Mumbai's atArchitecture wins Affordable Housing Challenge in Cambodia
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Mumbai's atArchitecture wins Affordable Housing Challenge in Cambodia

atArchitecture’s design won Building Trust International’s Affordable Housing Challenge in Phnom Penh, for its clever use of space, ventilation strategies, and sensitive approach.

by Meghna Mehta Jul 31, 2019

Mumbai-based atArchitecture won the Building Trust International's Affordable Housing Design Challenge 2018 for its four design principles – user comfort, community living, cost and space efficiency, and sustainability. The architectural firm’s ‘Home Within House’ was selected from 450 entries received from 130 countries.

The competition had sought proposals for an affordable housing project to develop 3,000 safe, well-designed houses, supporting more than 10,000 low-income workers and their families in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The project is located on the banks of Stoeng Prek Thnaot in the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone (PPSEZ).

A simple brief was provided to fit a large number of units into a small plot of land. The winning architects incorporated a simple and aesthetically pleasing built environment by responding appropriately to the ecological context of the site and the requirements of the factory workers. The architects, who visited the site in Cambodia for a better understanding, believe it is important to have multiple spaces to interact along with providing the necessary utilities, such as kitchen gardens and verandahs, which used to be a huge part of the Cambodian lifestyle. For the same, multiple courtyards have been provided within the large community housing, where the utility-based yards include kitchen gardens and semi-open verandahs, while the community courts are left for recreational purposes.

  • Cluster Plan and Section| atArchitecture| Building Trust International, Affordable Housing Challenge| Cambodia| STIR
    Cluster Plan and Section Image Credit: atArchitecture
  • Community courtyard and connecting bridge| atArchitecture| Building Trust International, Affordable Housing Challenge| Cambodia| STIR
    Community courtyard and connecting bridge Image Credit: atArchitecture
  • The model design|atArchitecture| Building Trust International, Affordable Housing Challenge| Cambodia| STIR
    The model design Image Credit: atArchitecture

Avneesh Tiwari and Neha Rane, the lead designers of the project explain, “The entire project, with its multiple space constraints, has been designed using a unique ‘two-layer’ approach. The ground floor acts as a circulation passage, while the upper floor is connected entirely through a series of interconnected platforms. This technique not only allows for these platforms to become spaces of interaction for the users, but also allows for easy access for the people who live on the upper floor to go to the ancillary spaces and other buildings.” An inventive methodology, the corridors or the extended spaces in this case also become spill-out spaces of the otherwise small homes.

The project attempts to make optimum use of every square inch of the available area, with most of the spaces being shared either functionally or visually, making the project space-efficient. For instance, the corridor leading to the apartments also acts as a shared verandah overlooking the open-to-sky courtyards, and similarly, on the other side, the boxing for recessed windows are shared as a storage cabinet. The units have been oriented in such a way that they block the east and west sun. The courtyards, windows and ventilators aid passive cooling, cross ventilation and natural lighting, creating a comfortable micro-climate for each home. This, in turn, helps in reducing the operational energy cost, making the project sustainable. The module of each apartment has also been designed with sensitivity - for instance, the cupboard unit divides the living room and the kitchen, creating possibilities for future adaptation.

“The seamless integration of living spaces into the public and community spaces led to the development of a 'Home for the workers' within the 'House of their community',” explains Tiwari. “Each home is part of a cluster, which is formed by the alternating pattern of voids and solids, ensuring courtyards on both the sides of each apartment and a connectivity with nature, which we thought was very important to imbibe within the community project,” adds Rane. The utility courtyards containing the kitchen garden and the semi-open verandas act as an extension to the entrance vestibule. On the other side, a band of green open space becomes the community courtyard, the views of which are enjoyed by living areas of each apartment.

  • Masterplan and land-use|atArchitecture| Building Trust International, Affordable Housing Challenge| Cambodia| STIR
    Masterplan and land-use Image Credit: atArchitecture
  • Design strategies| atArchitecture| Building Trust International, Affordable Housing Challenge| Cambodia| STIR
    Design strategies Image Credit: atArchitecture
  • Utility courtyard highlighting the hierarchy of spaces| atArchitecture| Building Trust International, Affordable Housing Challenge| Cambodia| STIR
    Utility courtyard highlighting the hierarchy of spaces Image Credit: atArchitecture

With much thought given to the idea of ‘community’ for this housing development, architects believe the inhabitants need not be constrained to matchbox units due to lack of space. Therefore, attention has been given to the density and they have induced open-to-sky courtyards, semi-open spaces, and an open access to the waterfront for its users. The waterfront area, with its non-defined boundary from the buildings, has been developed as a space for public gatherings, festivals and celebrations, along with a market.

The project aims to be a sustainable and low-cost entity, which can be constructed with limited necessary components. Therefore, a composite of local clay bricks and concrete is being used for construction, and the orientation of the building blocks and the facade is in accordance with the local climate, sun path and wind directions. In the minimal format, every imperative detail of each apartment and user comfort has been satisfied.

  • An interior view of an apartment| atArchitecture| Building Trust International, Affordable Housing Challenge| Cambodia| STIR
    An interior view of an apartment Image Credit: atArchitecture
  • Isometric view of digital model| atArchitecture| Building Trust International, Affordable Housing Challenge| Cambodia| STIR
    Isometric view of digital model Image Credit: atArchitecture

Though not mentioned in the brief, the facilities required for a community to thrive and prosper have been provided within the layout. Semi-open collective facilities such as shops, bike parking, crèche, etc. are integrated at the end of each cluster. The campus is served by a simple loop of streets and cycle tracks, interconnecting all the clusters, collective facilities and recreational grounds that converge at the riverfront. The jury of the competition comprised of representatives from Building Trust International, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone.

The organisers are working with the local partners for the realisation of the design and UNDP is planning to consider the design for similar affordable housing initiatives to meet the growing housing needs in Phnom Penh and other Cambodian cities.

  • Bridge connecting the vertical circulations within the cluster| atArchitecture| Building Trust International, Affordable Housing Challenge| Cambodia| STIR
    Bridge connecting the vertical circulations within the cluster Image Credit: atArchitecture
  • Community courtyard view from living room and bedroom windows| atArchitecture| Building Trust International, Affordable Housing Challenge| Cambodia| STIR
    Community courtyard view from living room and bedroom windows Image Credit: atArchitecture
  • Housing blocks seen from the recreational ground | atArchitecture| Building Trust International, Affordable Housing Challenge| Cambodia| STIR
    Housing blocks seen from the recreational ground Image Credit: atArchitecture

Project Details

Name of the project: Home Within House
Location: Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone, Cambodia
Size: 1,15,000 sqm
Year: 2018-19
Name of the architectural firm: atArchitecture / Avneesh + Neha
Lead architects: Avneesh Tiwari, Neha Rane
Intern architect: Shanmati Rajagopalan
Client/Organisers: United Nations Development Program(UNDP), Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone(PPSEZ) and Building Trust International (BTI)
Project type: Housing
Project status: In progress

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About Author

Meghna Mehta

Meghna Mehta

An architect by education and a journalist by passion, Mehta pursued a crossroad between her two interests. Having completed an M.Arch from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, she has worked in the field of architectural journalism for over 5 years. Besides content generation for STIR, she continues to teach in architectural schools in Mumbai.

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