The facade of a building is its face to the world. As such, it has the potential to express what the building stands for. With few exceptions, the exteriors of mass housing projects convey either a dedication to cost concerns, or to aesthetics considered appealing. However, building facades can reveal unique character if sculpted by interwoven systems responding to localized physiological needs and climate peculiarities—pertinent to societies globally, as they begin to redress the environmental disregard with which many standardized residential ensembles have been designed. This provides an opportunity to rethink the face of mass housing.
The serially deployed apartment blocks within the former Soviet Union epitomize this challenge. Designed with a narrow set of principles for construction efficiency, maximum component repeatability, and minimum aesthetic variety, these relatively identical buildings appear in different climates, housing different cultures. Currently, entire neighborhoods are approaching structural expiration, and refurbishment attempts generally treat the Soviet inheritance as an eyesore, to be masked, reconfigured, or demolished.
This thesis, instead, proposes to sensitize the building bodies to their respective milieux, by coupling the material properties of their internal structures to new, articulated skins. Set in a Soviet-era district in Riga, Latvia, the project materializes northern climate considerations—low levels of sunlight, concerns about ventilation and heat loss, and a legacy of vernacular hearths in the “home”—into a network of functional geometries that is mapped onto the existing concrete armatures.
Thus, an expanded definition of environmental considerations allows the interaction of their spatial pressures to generate surface variety, resulting in physiognomies unique to their setting. This hybrid assembly of efficient frame and idiosyncratic facade suggests a new architectural model for mass housing.