In London, the enforcement of the bedroom tax (penalising council tenants who are deemed to have more rooms than they need) and the criteria defining overcrowding (such as the inability for two children of opposite sex and over the age of 10 to share a sleeping space) seem to be radically disconnected from the realities of the current housing crisis. Antonis Papamichael delivers a thought-provoking proposal for a new type of living unit, challenging the architectural core of the dwelling and questioning the established rules and regulations of the housing system.
Focused exclusively on its interiority, the proposed living space consists of a large single room, reminiscent of earlier housing typologies. The frame surrounding the communal space allows for a constant shift of alcoves within it, effectively turning the dividing line of the party wall into a thick and inhabitable spatial element whose configuration results from a dynamic negotiation between neighbours. Unlike the party wall, the frame is a tool against a clear and standardised demarcation of land ownership.
The hierarchical and compartmentalised interiors of residential spaces as we know them impose the set of relationships among family members. In Alcoves, the order is reversed and it is the constructed affiliations between inhabitants that dictate the architectural form of the dwelling.
Formally and conceptually reminiscent of Absalon’s Cellules d’habitation, Papamichael’s niches allow inhabitants to both isolate themselves and inhabit everywhere. They induce a reduction in possessions and spur a more minimalist way of living.
When at the scale of the unit the project’s architecture relates directly to the human body but, when zooming out, the formal repetition turns the proposal into an anonymous field, devoid of any human character. As the project embraces the inevitability of its own densification, the size of the field does not however affect the interior spatial quality of each dwelling. The project then becomes the embodiment of its own paradox: the hyper-personalised interiority produces a generic infrastructural body characteristic of the modern metropolis it sits in.
This project was taught by Pier Vittorio Aureli and Maria S Giudici, and has many of the characteristics that have emerged from this AA unit over the last few years: namely the insistence on square (and rather grainy) perspective images; commitment to line drawings; and the creation of mat buildings at an urban scale. I have always read the work of their students at the level of critique, rather than proposition; yet this project teeters towards the latter, tackling a genuine London-based problem of housing supply and policy inadequacies with an architecture that displays some subtle qualities, particularly the interplay of alcoves in the inhabited party wall. The resulting scheme looks almost liveable, albeit in a highly demanding, uncompromising way.