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Case Study:

MIX House XXV Aprile

In the “XXV Aprile” Mix House project, the architectural, structural, and plant engineering choices embody a paradigm of eco-sustainable, functionally flexible, and inclusive architecture. This approach champions a new culture of living and social interaction that prioritizes the needs of individuals and the community. The design strives to create an environment that welcomes individuals with diverse needs, fostering a sense of community across generations and ethnicities through synergistic relationships.

Context

Nestled between the Villetta cemetery and the Baganza torrent in Parma’s southwest, the project complex harmoniously integrates with the nearby buildings in the northern quadrant. Featuring an innovative design, the volume divides into two parts, forming an internal “landscape” that unfolds towards the north (garden) and south (via Taro) sides.

The project commits to fostering a harmonious urban lifestyle, promoting collaboration and social solidarity among diverse population sectors (the ‘fragile’ elderly, new families, and students).

Aligned with social housing principles, it actively engages inhabitants from the reference neighbourhood and surrounding areas. The design, shaped by a detailed analysis of varied user needs, achieves an optimal solution.

Living model

The uniqueness of an intervention to enhance the quality of social living emerges in the design of residential areas, communal spaces, and the relationship with the external environment (green areas and other places), providing an idea of inhabiting spaces where individuals and the community are active protagonists of their living context (Fig. 2, 3). The project focuses on attention and support for specific individuals facing precarious conditions to reduce the chances of stigma or social exclusion stemming from:

  • conditions of loneliness, socio-economic precariousness, or life path
  • difficulties and social stigma due to aging, fragility, or associated socio-health issues (multimorbidity).

The population of the housing model (composed of social housing, public residential buildings, and social housing for students) consists of social mixity aimed at creating a sense of place and building local identity.

The selection of the best design solution has led to identifying the needs of different resident-user profiles:

  1. Elderly population (self-sufficient or semi-self-sufficient) with diverse needs based on fragility, health status, socio-economic conditions (potentially long-term stay);
  2. Social housing for young families/couples requiring easy access to housing, socialization in the urban context, and the start of a new phase in life (long-term stay);
  3. Residential housing for students: need for economically facilitated housing through an agreement (between public housing and the university institution) with goals of education-professionalization, utilization of the university, cultural, and recreational offerings in the living context (mainly periodic stay)..
Policreo | MIX House XXV - Schema con principi e linee di indirizzo per lo sviluppo del progetto

Building

The architectural structure integrates into the reference context, considering both regulatory aspects (distances, coverage ratios, heights) and integrated design standards (relationship with both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, orientation concerning sunlight, widespread accessibility system, user well-being).

Its relationship with the buildings on the North quadrant of the area is based on the idea of interpenetration of spaces between the building and its surroundings, following a specific conceptual and genesis scheme . The volume is divided into two parts, allowing the construction of an internal “landscape” that opens to the outside, on the North (garden) and South (via Taro) sides.

Policreo | MIX House XXV - Evoluzione dal volume primitivo alla scomposizione dello stesso con compenetrazione e assi visivi
Policreo | MIX House XXV - Evoluzione dal volume primitivo alla scomposizione dello stesso con compenetrazione e assi visivi

The configuration of the housing distribution system moves from the typical “hotel-like” corridor to more usable “public distribution spaces.”

The spaces allocated for housing are easily identifiable due to the repeating compositional pattern on various levels, extending along the building’s wings.

These wings open towards outdoor spaces, creating a slight inverse divergence, with the focal point on the building’s major axis.

Public collective spaces are located at this point on each floor, geometrically and symbolically sealing the centrality of the space.

These social spaces serve for intergenerational exchange, fostering dialogue, activities, and workshops between the elderly and the young population.

The new building also includes areas for community gardens and physical activity sessions.

The chosen form for the new Mix House aligns with both functional choices and the settlement context, promoting continuous connections with the external environment and the potential for receiving stimuli.

The building will accommodate residents and interact with other entities, contributing additional value to the created model.

Dimensions

To promote multigenerational interaction, various types of accommodations meet the diverse needs of users targeted by this new settlement model (elderly, young couples/families, young university students, and the social coordinator).

The building has a height development of 5 above-ground floors, with an additional technical level housing a common laundry room.

