The city of Madrid has been, at the beginning of this century, an important testing ground for collective housing.
Encouraged by the economic boom of those years, politicians pointed to the trend of build buildings designed by architects belonging to the Star System. The expansion of the city through PAU’s as Sanchinarro o Carabanchel, created the opportunity to experiment with new models of collective social housing, although on a urban network already established based on closed blocks of considerable size and low density.
As a result, the city now has numerous iconic housing buildings made by prestigious architects. Many of these buildings are visited by swarms of architecture students, seduced by the formal charge of the project or the mythical name of the author.
However, we can say that in most cases the results have been, at least, poor; not to mention some resounding failure.
As a notorious example we could mention the MVRDV “lookout building”. It is the realization of an interesting theoretical exercise consisting of the vertical transposition of various types of housing that usually occur horizontally in the city. Moreover proposes a void as a public space, aimed at meeting place for neighbors.
However, and beyond the strong presence of the building characterized by its long span in height, the tortuous internal routes and barely functional housing typologies have been widely criticized by neighbors.
A luckiest case is the bamboo building of Foreign Office Architects.
Although the building does not propose any typological innovation, the volumetric roundness of the project combined with the delicacy of the envelope have earned a RIBA award. We will see the bamboo long term evolution in such a hostile environment.
Thom Mayne has erred badly in his Madrid performance, although his typological research has a commendable value, his building has been proven unsuccessful.
The result is an unnecessary effort of unloaded columns and beams, unused volumes and a vain deconstructed neoplasticist aesthetic. This would not be a serious problem if the proposed housing were not an intricate tangle hardly accessible.
And along with all these proposals made by leading “premium brands”, we find brilliant interventions by architects with a thorough understanding of the craft and a great respect for people who have to live their work for years. This is the case of Guillermo Vazquez Consuegra.
His building in Vallecas brilliantly solves the program by two parallel blocks that are displayed by one side to the street and by the other to the central garden area. Each of these blocks are subdivided into two other parallel blocks, thus ensuring that all homes have cross-ventilation on both fronts.
A simple “brise soleil” in the most exposed facades and planting large trees in the center optimize the bioclimatic characteristics of the building.The resulting apartments are solved with 2 types of great formal simplicity and wise use of space.
As we see, experiments in collective housing can produce great uneasiness in the end users of an architecture with great theoretical load. Moreover, there are less renowned works successfully meeting the functional needs of its inhabitants, this does not obviate the typological research nor tectonic and volumetric sensitivity. And all without resorting to formal games or elaborate materials.