Public squares are impressive and office buildings are economically enticing, but for many, there is no more important role for the design-build industry than the construction of the spaces in which we live.
Here we have gathered five major residential developments, some completed and some still in the conceptual stages, to gain some insight into the issues and trends affecting today’s housing construction market.
Some of these projects are big and bold, others are small and perfectly formed. But they all share an ambition to improve that most precious of spaces: the home.
Milanofiori Residential Complex Assago, Milan, Italy
Since its beginnings, the prestigious LEAF Award has been awarded to sporting, business and other non-residential construction.
Finally in 2011, a residential building was declared the Overall Winner of the Year. The judges described the €32.8m Milanofiori Residential Complex in Assago, Italy, as an "elegant solution [that] embraces the classic integration of landscape and building."
Completed in December 2010, the complex houses 107 apartments arranged in a 27,400m2 C-shape. The architects from Open Building Research (OBR) took on two concepts and designed two different façades: one with an urban sentiment with movable wooden screens facing the street outside the complex and then a more organic one with double-glazed bioclimatic greenhouses that faces the inner park.
But what makes the building so appealing is its solar-passive design. The upper levels are in line with positions of optimal sun exposure and the winter gardens have not only an environmental value by providing a buffer zone that allows thermal regulation, but also extends the interior living area towards the exterior.
The external terraces increase privacy for residents but on the other hand the complex includes a series of open spaces for social interactions and movement within the park.
"OBR’s Milanfiori Housing Complex is a truly progressive and holistic concept," said the LEAF judges when awarding the architects in September.
"With its elegant overlap of different layers, OBR’s scheme interacts meaningfully with nature, and – something we regard as significant today – allows residents to personalise their landscape."
Vauxhall Square, London, UK
Set within South London’s Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area (a neighbourhood earmarked for regeneration), CLS Holdings’ £400m Vauxhall Square development intends to take a neglected, isolated area of London and reintegrate it with the surrounding communities.
With features like a new public square, office space, a cinema, shops and restaurants, this is the true definition of a mixed-use project, aiming to build a vibrant community from scratch. But the project’s residential component stands out for its scope and ambition.
The project’s private housing section, which includes 510 new homes, will be contained within two 50-storey towers with private roof gardens and entrances that are incorporated into Vauxhall Square.
Another 20-storey building will host 94 units of rented affordable homes (which will have roof gardens of their own), while the development even makes space for 416 student rooms and a replacement for the area’s existing homeless hostel.
The composition of Vauxhall Square’s residential element reveals many details that have to be considered by developers of inner city housing projects.
The location of the two 50-storey towers had to be chosen very carefully to conform to strict rules on protecting ‘heritage skylines’ and preventing obstructed views. The prevalence of roof gardens throughout residential buildings echoes a worldwide private housing trend for open spaces that can be incorporated into heavily built-up areas.
Parking has been pushed to the peripheries of the development in favour of seamlessly integrated public transport links and rentable bicycles, reflecting a wider move among urban developers towards public transport to protect the environment and improve community cohesion.
Social aspects like the inclusion of affordable housing and the replacement of the homeless centre are also an important part of any urban planning application, as a development is unlikely to get approval without first proving that it will benefit the wider community.
CLS Holdings will be hoping it has done enough to impress planning officials. The developer submitted its application on 13 December and hopes to start work on the project in 2014.
Capital Hill Residence, Moscow, Russia
Located on the north-face hillside in Barvikha, near Moscow, is the Capital Hill Residence, an impressive residential villa designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.
Using fluid geometries that emerge from the landscape, the private complex is divided into two components: one merging with the hillside, the other one floating 22m above the ground overlooking the forest, whose pine and birch trees reach a height of up to 20m.
According to the architects, the shape of the villa comes from the natural topography of the site, strategically placed to merge with the sloped landscape. The general design concept aims to expand the external topography to the interior of the four-level building.
The geometrical definition originated from the surrounding environment of flowing terrain levels to generate the new landscape. Construction work is set to be completed by the end 2011.
The villa is built with pre-cast and in-situ cast concrete, steel and glass. The two main parts of the house are connected by three structural concrete columns, which establish a strong dialogue between the levels and feature a transparent glass elevator and staircase.
The lower level is envisioned as a leisure space with massage and fitness areas as well as a sauna and hamman baths. The master bedrooms and a lounge with an exterior terrace occupy the upper level, looking over Barvikha forest.
The Kensington, Boston, Massachusetts, US
Despite the housing market’s instability since the sub-prime mortgage crisis in 2007-08 and the crash that followed it, the upper end of the market is still moving ahead with new luxury developments.
Although this is somewhat surprising, perhaps it signals an encouraging reinvigoration of the housing development pipeline. Certainly the Boston housing market has been undergoing "a burst of apartment construction" according to the Boston Globe.
One opulent project getting the go-ahead is The Kensington, a $110m residential tower in Boston, Massachusetts, US, that emphasises lavish urban living.
Located on the border between the financial district, Chinatown and the theatre district, The Kensington was designed by Boston architect, Architectural Team, and is being built by Suffolk Construction, who broke ground on the new building in mid-October 2011.
The design of The Kensington, which will incorporate 381 apartments as well as an open-air swimming pool, a landscaped terrace and a high-tech gym, not to mention the shops and gallery on the ground floor, is a reflection of the new priorities of luxury renters.
"They are looking for more modest square footage but with better finishes, amenities and appliances," said Architectural Team project architect Mark Rosenshein.
Botanical City, Pacific Ocean
The Botanical City, also know as Green Float, is a floating city concept proposed by Shimizu architects in Japan.
The projects envisions several artificial and green islands floating on the Pacific Ocean near the equator, featuring residential space as well as vegetation factories, offices and commercial spaces.
Designed like a single plant, the islands seek to offer their inhabitants the opportunity to become part of a natural ecosystem. Construction is scheduled to start in 2025.
Research into the feasibility of the project started in 2010 in cooperation with 14 universities. Each island would feature a 1,000m-high tower with a residential zone housing about 30,000 people, as well as a waterside accommodating 10,000 residents.
According to the architects, who describe the concept as ‘Shimizu’s dream’, the particular location of the island makes it an ideal residential retreat, providing the city with a pleasant climate and peaceful atmosphere with a temperature of 28°C throughout the year.
The buildings will be designed for self-sufficiency with their own nutritional and power sources, providing a carbon-neutral habitat. The architects claim that next-gen technologies will be used to maintain low fuel consumption and increase thermal insulation. The use of ocean thermal energy, solar, wind and waves will be used to generate energy, and waste will be recycled and converted into energy.
By Elisabeth Fischer and Chris Lo.