Town Houses: A Housing Typology

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In the context of the argumentation followed in the previous volumes, which proposes the cybernetic networking of individual elements in complex structures, this volume assumes a special status. But, given that demand for this type of housing remains undiminished and that it also gives rise to economic and ecological problems, it is vital that we resolve this contradiction.

As this book is the product of ongoing research at the Department of 6 Architecture at the University of Darmstadt, projects by established architects stand alongside designs by students which, in the spirit of research work, represent the current state of academic exploration, which strives for a holistic and forward-looking consideration of housing. The authors aim to show which possibilities can lead to high-density, complex spatial structures.

The study begins by considering relatively straightforward, small freestanding residential buildings in complex urban, communal, ecological and spatial contexts. Accordingly, the examples illustrate elements that relate intelligently to aspects such as sunshine, orientation, spatial structure and adjacent outdoor areas. With the exception of especially complex projects, the projects are presented in a uniform layout and scale. Furnishings are represented abstractly to aid legibility.

Photos of the individual projects illustrate characteristic elements of each project. In this last volume in the series on housing typologies, we particularly wanted to demonstrate the advantages and fascinating potential of spatial variety and networked structural approaches.

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We wish to encourage all those actively involved in creating and designing housing options to explore new directions, drawing on the examples presented here as a basis for their own investigations. It is a hybrid building serving several uses, and its basic structure is ecological and cybernetic, two aspects that one could write about in detail.

These represent in essence the principal qualities of an ecological and sustainable architectonic structure for freestanding buildings. These two images mark the extents of architectural discourse on the typology of the freestanding house. Because it stands on its own, the building faces in all directions. The passage of the sun can be experienced throughout the entire house: morning light streams in at breakfast, the sun deck faces south, living areas face west towards the evening sun and atelier and work rooms receive diffuse light from the north.

Its orientation makes it possible to frame particular views — provided they are not obstructed by neighbouring buildings — or alternatively, to block out undesirable views by utilising the many alternative lighting options. The freestanding house affords the designer apparently unlimited freedom in both the design of the house as well as response to local site conditions in relation to the wishes of the future residents. This is the primary reason for the unbroken popularity of freestanding houses.

It is this space that guarantees the status of being independent, of being singular and unique. These are the primary elements that characterise this typology and account for its ongoing popularity. Here too, however, one encounters all manner of variants across the entire scale, which are not distinctive enough to serve as distinguishing features. Within these freestanding structures, different individual elements can relate to one another and generate synergies.

The last and smallest sub-category of the freestanding house, 9 the individual house that contains just one residential unit is, on account of the fact that it exists alone, unable to generate such synergies. We have opted not to include this last category in our overview as it does not represent a sustainable option with regard to the development of the city.

Furthermore, an analytical examination of houses in this category shows that the reality does not correspond to the image of the autonomous house outlined earlier. The promise of living in an autonomous house turns out to be illusion. Urban integration Over the last decades building plots have become increasingly expensive as land availability decreases and land development costs increase. The resulting disadvantages of the single family home outweigh the advantages by far.

Because the plots are small, the individual houses stand so close to each other that all that remains of private outdoor space is often only a green dividing strip overlooked from all sides and entirely devoid of intimacy. The detached house is also problematic, in terms of urban integration necessitating complex land development and settlement patterns.

Depending on the skill of the planner, some plots will be disadvantaged to a greater or lesser degree. Plots may result that are only accessible from the south as well as some with only a westerly or an easterly orientation. Overshadowing is a further problem that is almost unavoidable when plots are excessively small. The semi-detached house was born as a subcategory of the freestanding house to remedy the lack of distance between plots. Accordingly, the outdoor space also needs to be divided, and even when the division is just a panel fence allowing the southwest side to receive the evening sun while shading the southeast side from midday onwards.

Accordingly, it is all the more surprising that it continues to persist in the housing landscape. One can only assume that, from the viewpoint of the individual homeowner, the aforementioned advantages more than outweigh the urban disadvantages.


Theoretical approaches to reconciling this categorical discrepancy have been devised but are few and far between. This ideal has to date never been realised, not even partially: rather than the pervasive greening of the city, it has instead long become riddled with roadways — a development that ultimately leads to the disintegration of the compact historical city and the gradual urbanisation of the landscape.

Broadacre City, , Frank Lloyd Wright 11 Le Corbusier, too, examined the single house type in his "plan voisin",4 although on an entirely different basis.

