What makes the modern city click has always been a contentious debate. With no quick-fix insight, what is undeniably apparent is the prerequisite of social infrastructure to assist those from lower incomes who contribute to their city’s prosperity. There is a strong heritage of socially conscious design in Spanish cities, which spills over into their housing projects. From the capital of Madrid in its center to the North African enclave of Ceuta, Spain has a very clear attitude towards government-aided housing — good design is not the preserve of the affluent, but of every one of its citizens.
Accommodating a growing population and a large influx of both migrants and political asylum seekers is no trivial matter. These restrictions in part encourage architects to devise new and innovative methods of fabrication, passive systems and solar insulation. In a country where the summer heat and low winter temperatures are equally bruising, thermal comfort and energy conservation are pressing issues that cannot be ignored by its architecture.
All the projects in this collection have a remit to facilitate social housing, but the real underlying current that links them is the exploration of cohesive public and private spaces in dense urban settings, in suburban outskirts and along coastal locations. The architects of these projects have meticulously mapped out how residents can live side by side, occupying the mutually accessible parts of their building but able to retreat to the sanctuary of their own apartment with minimal disruption from the external environment. These are models of social inclusion that go beyond mere housing.
A prominent building situated on the outskirts of Madrid, the striking green polycarbonate surface offers an energy and cost efficient approach to social housing. Constrained by rigid planning zones, the design still provides generous terraces and a large internal courtyard with ample light pouring through the roof and façades.
Not all young tenants are loud and brash, some preferring a private dwelling to a shared party house — that is the premise of this social housing development. Unwilling to typecast, the design offers well proportioned apartments for individuals or groups in the heart of the island capital.
Resembling a stack of shipping containers, the openings in between apartments and across shared landings are delivered with mechanical precision. They also maintain sufficient heat during the winter and a cool breeze at the height of summer for residents enjoying the central courtyard.
Surrounded by a plethora of monolithic housing blocks in the vicinity, this development is defined by its use of voids, chamfered edges and deep recesses in response to strict planning codes. Such a strategy opens up spacious dwellings for its residents, where each core is divided into three separate apartments with double-height ceilings.
In juxtaposition to its concrete exterior, light-filled hallways and access points in and out of the building provide a deft touch. Balconies and galleries to the south are protected from the combined disturbance of solar heat and traffic noise.
Ceuta is a Spanish enclave in North Africa that balances European design and urbanism with local Arab influence. Taking advantage of the landscape, the living rooms cling to the corner of the building revealing breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Deep excavations into the building’s mass afford residents with private balconies while being open to the street. The Palma project is yet another example that typifies the Spanish outlook on social housing — sympathetic, innovative and erudite.