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Koeschenrueti Housing

Holistic Thinking

To make good architecture these days, you also need to consider sustainability. In residential buildings, this does not just mean reducing the consumption of resources or meeting energy‐ performance targets. A more comprehensive definition of sustainability and a holistic approach is needed. When it came to designing the Minergie ECO‐certified new buildings in Köschenrüti for the City of Zurich’s foundation for housing senior citizens (SAW), the familiar strategies (minimising the heating requirement, reducing the electricity demand and optimising the environmental impact of building materials and construction methods) were complemented by an architectural objective, focusing on a fundamental topic in housing design: the apartment floor plan. Specifically, the goal was to optimise the layout in spatial and functional terms, as an alternative to the trend of using up ever more floor space per person.

Siting and identity

The site layout responds to the transition from the city to the countryside and creates an atmospheric setting. The edges of urban development are picked up in such a way that the new buildings relate unselfconsciously to both the landscape and the existing buildings. The division into two angular masses allows a variety of views across the site and the optimal alignment of the apartments, as well as gradations of outdoor space from the busy ‘village square’ to sheltered corners for contemplation.
Personal concepts such as dignity and self‐determination, individuality and privacy were central to the design process, as were social ones such as integration and community. The aim was to combine a high degree of freedom and individuality for the inhabitants with a secure atmosphere, and to do so in a way that meets not only the need for well‐being and social contact, but also satisfies people’s expectations of space and comfort now and in the years to come.

Beside ninety apartments specifically for senior citizens, the buildings contain ancillary rooms such as a common room, a wellness bath, a laundry service point and ‘Spitex’ home care premises. On the ground floor of the southern building, there are two residential care units for ten occupants each, run by the City of Zurich’s care centre programme (PZZ) for people suffering from dementia.
Space for leisure instead of circulation

The circulation areas are designed to be used as an extension of the residents’ own living quarters. As such they create an appropriate differentiation of the sensitive transitional zone between private and communal space. The angular form of two buildings favours the creation of spacious circulation areas with plenty of daylight. The playful juxtaposition of narrow and broad spaces, views outside and interior vistas transforms the circulation zone into an attractive indoor social area. This is rhythmically punctuated by alcoves and coloured sections, which also define spaces with an individual character in front of the apartments. There is seating near the windows where residents and visitors alike can spend time together or simply gaze out at the attractively landscaped surroundings.

The underlying objective of the layout was to achieve a sense of spaciousness despite the limited floor area available and without sacrificing functional efficiency. The 1.5‐room apartments, for example, have been augmented with a fully usable, lockable, secondary space that creates a zone screened from the view of visitors. The apartments themselves have flowing interiors that are spatially differentiated according to function, which obviates the need for internal corridors. Taking the glazing right up to ceiling level optimises the daylight levels inside the apartments, while lowering the cill to 65 cm above floor level affords the occupants an unobstructed view out, even when seated, without getting the feeling that they are ‘on display’. The recessed loggias with perforated facade panels and full internal glazing in front of the bedrooms not only define a sheltered outdoor space, but also provide the bedrooms with an attractive outlook and a good influx of natural light. The apartments in the longer section of both buildings have a strip window with privacy protection in the kitchen. This allows the occupants to look across the corridor and out through the windows of the north facade, giving their living space an orientation from one side of the building to the other.
Flexible structure and sustainable materials

The structural system chosen for the building is a loadbearing frame with non‐loadbearing masonry walls and vertical building services runs, which offers natural light for the apartments from both sides. It gives the floor plan a high degree of flexibility and adaptability to changing housing requirements in the medium and long term. The non‐loadbearing façade is constructed of prefabricated wooden panels with rear‐ventilated fibre‐cement boards at a maximum support spacing of 5 m. The energy contained in the primary and secondary structure here is almost 30% less than that of a conventional masonry structure.

The construction materials and finishes not only meet high standards of design quality and durability, but also have a minimal impact on health and the environment. The building meets the Minergie ECO standard, which ensures, among other things, that the indoor air is free of harmful substances and that the wood and other materials are certified where relevant. In addition, the composition of the floors, ceilings and walls respectively has been optimised in terms of the energy required to produce them. The use of prefabricated units (e.g. sanitary cells and facade elements) has made it possible to reduce costs while increasing the quality and shortening the construction period.
Less is more, or how to reduce costs

The optimisation of the interior layout had the result that, after viewing the show apartment, a large number of prospective tenants opted for the smaller 1.5‐room unit instead of the larger type that they had originally reserved. This meant that the floor area planned for living space ‐ and with it the two buildings’ consumption of energy, resources and land per resident ‐ was reduced by almost 20%. The concomitant reduction of the rent by as much as 15% underscores the successful implementation of a promising counter to the notion that sustainable building inevitably leads to higher production costs and hence higher rents.

Photographer: Dominique Marc Wehrli, La-Chaux-de-Fonds

Ground floor
1.5 and 2.5 room appartment


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About Project

Köschenrüti Housing in Zürich Seebach by Bob Gysin + Partner BGP.


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