In 2014, 51N4E has been appointed as one of three interdisciplinary teams to investigate on a new regulatory framework for a narrow 6.5 ha piece of land north of Zurich. Being one of the last large plots that are still owned by the city, the question is how to activate it to produce an affordable living environment. The city’s intention to couple the development of an affordable and even popular housing offer with the overarching goal of a 2000 watt society is highly ambitious, and requires a paradigm shift away from a purely individualistic and consumption-driven model. In such economically challenging contexts, this puts two new values on the agenda: the value of (organized) sharing and the possibility for city dwellers to become producers again.

In the design proposal, we have developed some notions that can help to break down this larger transition goal into manageable components: 1. The idea of making a low definition environment, simple in maintenance and open for appropriation 2. Setting up a development with different life cycles, to allow buildings to adapt changes in use and 3. The concept of mini (-flat, -atelier, -capitalism), allowing lower investments in the private sphere and thus creating the financial margin to invest in the collective offer.

To realise these ambitions on a sliver of land too thin to host a normal city block, we developed a spatial configuration that can act like an interface, precariously placed in between two highly different contexts: a 20thth century allotment and a 21st century high-rise tower district. Rather than just adding up to what exists, we investigated the role the site can play in redefining and relinking these dramatically different city parts.

The proposed spatial set-up is hybrid, explicitly fragmented to make connections beyond the plot. The largest portion of housing is provided in a site-specific yet systematic typology. A simple stacking of a five-level housing strip sits on top of a large scale base, that is a sequence of productive and polyvalent ‘sheds’, that vary in use from commercial space, productive space, public space , ground floor housing and collective services. It answers the city’s ambition to provide an affordable and even popular offer of housing, and combines this with a substantial amount of flexible facilities, both indoors and outdoors, combining the organized with the informal.

research by design of a 6ha mixed program