Loft Study House . Bilbao

Acha_Zaballa Architects . photos: © Luis Díaz Díaz

Within the public housing stock owned by the Department of Territorial Planning, Housing and Transport of the Basque Government, there are more than one hundred unused premises located on the ground floors or mezzanines of existing buildings in various municipalities. These facilities originally were conceived for retail use in compliance with current urban planning regulations.

Fading street fronts with empty or boarded up business premises are common in our cities. The successive crises, the change in commercial behaviour and the total confidence in an uniform and extended solution of high-rise block growth with commercial ground floor have resulted in urban areas with an excess of built spaces that the lack of intensity of commercial demand has doomed to its abandonment.

In this context, the initiative contributes to the supply of social housing, while serving as a reflection on a series of urban issues such as the revitalization of the streets, the need to reuse what has been built as an alternative to incessant growth, the attention to diversity or the need to include different user profiles in our communities.

The beginning of the program consists of a GUIDE to identify the conditions and the potentials of these vacant premises. This guide is an exercise in reflection on what builds a home. On which are the essential elements on the definition of domesticity. On how to give a flexible enough response to an undefined tenant. On what contribution does the intimate home space to the outdoor shared street. All this within the conditional framework of a public promotion in compliance with current regulations.

Once we gathered the essential concepts of construction the home intimacy at street level (the definition of comfort, privacy, the response to the condition of security for a room on street level) we developed a built prototype in the city of Bilbao to implement the concepts included in the recommendations guide.

Given its condition of social housing, universal design is encouraged. The layout of the program, of the house components, the definition of the thresholds, pursue through the design that there is no clear limit between an ‘adapted’ and a ‘non-adapted’ home. There will always be specific needs for specific users, but the aim is to define a user-friendly base with no sacrifice in the construction of a cosy domestic atmosphere.

The emphasis that the project places on design issues that might seem accessory has to do with the importance given to the definition of the domestic concept. The program returns to the basic questions of the definition of housing.

On those regulated by law, like dimensions or program as well as efficient construction. But also on those others, perhaps more subjective ones, that define ‘one’s home’. Loft Study House aims to contribute to the reflection on inclusive definitions of housing. A consideration of design as a complementary tool to the regulation of minimums in favour of the universal use of the house. Flexible enough, enough equipped, capable of serving as a space for personal growth for anyone.

The rounds forms, the minimization of sharped edges, the use of colour result in an enveloping aesthetic, outside a range of specific temporary style, somehow ambiguous, that wants to overcome the inertia of the previous inhospitable ground floor.

The aesthetic definition works both for the intimate domesticity and for the street optimism. The color is an important tool used for the integration of the new dwellings in their context in terms of harmony with the preexistences.

This project proposes a microsurgery strategy where interventions one by one are small. Each one is an individual contribution to a global strategy to facilitate access to an affordable home for those who need it. By executing them from the premises defined in the GUIDE, with ambition in terms of relation with the street, with the leading role of design, they become an engine for the revitalization of the street.

The reuse of these properties should be considered from the concept of urban repercussion. The interventions consolidate built fronts that today remain provisionally walled. They are in themselves revitalization actions. The built street front and the urbanized space exert a reciprocal influence. The contribution of both consolidates the urban, the sense of belonging of the community and the vitality of the common spaces around the activity.
There is permeability from the built to the urbanized, and vice versa, which serves as a tool for urban improvement.

Loft Study House
Project for the reuse of urban vacant facilities

Location Bilbao
Date 2017 (Design Guide) 2021 (Prototype)
Architect Acha_Zaballa Architects
Cristina Acha, Miguel Zaballa
Photographs Luis Díaz Díaz