In this article Marcos Parga, director of the Madrid-based office MAPAA, presents an exploratory essay on the possibilities of living in developed urban centers, taking as a case study a site between two existing party walls in Madrid. The objective of MAPAA's exercise is to seek ways to enjoy the benefits of rural life, such as close contact with nature, in the city.
What type of home do we deserve?
Many urbanites asking this question would think that it is not too much to ask new residential architecture to give us the chance to live in the city while enjoying some of the advantages of the idealized rural environment—but without renouncing the density and effervescence of the big cities that we like so much. However, our everyday reality invariably shows us the opposite, which is why we decided to open up the design process for indeterminacy and participation.
The RRURBAN (Really RURAL and URBAN) project emerges as a possible response to this aspiration that is increasingly widespread—and, in recent decades, has been widely addressed by different fields—in order to inject the benefits of single-family housing into the speculative DNA of collective housing, furthermore activating issues related to participatory design.
The result of this romantic (and recurrent) approach to the urban housing problem is a reproducible system of development, based on the evidence that a neighborhood community is nothing other than an accumulation of disparate and unique realities that often disappear behind the unifying veil of residential architecture. We soon came to the conclusion that to achieve that hybrid, our strategy should combine two actions: 'fluff up' and 'customize.' Fluff up to generate spaces of opportunity, and customize to be able to increase the final price of each house and thus to compensate economically for the decrease in built area.
From this point, everything was easier: we need only substitute this unifying tendency with operations that exploit diversity, betting on a return to a certain militant individualism that redefines our way of living together. In addition, this path allows us to explore the limits of participation as already made by John Habraken with his theories about the "open-building" or Frei Otto with his "Okohaus" many years ago.
In this case, we have given each housing unit some flexibility so that they can be easily configured by the final users, according to their preferences. The design of each unit reduces architecture to its very essence and most original form: a limited set of basic geometric rules is used to create a framework within which life unfolds in all its complexity.
Thus, in a less ambitious and more operative way, a realistic “catalog of wishes” will determine the elementary characteristics of each "urban plot," becoming completely defined when occupying its final position within the general structure.
In a purely practical sense, the vertically-combined, disparate volumes will enable the desired 'fluffing,' multiplying the system's adaptability to any site. The result is a built environment of variable density composed of stacked basic volumes arranged to be inhabited. Among them, intermediate spaces are generated and treated as valuable extensions of the homes' inner life.
RRURBAN #01. MADRID
The first RRURBAN operation will take place in the center of Madrid, occupying a small plot of 385 square meters, enough to house 7 urban plots, all of them with private outdoor space (patio or terrace) and basement parking space. The common areas (25%) provide the community with a playground, a productive greenhouse, space for barbecues, storage room and bicycle parking.