Inside storeys - Issue 171 - Magazine | Monocle
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From São Paulo to Tokyo, these six projects are setting a benchmark for developers. It can be easy to focus on the bottom line over the quality of the build but the two go hand in hand: smart design can ensure the longevity of a project, making it a smart investment. –– L


best for heritage restoration 
Boksto Skveras

Vilnius, Lithuania

It’s rare for developers to give architects the time and budget that a large-scale project requires. But Boksto 6, a mixed-use development in Vilnius, is one such case. Here, London-based architecture firm Studio Seilern was able to sensitively restore six buildings in the old town over the course of a decade. The original site had been derelict since the 1990s, when it was purchased in 2008 by Lithuanian retail entrepreneurs the Oritz brothers.

Vilnius is a Unesco World Heritage site so Studio Seilern – led by the firm’s founder Christina Seilern – needed local authorities to sign off on every detail. The first phase consisted of an archaeological excavation that lasted seven years. Layers of architectural styles spanning 500 years – from Gothic vaults to Baroque structures – were revealed, as well as the evolving function of the site; over the years it has served as a chapel and a hospital. 

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Deep foundations 

Boksto 6 owes its looks in part to the 500-year heritage uncovered by architects Studio Seilern during its initial work on the project.

This provided Studio Seilern with a visual language for the project, which consists of private residences and offices but also a health club and spa, a restaurant, chapel and performance space across the six buildings organised around a central courtyard. “We were fascinated by the history,” says Seilern. “We also took inspiration from the Alhambra in Spain, with polished steel insertions that mimic reflective pools.”

Since opening in 2022, Boksto 6 has reinvigorated a parcel of Vilnius’s city centre, sparking a wave of regeneration. How about that for a measure of a property development’s success?
studioseilern.com


best for apartment living 
Onze22
São Paulo, Brazil

Completed in 2023 and towering above São Paulo’s tree canopy, it’s hard to miss apartment block Onze22. This product of Franco-Brazilian studio Triptyque Architecture was built by overlapping suspended slabs of concrete in a style reminiscent of early Brazilian modernist architecture. It is in the city’s Vila Madalena neighbourhood, its floor-to-ceiling windows and translucent façades offering residents a panorama of the cityscape from every natural-light-flooded apartment. 

For Triptyque’s co-founder, Guillaume Sibaud, Onze22 was a chance to explore how to integrate the natural environment in an urban building. “We’re in an urban area but Vila Madalena is a place characterised by lots of vegetation,” says Sibaud. “It was about inserting the building in that soil and letting nature move through it.”

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High water mark

Onze22’s rooftop pool is just one of the development’s communal spaces that blend the shared and private realms to create its sense of a ‘grand house’.

Triptyque was established by a group of French and Brazilian associates in 2000 and is made up of two studios: one in Paris and one in São Paulo. The resulting back and forth between France and Brazil inspires the studio to experiment with different traditions. “Brazilian architecture has pushed the principles of modernism to the limits, composing spaces horizontally with slabs that allow movement without obstacles,” adds Sibaud. “Onze22 is really in line with this tradition”.

In addition to paying homage to the country’s architectural heritage, the structure also carefully strikes the balance between public and private space – an essential trait in any multi-residential structure – with the building set on pillars, elevating the ground floor apartments to ensure privacy. This sense of seclusion is enhanced by verdant gardens at the base, which provide screening from passersby. In addition to being able to wander through the gardens, residents can also enjoy communal amenities, from workspaces to a gym and rooftop pool. 

The result is a building whose tenants feel as though they are living in a grand house rather than an apartment – a key ambition in Triptyque Architecture’s work. “Giving house-like qualities to apartments keeps cities attractive, as dense but enjoyable spaces,” says Sibaud.
triptyque.com


best mixed-use development
Mercado
Groningen, The Netherlands

For many years, Rode Weeshuistraat, a street running through the Dutch city of Groningen’s northern quarter, languished in the shadows of the warehouses and shops that backed onto it. It’s a situation that Dutch developers mwpo and Beauvast have addressed, commissioning architects De Zwarte Hond and Loer Architecten to let light and life back into the city with the construction of a new building, Mercado, in 2023.

“We were working with a difficult legacy at the start,” says Frank Loer, founder of Loer Architecten. “Over the years, the warehouses in the centre of the city had become empty and unused, leaving the heart of Groningen full of vacant buildings. This applied to Rode Weeshuistraat in particular. We knew we had to transform the street.”

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Mercado’s graduated, stepped exterior
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Greenery softens the outdoor spaces
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Inside one of Mercado’s 41 apartments

Working in collaboration, De Zwarte Hond and Loer Architecten set out to make their vision a reality. Step one was to demolish a building used for storage, before opening a new square and constructing the mixed-use structure. “We worked with the council to develop a narrative for the area centred around walking,” says Henk Stadens, partner at De Zwarte Hond. Keeping pedestrians and businesses in mind, Stadens, Loer and their teams brought together a mix of retail spaces on the ground floor of Mercado with 41 apartments built on the levels above.

Lush greenery overhangs the building’s boundaries, animating its exterior, while its stepped form means that it doesn’t overwhelm the street. “One thing we’ve noticed people appreciate about the building is its sense of generosity,” says Stadens. “The richness of the building, with its vegetation, the texture of its ceramic tiling and the variation in height captivates people. Often their reaction is just to come up to Mercado to touch it.”

Loer and Stadens are clear that the way for cities to develop isn’t to invest in sprawl but to look for density. “In many ways, urbanism comes above architecture for us,” says Loer. “If you want to change a city, it’s important to consider public space. Then you can think of buildings as actors in your quest to create those conversations and interactions.”
loerarchitecten.com; dezwartehond.nl

Q&A: Muyiwa Oki

Thinking big

Riba President Muyiwa Oki is an architect at construction consultancy Mace Group.

