Living Steel Housing
Wuhan, China

nARCHITECTS’ finalist entry for the Living Steel Housing competition responds to the sub-tropical climate and unique demographics of Wuhan, China in three ways:
1. LIVING SCREENS: Residents live within cross-ventilated spaces bounded by breathing, living layers, organized from south to north:

– vines supported by stainless steel cables on the South facade screen exterior ‘streets’.

– a punctured wall of colorful prefabricated steel SIP modules contains infrastructure, distributes captured rainwater, and limits heat gain.

– a veil of permeable steel balconies on the North facade is angled to bounce eastern light, and is perforated to allow North Eastern wind to pass through it.

2. LIVING DIVERSITY: An innovative yet simple steel frame allows for unit widths to vary. A progression of three typologies emerges like a tree root from the ground, from narrow townhouses below, to lofts in the middle, to wide apartments above. While the areas and layouts vary, each has approximately the same volume. Typical discrepancies in quality and desirability of apartments in high rise buildings are minimized: lower and narrower width units are compensated with higher ceiling heights, while larger width apartments have lower ceiling heights yet better views on higher floors. In this way, our flexible steel framework allows for changing demographics and a variety of ways of living. The collective and the individual resonate within a geometric progression in which each has equal weight.

3. LIVING NEIGHBORHOODS: The expressive potential of steel construction allows for the soaring cantilevers of three distinct vertical ‘Neighbourhoods”, each defined by one of three apartment types. This shifting of the building mass produces unique public exterior spaces, each with a different orientation and altitude to be enjoyed at different times of day. This variation could extend to the urban scale, at which too often, housing projects create spatial and social homogeneity through replication. Instead, with the same structural strategy and components, each building could vary its unit mix according to market or demographic demands.

ENVIRONMENTAL STRATEGIES: Wuhan’s sub-tropical climate is characterised by abundant rainfalls and consistently high humidity levels. The region’s hot and humid summers have earned it the distinction as one of the four “furnaces” of China. The salient conditions of Wuhan’s climate provide several opportunities for invention: capturing the prevailing Northeast wind, strategically conditioning different types of spaces, collecting abundant rainfall, and incorporating the lush vegetation.

Siting: The plan organization optimizes the passive environmental strategies of natural ventilation and passive heating/cooling. The building’s long facades are oriented North – South to reduce heat gain from West and East orientations. The North facade maximizes glazing area, while the perforated steel baffles help to bounce indirect light into the apartments and allow wind to filter through their permeable surfaces.

Units are arranged along south facing exterior single loaded corridors to maximize natural ventilation. A compact allocation of plumbing chases in the South facade helps to create a thick, well insulated wall that mitigates southern heat gain and isolates the apartments from ambient noise from the corridor.

Strategic Conditioning: The project maximizes space with an economy of means by creating three distinct climatic zones. A compact volume of conditioned interior spaces is enveloped by protective exterior zones: the public south “streets”, the shared terraces, private north balconies, and a corrugated galvanized metal roof/sunshade that both collects rainwater and shades the top slab from heat gain. These zones help temper the immediate environment around the unit and provide a constant connection to the exterior landscape and community. In this way, we minimize the thermal and fire protected envelope, while trying to maximize a sense of space.

Rainwater is collected in a series of steel roof cisterns and used for sewage conveyance. This water feeds directly down into the thick South facade, into which all WC fixtures are mounted. Rainwater collection calculation: Roof collector area = 850m2 x lowest monthly rainfall in Wuhan of 0.03m = 25m3/lowest month; highest rainfall is 150m3. Water needs: 69 families = ~200 occupants x 4 toilet flushes a day = ~ 4 liters = 3,200 l/day = 3.2m3 x 15 days for a reasonable backup = 45m3 required storage volume. We provide five cisterns, each 1m wide x6.5m long x 2m tall = 13m3 each = 65m3 total. Using lowest rainfall data, this could provide surplus water for irrigation of plants along the south facade.

Living Steel Housing
Client : Living Steel
Project Location : Wuhan, China
Status : 2007
Area : 14,000 m2
Program : New building with 69 apartments
Sustainability : South facing living green screen, insulated SIP panels, rainwater collection.
Awards : 1 of 18 finalists from 800 entries
nARCHITECTS Team : Eric Bunge, Mimi Hoang; Jonathan Enns, Dominique Gonfard, Ryohei Koike, Natalie deLuca.
Collaborators : MEP & Structure: Arup, NY; Cost Estimation: Davis Langdon Seah Intn’l.