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1-3D Site Plan.jpg

SOCIAL HOUSING CLUSTERS BY THE RIVER – 3rd Year Social Housing Design Studio

(Author: Tatiane Barbosa / Professor: Ana Luisa Rolim)

This is a social housing project in the informal housing settlement of Coelhos, in the city of Recife, NE Brazil, where close to 40% of the population lives in precarious conditions, mostly in Special Zones of Social Interest (ZEIS), occupying 11.8% of urban land. The Coelhos settlement is situated along the Capibaribe River, housing dwellings built with various materials marked by improvised domestic spaces that lack basic infrastructure.


The recent government-financed  projects follow conservative formal and spatial principles that quite often lead to alterations by dwellers, thus the maintenance of such models in ZEIS Coelhos would probably have the same fate.

The hypothesis is that new methodologies and design strategies might offer better alternatives for rehabilitating these areas if maintaining their morphological identity and considering the housing cell as a generator of new urban fabric. The design strategies eventually applied in the studio were based on unique site characteristics acquired through site observations, photo documentation, sketches, and construction of a prototypical housing cell in real scale to familiarize students with the problem they had to deal with.


The design process employed ‘Conditional Design’ methods (Di Mari, 2014), focusing on the idea that, as forms are manipulated with verbs different spatial conditions emerge, such as connecting one volume to another or opening it to receive natural light. The method facilitates shape composition and arrangements from a set of deliberate actions. Housing units were generated by compositional operations, such as adding, displacing, subtracting, joining, and nesting. Afterwards, more complex arrangements were made through a second set of operations, involving translation, rotation, mirroring and roto-translation.


The following design strategies were then established: (1) The housing cell as the generator of urban fabric; (2) use limited number of shapes combined to generate dynamic arrangements; (3) accommodate future expansions or spaces to be shared by dwellings, exploring their productive character regarding the dwellers’ subsistence; (4) generate agglomerates with linear configurations or more intricate ones, conforming shared courtyards; (5) activate the interface between housing unit and river, which, due to the threat of flooding and precarious access to basic services network, is not currently seen positively, as attested during site visits.


These strategies are applied in this project as a result of a series of clustering operations with three typical housing cells, conforming tight domesticity agglomerates with courtyards, in synch with the way of living in the community of Coelhos.

Typical cells and clustering patterns

2-Site Location

The site is located in the informal settlement of Coelhos and Ilha do Leite neighborhood

The articulation of cells allows for various clustering patterns

Housing cells types and clusters

The overall layout is linear, forming clusters of housing cells with courtyards

The full clustering pattern proposed for the site

Detail of single and duplex units and some of the clusters generated

Result of clustering of housing cells conforming a courtyard

Ground floor plan

Types of housing clusters

Housing cell types

Perspective views of housing cell types

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