Open Building Prototype
Torre David inspired U-TT to look beyond its singular context and apply deeper lessons about the potential of adaptive reuse and mixed use housing. The first step in what has become a broader research and design program was to investigate how parking garages – an existing generic typology in cities worldwide – could be repurposed for more productive uses. The simple open-plan structure of these sites allows space to be reconfigured into rooms without concern for supporting walls. Ramps and stairs stand in for elevators, partitions are kept to a strict minimum, and open facades provide natural lighting and ventilation.
While conducting research with students in Trinidad and Tobago, U-TT found its first case study. In the capital Port of Spain, the Ministry of the People and Social Development had turned part of a multistory car park into a homeless shelter for 360 occupants. Inside, poorly ventilated dormitories were bricked off and stacked from floor to ceiling with bunk beds. While the program had a positive social aim, the residents lived in cramped conditions. U-TT proposed to continue the renovation, by improving the living quarters and adding designated spaces for agriculture, sustainable energy production, a large social space, kitchen, library, laundry unit, classroom, and workshop. Public services, such as a health clinic or sports facilities on the roof, would attract a wider mix of users and address the stigma attached to the building.
U-TT has since explored further applications of this open building strategy in formal and informal urban environments. Open building concepts initially emerged as a means to anticipate changing user demands and embed participation in the design process. Representing a radical alternative to post-war mass housing schemes, this approach envisions a future where architects design building frameworks, while residents or users are responsible for customized infill development over time. U-TT has translated this idea into a range of conceptual designs for adaptable, flexible structures that take into account the perpetually changing nature of cities.
Whether in Caracas, Athens, Cape Town, or Shenzhen, open building concepts are ultimately about achieving an elusive balance between stability and self-intiated change.