This hybrid apartment tower, eight-stories in height, is located along the Van Starkenborghkanaal, in an area under renovation characterized by the mix of housing and industrial buildings.
The complete new urban development designed by Casanova+Hernandez architects consists of two main elements:
1 A massive plinth that unifies the whole urban intervention and defines a new public space, sheltering living and working dwellings and business units, storages and facilities.
2 Three 'crystals' on top of the plinth, composed of dwellings, designed as light and transparent volumes.
The hybrid tower works on the one hand as a landmark and a reference point in the surroundings, especially when it is seen from the park nearby, and on the other hand as a belvedere from where splendid views over the water and over the green areas can be enjoyed.
The project explores the concept of social sustainability in residential areas by promoting the full integration of handicapped people in our society. The Hybrid Apartment Block avoids the traditional physical and psychological segregation of this group by experimenting with different strategies that can be summarized in the following concepts:
1. Mixing groups: spreading special apartments to avoid segregation
The apartment block consists of 50 apartments from which 20 of them have been specially designed for handicapped people following the design criteria of the Fokus program promoted by the Dutch government. Following this program, the special apartments are spread throughout the whole building avoiding their concentration on specific levels (for instance on the two first levels of the block) or locating all of them in the same part of the building (for instance in the southern wing). On the contrary the special apartments are distributed on every level of the building and they are located as far as possible one from the other when placed on the same level. Family apartments are placed in between special dwellings for handicapped people to avoid the physical segregation of the group within the block and to promote their social integration reinforcing the daily coexistence with their neighbours.
2. A home is not a hospital room: hybrid building as a mix of independent dwellings and care centre
Many of the residents of the apartment block need specialized care. Some of then cannot walk, wash themselves, cook or even they require very special medical treatments. The traditional way to solve this dependence was the confinement of the 'patients' in a hospital or special residence. This project allows the total independence of the handicapped residents and at the same time the complex provides 24 hours care service that is integrated in a space located on ground floor of the same building in the space called ADL unit.
3. Living independent, but protected
In former times traditional institutions like the family one were in charge of taking care of handicapped people that could not live alone and independently. Monofunctional buildings composed of special dwellings where people with similar problems lived together were the modern alternative to this specific situation. In our current world individuals want to be more and more independent. The amount of people that live alone in urbanized areas is increasing constantly. Handicapped people as part of our society share the same necessities, but at the same form a special group that needs special attention. The hybrid apartment block offers a certain level of independence combined with a strong feeling of protection. An intercom connects directly every special apartment with the ADL unit and each dwelling is equipped with a special security system that allows quick assistance from the specialized staff located in the ADL unit. Each resident needs a different level of special assistance, and for all of them a quick assistance in case of emergency is guaranteed. Security and independency are two principles, in many cases incompatible, that in this project have been combined and to help the psychological integration of the handicapped.
4. Architectural appearance: neutrality and no differentiation
The architectural expression of the building does not show towards the exterior the existing difference in the interior program. From the exterior the position of the special apartments cannot be distinguished, and on ground floor, the exterior aspect of the ADL unit is treated as the other houses of the area located on ground floor. No special names, no hospital appearance, no signal of its function. Although this space plays an important role for the functioning of the hybrid building and is opened to other eventual visitors from the neighbourhood, the ADL unit has a neutral aspect that avoids any differentiation of the building and their inhabitants.
5 Strong visual relations between living spaces and street life
Many residents living in the special apartments of the block have serious mobility problems and therefore have to sit in wheelchairs or to lay in bed for many hours during the day. For that reason, the windows of the apartments are designed as high openings from floor to ceiling that allow the visual contact of the handicapped with the exterior urban life on ground level independently of the level where they are located.
6 Winter garden as semi-open space
The master bedroom where the handicapped resident sleeps is directly connected with the living room and both of them have direct access to a winter-garden space. This glazed space that could be opened in summer provides at the same time a comfortable semi-open space in winter that works as an extension of the living room by opening a sliding door.
7 Fluid circulations around the house
The design of the Fokus dwellings is based on the extra large dimensions of circulation spaces, doors and rooms which are assisted by home automation systems, allowing users to move easily through the whole house. The fluid movement of the handicapped residents through the building and especially through the house is a very important factor designed following a special layout where all the rooms of the house are organized following a circular scheme.
8 Chromatic differentiations of the collective areas and building levels
The use of different colours on the walls characterizes the different collective spaces of the building. The handicapped people get in this way a better orientation inside the building by recognizing the colour that characterizes the entrance level, the storage area, the underground parking garage and finally its own dwelling level.
9 Dwellings interior differentiation as promoter of social interaction
The changing relative position of the windows in relation with the interior spaces in the different apartments, combined with the use of coloured glasses following a random pattern dispersed in the façade, creates interior spaces characterized by very different chromatic conditions, something that incites the neighbours to visit other apartments, thus promoting the social relations within the block.
10 Outdoor public space for social relations among different groups
A public square has been created in front of the hybrid block based on the concept of “bench islands”. Three portions of the public space are limited by a continuous seating element made with prefabricated concrete modular elements that enclose a garden, a playground for children and a flowerbed. The morphology, dimensions and design of the “bench islands” provide small-scale spaces with a domestic character that offer a great variety of different spaces to chat, to meet and to play integrating handicapped people in wheelchairs. The “bench islands” have been specially designed to promote the social interaction among different groups in the neighbourhood and the social integration of the handicapped people.