What do villages look like in a world where most people live in cities? Can close-knit communities even exist in the megapolis of the future? The Interlace, an unusual apartment building that was just crowned Building of the Year, thinks so.
The Interlace is an apartment complex in Singapore designed by Ole Scheeren, a German architect who spent many years as a partner at OMA (where he masterminded Beijing’s CCTV building). Today at the World Architecture Festival, it was chosen as Building of the Year after two days of presentations from finalists vying for the award.
Awards aside, it’s easy to see the future in the Interlace. This is a building that anyone who has ever lived in a city — and felt alone there — can relate to. It’s an attempt to make tall, dense apartment buildings capable of harboring healthy communities, like barnacles clinging to a concrete wall. And it does so with some really, really clever ideas about massing.
A little backstory. In the 20th century, many cities tried to remediate the problem of overcrowding and housing shortages by razing tenements and building apartment blocks lined up along wide, open spaces. The problem with this idea — as we’ve seen time and time again — is simple: In these towers, there’s really no public space. There are individual apartments, there are hallways and elevators, and there are grass patches at their bases, which are themselves often dangerous, ill-maintained, and unpleasant to hang out in.
In short, these tower blocks don’t give communities room to grow. They don’t give anyone a sense of place — they all look the same — and they eliminate the parts of the city where relationships used to thrive — namely, footpaths, courtyards, and parks. Yet, high-density housing is an increasing necessity in cities where housing in high demand. They’re needed.
Scheeren’s office explains how it responded to that dilemma it with a diagram.
In their hands, those towers became play blocks — they picked them up, split them into small pieces, and stacked them at different angles to created a unique pattern of 31 different blocks of varying heights and floors that cluster around eight different beautiful courtyards.
Every space is different: Some include community gardens, others have pools or ponds, you might find a reading room or a theatre or a dog run at the base of your particular tower. This turns “vertical isolation into horizontal connectivity and reinstates the notion of community as a central issue in today’s society,” the firm explains.
They also have their own names — another crucial way to make spaces feel unique and special. And the pathway up to your apartment doesn’t just lead from the street to the elevator to your door; it might wind through a bamboo garden, through a BBQ, or across a workout session. The idea is to create moments in space where people interact — whether than means bumping into someone you know or even just saying hello.
“The diversity of the various offerings and atmospheres of natural environment encourage social interaction with the freedom of choice for different gradients of privacy and sharing, contributing to the overall sense of community,” the office says. They call it a “vertical village.”
It goes against all of the 20th century’s conventional knowledge about high-density housing — stuffing as many apartments arranged exactly the same way as possible within a given footprint — to create something that’s both dense and human-scale. There were plenty of great buildings built in 2015, but few of them go as far to solving one of the biggest dilemmas in modern cities. Check out more images here.