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THE HOUSING CELL AS A GENERATOR OF THE URBAN FABRIC: Social housing by the river – 3rd Year Social Housing Design Studio
Author: Mateus Gibson / Instructors: Ana Luisa Rolim and Robson Canuto
Catholic University of Pernambuco (UNICAP), Brazil

The proposal involves a social housing project in Coelhos, Recife, NE Brazil, where approximately 40% of the population resides in precarious conditions, mainly in Special Zones of Social Interest (ZEIS) like downtown ZEIS Coelhos. These areas, including waterfront zones along the Capibaribe River, are populated by housing complexes from the 1970s and informal settlements constructed with various materials.


Recent social housing initiatives, funded by the federal "My House My Life" (MCMV) program, have focused on relocating residents from waterfront structures to "H-shaped" buildings reminiscent of past models. However, these designs have failed to meet residents' social expectations and may burden them similarly to previous models.


Our hypothesis suggests that new approaches and design strategies, maintaining morphological identity and considering housing units as urban fabric generators, may offer better alternatives for rehabilitating these areas. The design process involved site analysis and "Conditional Design" methods, manipulating forms with verbs to create different spatial conditions.


Design strategies include: (1) Using a limited number of shapes for dynamic arrangements; (2) Accommodating future expansions or shared spaces; (3) Creating agglomerates with shared courtyards; (4) Activating the interface between housing units and the river to address flooding threats and access challenges. This project illustrates these strategies by combining building slab typology with traditional house-on-stilts structures found in the area

The design combines building slab and local house-on-stilt typologies

Built with various informal materials the existing settlement lacks basic infrastructure

A linear fabric composed of the slab building type placed on stilts with courtyards that allude to the common spaces in the existing settlement

Model: linearity and connection between buildings and open walkways system

Proposed building massing highlights linear highly articulated building blocks

Detail of articulation in between blocks

Ground floor is highly permeable and connected

Typical access with floating over water walkways and courtyards

Typical building section

Permeability in between blocks is a key strategy

Typical housing cell type 1

Typical housing cell type 2

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