We designed modern Caribbean architecture with the social housing Montana Abou. It is one of the only stacked housing projects on Curacao. Our aim was to design social housing that can not be framed as such from their appearance. We want to design quality architecture that is accessible and inclusive for every kind of for every type of householder.
Objectives and inspiration
This project initiated with an urban design in collaboration with Zarja Architecture. An open mining pit (diabaas put) that lay in between a social housing project from the late seventies and a middle class do it yourself housing project (zelfbouw) had to be transformed into a new neighborhood. Our main objective in the urban design was to connect the two existing housing area’s with each other since they were developed with their back towards each other. Besides the physical connection we also sought to realize a social connection.
This was the first project where we could put our ideas gathered during a field trip to Medellin Colombia into practice. The results of the social urbanism (Urbanismo Social) in Medellin were stunning, and this inspired us to try to apply these principles to this project.
Connecting with the neighborhood
We started by talking to different key figures from the existing neighborhoods to hear about their concerns and dreams for the future development. This was followed by a walk through the two existing neighborhoods with key figures, representatives from government, the housing foundation and the developer. For many it was the first time to walk in each other’s neighborhood. Our brief was relatively simple. Connect the neighborhoods, make as many plots as possible (the majority of houses in Curacao are standalone), the plots will be divided between the developer (middle class housing) and the social housing foundation (Fundshon Kas Popular).
Amenities and commercial units were planned to the north of the open mining pit as part of the urban design from the late seventies. Besides a church, a kindergarten, a pharmacy and a medical center, this area is characterized by open fields.
Part of a big complex
Gladly the housing foundation embraced this concept of connected and stacked housing. They gave lyongo architecture the assignment to design 9 senior citizens homes of 50-55 m2 and 71 apartment of 63-73 m2. The one and two bedroom houses for the senior citizens were organized in a cul the sac. Where all houses face each other but with still offering a high level of privacy. Because the houses are interconnected it is difficult to distinguish a single unit. That gave us the possibility to make a bigger architectural statement. You do not live in a small unit but you live in a ‘big’complex.
Diversity within the project was important to us. Mixing social housing and middle class housing was a step too far. But we did succeed to have them in different areas within the same development, not a common practice in Curacao. Since we strongly believe that housing should be more concentrated, we proposed both connected housing and stacked housing for the northern part of the project.
Learned from life in the alleys
Stacked housing is not common practice in Curacao. There are some examples with access via galleries (galerij woning) and some with a central staircase (portiek woningen). These are concepts that are copied from the west but have not been adapted to the local climate and culture. The alleys in Otrobanda showed us that living close to each other (some alleys are less than 5 meters wide) has worked for centuries in Curacao. In Otrobanda you can also experience that the alleys are an extension of the house. That is where you talk with the neighbor or party with the extended family.
We have tried to mimic this in a vertical form with an open staircase that connects the houses. The spaces between the houses have a minimum size of 5 meters. That is the average size of the alleys in Otrobanda and this is also the minimum distance to prevent fire spread. The open staircase also gave us the possibility to create cross ventilation for the majority of the rooms.
Efficient social housing
We started by designing the ideal floor plan for a 2 and 3 bedroom apartment together with the housing foundation. After that we proceeded to incorporate those floorplans in the design principle of the urban design. Varying in height and following the land both horizontally and vertically. This resulted in a playful composition. Since proper natural ventilation is of utmost importance in the Caribbean, we fought for good doors and windows that can be opened without burglars or mosquitoes being able to come inside. The higher cost of the doors and windows was compensated with a very efficient design with a lot of repetition. We were happy with the result of the social housing Montana Abou.