Friday, October 10, 2008

Carabanchel Social Housing in Madrid by Foreign Office Architects

Since touching on my previous post on a residential mass housing project being nominated for the Stirling prize, I decided to write this week about another awarded housing project: the Carabanchel Social Housing by Foreign Office Architects. It has been awarded the RIBA European Award in 2008. Not only that, it is also implementing sustainable architecture.

FOA's architecture usually puts a brilliant idea in every single project it conceives, always with a strong concept and a direct delivery. At The Yokohama International Port Terminal it was the "no return pier" with roof acting as place, for the BBC Music Box (not built) it was the transparency of the skin,here they have designed a piece of municipal housing which shutters up to become a bamboo box, shielding the residents from the fierce sun of the central Spanish plateau.


Bamboo is the main protagonist here. An unexpected material to find as skin to a building, much less a public housing one. For most cities in the world, building public housing results in non-descript blocks of cheap looking apartments which are as bad for the casual observer as they are for their inhabitants. Not so for Madrid. Their public sector works office, EMVS, assigns well known architects to make interesting buildings for them that are also offering a nice space to live in to their inhabitants. Enter FOA at Caravanchel and, with sustainability as a pre-requisite, the bamboo skin/shutters idea was brought to fruition.


Caravanchel 16 is a simple rectangular 93-unit building. The apartments have various types and sizes. The building is organized around the north-south axis: that means it faces the harsh Spanish east-west sun for most of the day. To avoid the heat gain from the sun, the architects have covered the façades with a 1.5 metre terrace enclosed with bamboo shutters. Mounted on folding frames, they can be opened whenever the occupants want to. A constant play of shadow and light keeps going on throughout the day, making for interesting changes at the façades - it could very well be called a living façade!


The concrete framed box hides in its base a car park and generous storage rooms for each apartment. Elegant ramps reach inside the building from the place. The common parts are robust, white walls and galvanised handrails. The bedrooms are tiny but living spaces generous and all the rooms are easily reconfigurable. The louvres not only provide the necessary protection from the blazing summer sun, but also enhance security and, because they are completely under the control of each unit's occupants, they also highlight the latter's spatial independence.



  1. WOW!

    Ανοιχτή πρόσκληση για το ερχόμενο Ιούνιο. Πάμε Μαδρίτη να το χαζέψουμε από κοντά να σε ξεναγήσω και στην πόλη που έζησα μερικά από τα ομορφότερά μου χρόνια :-D

  2. I insist! you should try writing...

  3. professionally I mean

  4. ayto einai pou lene environmentally sustainable architecture!
    Mr Sandman (bring me a dream) apolaystiko to blog sou ! :))

  5. @mad: με προκαλείς!

    @meniek: αν μου βρεις πού...

    @the espressionist: ευχαριστώ και καλώς ήρθες!

  6. que bonito edifico, ya quiciera uno así en México!!!

  7. Anonymous2:43 pm

    mashallah!!! :)