It accommodates a total of 60 mini-apartments, with a total gross floor area for housing only of 3,091 sqm. The overall gross floor area (GFA), including multifunctional common spaces, totals 4,045 sqm. The 60 apartments in the building are divided into three main types: studios, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom.

The combination of apartments results in 16 types, reflecting the complexity of the housing mix with more detailed allocation between ERP and ERS housing.

The distribution consists of 17 one-bedroom and 1 two-bedroom apartments as ERP housing, while ERS housing includes 17 studios and 14 one-bedroom apartments.

For ERS student housing, a total of 11 units are planned, including 2 studios and 9 two-bedroom apartments (with two occupants).

This choice creates a population with a prevalence of elderly residents at 44%.

Young couples/families, constituting 36%, can provide adequate support and collaboration to the older population, with students accounting for 20%.

In total, there are 102 residents in the facility.

Goals

The architectural organism aims to:

  • Configure a building capable of integrating into the reference context, developing a local identity perceived and represented by the area’s users (primarily residents, internal users, workers, visitors, and neighborhood citizens). This involves integrated planning for modernization and sustainable structures based on energy-environmental and socio-economic parameters.
  • Design a housing model considering the value of the relational dimension and the importance of outdoor space as a significant element for individual and collective quality of life.
  • Stimulate the creation of care communities and the production of a social sense of belonging by integrating assistance and social elements. This involves a polycentric approach to intervention and the provision of community-generative welfare, ensuring a proactive rather than exclusively passive approach to fragile individuals and beyond.
  • Prioritize accessibility, inclusivity, and engage in participatory community development practices to reduce stigma or social exclusion. Influence the overall quality of life and the environment, measured by indicators such as the Well-Being and Sustainable Development (BES).

Communal and green areas

The architectural ensemble features numerous communal spaces designed for:

  • Socialization and interaction among various housing structures.
  • Opportunities for spontaneous or scheduled intergenerational social exchanges in dedicated areas, fostering community connection.

The dispersed communal areas of various types allow the architectural organism to integrate into the broader neighborhood and become a significant focal point for the local community.

External spaces play a vital role in promoting sociability, reducing the sense of confinement, and enhancing interaction with the urban environment.

These outdoor spaces are essential for fostering social connections and engaging with the urban quarter and the green park environment.

Examples of activities in these areas include social, recreational, and sports events tailored to the diverse population (elderly, new families, young students, residents, and citizens in general), spaces for pets, book crossings, and community-oriented initiatives for neighborhood integration and connection.

The design of access to the housing, featuring partially exposed balconies, integrates residents into the surrounding environment, avoiding uprooting or isolation commonly associated with structures partly designated as day centers (Fig. 5.2, Fig. 5.3). Additionally, residents actively participate in shaping their living spaces, making individual and collective choices and attributing personal values over time. Residents decide how to engage with external spaces, such as adapting to weather conditions, contributing to the sense of place through actions and moments of unplanned social interaction. This informal vector of collective and community sense-building remains within the realm of individual choices.

This layout allows the apartments not only to have a balcony facing outward but also, in most cases, an entrance on an external walkway that directly overlooks the park. The high permeability of the building provides common spaces with a view of the urban quadrant of Villa Parma and a continuous influx of natural light, establishing a harmonious relationship with the surroundings.

Other elements

Environmental Sustainability for People’s Well-being

To ensure high standards of eco-sustainability, numerous energy and environmental ratings exist for the design, construction, and management of high-performance sustainable buildings. They promote an integrated design system that encompasses the entire building. These protocols assess the environmental impact of buildings, considering a variety of dimensions, including energy efficiency, efficient water management, materials used in construction, waste disposal, and the comfort and healthiness of indoor spaces.

Role of Time 

The temporal element of the architectural organism can be divided into two sections: dedicated (social) time and private time. The decision on the distribution of these two “qualities of time” is free and falls on the individual, but it has consequences for the daily construction of community and social meaning. The structure offers various types of functions and services based on the type of users involved. The arrangement of a program of services, activities, and opportunities available to residents, users of the structure, and visitors reflects the desire to mark the social and individual time of the building. The majority of the “socially active” role of the structure occurs during the daytime. In fact, between 8:00 AM and 10:00 PM, various activities and types of people are unevenly distributed in the structure, including workers, residents, service users, visitors, and relatives of residents.