AD Readers Debate: Living Standards, From Micro-Apartments to Favelas

The past month has seen a variety of potential topics of discussion - but when it comes to the most thoughtful comments, it seems ArchDaily users have been preoccupied with one theme: quality of life. From a discussion about micro-apartments, to a critical take on the supposedly "romantic" portrayal of favelas, and even to a prediction that soon the design of virtual reality will take precedence over the design of actual reality, it seems our readers have been thinking a lot about living conditions in many spheres of life. Read on to find out what they had to say.

Is It Possible to Design Equality Into Housing?

© Field Condition

The phenomenon of micro-apartments already sparked an interesting debate with Jesse Connuck’s response article to Nick Axel’s piece on the topic. But while Connuck’s article asked “are expanding tables and folding furniture a solution to inequality?” the piece sparked a discussion among our readers in which some seemed to suggest that design is unable to play a role at all in encouraging equality in housing:

Jesse is completely right on. Lowering standards as way to elevate inequality is not a solution but a small scale tactic. The inevitably of such a tactic, reduction through reducing space, size, material, money to provide surplus (the ability for someone with lower income to live in the city) will create a new norm of standards of living. So the next evolution of lowering or reduction to produce surpluses, and the next, and the next, will only create larger prices for sqft and more surplus for developers, the ones who will benefit the most. It is true that the initial reduction will create the ability for a few to live in the city which could not have before, mostly with the help of city subsidies, but at the end of the day this tactic of design will result in the social conditioning of the public’s lowering of standards, ie doing less with more. Welcome to modern Post-Fordism. - dave smith

Good article and thoughtful response, dave. However, I would argue that our standards already hit rock bottom with faceless, cold, and poorly-lit housing projects from the mid-20th century. I believe there is no great way to house a large population of people without creating inequality. Unfortunately, it is proving to be an unsolvable riddle. I commend nArchitects for at least challenging the model and attempting provide more diversity in the limited housing stock. - ctrl

If inequality is reduced, housing becomes even more expensive because more people can spend more. It's a geometrical fact that housing in the city center is unaffordable for most people, since everyone wants to be there.

In China they even have subdivided apartments which are extremely small (like the area of two mattresses) and whole families live in there, that's rock-bottom as far as standards go. Is Hong Kong affordable because of it? No.

If there are no regulations that impede growth (ie zoning, minimum parking requirements, restrictions of building size) and holiday housing/empty assets in high-cost areas are banned (an intermediate solution is to ban this only for foreigners), there is nothing else that can be done.

Maybe people will just go live in another city. Switzerland has very low inequality but real estate is increasingly unaffordable. - ararar3

Fighting the Fetishization of Favelas

© Patricia Parinejad

In response to photographer Patricia Parinejad’s work documenting the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Andres Oyaga Loewy objected to what he saw as romanticizing the problematic existence of slums:

The Favela as image has truly been overdone. Of course there is much potential embedded within the spontaneous solutions that arise from unsurmountable difficulties and inequality but too many romanticize the idea of the Favela through "spectacular" imagery, and yet barely scratch the surface of the issues or opportunities. [This] seems a bit more of the same commoditization of Favela imagery. - Andres Oyaga Loewy

This is a valid response that has been made many times before regarding work that focuses on favelas. But it raises the question that, if there is indeed potential in these solutions, isn’t it necessary (or at least helpful) to document them? What marks the distinction between documenting and romanticizing?

On Chicago’s Proposed Cablecar

Courtesy of Marks Barfield Architects and Davis Brody Bond

In response to Marks Barfield and Davis Brody Bond’s proposed cable car in Chicago, one commenter argued that, if any city was psychologically suited to the use of a cable car then it would probably be Chicago:

Reminds me of Fritz Lang's Metropolis with the fantasy of planes flying amongst the skyscrapers. Seems pertinent to Chicago's ethos and self-image! The question is whether this is just a hi-tech tourist attraction (like the London Eye - which is an expensive experience) or is something that locals would use for public transport. If the latter, then it has to be inexpensive and connected to the local transit system. - Gemini

To add another dimension to that question, we might look to another city which implemented a cable car, albeit a much less comprehensive system. London’s Emirates Air Line was intended to form part of the city’s larger transport network, but has been woefully underused by commuters; so much so that it is something of a local joke. So, if Chicago’s system is intended as a piece of public transport, it may need to offer something even more than just low cost and good connections.

The Coming Neglect of the Real

© Mi5VR

Finally, an article about games in which architecture plays a key role sparked a fascinating thesis from one commenter about the tension between reality and virtual reality, arguing that we may be about to see a period of neglect when it comes to designing the real world:

As a designer who has played many video games, I think you could have gone into a lot more depth in discussing the cultural impact that these games have in terms of how they are shaping how we view the world and thus architecture. It's worth mentioning that the video game industry has exploded in size, the games you have mentioned in this article only amount to about .0001% of the games ever released and some games are far more influential than others. Some of the most popular blockbuster games of recent years provide more control to the user such as open world sandbox v. fixed world, and utilize graphics technology along with hollywood motion capture technology to boost immersion.

Following these trends to their logical endpoints we see that eventually virtual reality will take over and dominate other forms of media consumption. People don't just play games to compete or rank up a high score, they play games for phenomenological experiences. Since none of this is occurring in a vacuum, it's possible that we are exchanging the building of architecture for the building of data centers and virtual realities. Instead of building more architecture that would improve human reality, human energy is increasingly diverted into creating and experiencing virtual realities. This actually perpetuates a positive feedback loop whereas since reality is increasingly neglected by our brave new world of entertainment options, there is more reason to neglect it for "superior" virtual and/or manufactured realities. There is no perpetuation of "the commons" when you can have your own virtual domain to operate.

This trend might reverse once technology becomes sophisticated to the point where we can manipulate reality as easily as one manipulates virtual reality, perhaps with the use of nano foglets. At this point any structure or city becomes information technology and could be downloaded or deleted. However, long before we reach this "techno-utopia" drastic changes would need to have occurred to our economy. Changes that most people are unequipped to contemplate. - Fresh Haus

Keep the debate flowing! Please post any responses to these topics in the comments below.

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "AD Readers Debate: Living Standards, From Micro-Apartments to Favelas" 29 May 2016. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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