Adriana Pablos


Housing Adaptation: The Fall and Rise of Modernist Residential Districts

Advised by Charles Waldheim and Eve Blau

This thesis analyzes design strategies used to adapt modernist housing projects. During the first decades of the 20th century, the modernist residential district was designed as the new and standardized form of collective living in response to the mass relocation of workers from the countryside into urban production centers. These districts became the most widespread manifestation of modernist architecture, housing millions of civilians worldwide. From the turn of the 21st century, these projects face physical degradation, cultural obsolescence, and socioeconomic challenges. In response, we are witnessing an unprecedented number of demolitions and adaptations of these architectures. Demolition is problematic because it necessitates the eviction of residents, typically elderly and low-income, and discards usable material and energy. In contrast, adaptation becomes a vehicle for social, environmental, and cultural regeneration of cities.

Through the analysis of 100 case studies across the world, this research reveals six distinct spatial strategies of adaptation: addition, subtraction, diversification, reprogramming, camouflaging, and augmentation. The thesis deepens understanding of 18 case studies turning the architectural, urban, and landscape practices deployed to enable this work and their impacts on communities into visible objects of contestation and debate. Collectively, these cases describe a renewed role for designers supporting the adaptation of modernist housing projects rather than their neglect, abandonment, or demolition.

A side-by-side photographic comparison of an apartment building. the older on left has a masonry exterior, small windows, and open stairwells.  The reconstructed building has long open balconies across each story, and floor-to-ceiling glass facade. Label: “Lacaton & Vassal, Druot, Transformation of Cité du Grand Parc, Bordeaux, 2006-2017 - Phillipe Ruault”

Black and white axonometric drawing of Cité du Grand Parc’s Adaptation in Bordeaux, France.

Black and white axonometric drawing of Leinefelde Südstadt’s Adaptation in Leinefelde-Worbis, Germany.

Black and white axonometric drawing of Dearborn Homes’ Adaptation in Chicago, USA.

World map of Emerging Geographies of Housing Adaptation, showing red markers and the words, “100 Adaptations: 5 Continents, 32 Countries, 62 Cities.”