The type of expansive, minimalist concrete architecture associated with the Brutalist movement was initially designed with low-cost social housing in mind. In London, some of the original standout buildings of that style (like Trellick Tower and the Barbican) still offer affordable accommodations for a wide variety of residents. But as cities around the world grow more crowded and apartments more expensive than ever before, such spaces are increasingly seen as luxuries — and priced accordingly.
Walk around any major city today, and you’re likely to see massive concrete buildings that take up entire city blocks, with interiors full of condominiums that rent or sell for well above average. Natural light, open floor plans, and balconies are no longer accessible to just any urbanite, let alone polished modern concrete surfaces and floor-to-ceiling glazing.
Swiss architect Gus Wüstemann doesn’t think it should be that way, even in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Not only is his “Affordable Housing Langgrüstrasse” building more interesting and sculptural than the common urban condominium, it also offers spacious apartments for rents that are among the cheapest you can find in Zurich.
Commissioned by the Baechi Foundation, the project features nine apartments set within the outer green belt of Albisrieden, drawing inspiration from the simple linear buildings of the 1950s with generously sized gardens. The foundation wanted the condo to offer the highest-possible quality of life at the lowest price, with access to nature, plenty of daylight, privacy, and interiors that didn’t feel cramped.
They explain: “The project Langgrütstrasse 107 should prove that by targeting interventions in light and space and at the same time reducing common standards, great and lively spaces are possible…without any additional economical effort. In today’s world, it takes a rethink. Sustainability in the sense of less for the individual, but more for the community is becoming increasingly important. In [both its] architecture [and] housing construction, we show how the shift of the focus away from connotations and standards to space, momentum, and room quality makes this possible. These are four two-bedroom apartments (60 square meters) and five three-bedroom apartments (95 square meters).”
“Morphologically it is a solid concrete block, organically formed, from which two courtyards were cut out. In these courtyards, the living spaces float like bridges, from the morning sun to the evening sun. A continuous space that topographically creates the feeling that the living space is an exterior space, and not an interior space filled up with housing program. This results in an incredible moment of magnitude in a small space. Hence there is a generous open living space, which can be enlarged to the periphery of the balconies and sheltered by the famous wooden persianas [window blinds] from Barcelona.”
The architects add: “[We] economically optimized interventions by reducing all the technical installations of the building to a minimum. In Swiss standards, we focus on a couple of interventions that add major value to the quality of the living space. These are sliding windows and a built-in bench, [which act as] communicative elements of the concrete topography.”
Ultimately, the apartments feel far more modern and luxurious than you’d expect to find at such an affordable price, achieving the architecture firm’s stated goal of creating spaces that are truly “free of social status or connotation.”