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that support Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Block City, now underway at the Jaroslav Fragner Gallery, presents Dutch architect Bart Goldhoorn's concept for future mass housing
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks, - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that supports Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Dutch Architect Bart Goldhoorn looked at various fields of production, including shoes, which like his Block City concept introduced a standard that still allows for diversity in design
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. In this author's eyes, some of the executions failed to take the mass out of mass housing
Paradoxically, one of the consequences of the former Soviet Union's transformation from communism to capitalism was the introduction of borders. To protect their possessions, people placed gratings on their windows (these were imported from Russia for the exhibition)
EDDEA from Spain was the winner of the closed portion of the A101 Block City competition, which was designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks. Four international architects were asked to design a master plan for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow with the requirement that 80% of the blocks be standard sizes
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that support Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Block City, now underway at the Jaroslav Fragner Gallery, presents Dutch architect Bart Goldhoorn's concept for future mass housing
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks, - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that supports Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Dutch Architect Bart Goldhoorn looked at various fields of production, including shoes, which like his Block City concept introduced a standard that still allows for diversity in design
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. In this author's eyes, some of the executions failed to take the mass out of mass housing
Paradoxically, one of the consequences of the former Soviet Union's transformation from communism to capitalism was the introduction of borders. To protect their possessions, people placed gratings on their windows (these were imported from Russia for the exhibition)
EDDEA from Spain was the winner of the closed portion of the A101 Block City competition, which was designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks. Four international architects were asked to design a master plan for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow with the requirement that 80% of the blocks be standard sizes
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that support Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Block City, now underway at the Jaroslav Fragner Gallery, presents Dutch architect Bart Goldhoorn's concept for future mass housing
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks, - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that supports Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Dutch Architect Bart Goldhoorn looked at various fields of production, including shoes, which like his Block City concept introduced a standard that still allows for diversity in design
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. In this author's eyes, some of the executions failed to take the mass out of mass housing
Paradoxically, one of the consequences of the former Soviet Union's transformation from communism to capitalism was the introduction of borders. To protect their possessions, people placed gratings on their windows (these were imported from Russia for the exhibition)
EDDEA from Spain was the winner of the closed portion of the A101 Block City competition, which was designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks. Four international architects were asked to design a master plan for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow with the requirement that 80% of the blocks be standard sizes
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that support Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Block City, now underway at the Jaroslav Fragner Gallery, presents Dutch architect Bart Goldhoorn's concept for future mass housing
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks, - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that supports Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Dutch Architect Bart Goldhoorn looked at various fields of production, including shoes, which like his Block City concept introduced a standard that still allows for diversity in design
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. In this author's eyes, some of the executions failed to take the mass out of mass housing
Paradoxically, one of the consequences of the former Soviet Union's transformation from communism to capitalism was the introduction of borders. To protect their possessions, people placed gratings on their windows (these were imported from Russia for the exhibition)
EDDEA from Spain was the winner of the closed portion of the A101 Block City competition, which was designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks. Four international architects were asked to design a master plan for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow with the requirement that 80% of the blocks be standard sizes
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that support Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Block City, now underway at the Jaroslav Fragner Gallery, presents Dutch architect Bart Goldhoorn's concept for future mass housing
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks, - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that supports Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture
Dutch Architect Bart Goldhoorn looked at various fields of production, including shoes, which like his Block City concept introduced a standard that still allows for diversity in design
Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. In this author's eyes, some of the executions failed to take the mass out of mass housing
Paradoxically, one of the consequences of the former Soviet Union's transformation from communism to capitalism was the introduction of borders. To protect their possessions, people placed gratings on their windows (these were imported from Russia for the exhibition)
EDDEA from Spain was the winner of the closed portion of the A101 Block City competition, which was designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks. Four international architects were asked to design a master plan for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow with the requirement that 80% of the blocks be standard sizes

Mass housing has contributed to the collective notion that something that is standard means it is uniform. Dutch architect Bart Goldhoorn has proposed a solution for future mass housing based around a standard yet allowing for variety.

Goldhoorn’s concept, called Block City, proposes the introduction of a standard size urban block that — as with standard shoe sizing — won’t create standard architecture, but on the contrary, diversity. At the Jaroslav Fragner gallery in an exhibition bearing the concept’s name, Goldhoorn walks viewers through past and present mass housing to his future vision.

