BUILDING CITIES ON TOP OF CITIES: THIS ALTERNATIVE HOUSING MODEL PROPOSES URBAN DECENTRALIZATION
Both urban and suburban models of housing currently fail society’s needs, according to Jesse Taylor of Social Works and Georgia Taylor-Berry, a collaborator of the studio. The duo proposes decentralizing communities by building on top of existing architecture and infrastructure to address this pressing issue.
In the lead-up to each issue, we challenge emerging designers to respond to the Frame Lab theme with a forward-looking concept. What makes a home responsive? Its ability to morph in a moment, its seamless integration of new technologies, or how well it connects to the world around us? And how far can we push the responsive home in the future? We asked three creative practices to share their ideas.
Jesse Taylor runs his studio, Social Works, out of Los Angeles. Georgia Taylor-Berry works for Paul de Ruiter Architects in Amsterdam, but moonlights for Social Works when the two collaborate. Both focus their work on the intersection of society and the environment. The duo’s A Suburb on a Suburb concept proposes placing new suburbs directly on top of existing ones to create new ‘decentralized cities’.
Before getting into your proposal, what’s your take on the existing housing market?
GEORGIA TAYLOR-BERRY: Two main models of urbanism proliferate our housing market today: high density and urban sprawl. High density has advantages in its efficient use of land (it doesn’t require much), its lack of reliance on cars (thanks to public transport), and its ripeness for community (people live close to one another). But the housing conditions are average at best; apartments are getting smaller, urban infill is trampling green space, and the compact urban fabric means that light and ventilation are commodities.
Urban sprawl, on the other hand, does offer space, light and air. Nature is generally easier to access too, but the lower density means that community, goods and services, and the environment suffer.
JESSE TAYLOR: Both models rely on a flawed system that revolves around epicentres, creating a hierarchy of proximity to quality goods and services associated with location – and therefore, with money. Additionally, these types of urbanism necessitate that infrastructure (food production, energy production, manufacturing and so on) be created remotely, out-of-sight, on large swaths of land. In other words, when it comes to infrastructure, high-density areas do not have enough space, whereas urban sprawl underutilizes it.
What do you suggest as an alternative?
JT: We propose a new type of ‘decentralized density’ that utilizes existing suburbs. Worldwide, too much land has already been cleared for human habitation. And as the most sustainable houses are the ones that already exist, they should be the foundation for future development. With this in mind, we propose placing a new suburb directly on top of an existing one to create a new ‘decentralized city’.
GTB: In a decentralized city, there is no epicentre. Instead, the city is a porous network of overlapping, mixed-use villages. Construction is limited to the rooftops of existing houses. Homeowners may build up, not out, adhering to a floor area ratio (FAR) of 150 per cent and a boundary offset of 1.2 m from the edge of the roof below. These regulations maintain a standard of light and ventilation throughout the city.
JT: Additionally, new construction must be revenue-raising. It may take the form of renewable energy production, housing, crop growing, manufacturing, water retention, etcetera, but it can’t be an expansion of the existing home. This ensures that any new development services the entire city, not just the individual homeowner. Rooftop programming will respond to the market; there is no city master plan, so the decentralized city will grow organically, based on supply and demand but capped by each existing house’s physical restraints, meaning no one person or company can dominate an industry.
How would this change our definition of ‘home’? GTB: The structure of the city’s utilities will slowly integrate into its culture. The notion of ‘home’ will begin to extend beyond property lines as residents find meaning and a sense of place in their interdependent community. And, as neighbours become more reliant on one another – at any scale – they inherently become more trusting of one another. This carries significant societal benefits that are often stifled under our current, overly autonomous way of living.
Why do you feel this is the future direction for the responsive home? JT: To create a responsive home, we need to expand the term’s definition. We can’t continue to see ‘home’ as a static refuge, disconnected from the world around us. Our lives are collective and effecting, so the future of housing should be, too.