Francine Houben/Mecanoo建築事務所建築師兼創意總監

This year, the Taiwan Residential Architecture Award had to concern the COVID-19 pandemic. Affecting every person in the world, it has been putting our way of living under review. We know that this pandemic is not a one-off event.


Viral outbreaks have occurred in the past, and they will happen again in the future in our high-density, globalised world. Resiliency is increasingly important to live in our contemporary world, not only in the scale of cities, but also to the scale of our homes.


With social distancing, borders of private and public drastically changed in a matter of days. Homes became the only place we people were considered safe, shielded from friends, neighbors and even family. But what is the extent of homes? Are collective spaces in buildings still safe? Should we design our homes for quick changes between private and public domains?


Connection with others (emotional or physical) and a sense of community are fundamental human needs. Further isolation can be highly problematic in a world where we are already suffering from a loneliness epidemic. Nowadays, we have a huge diversity of households. The traditional nuclear family is not as common as it once was. The number of single-parent families and extended families are increasing, and more importantly, many people live alone. The sudden confinement to people’s houses could have a serious impact on mental health. How can achieve both social distancing and social connection? Should we re-define the “household” in a way where we, under all circumstances, ensure a sense of community?


In the past year, the importance of public spaces of quality has been reinforced. In many countries people could leave their homes for a walk, whilst adhering to the safety measures of social distancing. Being confined to a home, we realise how much we rely on outdoor space, both private and shared. How can we safely integrate outdoor space for everyone in the future of housing? To care for the mental health of people includes enabling a sense of belonging / community, and connection with others and to nature. This pandemic has reminded us the importance of daylight, natural ventilation, and green space.


This also brings the inequality between rich and poor to the surface. Being constricted to a villa with a garden is not comparable to being isolated in a tiny space under poor living conditions. In addition, high-density affordable housing may no longer meet the hygiene requirements of the post-COVID world. How can we create an acceptable quality of life for the less wealthy, the ones who are suffering the most in these crises?


As architects, it is our duty to make sure affordable houses meet the fundamental needs of its inhabitants, even during a pandemic. At Mecanoo, we design with a principle we call ‘People Place Purpose’. It demonstrates the effect that time has had on the purpose (function) of buildings and landscapes, highlighting Mecanoo’s ethos of designing places for people and beginning the process of exploring the urban environment and observing the life which inhabits it. The ultimate goal is to make buildings for its people.


Building further on this vision, I have a philosophy that I am writing a book about. ‘Forward to basics.’ I believe that in the future we will not go 'back to basics', but 'forward to basics.’ Very basic matters will become important. The topics I encounter during this crisis fit exactly with that direction. Walkable buildings, walkable cities, bikeable cities, bringing food closer to people, hygiene in public buildings. These are all themes that I have been working on for a long time. 'Forward to basics' is and remains, even with what is happening now, my adage. Strengthening human values with the use of technology.

我正著手撰寫一本名為《邁向基本》(Forward to basics)的書以延續這個理念,相信未來我們不僅是「回到基本」,更是「邁向基本」,非常基本的事物將會變的重要,這與我在這次疫情中所聞所見的事物剛好是相同的。可移動的建築、可移動的城市、可騎自行車的城市、讓食物更靠近人們,及公共建築物裡的衛生,這些都是我一直以來努力處理的議題。《邁向基本》的內容包含了這些議題,甚至是正在發生的事物。而這也是我的座右銘-「以科技提升人類的價值」。

For this competition, we were looking for a new affordable housing typology, where residents can live sustainably, and can feel both protected and connected. The great variety of proposals was truly inspirational. Designers across the world submitted ideas for modifying existing buildings, as well as completely new structures, ideas for public space, city planning, and small-scale temporary residences. Buildings that focus on gathering and connection between residents as well as buildings that can adapt for isolation. An interesting theme that kept recurring was the question of how to integrate communal space in an affordable way. Although each of the submissions was thought-provoking and exciting to review, I am mentioning the most intriguing projects, the finalists of the competition, below.


While other teams focussed on gathering and connecting residents in a building, this project has a different approach. Addressing challenges in existing social housing in Kuala Lumpur, this project came up with a way to reduce congestion and improve outdoor space. By replacing the central core with multiple entry points, a high congregation area is eliminated. Beautiful artistic imagery shows a vision of a unique outdoor space that can be used safely, creating visual rather than physical connections between neighbours.



While providing an almost utopian solution, the team managed to reproduce the charm of Hong Kong. Working with the ‘unauthorized building works’ that currently exist throughout the city, the project shows the value of observing how citizens are already pushing legal boundaries to meet their needs. The team proposed safe, sustainable, and modularly organised pods that are adaptable to the local needs of a community.

團隊以近乎烏托邦式的設計,來重現香港市景中迷人的建築特色。以目前現存於城市各角落的違建(unauthorized building works)為概念,觀察並探討市民如何在遊走法律邊緣下找尋所需的居住空間,提出了安全、永續且模組化的膠囊式空間設計來符合當地社區所需的居住場所。


Gap: Disconnect to Connect
This beautifully represented project is founded on the Dunbar theory which gives a clear guideline of the ideal scale of a residential complex. The team managed to create a building where a sense of community is the fostered through generous and diverse communal space. It boldly prioritizes communal space over private space, and poses the question: is a focus on open, shared space the future of affordable housing?

這個以鄧巴理論(Dunbar theory)為基礎並以美麗的建築模擬呈現的項目,清楚地提供了公共住宅空間的理想尺寸。團隊透過大量且多元化的公共空間設計,創造了擁有社區意識的建築空間,大膽地以公共空間為首要考量,並提出了這樣的問題:在未來的經濟住宅中,開放的共享空間會是個焦點嗎?


Housing Re-framed
The project provides a solution to improve the living quality of affordable housing in Edinburgh. This project shows what is possible when we transform existing buildings sustainably. Using CLT and glulam as a main building component and opening the façade to allow natural daylight to enter, a fascinating design is achieved.



Weather the epidemic in the community
This project focusses on the demands of elderly and tries to improve the physical, psychological, and financial conditions in an aged community. Their solution is simple, yet ingenious: connecting young people with elderly through transforming spare rooms into studio’s, whilst adding a vibrant communal space to an existing neighborhood.



This project carried out interesting research into housing typologies in a key COVID-19 pandemic location: New York City. The team gave a strong statement which points out that pandemics and climate change are two sides of the same coin. The design proposal cleverly uses existing methods to develop a good design, such as natural cross ventilation in all apartments, and creating a stepped roof for solar exposure and the creation of outdoor common spaces.



Extension of Living
This conceptionally strong project uses the balcony as a dynamic boundary. The balcony becomes an important element which opens each individual apartment. It is not only a play between indoor/outdoor, private/public, but also as a buffer space or boundary by itself. This project is an exciting experiment of a new housing typology, and I would love to see it tested in the real world.



Ghost to Host 
This project was truly exciting to see. I was impressed by the thorough analysis of current conditions in Bangkok and working with an existing abandoned building in a high-density city is an excitingly compelling approach. The project extends from the pure residential tower to a vertical self-sustainable city which fulfils the daily needs of its inhabitants. It is a well-developed project with clear scenario, research, and design intention.



It brings me joy and hope that young designers bring such creative ideas to the table. I hope their work inspires you as much as it has for me.





>2021紙上住宅建築國際競圖 徵件開始


>李金威建築師談Are we ready? Architecturally speaking.