Support Structures for Living

Related Staff : Joshua Bolchover

Across the world, the demand for affordable housing is an emerging crisis that exists as a problem both in the developed world and in developing regions. From London to Hong Kong, or from Chinese villages to Brazilian favelas, there is a desperate need to provide people with homes. Yet, where are the architects in this discourse? Since the 1970s, the heroic social project of mass housing, has been admonished amidst failed social engineering, poor construction, planning mistakes and ghettoization. Now housing is predominantly provided by house-builders and developers, and in the most part, architects are out.

The studio attempts to find a way back in by addressing affordable housing as an intellectual project within the discourse of architecture.  Rather than focusing on the specificities of a community, inhabitants’ social welfare or their participation in a design process, we will focus on housing as a support-structure for living.

“ A support structure is a construction which allows the provision of dwellings which can be built, altered and taken down, independently of the others. …

A support structure is built in the knowledge that we cannot predict what is going to happen to it. The more variety housing can assume in the support structure, the better…” John Habraken,

Habraken wrote his manifesto against mass housing in the Netherlands in 1961. He argued for housing to be considered as an assembly of independent dwellings within a larger framework; “as a bookcase contains books”. He wanted each inhabitant to have a decisive role in how their dwellings were constructed, allowing the possibility for adaptation as their needs changed.

The support structure acted as a structural and infrastructural network providing services and circulation.  Rather than being fixed and permanent, the hope was that this too could act to enable and facilitate future variations of communal living. His thesis is intentionally open ended without definitive form.

Over the last 50 years his theories have reverberated through architectural practices as diverse as Archigram, (Plug-in-City), the Metabolists, and more recently with practitioners such as Alejandro Aravena’s half-house project (Elemental) and Anton Garcia Abril’s experiments with lightweight structures and his “urban shelve” research (Ensamble Studio).

The concept of the Support Structure is used as a framework to initiate the studio’s design process.

Our focus is on sites impacted by the process of urbanisation. This can occur due to mass migration to existing urban centres or in rural or peripheral sites that are densifying due to new economic drivers. In each case housing defines the form of this new settlement and often is constructed cheaply, without infrastructure, without the provision of public space or services and without any anticipation for future growth.

KEYWORDS: Experimental housing, Adaptation, Incremental urbanism, Transformation

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