This concept would also have led to the disintegration of the city and fails to reconcile the categorical incompatibility between the psychology of the individual and the constraints of the collective. It seems instead that the categories of urban development and the detached single family house are mutually exclusive.

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In the context of the city, single family houses are a "peripheral phenomenon". Where, perhaps, individual houses offer most potential in the city is in locations where access is only possible from one side, for example, along rivers or terraces in the landscape that offer a view. If we are able to stack the individual house in the third dimension and to combine several elements with one another while simultaneously addressing the psychological needs answered by the individual house, then a variety of options start to appear.

In principle the objective is quite simple: each unit needs its own entrance — no joint staircases! Each unit needs its own front garden, perhaps also a garage of its own and a garden fence. Although the objectives may seem simple to formulate, they are highly complex to realise. It necessitates the development of entirely new conceptual structures for architecture, the alteration of existing building legislation and the development of new aims and priorities for collective housing. Rethinking access Access structures play a central role in the development of new collective forms of housing.

Previously we have concentrated on minimising the amount of access and circulation space.


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Furthermore, the additional volume required for the extended access possibilities can simultaneously be used as a means of passive energy gain, in turn opening up other possibilities. Spaces for interaction can result that double as additional means of access, allowing these connecting spaces to be regarded as elements that serve multiple functions.

Reconsidering the self-contained apartment The emergence of self-contained apartments corresponded with the gradual consolidation of stable living conditions in society in which the family unit formed a constant basic unit. These conditions have long since changed. Modern-day living circumstances have become increasingly changeable and dynamic.

The number and kind of partnerships change more often and require living environments that are able to respond to these new dynamics. It should be possible to join together residential units with minimal effort, and to separate them again at a later point in time. This idea is in principle not new.

The Endlessly Adaptable Row House

Structuralist thinking in the s and s, which developed as a reaction and in opposition to functionalist town planning, already incorporated key principles of this strategy. Revising planning laws and building regulations Building regulations and particularly planning laws at an urban scale will need to be revised in many areas. The complex subordination to building legislation is the reason why very few examples of forward-looking, sustainable, freestanding houses have been built.

If the development of urban building land is purely determined by the speculative interests of individual investors, more complex structures that can enter into mutual relationships with one another will not happen. It is necessary to increase the density of building in some areas in order to free up space elsewhere.

In this regard, the category of high-density individual housing, for example in the form of a high-rise tower, offers great potential. Residential tower blocks were frowned upon in the s and condemned as urban mistakes. If we add the aforementioned aspects to the energy argument, the current attitude to high-rise buildings for residential purposes has to change.

Nevertheless, there are also a series of further problems that need to be resolved.

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Beside the need for a different attitude to the cybernetic principles of natural ventilation, this will also entail changes to the typology of the high-rise. The old principles — optimising the surface area with respect to the volume — have become obsolete. Outlook The picture of the Black Forest farmhouse sketched earlier shows that highly complex cybernetic structures can be realised.

This is also possible in the context of contemporary requirements. What is needed, however, is a shift in the perception of the task at hand as well as a different architectural working method. As these begin to accommodate several functions at the same time, space that was "in between" becomes "actual" space. In the language of the structuralists, that means: not the element in itself but the way in which it is linked to its neighbouring elements is the focus of this architectural strategy. In the same way that the urban realm results from the way in which elements are linked to one another, so too are different living options within the same volume the product of interconnections.

A decisive aspect is the dimensioning of the volumes in terms of energy and the enlargement of the bounding or contact surfaces of the individual elements so that they can contribute to the energy balance of the house, both physically as well as psychologically. The underlying principle of this form of architecture is the collection of energy at all levels, just as it always was for the creation of the Black Forest farmhouse. An Interpretation of the Zwischenstadt.

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Berlin: Merve ; Wiener, Norbert: Cybernetics. Cambridge, Mass. Vienna: Springer 6 Cody, Brian: "Urban Design and Energy", in: GAM Architecture Magazine 05, 17 Floor plan types The typology of freestanding houses is essentially determined by their primary means of circulation and access to the apartments. Because freestanding buildings stand alone and can therefore face in all directions, spatial categories are less applicable.

Accordingly, the scale can change considerably, even within the same typological category. The basic premise of being able to combine or reallocate spaces between individual units means that the conventional single family house is excluded. Semi-detached While the conventional semi-detached house comprises just two parties, this category is also used to describe projects with more than two parties where each party has their own entrance at ground level and staircases within the apartment as necessary. There is no communal staircase. The combination and spatial structures of the "independent" units form a single compact volume.