Designing for Density

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Stairscraper from Nabito Architects.

The planet is not getting any larger. The population is, tipping the scale now at nearly seven billion people. There is only one logical approach, especially in urban areas where issues like density are more glaring on a daily basis: use less and make the space you live in smarter.

This statement provides good reason to revisit two innovative design concepts: one vertical, the other compressed –both of which challenge the standard methods of how we work with space and use it, inside and outside.

Start with the stairscraper, a high-rise building concept presented by the Barcelona firm Nabito Architects. With one of the most common drawbacks to high-rise living being the lack of outdoor space, this firm has addressed the problem by using a corkscrew design that makes the roof of the unit below an outdoor space for the unit above.

While the stairscraper may not offer the same housing density of traditional skyscrapers, it succeeds at blending the space-saving benefits of high-rise living with the added benefit of private green space for individual units. In addition to the private outdoor spaces, the architects say some levels would also be set aside as public spaces.”

Nabito refers to its stairscraper as a “horizontal skyscraper” – a gathering of “high density cottages.” The firm writes that a housing project is impossible today without thinking of something more complex than simply the solution to meet a social need and right. Housing today must also provide a system that relates with the environment in search of enjoyment of life.

The Nabito Architects‘ design was named the 2010 project winner of the Total Housing Competition at The Storefront For Art and Architecture. The stairscraper will apparently be built in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

344 square-foot apartment by Gary Chang

Then there is the issue of what one can do with less space instead of more space. Hong Kong architect Gary Chang has implemented some stunning solutions for small-space living in his Hong Kong apartment.

This compact living space represents an inspiring case study for anybody considering the challenges of living in inner city areas with limited space. From the standpoints of density and functional practicality, this Chang design offers great potential. Consider that Chang’s apartment, at 344 square feet, contains not just one room, but 24 rooms in one.

Chang’s living room wall, for instance, can be slid back to reveal a storage and changing area, something Chang refers to as his spa. Behind the spa is a bathroom that receives natural light from the apartment’s single exterior window. When the bathroom is not in use, the space converts to a guest bedroom, using a pull-down Murphy bed. The entire place makes a showcase in modular functionality that, as shown here in this Reuter’s video will continually surprise visitors:

Of interest, Chang grew up in this apartment with his parents, three sisters, and a tenant. The unit contained three very small bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and dining area. Chang says he has renovated the apartment four times since buying it from his parents 20 years ago.

Congratulations to Nabito and Chang, designers who have created two very different solutions for the management of space in a dense environment. No doubt there are more design solutions  out there that should be embraced for what they can teach us.

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Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

Glenn Meyers has 449 posts and counting. See all posts by Glenn Meyers