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Natural habitats

The Biennale de l’Habitat Durable showcases pioneering architecture with a social conscience. By Carolyn Reynier

Green and social issues are increasingly a part of the design zeitgeist. And the degree to which they have engaged architecture students is revealed by the results of new competition to design a minimalist leisure house for the 21st century.

“For this generation, free time seems to lose its value if it is not associated with an activity on behalf of the environment and society,” says Jana Revedin, the curator of the contest. Many students, she noted, incorporated their houses into a environmental projects, and combined their ideas on housing with research about the homeless and about refugees.

Models of the 10 winning projects on display at the Biennale de l’Habitat Durable in Grenoble, France. Students had access to Network 12, an online database created in 2006 and shared by leading European Universities on Sustainable Architecture; the competition was launched the following year by Gau:di (Governance, Architecture and Urbanism: a Democratic Interaction), founded in 2000 to promote sustainable architecture in the construction of buildings dedicated to recreation. The criteria for the jury of architects from Munich, Grenoble, Venice, Berlin and Paris were quality of integration into the area or into urban infrastructures; functional flexibility; balance between history and invention (structure, construction, materials); and use of energy and resources.

The top three projects are Pallet-House, Urban Space Recycling and Habiter le Paysage. Pallet-House is by Austrians Andreas Claus Schnetzer and Gregor Pils of the Vienna Technical University. “The base material for a house is 800 pallets, so you can construct it anywhere,” they explain. “No long journeys are involved because pallets can be found in lots of countries.” The simple structure of the building allows different uses. “Changing the footprint easily, we can adapt the building to various conditions – as a weekend home but also as the minimum cell for refugee camps and slums.”

Urban Space Recycling by Martin Zanolin and Markus Bohn, at the same university, makes use of a small gap between two residential buildings. “It doesn’t make sense to drive hours to reach a sustainably developed house,” they say. “Prefab wood elements with cellulose insulation provide a highquality thermal envelope.” Amata Zdziobeck studies at Saint-Etienne’s Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture (ENSA) in central France. Her project, Habiter le Paysage, is a stopover for walkers and stands on a former vineyard in the Drobie Valley in the Parc Naturel des Monts d’Ardèche. The nearby Sentier des Lauzes is a famous path uniting local residents, ramblers and artists around a common desire to protect and enhance the area’s natural heritage, she says, so “the buildings form a thin mineral and timber ribbon along the stone terracing walls, creating temporarily habitable constructions with no distinction between indoor and outdoor living.” Two projects received special distinction: Crex Crex, the brainchild of Matic Pajnik and Ajda Primociz (Fakulteti za arhitekturo, Ljubljana) “for the project’s sensitive approach to the environment, subtlety and reversibility” and Vlor-e, conceived by Federica Pompejano, Fabrizio Polimone, Nicola Gnes and Gianluca Motto (Università deglistudi di Genova) “for the creation of spaces for social life and urban leisure on Albania’s harbour side zones”. Ornithologists know that Crex Crex is the corncrake, a bird much in need of protection. The students have designed houses for an “unobtrusive tourism resort” in the wetlands of the Cerkniko Polje area of Slovenia, where the corncrake is prevalent. Each house has been planned as an observatory “offering breathtaking views in every direction”. The Italians’ project aims to “limit current speculative use of the precious Albanian coastal area”. Their prefabricated floating deck systems, designed using local materials and technology, provide summer residential units and, in winter, a public space for local youngsters. Jean Denis Becart (ENSA Nancy) has chosen an eco-hamlet of leisure homes on the Mille-Etangs plateau in the Parc Naturel des Ballons des Vosges, in eastern France, as the likely location for Nature-Sculpture, his lakeside larch and pine hut built on wooden s t i l t s . Hi s scheme was inspired by the need “to preserve and value the natural environment”. In contrast, fellow student Clotilde Chardon’s project , “Un toi t , un jeu d’ombres et de lumière”, is a threeunit extension to an existing plateau hamlet offering “discovery of the local culture”. A glass and metal home by Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez (Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid) was conceived for a site in front of Granada’s Alhambra. “Calipoo House is a concept that fits everywhere, especially in those places where a conventional building can be a negative visual impact,” he explains. The cubic residence is built on a concrete platform that moves vertically between different levels, sinking into the ground to offer protection from the sun and reduce its visual impact. The Lotus Project by Serbian student Slobodan Stanic (Academie van Bouwkunst Arnhem, Netherlands) is a “sustainable, movable house” made from recycled plastic waste for refugees. Shell House, by American student Philip Tidwell (Helsinki University of Technology), has a wooden outer shell protecting it against weather and vandalism when the home is not in use and creating a useful sun porch during summertime periods of occupation.

The Centre International pour la Ville, l’Architecture et le Paysage (CIVA, Brussels) is responsible for the general co-ordination of the Gau:di programme in co-operation with the Architecture Foundation (UK), Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine (France), Fundació Mies van der Rohe (Spain), The Lighthouse (UK) and the Museum of Finnish Architecture; the Royal Institute of British Architects is a partner. A second group of over 50 European architectural Associated Partners includes representatives from Italy, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Germany.

After Grenoble, the competition models will be exhibited at Venice’s Biennale of Architecture in September and then at events in Brussels, Paris, Barcelona, Helsinki, Amsterdam and Ljubljana.

Biennale de l’habitat durable, until June 19, Grenoble, France,

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