A skimming through A101 Urban Block Competition

Before continuing presenting participants' proposal I propose to go back, yet rapidly, to the foundations of  the A101 Urban Block while the winners have already been announced.
A101 Urban Block Competition, launched in 2010, is now closed. The mission was to show an alternative of the development of Moscow metropolitan. This consists of the creation of: a high-quality community in the suburbs, a new and harmonious housing environment within which it is convenient to live and work. Mostly each project must illustrate the comprehensive and coordinated development of Moscow region.

The project, if you have followed it since the beginning, aimed at the construction of a self-sufficient residential community in immediate proximity to Moscow alongside the south-western approach to the city (the Kaluga direction), with European-quality houses and all necessary public facilities. The project was implemented with support and participation of the Leninsky Municipal District Administration of the Moscow Region.

A101 Urban Block rapid presentation
The objective is to develop this region: increase of population to 300 thousand people, increase in volume of quality housing in the Moscow region, enhancement of social infrastructure, creation of additional jobs, formation of a transport network, improvement in the quality of life, preservation of the territory's favourable environmental profile.

More 80% of the developed land area must be dedicated to housing. 13 mln sq.m. of housing be built. These residential homes will have various height but with prevalence of low-rise buildings. The area will feature "cottage" houses (villas), townhouses, as well as medium-rise (3 to 9 storeys) and high-rise (over 9 storeys) residential buildings.

The majority of houses will be designed for average and high income people. At the same time, several compact economy-class districts are planned. These would have traditional urban-level population density.
A101 Urban Block Competition — Master plan, Moscow, Russia © A101 Urban Block

Self-feeder housings
As mentioned above, the residential block must be self-sufficient. What does a self-sufficient residential community? All the participants attempted to respond to this problematic. Recent efforts have been made to build energy efficient housings. But more should be done to shift into a self-feeder housing typology. Whatever, if we take Luca Capelli's definition of a self-sufficient city as example for defining a self-sufficient housing (Self-sufficient city), a self-sufficient residential community is dependent to its components: people depending on people; people depending on its (urban/rural) environments; environment depending on people, to say in substance. This means that each act must be considered our relationship with our environment. As Capelli argues, "we human beings cannot continue to ignore these questions when we construct our environment, because the way we construct embodies the form in which we believe, and it is first and foremost necessary to be aware of our place on the planet, our place in the universe, in order to transform it accordingly." (Self-Sufficient City)
This appears to be one of the anchorage of the participants' proposals, the organisation of the housing blocks apart. They all tried to define a energy efficient system for the residential block to become a self-sufficient residential block. One of them seems the most ambitious with its detailed energy building system diagram.

CIE and SVESMI are announced to be the winners for both projects: low density urban block and large density urban block. Their project will be presented in a next post. LED Architecture Studio, Onat Öktem and Ziya Imren, and Studio Marco Vermeulen's proposals will be presented in next posts.
Here I will focus on two aspects of the participants' proposal only: greenery and energy efficiency.

I confess having been very interested in Epitész Studio's proposal, particularly the way the agency organised the housing blocks (hexagonal blocks such as honeycomb structure) and their use of each surface as green spaces (ground floor, roofs) (previous post). I also appreciated LED Architecture Studio's urban block with their pixelated housing block, b4 Architects' Energy Building System, and Studio Marco Vermeulen's twist of one side of the block to open to the street.

A rapid skimming through A101 Urban Block Competition
The common denominator of these A101 Urban Block proposals is that all the participants designed a residential block consisting of low density buildings with courtyard as a park with multi-function (playground, residential garden) capable of adapting to the specific needs of the occupants.
© b4 Architects
Green represents an important part of this project.
© Epitész Studio
Interaction of the residents and their environment is central
in this proposal.
Interrelation of low density and high density
Private gardens on the first level open to
a central collective park for the entire block.
© LED Architecture Studio
Green park creates an harmony between the occupants
and their homes. The Park is particularly well-designed
punctuated by small pockets of spaces
for leisure and recreation

© Onat Öktem and Ziya Imren
> In wintertime, courtyard shifts into a space
for leisure and recreation. Onat Öktem and
Ziya Imren shows how adaptable
are their residential block to the specific needs
of the occupants.
© Studio Marco Vermeulen
Distorsion of a part of the block
allows the creation of space below.
Communication/distinction between inside and outside
is one of the core elements of this project.
Studio Marco Vermeulen, for instance, twisted one side of the block revealing the street behind. This strategy permits to create a pocket park. small pocket green spaces is also central in Epitész Studio's proposal. Hexagonal structure helps to create micro climate within the residential block.
© Studio Marco Vermeulen
> A distortion of depth is achieved by
a simple twist of a side of the block revealing the street behind.
This strategy helps to create a pocket park.

Another aspect concerns the treatment of roofs. Roofs for most of these projects are green roofs and accessible to users. Some can be transformed into flexible spaces adapted to the needs of the users. Others act as green roofs including, in certain cases, with additional layers such as drainage systems, insulation (b4 Architects).
© LED Architecture Studio
Axonometric © LED Architecture Studio
> Pixelated blocks provide a daylight penetration deepen
inside the interior, the creation of small
green spaces on the roof and a nonlinear roofline.

© Epitész Studio
> Honeycomb structure of hexagons serves as model
to create micro climate. The resultant small
pockets of courtyards create small communities of

If the residential blocks do not contain any green roofs, private terraces serve as green areas (as gardens). Or else, greenhouses are constructed for special functions: keeping heat in the wintertime and providing adequate natural ventilation in the summertime (LED Architecture Studio). These green areas are considered an integrated system that either involves every apartment or the whole urban block.
Plans and section © LED Architecture Studio
© b4 Architects

All these first design sent by the participants propose a energy efficient urban block. One of the most detailed is b4 Architects's design proposal. b4 Architects, as I wrote in a previous post, developed an interesting and ambitious energy building system with low energy houses less than 30 kWh/m2a, consisting mostly of green roof, water drainage system, photovoltaic panels, good wall insulation, optimization of solar gains with brise-soleil and lodges, radiant cooling system and radiant floor heating. Their green roof consists of green technology such as a cool roof, that is, a roof with photovoltaic panels.
Energy Building System © b4 Architects
> Smart energy building system allows
a good energy efficiency of the residential block

In conclusion, most of these projects are quite similar in the organization of housing blocks on a quite regular rectangular lot. All these design proposals show low-density blocks of buildings organizing around a courtyard. All have linear facades with or without terraces and green roofs.
Except of two or three cases. Epitész Studio appear to be the most ambitious with their hexagonal blocks. As for LED Architecture Studio, their pixelated blocks creating an clever arrangement of small units providing a better daylight penetration deeper into the interior contrast with surroundings, as well.
And Studio Marco Vermeulen's distortion of a part of its urban block permits to conceive a new block typology basing on a strict distinction between private, communal and public space. All these projects reveal a new approach of designing housing today.
Axonometric © Studio Marco Vermeulen

All renderings, section, axonometric, © Studio Marco Vermeulen, b4 Architects, LED Architecture Studio, Onat Öktem and Ziya Imren, CIE and SVESMI and Epitész Studio

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