Beyond Dwelling


“What may motivate us to make long-term commitments? Maybe there was only a constraint coming from the society and the always growing freedom has helped us detach ourselves and discern it from a different perspective. Or maybe there is a need in the essence of every person, a need to dig oneself in something/somewhere – a need for a stable affiliation both rooted in a certain place or in certain people who become “ours”.

We all live in a time of quickly consuming things. We tend to be free from any oppression that interfere with our freedom. It is way easier to replace what is not working, instead of finding a smart solution for that specific problem and even if we start looking for it, we often quit fast. There is a tumult of life that makes us have no more respite, so a path that involves attempts in many directions is preferred rather than a single path assumed by a determined decision. Modern human lifestyle emphasizes on a diversity of experiences and not on a monotony of steadiness.

That being said, what could be an architectural response in relation to the life of contemporary human beings? Reducing the search area to one of the necessities of life – dwelling – with the help of this project I brought into discussion certain terms and concepts that potentiate a way to follow. The dwelling program is analyzed using tools to investigate the validity of an answer, discussed on the basis of a criteria considered relevant for understanding the issue. A balance is being sought in the current tendencies of the consumerism person between its positive aspects and those that could harm in the long run.

The aims of the project are identifying and solving an existing, extremely visible problem, represented by a derelict area, situated on the eastern boundary of the old city center of Ljubljana. The adaptive reuse of the former sugar factory involves primarily the integration of the living / co-living function, together with other functions for the general public interest, revitalizing the place and redefining its relationship with the old city center. In addition to this, the project describes different ways of living, the varied communities representing the primary element that guides the entire design process. The representation of the project, inspired by the comic book illustrations, complements the architectural solution.”


What prompted the project?

The main idea for the project was born whilst researching for my master degree thesis that is also entitled “Beyond Dwelling”. I have always been interested in the notion of dwelling and I felt that this was going to be an interesting area of research for my diploma project.

I was particularly intrigued by new ways of living and the constantly changing living requirements of new generations, especially the concept of co-living. One important tool that helped me outline the main ideas of the project was a survey made by IKEA and SPACE 10. Other reference projects include the Mini co-housing project – Shanghai, China, Cluster House – Zurich as well as The Collective – London.

All of this was then brought back to a site that I had previously studied, an abandoned old sugar factory. This felt like the right place to design a sustainable and different type of dwelling, through adaptive reuse.

What drew you to the site of Ljubljana and the former sugar factory?

I had been living in Ljubljana for half a year and I had studied the sugar factory site during a small university project. It had a specific outline within the particular landscape of Ljubljana, a dominant structure which defined a very unique atmosphere for its surroundings.

In light of the state of abandonment of the building and its location as one which delineates the  the end of the old city center, an architectural intervention was required. It seemed that the building had an immense potential in activating the surroundings and creating a strong connection with the old city center.

The project wants to address and reflect upon ideas as the implementation of a distinct concept of dwelling and the experimentation with different types of communities. While providing an adequate layout for apartments in relation to its structural spans, the building required a sustainable intervention through adaptive reuse.

What tools did you use to investigate and analyze the site?

At first, I visited the site, took notes and made sketches. Then, I took pictures and analyzed them by comparing with older ones. When revisiting the place, I tried to capture the atmosphere as it was and think how it could evolve. Moreover, I had the opportunity to discuss with colleagues and teachers who live in Ljubljana and they provided me with the original drawings of the building from different periods of time. Another important tool was the site model which helped me understand the structure of the city, the circulation, the landmarks, the city’s profile and the significance of the Ljubljanica River.

How important was the site model?

The site model was of utmost importance. Even if I had sufficient data with regards to the site and surroundings, I felt the need of a bigger picture which included the city’s profile, the river, the hills with the castle. All these elements played an important role in the development and articulation of the project. I used the site model every time I needed to asses how my project would work at an urban scale, the important relationship between the site and the city center, the circulation. The new opportunities for linking the project site with the city center were carefully observed with the aid of the site models.

How does the structure relate within the greater context of the city?

The aim of the project was to reestablish the link between the old city center and its limit by proposing different functions and integrating them in the existing structure.

Preserving and reinforcing the original structure of the sugar factory was an important step in the design process which suggests the polyvalence of a structure and how it can contemporarily speak of the past and the future. As a result, the spaces situated on the ground floor (an art gallery, a green park, a skate park, a restaurant, a place for children daycare and a few piers on the river) hold public activities meant to reactivate both the building and its surroundings, making this area an integral part of the city center, not only a fading limit.

Another important aspect was the connection of the site with other parts of the city, especially the residential areas. As a result, the structure integrates a number of ready to rent offices and workshop spaces.

A striking aspect of the building is that it was split up in two parts by Fabiani Bridge, an intervention well known in Ljubljana. The purpose of this bridge was to close the main city ring and facilitate the peripheral circulation. Therefore, the bridge is part of the project, having an important impact at visual, aesthetic and functional level.

Could you define in greater detail the programmatic distribution of the structure? How do living and co-living merge?

Even if living and co-living mean different kind of users, they can be brought under the same roof if there are certain boundaries.

First of all, I defined the co-living community as being formed by 15-20 people who are willing to share a spacious living room and kitchen, while having at the same time private spaces like one or two bedrooms, a bathroom and kitchenette (from my research in the master degree thesis, I concluded that 15-20 people is the perfect number for forming a small community that could share amenities; there are plenty of examples that reveal the fact that co-living might fail if the number of people sharing spaces is too high).

Secondly, there are people who would like to be part of a community, but who like privacy and are not willing to share spaces like the living room or the kitchen, therefore prefer to live in private apartments.
Therefore, both types of users can interact with each other in shared spaces like the rooftop, the gym, the greenhouse, the offices and workshops. As a result, one can choose his own degree of privacy.

What role does the graphic language hold in relation to the project?

Through the comic-book I was able to integrate a number of specific perspectives with the aim of telling stories about user interactions with the space, supplementing the conventional orthogonal projections (plans, sections, elevations). This language of representation enabled me to combine the drawing with its narrative through the presence of descriptive text and dialogue bubbles, creating the opportunity of expressing complex messages, in a brief manner. It injected the proposal with my personal touch in the project whilst synthesising the atmosphere.

What informed the choice of drawings through which you reveal the project?

My interest in comic books and graphic novels lead the language of representation of the drawings. I decided to use this type of representation as I felt more comfortable and confident in expressing a specific message with the aid of these types of images. An important fact is that each image went through a fairly long drawing process as I kept returning to it, modifying details until I felt that it expresses the desired information. For example, one of the most representative drawings of the project (the illustration with the crowned sugar factory) took me almost three months to complete, being one of the first drawings to start and the last to finish.

How powerful of a tool is drawing itself with architectural discourse?

For me the drawing is a means to both articulate the project and also inject it with a personal identity. The drawing and sequence of these is pivotal in crystallising the very concept of the proposal in a clear and easy to imagine manner.

What is for you the architect’s most important tool?

The drawing. Ideas are born only while drawing and synthesising the aims of a project can only be done with the aid of the drawing.

One single image can capture the essence of a project.