Linear blocks, corridors, towers, low-density buildings, zonification… These are not just abstract terms coined by modernists, but realities embodied in concrete walls all over Europe. If, during the last century, collective and social housing was the flagship of a revolutionary architectural project – violently imposed over different political, social and geographical conditions – we are able to glimpse, 50 years later, the fissures and cracks, mistakes and successes of its postulates.
The bodies, attitudes and movements on the screens render the spatial and material conditions of four different but common approaches to collective housing in the 1960s and 70s in Europe, and the passage of time. The Alexandra Road Estate in London and the Bijlmermeer in Amsterdam were – at that time – radical architectural and urban planning initiatives promoted by public administrations and aimed at the middle classes. The Parisian case, the Tours Aillaud, also public but with a social aim, is another innovative spatial example for the time, one of the grands ensembles housing models. In Madrid, the UVA de Hortaleza emerged as temporary housing for those affected by the expropriations to build the M-40 ring road. All are public initiatives, yet all four take a radically different approach to the problem of density in an age marked by European urban reconstruction, developmentalism and the fall from grace of brutalism.
Despite their differences, however, we can identify urban failure as a common theme behind the visual testimony revealed by the passage of time. The modernist approach to the city – represented by the Bijlmer, the ‘absolute city’, high-rise buildings, hygienism, suburban density, mixed-use units and complex buildings – failed at the same time as the emergence of low-density suburbs as a preferred option for the wealthy classes. The modern high-rise building suffered a process of social segregation (or ghettoisation), the result of the dependency on private transportation and the absence of public infrastructure, facilities and services. The Tours Aillaud and the Alexandra Road Estate represent the incompatibilities of organicism and singular models with the passage of time and with the survival and adaptation of affordable, accessible housing models. The conversion of the peripheries into mid-peripheries and urban centres, real estate pressure and public irresponsibility led us to models of privatisation, transformation and gentrification. Finally, the Spanish case shows us the perpetuity of precariousness. The passage of time corrodes the steel railings of the houses, and the terraces are occupied by constructions due to the obsolescence of spatial standards for temporary housing. The inhabitants, however, cling to them as the only accessible housing solution, an ‘island’ in the middle of an urban centre that was once a suburb.
Behind these four projects there are internationally recognised projects and architecture offices. Each one emulates, in a more or less trustworthy way, canonical proposals of modernism. And yet, seen from our own time although from different perspectives, they are all traversed by ruin and malfunction. This same applies to countless other blocks and neighbourhoods, which the residents themselves have managed to put on the map, despite the anonymity of modern homogeneity. Serve this as a messy and non-linear prologue to a journey made by millions of people from their computer screens, through the successes and failures of many European city models – heroic, radical or complicit – to the rhythm of hi-hats and 808.
Link to the website: sellingbricks.bartlebooth.org
Idea, archive, development: Antonio Giráldez López and Pablo Ibáñez Ferrera (Bartlebooth)
Video edit and original music: Alberto de Miguel (horror.vacui)
Web design and code: Aurora Saseta
Videos, texts, and images: their authors