MaximusFebruary 2, 2009
Windows to the world
Time to get back to talking about architecture. One of the things that the construction slow-down may give us, incidentally, is more time to actually think about architecture – the hectic pace that the architects in our city have been working at, with barely time to pause between designs, has led to a plethora of work of (at times) dubious quality. The designs for one multi-storey apartment building have barely been unveiled to the client before the next site was revealed by the voracious appetite of the patron-developer, and the same design was in many cases seemingly just simply flipped and scaled to fit the next site, in a lazy manner of architecture that shows in the finished product.
One thing that has been apparent has been the profusion of apartments with internal bedrooms. Traditionally, every good kiwi house had a window to every bedroom – in fact, it is written into our housing DNA in the form of the Building Code (part G7 Natural Light). That part of the building code mandates that every habitable room shall have one tenth of the floor area in window area, and one twentieth as opening fenestration for guaranteeing fresh air into the room.It’s curious then that while we will only accept external window openings in our suburban homes, for some reason we find the prospect of a completely internal bedroom acceptable in our newer city apartments. It is an arrangement that we appear to find OK in our country, while in other countries we may note that this arrangement would be strictly forbidden.
In Germany for instance, where they have many hundreds of years of constructing cheek by jowl urban housing, it appears to be a matter of building code Law that every bedroom must have an openable window onto an external wall. Arguably, the shoddy practice we have developed recently in NZ of having internal bedrooms opening only off a living room, or even with light coming only from a high level window through from another room: this really should be stamped out. Made illegal. Stopped forthwith. It’s crap: let’s not do it any longer.
I’ve inserted in here the relevant clause from G7, showing the rule that currently makes internal bedrooms ‘acceptable’. Legal, but shameful is another way to look at it.
Included here courtesy of one of our international Fish watchers are 3 plans of Berlin flats, available to rent or buy. For those that are interested: the size of the apartments is 62m2 for the first one bed apartment, 132m2 for the middle image, and 160m2 for the lower, single bedroom pad. All, you will notice, have bedrooms on external walls.
Perhaps it is worth looking at the manner of how the Germans attain such things: how do they make their apartment blocks work so that all bedrooms get a window onto an external wall. Not having access to German codes makes this difficult, but one evident way is the traditional use of Courtyard housing. In some areas of built up Germany such as Berlin, many of the old housing blocks are built as vast torus / lozenges of space, with a block composing a perimeter of housing, allowing living rooms to the outside of the block (facing onto the street) and the bedrooms meanwhile facing back into the quieter core of the courtyard. Naturlich, all is double glazed (ie 2 separate window glazing systems).
In Britain a similar arrangement sometimes exists in some of the modern housing developments, but with one crucial change: the access corridors are on the courtyard side, thus putting the bedrooms either near the corridors (and thus presenting a security risk) or on the outside (and thus copping the brunt of the noise).So the crucial aspect is to get the right size of site first. I was hopeful that with the recent spate of CAS developments such as Monument, Piermont, and Republic 1 and 2, that the use of central courtyard schemes may have been considered by the architects (architecture +). No such luck it seems: despite our recent adaption of the 75% max volume rule, all 4 of these developments have maximised their volume outwards, and feature a solid dense core of circulation. So far, the Century City Ho seems to be the only new courtyard building in Wellington. Are there any more? If you know: please do tell us.