Summer 2020

Studio X Rooms 

with visiting professor Anna Llonch from Barcelona office ︎︎︎Cierto Estudio 

Cierto Estudio: Marta Benedicto, Ivet Gasol, Carlota de Gispert, Anna Llonch, Lucia Millet, Clara Vidal.

In the summer term 2020 visiting professor Anna Llonch from the young Barcelona practice Cierto Estudio headed a design studio at the institute together with Andreas Lechner. The students worked on the conversion of a former military site in the central Graz district of Jakomini, providing over 500 housing units on a site of nearly 60 hectares. They were collectively designing an urban housing project with a variety of typologies that critically reassessed the brief and outcome of a recent competition on that very site. Although “X-Rooms” was held as an online course due to the pandemic, the studio nevertheless kept on exploring innovative housing typologies through Cierto Estudio’s methodology of continuous interaction from the floor plan to housing typology and urban planning, creating a constant dialogue between the housing plan and urbanism. The studio started by investigating concepts of flexibility through the analysis of numerous reference projects and papers that were collectively discussed, transformed and applied within the design processes.

Fig. 1, Aerial view of project site

The tenet of “X-Rooms” is to ascertain how the signifier “X” describes notions of flexibility in dwellings that can be easily adapted to the cycles of life in a reversible way without making radical changes. One of the way of accomplishing this is to conceive the dwelling as an infrastructure, i.e. as a system of primary and secondary structures, where flexibility throughout time is provided through changes in the secondary structure — by removin or adding, overlapping or mixing, blurring and filtering boundaries and transparencies, etc. Thus the idea of housing in this studio endeavours to calculate the inhabitant as an active agent in order to further determine the use and definition of the designed spaces.

The students are therefore asked to incorporate time as a design parameter, which requires the demonstration of versatility — i.e. of different distributions of the house, of easy modifications within the same structure, and of possible future inhabitants with different requirements and necessi- ties. Essentially, we are by definition interested in rooms that are ambiguous and generous enough to accommodate almost any programme and we there- fore aim to investigate the potential of non-hierarchical spaces facilitating more autonomous and versatile rooms. This results in circulation and cross views becoming crucial points of the study — the position of interior and exterior openings, the geometry of the rooms, the spatial possibilities or linking spaces and moving through them therefore requiring careful consideration.

In this semester the students are invited to explore typologies that have an open number of rooms, “X-Rooms” that could be added, segregated, subdivided or subtracted in order to achieve transformable dwellings. In contrast to the calculated numbers of market driven typologies that were required in the competition, the buildings in the studio become a checkerboard where different typological configurations are possible thanks to swapping the rooms — a flexibility that can also be explored in section, creating dwellings than can grow over different floors. The projects were also required to integrate communal facilities, conceiving the collective space not only as a circulation area, but also as a place of encounter and gathering that pays special attention to the transition spaces between collective and private domains. The students were required to come up with answers to this important design task in housing as to how different thresholds can provide privacy to the dwellings’ inside and outside spaces.

1 Case study “Vorstudien”
A selection of projects triggers the students’ research into precedents of topics like inter- connections, the middle room, diagonal sequence, etc. One project is assigned to each student which is required to be intentionally redrawn, thus graphically analysing the as- signed theme and adding an accurate text description. An important task of this assignment is to draw diagrams that synthesise the main points of the analysis. This task provides an abstract representation of a strategy that could be used in the on-going work.

2 Urban multiplication “Konfigurationen”
The second exercise introduces strategies for assembling the units by forming urban types (e.g. linear block, atrium, tower, etc.). These diagrammatic floor plans explore the different modifications of the units while necessarily responding to the specific requirements of light, access, ventilation and circulation.

3 Master plan “Masterplan”
Concerning the different urban typologies from the second exercise, the students are asked to come up with an urban strategy for the whole site. This third exercise requires that the scale and form of the buildings are already scrutinised in relation to their context, thus considering density, open space qualities, circulation inside and outside, mass-void relationship, degrees of privacy and urban thresholds.

4 Paper on flexible typologies
Following the urban design approach, the students are asked to “zoom in” again. By writing a brief research paper on “flexibility”, they develop a theoretical background that helps them to conceive flexible / open typologies that are then explored through drawing variations of the same dwelling, by adding or subtracting without changing the essence of the dwelling. Special attention is given to doors and interconnections between rooms, as well as considering the possible circulation lines inside the house, thus producing different degrees of privacy and transition spaces between the collective and the private spaces of the dwelling.

5 Eleven plots
We divide the site plot into eleven areas, each of which is individually allocated to the students in order to obtain an urban design of eleven different dwelling projects with possible interaction and influences through the adjacencies of the projects. These understand each other as the immediate context to which they relate. At this stage, we ask the students to develop the building’s internal organisation at a larger scale, integrating dwellings, collective space and shared facilities for 80 inhabitants. No specific typology percentage is required, as the aggregation system should be flexible enough to allow changes with percentages of one, two or three bedroom apartments and even allow for dwellings of more than three bed- rooms. The dwelling is understood as a “skeleton” or infrastructure that allows for many changes in the plan and / or section without changing the main distri- bution of the walls. 1:200 floor plans and sections are required, as well as a general axonometry, thus highlighting the collective space and the façades.

6 Façade and images
In the final stage, students are required to investigate the design and composition of the façades through a detailed elevation, showing the materiality in relatio to a section that reveals the construction strategy. The façcade should also be shown in exterior views in order to express the relation between the immediate context and the public space generated. Students are then asked to develop a series of interior images that present the special situations developed in each project, revealing the interior atmosphere and spatial quality.

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