TRADITIONAL BOSNIAN HOUSE BEFORE AND AFTER ENERGY PRICES SKYROCKETED
Houses with unfinished facades are common throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. They may not be considered beautiful, but like many other questionable structures they constitute a part of our everyday experience. With some exceptions, these structures are a result of scarcity of alternatives of their builders, rather than the result of a conscious building process that is guided by professionals with a comprehensive understanding of contemporary building culture. These structures are created by citizens, who literally first live in the world and look at it second.
The question is whether traditional concepts of aesthetics should be applied to such improvised environments or new concepts need to be developed. Aesthetic concepts that are less derived from representative aspects and more from performative aspects.
On a day-to-day basis the majority of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina have to be very performance oriented to make a living. They have to make perpetually independent and practical decisions to make their lives work. Only architecture that understands this socio-economic situation will succeed in giving this given dynamic a positive spin.
A contemporary architectural practice that focuses its architectural production on possibilities for its users comes from Lacaton & Vassal in France. Lacaton & Vassal design spaces that primarily try to enable and only then consider traditional classifications such as function or form. They use performative strategies to break up with established notions in architecture. In their work, performance relates to spatial practices and material qualities. During the design process that includes a detailed analysis of the specific situation and that displays great empathy for existing places, Lacaton & Vassal develop a conceptual program that is based on a series of desired spatial qualities. Consequently, the architectural form is developed to house and enable these qualities in a most generous way. In order to be able to be generous, also within rather limited budgets, Lacaton & Vassal are not afraid of reinterpretation and appropriation of otherness.
In their legendary house Casa Latapie in Floira-Bordeaux (1991-93) Lacaton & Vassal utilize corrugated fiber-cement boards to provide visual privacy towards the street and an industrial greenhouse with transparent polycarbonate paneling to create an extended living area at the garden side. Depending on the season, the greenhouse functions as either heat puffer, extended living room or part of the garden. In between these two industrial shells lies a two-story wooden box. This box is fully insulated and accommodates all basic functions such as kitchen and bedrooms during wintertime. The usage of greenhouses to provide relative economical spaces can be found in a series of later works as well. In the residential building complex Cite Manifeste in Mulhouse (2001-05) greenhouses are used to provide insulated and non-insulated spaces. They sit on top of a concrete structure that forms the ground floor. Depending on the apartment, the insulated greenhouses provide either space for living or sleeping, whereas the non-insulated ones are used as winter gardens and puffer zones with varying climatic conditions.
By having a detailed understanding of the economic aspects of their projects and by diverting material from its intended use, Lacaton & Vassal are not trying to build cheaper but more generous. Cost savings are reinvested to create larger spaces. In case of the settlement Cite Manifeste it means creating loft type housing for working class families with usable surface areas up to 180 m2.
Being not limited by the façade or single functions, but having the possibility to condition your living environment in accordance with different situations is defined as luxury. According to Lacaton & Vassal “luxury is linked to the freedom of use and high level of possibilities and less constraints, to not having any limits on your imagination and desires (…) and is not a question of price and materiality”1.
The aesthetics of Lacaton & Vassal is grounded within the dynamics of everyday life that is powered by practical acts and creative thinking. For Lacaton & Vassal “it is not important what a material represents but what it enables”2 (trans.)!
Another architectural practice that radically questions existing forms of habitation, aesthetic properties and building standards is the one of Arno Brandlhuber in Berlin, the architect and creator of Anti-Villa and the project Brunnestrasse 9.
For Brandlhuber “the façade is a social instrument, not an aesthetic one” 3. By reducing costs and building standards, he intends to increase the accessibility of his projects. According to Brandlhuber “costly and mono-functional building standards contribute to the segregating model of the modern city”4. Instead of perfectly insulating the structure from the outside world, the Anti-Villa has different temperature zones. With a PVC curtain, the habitable area is reduced during winter time from 500 to 70 m2 (bathroom, kitchen and sauna). The sauna stove is used as heat source.
Like with Lacaton & Vassal, Brandluber’s main aim is not to build a priori cheap buildings, but to develop generous and manipulable spaces that are as much as possible neutral in terms of usage. Users are provoked to appropriate the space in accordance with their needs, attitudes and desires. Only the actual spatial act of the user creates eventually concrete spatial situations.
Brandlhuber’s design approach is radically different to Lacaton & Vassal’s though. Brandlhuber develops a set of abstract spatial systems that reappear in different projects and confronts them with project specific (external) conditions. It may be site-specific regulations, adjacent structures, conflicting interests, the room program or political choices.
At Brunnenstrasse 9 these (external) conditions shall enable renting fees below 10 EUR/m2 or the provision of spaces that are open for different usages. The low rent fee should enable current tenants to stay in the neighbourhood. As the building sits on top of an investor ruin from the 1990’s, certain floor plan configurations (e.g. the position of the elevator shaft) were already predetermined. Brandlhuber tried to keep the floor plan as neutral as possible by moving the internal staircase into the backyard. The resulting open plan structure was then closed with high insulating polycarbonate twin-wall sheets. Only certain openings are closed with conventional glass. Users can later replace the polycarbonate with higher quality materials if they desire.
Brandlhuber makes the (external) project conditions visible. He asks for “radical thinking”5! An example is the jump in the floor slabs at Brunnenstrasse 9. The design picks up the floor heights of the neighbour buildings and let them collide in the middle of the building. The resulting tectonical shift structures the open floor plan.
Many of above described material characteristics (raw materials, external staircases, conflicting elements, small budgets …) and user behaviour (spatial downsizing during winter time …) are reality throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, mainly these are not arranged and used in an imaginative way. It may be in the interest of us architects to better understand these (socio-economic) situations and to engage to rearrange them in a more imaginative way. To use these situations as test grounds to expose the social dimension of architecture and turn architecture again in a discipline that empowers!
1 Moreno, Cristina Diaz and Grinda, Efren Garcia. “Everyday Delights, A Conversation with Anne Lacaton & Jean Philippe Vassal.” El croquis 177/178, Lacaton & Vassal 1993/2015 (2015): 17.
2 Dell, Christopher. “Die Performanz des Raums.” archplus 183, Situativer Urbanismus (2007): 141
3,4 Maak, Niklas. “Anti-Villa: Arno Brandlhuber’s Thinking Model for a New 21st Century Architecture.” 032c. 28 September 2015. https://032c.com/2015/anti-villa-arno-brandlhubers-thinking-model-for-a-new-21st-century-architecture/.
5 Arno Brandlhuber in conversation with Nikolaus Kuhnert und Anh-Linh Ngo. “Brutiful.” ARCH+ 195. http://www.archplus.net/home/archiv/artikel/46,3161,1,0.html.
Article for Association of Architects in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Christoph Hinterreiter: