The Labyrinthic Block

by Marc Dessauvage (MArch I ’21) and Sarah Cheung (MArch I ’21)

This housing project is schizophrenic in nature, reflecting at once a capitalist ideal of efficiency as well as a socialist engagement with housing and public space. Acknowledging a common architectural desire in both for a singular mechanism, this design re-examines existing housing types and their context to create one architectural system that can produce different urban relations at the scale of the façade, block and skyline.

On a small scale, the project extrudes and aggregates the prototypical Somerville bay window into a curtain wall, applying a modern regulating principle inherited from the modern skyscraper onto the vernacular. This defamiliarization of the bay window allows for novel experiences of this element within the unit. At the scale of the block, the scheme undulates and breaks to conform to existing buildings on its site, preserving an urban relation to its surroundings. Like the superblock housing projects of Red Vienna, this scheme is dictated by the negative spaces of the urban fabric, hugging courtyards at the scale of the block and leaving narrow thoroughfares at the scale of the street. The repetitive breaking of the monolithic mass, in both plan and elevation, results in a varied form that mirrors discrete silhouettes of the city skyline. The ultimate effect is a housing type that emulates the urbanism of the city.