The path that led to that vision was Golhoorn’s time in Russia; beginning in 1995, he started Project Russia magazine, which soon became one of the country’s leading professional architecture journals. As a result of that experience, in 2009 he was asked to participate in the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam with a focus on the theme of the Post-Socialist City. Goldhoorn chose to focus specifically on mass housing as he had become intimately familiar with the Russian reality that the prefabricated mass-produced housing thought to be a Soviet-era relic still reigns supreme.

Block City, now underway at the Jaroslav Fragner Gallery, presents Dutch architect Bart Goldhoorn's concept for future mass housing

“With the disappearance of the Soviet Union, many people thought that the construction of mass housing in the form of prefabricated standard high-density housing would come to an end,” Golhoorn told viewers during a guided tour just before the exhibition’s opening. However, as it has continued to be the most efficient way of providing people with cheap housing, the reality is that this type of mass housing is not a phenomenon of the past. “This kind of city is still being built.”

This modular city, as Goldhoorn calls it, marks the exhibitions start. Modular housing — modules consisting of a stairwell with the apartment it serves — was the next phase of mass housing’s original building block: the standard building. Not just a Russian reality, a small monitor displaying Google Earth satellite images reveals that the modular city is marking the earth’s landscape in Africa, Asia and South America as well.

“To this day, all over the world, mass housing is developed by creating a standard module and repeating it until it fills the site,” states an accompanying panel.

Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks, - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. This is one amongst a number of executions that supports Goldhoorn's notion that a standard size does not mean standard architecture

But as the world has evolved, so too has the modular city. One of the exhibition’s most thought-provoking sections details the effects on housing in Russia as a result of its transition from communism to capitalism. Calling it the Capitalist Revolution, Russians experienced a kind of euphoria with their newfound freedom of choice. With upgraded apartments and the ability to decorate according to one’s taste, the interior was where the transformation was most apparent. In Moscow, apartments built for the new rich are built without interior walls — advertised as the “free plan” — to satisfy a market that after 75 years of Soviet housing design believes “that any apartment layout that was not tailored for them does not fit their taste or lifestyle” says Goldhoorn (before the free plan, they were hiring contractors to knock down the walls). The remarkable growth in the number of cars is seen as an extension of this private interior into public space. “Rather than a means of transportation the car serves to avoid confrontation with other people.”

The creation of borders is, paradoxically, an outcome of having opened borders that were formerly closed to capitalism. Goldhoorn details this concept in the second area of this section called “The Iron Curtain.” “Churchill’s metaphoric Iron Curtain is replaced by a real one. In order to protect their newly acquired wealth people reinforce the barriers between their private space and the outside world,” says Goldhoorn. It begins with people barricading their windows with gratings (Goldhoorn actually had some gratings sent from Russia, which are incorporated into the exhibition installation). But his iron curtain moves one step further: away from the buildings to designate property borders. “The freedom of movement of the Soviet city transforms into a city of blocks where buildings are separated from public space by fences, gates and security guards,” states the accompanying panel.

Dutch Architect Bart Goldhoorn looked at various fields of production, including shoes, which like his Block City concept introduced a standard that still allows for diversity in design

“It’s the combination of the worst of the capitalist city with the worst of the communist city: gated community meets modular housing,” says Goldhoorn, “This is the city we have to deal with at the moment.”

Again, this is a phenomenon that is not limited to Russia. Although it hasn’t taken the same form, Western Europe has its own version of the gated community, sans the gate. Calling it the Designer City, Goldhoorn notes that it’s essentially a solution devised by European architects to remedy the low quality of the modular city. “Fences are not needed here: the building itself creates the boundary between public and private. In contrast to the modular city, these buildings fit their site.” As well as being contextual, they’re also tailor-made by individual architects. Expensive and time-consuming, the Designer City as a mass housing model is not viable for the masses.

Designed to test the Block City concept - the introduction of standard sizes for urban blocks - an open competition invited architects from around the world to design an urban block for a new city of 40,000 inhabitants south of Moscow. In this author's eyes, some of the executions failed to take the mass out of mass housing

Goldhoorn’s Block City concept aims to, in a sense, marry the positives of the Designer City with those of the modular one. He looked to various fields of production, including shoes, shipbuilding and video, which also questioned how to combine the necessity of mass production with a desire for diversity in design. Their answer: the introduction of standard sizing.

“This is a problem [when speaking of housing, the difficulty of building on different sites] that is common to many fields of production. If your product does not fit everywhere, you have fewer possibilities of selling it. If you sell less, production costs for each product will be higher. This is why standards are introduced,” Goldhoorn explains on one of the exhibition’s panels. “In order to make elements compatible, the standard fixes one characteristic of a product while leaving the others untouched. Paradoxically, instead of limiting choice, this permits diversity.”

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