Laminated Domesticity

The adAPT NYC competition was launched to address the shortage of (relatively) affordable single-occupancy housing on Manhattan. People do live in the street, but it’s difficult to imagine describing it (or designing it) as a machine for living. While there is an economic critique embedded in this observation, it also illuminates the profound connection between domesticity, privacy, and private property. The street is public, the house is private, and everyone knows it – from the Athenians who laughed at Diogenes to Hannah Arendt who inscribed this dichotomy into the foundations of Greek democracy in The Human Condition.

Yet there is an unconsidered term in this equation: the family. (Indeed, the less-remembered second half of Corb’s description of the house as a machine for living is that it is also a temple for the family.) In this sense, the adAPT NYC program merely makes explicit the question which is implicit in demographic trends: What does (or will) domesticity look like without the family? It demands that we reconsider how architecture calibrates the relationship between domesticity, privacy, and private property.

The decline of the family as the privileged subject of domesticity coincided with the rise of the urban apartment as the privileged machine for living. The fundamental difference between the house and the apartment building is that walls no longer separate public from private, but private from private. (One could read Sloterdijk’s theory of “foams” as a continuation of Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the Greek household.) Consequently, the apartment building operates as a medial term between public and private; this distance entails social isolation.

“Laminated Domesticity” seeks to reinstate the immediacy and clarity of the public-private relationship in order to reduce this socio-spatial latency. The building comprises 72 shotgun-style apartments organized by three programmatic bands. The first band contains public space and circulation: the “porches” of all the units on a floor are connected into a continuous walkway, which variously expands into open and semi-enclosed terraces and stairs. Each apartment is separated from this shared space by a six-foot-wide, full-height door, which can be opened to encourage interaction between neighbors and to allow a tenant (or floor, or the entire building) to host events that would never fit in a typical single-occupancy apartment. Because these spaces are exterior, there are no additional costs associated with heating them, and the depth of this articulated facade reduces solar heat gain.

The terraces and monumental stairs are cantilevered off the column grid in the building’s middle band, where mechanical chases also provide for their drainage. Each apartment is centered on a line of the structural grid and sits between two chases, with its bathroom abutting one and kitchen abutting the other. The interstitial space between the tightly spaced columns provides for storage and accommodates the bathroom fixtures. Kitchen counters occupy a continuous wall/casework/soffit condition that extends from the public-private threshold to the north facade, where it provides a integrated desk surface and additional storage space within the sleeping area.
The units are designed so that the bathroom creates a visual and spatial buffer between the public circulation band and the bedrooms in the building’s last band. The floor-to-ceiling glazing of the south facade has a 20% reflective coating to maintain the privacy of the bedrooms. Where units have a portion of their square footage given over to a balcony, this space is deep enough to accommodate a few smokers or a bike while maintaining the occupant’s privacy.

By laminating these three highly distinct programmatic bands together, the apartment building becomes more than the sum of its parts. Each apartment spans between a public and a private facade, and each tenant is given the ability to dynamically curate the orientation of their apartment relative to these conditions by opening or closing the door.

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