Affordable Housing at the Edge of the City

2. March 2015

Affordable Housing at the Edge of the City

2014
Rijeka, Croatia

Client
Vladimir Benac, APOS City of Rijeka

Architect
Zoka Zola
Chicago, IL

Design Principal
Zoka Zola

Project Manager
Dorothea Schulz

Project Team
Vuki Backonja, Kate Casey, Fred Grier, Adi Kohn, Blake Smith, Agata Siemionov

Associate Architect
Projektura d.o.o.

Structural Engineer
Andrej Markovic d.i.g., ovl. ing, Ultra Studio d.o.o.

M&P Engineer
Boris Dragicevic, dipl.ing.stroj., rijekaprojekt energetika d.o.o.
Marjana Ivkovic dipl.ing.el., I.M.EL d.o.o.

Electrical Engineer
Marjana Ivkovic dipl.ing.el., I.M.EL d.o.o.

Contractor
Novotehna

Site Area
7,161 m2 (770,080 sq.ft. divided in 4 lots)

Building Area
5,027 m2 (net area)

Photographs and Drawings
Zoka Zola Architecture + Urban Design

Architect Zoka Zola may be based in Chicago, but her roots go back to Croatia, specifically to Rijeka, the country's third largest city. So it's fitting that one of her most recent projects took the architect back to her city of birth to design affordable housing after a competition win. The site's location on the edge of a forest inspired Zola to lift the buildings and think of the ground as a continuous playground. The architect answered a few questions about the project.

Street side of the buildings

What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?

This project started as an open international urban design and architectural competition. Architectural competitions used to be mandatory for these type of comissions in Croatia and as a result of this policy a number of interesting affordable housing projects were built accross the country. The jury commented on this project as "important to architecture for its discussion about the edge of the city. It will set new standards for architectural quality for the national affordable housing program." The project was also received well by the city, the general public and most importantly qualified future buyers of the condominiums.

Forest side of the buildings

Please provide an overview of the project.

The brief asked for an urban design solution to place 80 condominiums in 3 to 5 buildings each on its own newly formed lot with strict setback and building height restrictions. Additionally, a playground, park areas, fire lanes, and 120 parking spaces were to be incorporated. All condominium types, their total number, their size, and size of each room area were specified.

The topography of the site was like scrambled papers: 15’ over 15’ of dip in one direction, then 10’ over 20’ rise in another direction, and so on. On the highest elevation there is a small circular wetland. The entire site used to be a habitat for a dense forest with varied species. Preserving the topsoil was very important to us because it is only a thin layer over rock cultivated 60 years ago when the whole area was planted with small pine trees.

Space between buildings

What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?

The project articulates the edge of the city – where human habitat meets the forest. The buildings are placed perpendicular to this edge so that urban environment and forest have an opportunity to merge into a new kind of environment.

To preserve as much of the topsoil on site as possible, the buildings follow topographic contours at the same elevation as the two surrounding streets. The chosen topographical contours are then mathematically interpolated to three segment polylines that form a building shape with two “bends” and three variable length segments. These variable segments allow for flexible programming of different apartment sizes while the “bends” become vertical circulation spaces.

Concept model

The buildings are lifted off the ground with empty ground levels, thus making the entire site and surroundings usable and perceivable. In this way, subterranean condominiums are avoided. The spaces between and underneath the buildings are varied and rich due to the interplay between site topography and building configurations. People use the entire site, regardless of where they live; they walk underneath and between the buildings and across the site; they meet along the many pathways, or under the buildings at the edge of the forest, or on the large play area in the center – the highest elevation point with the strongest connection to the broader surroundings.

Highest elevation point with playground and wetland

Were there any significant challenges that arose during the project? If so, how did you respond to them?

Due to our limited control over the project many parts of our design were not executed in accordance with our drawings. Nevertheless, residents, the whole neighborhood and visitors enjoy the project.

Space between buildings

How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?

The project aims to offer solutions that are transferable to other situations and cities. The three main concepts – preservation of ecosystem, edge of the city, and ground as continuous playground – can be all be reimagined by other architects at any location in the world.

Space underneath buildings

How did you approach designing for Rijeka/Croatia and how would you describe the process of working on the project there?

Whenever we work in new cities or environments we spend lots of time researching them to understand what is the right response in the given context. In this case Rijeka is Zoka’s hometown so we had good access to its culture, people, climate, etc. We had many objectives for this project, one of them was designing a residential neighborhood where we would like to grow up.

Diagrams of site geometry 4 buildings

How would you describe the architecture of Rijeka/Croatia and how does the building relate to it?

As an entire environment Rijeka is rich and pleasant. It sits on the hills surrounding a large bay. Its architecture spans from Roman remains to beautiful modernist and contemporary architecture. Since our project was located at the outskirts of Rijeka, it is built with a relationship to other buildings part of the expansion of urban Rijeka in the last four decades. The project engages with Croatian colleagues in providing possible solutions for sustainable architecture in Croatia.

Email interview conducted by John Hill.

Ground floor plan

Section
Competition entry showing forest reconstruction

Affordable Housing at the Edge of the City

2014
Rijeka, Croatia

Client
Vladimir Benac, APOS City of Rijeka

Architect
Zoka Zola
Chicago, IL

Design Principal
Zoka Zola

Project Manager
Dorothea Schulz

Project Team
Vuki Backonja, Kate Casey, Fred Grier, Adi Kohn, Blake Smith, Agata Siemionov

Associate Architect
Projektura d.o.o.

Structural Engineer
Andrej Markovic d.i.g., ovl. ing, Ultra Studio d.o.o.

M&P Engineer
Boris Dragicevic, dipl.ing.stroj., rijekaprojekt energetika d.o.o.
Marjana Ivkovic dipl.ing.el., I.M.EL d.o.o.

Electrical Engineer
Marjana Ivkovic dipl.ing.el., I.M.EL d.o.o.

Contractor
Novotehna

Site Area
7,161 m2 (770,080 sq.ft. divided in 4 lots)

Building Area
5,027 m2 (net area)

Photographs and Drawings
Zoka Zola Architecture + Urban Design

Related articles

Other articles in this category

Pewabic Pottery
1 week ago
Art Barn
2 weeks ago
Sideyard
4 weeks ago
512 West 22nd Street
1 month ago