When Nigeria-born Muyiwa Oki assumed the mantle of president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) in 2023, he made history, not just as the institute’s first black president but also as its youngest. His election was built on a campaign that aimed to, in his words, “have the voices of younger, emerging practitioners heard”. It’s an aim he is furthering at Mipim, as one of the jury members of its Challengers programme: an initiative that invites 16 young real-estate professionals to share visions for how to build a better world. 

Why get involved in a programme championing the perspectives of young people in property?
A key part of my work at Riba has been giving a platform for younger people to share perspectives on key issues in the built environment. That’s what I’m trying to do with the Challengers programme, in which young people write an essay suggesting solutions to the big issues – such as climate change or urban regeneration – and present at Mipim. We had more than 100 entrants from across the globe and selected 16 of them. Some of the ideas aren’t necessarily new but they’re left in the university curricula and aren’t broadcast to a wider audience, such as urban farming and how it could work in places like South America. Our hope is that people at Mipim see these as solutions to real-life problems and don’t stick to the status quo.

Why is it important to look for more of these radical solutions?
People are aware that the real estate, building and construction industry has an effect on the environment. About 40 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions come from construction. We want everyone to live as long as possible in prosperous communities, so we need solutions like these.

What are some of the steps we can take?
It’s about considering the notion of the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit. That has become common knowledge, so now it’s about how to make this happen – and do so in a sustainable way.


best cultural development 
Haus 1 at Atelier Gardens
Berlin, Germany

“It’s a modest paint job,” says Jacob van Rijs, partner at Rotterdam-based architecture firm mvrdv. That is one way to characterise Haus 1, an eye-catching architectural addition to an industrial area in the south of Berlin. It has been given an upgrade and finished in sunshine yellow paint.

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Step by step
By taking things slowly and involving the local community, developers Fabrix won over what can be a tricky city to build in.

Haus 1 is part of Atelier Gardens, a redevelopment of Berliner Union Film Ateliers (Bufa), the vast studios dating back to 1912 when Germany’s film industry was booming. In 2019, London-based developer Fabrix bought the site and commissioned a masterplan from Dutch studio mvrdv. Berlin is not known for welcoming foreign developers but Atelier Gardens has been met with enthusiasm. It hosts film festivals and launch parties, and thanks to means-tested rents, there is a diverse mix of tenants, from tech companies to micro-farming collectives. Fabrix also involved local stakeholders from the start. “We didn’t just show up with plans,” says its ceo, Clive Nichol. “We spent three years talking.” Haus 1 is proof that a grassroots approach can make even daring transformation easy.
mvrdv.com


best for the elderly
Charm Premier Grand nursing home
Tokyo, Japan

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With nearly a third of its population of 125 million now over 65, Japan is leading the way in thinking about how best to meet the diverse needs of its senior citizens. Nikken Housing System, a Tokyo design and consultancy practice, specialises in the subject: it recently won the gold medal for residential projects at the Mipim Asia Awards, for the second phase of an upmarket nursing home in Tokyo it built with Mitsubishi Estate Residence.

With its balconies, picture windows and sleek wooden louvres, it’s apparent that Charm Premier Grand Gotenyama Nibankan is unlike most facilities for the elderly. “The feeling of ‘home’ can get lost amid the handrails and corner guards of nursing homes,” says architect Masahiro Suzaki, general manager of the design team at Nikken Housing System. There are double rooms for couples, cypress and stone baths, a premium food menu and 24-hour nursing. Other services include a concierge, yoga classes and dog therapy. 

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The nursing home, in the leafy neighbourhood of Gotenyama, has 37 rooms that can be adapted to residents’ needs, with bathrooms and kitchens for those who want to live more independently. “We’ve tried to create an environment where residents can move in without feeling a major shift in their lifestyles,” says Suzaki. The design also allows for changes as care progresses and takes in the needs of nurses and wheelchair users. 

The dining room and lounge can be accessed from the street so that residents can come and go as they please and air circulates through open corridors, giving the interior a sense of the outdoors. While the home would be too high-end for many, the ideas here could be adapted to different settings. “Architecture can improve quality of life for the elderly,” says Suzaki.
charmcc.jp


best for social housing
Sunflower Houses
Vienna, Austria

For a fresh look at social housing, take a stroll through Sonnenblumenhäuser (German for Sunflower Houses) in Vienna. Part of the Wildgarten, a new residential neighbourhood in the city’s southwestern suburbs, it features 82 housing units across 11 buildings. Austrian Real Estate (are), the landowner, commissioned Madrid-based architecture firm Arenas Basabe Palacios for the project, which also features community spaces, shared bike-parking facilities and ground-floor commercial units.

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“The construction is the opposite of typical, conventional solutions for suburban environments,” says architect Luis Palacios Labrador of Arenas Basabe Palacios. “It follows neither the model of a garden city nor that of a single-function development of blocks.” 

The buildings have yellow, white or wood-clad exteriors, with south-oriented living spaces that open towards private gardens. A low-maintenance green space known as the Allmende (common land) adds to the community feel. The buildings vary in height and type, with small ones containing single-family and duplex housing mixed with larger structures of apartments. This ensures that all the interior rooms receive sunlight and shows that social housing need not be drab or overly uniform.

“It follows neither the model of a garden city nor that of a single-function development of blocks”

The decision to design buildings on different scales has implications beyond the Sonnenblumenhäuser: it provides a model for a variety of investors to get involved, from developers who can create smaller buildings and medium-sized Baugruppen (co-living and co-housing projects) to the city council providing the backing for the largest blocks. “In this way, we open up the forming of the city to a more inclusive process, where all these agents are represented,” says Palacios Labrador.
arenasbasabepalacios.com

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