Dwelling: Accordia Revisited

3 December 2013

Accordia sketch by keith bradley


This is a quote from Andrea Palladio's Four Books of Architecture c.1570, that I used for the preface of our essay 'City in a Garden' as the first chapter 'Dwelling' - the making of Accorida the Stirling Prize winning Housing in Cambridge.

Palladio's introduction to his Four Books sets out the pre-eminence of the dwelling as the most significant element of architecture and urbanism - but beyond that as the most significant building in our lives - where we live. Our homes affect our physical and emotional development, frame relationships with our families, friends, and neighbours. Homes that are described as 'property' that only in relatively more recent times are traded as real estate. The currency of commercial investment, rather than the more profound place of our 'being'. A place of basic shelter and personal identity - a place in a chaotic world that is imbued with meaning - a place to come and go, a place from which all other places are measured. To be without a home is to be branded 'homeless' or of 'no fixed abode'. This dispossession is not just a practical inconvenience, our homes are intrinsically part of our psychological identity and well-being. We as designers need to get this heightened sense of awareness of these basic human rights of response and behaviour as we plan out 'units of accommodation' that fits the 'standards' and agents sales or rental requirements.

The private realm of the home represents the changing social structure of our lives and the relationship of rooms internally - in particular the nature of cooking, dining and socialising. However, it's the relationship between the inside and outside of the home that has dramatically changed within a couple of generations. The modern movement liberating conventions about how dwellings respond to light, view and contact with nature. Le Corbusier's villa Savoye of 1928 exemplified a new way of living - blurring the boundaries of inside and outside space with the fluid plan occupying roof-level terraces to get the best of the sunlight and view. Man unified with Nature is the premise of modernism. A social and cultural shift that has only had a modest effect on the shape of our individual homes. The modern house in the landscape was one thing, but to translate these virtues to the group in the city was more difficult. The Unite d'Habitation in Marseilles (1952) was Corb's incarnation of high-density apartment housing for a very different kind of city - The Ville Radieus. This notion of urban life, whilst providing the amenities of the private villa, lacked the community structure of a street-based city and failed in most regions. Corb's own critique followed with the lower rise 'street' scheme for Algiers, that was to become a model for late modern housing projects like the London Camden Terraces of Neave Brown and Patrick Hodgkinson of the 1970s.

The evolving translations of the principles of modernism within a more traditional urban structure set the scene for Accordia. A thesis of modern-movement inspired homes that serve contemporary lifestyles and increase contact with nature is then held within a street landscape structure. Terraces of terraces make a world of inside/outside for private lives, as public-facing homes that share a common landscape of streets and spaces. A City in a Garden. Privacy with Community. They form a way of being that is timeless. 'Dwelling as the basic property of existence' (Heidegger).

Keith Bradley