The phrase “urban housing” can mean many different things. It can represent a small, multi-family structure, a large scale housing project or a high rise building that scrapes the sky. While most leave plenty to be desired in terms of aesthetic beauty, there are some that go far beyond the pale with amazing design and self-sustainable amenities. From the “cities within cities” of the past and present to the climate-ready buildings of the future, these 10 urban habitats are amongst the absolute best in modern architectural achievement.
UFO Houses of Sanchih
While these homes in coastal Taiwan were fully grounded, their appearance suggested that they originated in the skies. The UFO Houses of Sanchih were a large community of homes that resembled the shape and iconology of the common flying saucer. These homes were clustered together in the Chinese town of Sanchih, a vacation resort to the north of Taiwan that was constructed in 1971. Sadly, these homes met their fate under the bulldozer of development, having long ago been abandoned– but not before being faithfully documented by flickr user cypherone.
UFO Houses of Sanjhuh Gallery
Nakagin Capsule Tower
Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower is an amazing feat of urban housing, a prefabricated pod structure designed to house single occupants in serve-all units. Each unit is 8’x12’x7′, including built-in cooking and entertainment systems and a bathroom the size of an aircraft lavatory. While the tower has fallen into a state of disrepair, and its owner community has petitioned to destroy it for a new structure, its architectural and cultural importance has kept it alive against this adversity. While we wouldn’t want to live in one of those pods, a short term stay would be a visit to remember.
Nakagin Capsule Tower Gallery
Linked Hybrid City Building, Beijing
Moving to a more modern timeline and a more massive production, the Linked Hybrid City Building in Beijing, China is a truly amazing work of architecture. This 220,000 square meter complex includes 750 apartment units, a central park space, a hotel, a school, a cinema and retail storefronts. The Linked Hybrid building was completed this year under the architectural direction of Steven Holl Architects. Each separate structure spans over 20 stories and are connected by enclosed sky bridges. The goal of the Linked Hybrid Building was to create a city within a city, a stand-alone community with green space and green sensibility. So green, in fact, that it aims for a LEED Gold certification with a geothermal power system built below the structure’s frame. [photographed by iwan baan and shu he]
Linked Hybrid City Building Gallery
Mountain Dwellings, Copenhagen
Traveling next to Copenhagen, Denmark, this 10-story cascade of homes sits on a hillside near the outskirts of the city. BIG Architects devised this structure to give its inhabitants the feeling of both community and privacy at the same time. Each one of the building’s 80 units has its own rear yard with grass and vegetation, but privacy fences that separate one from another. Due to the building’s slope, the neighbor above cannot see into the unit below and vice versa. The result is the privacy of suburban life with the all the benefits of community living, just a short trip from downtown Copenhagen.
Mountain Dwellings Gallery
Hakka Houses of Tulou Province, China
These amazing 12th century housing structures are still in use today in the Tulou Province of China. “Hakka Houses“, as they are commonly referred, hold up to 800 people at a time, an early example of the “city within a city” system. Also referred to as “Fujian Tulou”, these structures were designed as small-scale castles to protect their inhabitants from bandits that roamed the countryside. Their wood and iron gate doors kept the bandits from entering, while their six foot earthen walls were nearly impenetrable. The men in these Hakka Houses could then easily defend their families by using the gun holes at roof level to pick off their predators from above.
Hakka Houses of Tulou Province Gallery
Aillaud Towers, Paris
The Aillaud Towers in suburban Paris, France are the subject of controversy amongst Parisians. They’re at once loved and hated, as some appreciate their architectural value and others dispute it. Also known as the “Cloud Towers”, relating to their fresco paintings of cloudy skies, the Aillaud Towers were built in 1977 and comprise 1,607 individual apartments across 18 towers.
Aillaud Towers Gallery
Marina City, Chicago
The Marina City towers in Chicago, Illinois are amongst the city’s most recognizable architectural monuments. These twin, 65-story residential towers stand tall upon the Chicago River, including parking garages, shops and a marina at river level. Marina City has been featured in numerous feature films and TV shows, both up-close and in panning background shots. While living in an architectural gem by Bertrand Goldberg may be a privilege, a studio apartment in these towers can be rented for just $850 a month, not far from the average for this zip code.
Marina City Gallery
Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa, Vienna
There are housing projects– and there is Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa. Alt-Erlaa makes any other development seem small by comparison, with the largest number of occupants on this list. The Alt-Erlaa complex in Vienna, Austria provides 3,172 apartments and 3,400 underground parking spaces to approximately 10,000 occupants. Beyond the basics, Alt-Erlaa also includes 2 clinics, 3 schools, 2 day care centers, 1 athletic facility, a church, an administrative building and a shopping mall. Oh, and if you’re traveling on Vienna’s underground public transport, you’ll also notice that Alt-Erlaa also has its own underground rail station.
Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa Gallery
The Citadel, Netherlands
While the habitats of the past and present are well represented on this list, this example showcases what the home of the future could look like for some citizens. The Citadel housing complex has a focus on both luxury and sustainability, with a design that will flex with the rising sea levels predicted in our future. This floating complex of apartments will use 25% less energy than its land-based comparables, additionally helping to stop the fight against the incoming water that is constantly pumped out by Dutch polders. The Citadel will be the first of its kind, including 60 luxury units that include parking for both cars on the inside and docks for boats on the outside.
The Citadel Gallery
Habitat 67, Montreal
A long-time favorite of TheCoolist, Habitat 67 in Montreal, Quebec is a prefabricated city designed by Moshe Safdie for Expo 67, a mid-century world exposition of culture. Like the Mountain Dwellings of Copenhagen, shown above, Habitat 67 provides its residents with both community and privacy, but also gives each home a sense of uniquity. In Habitat 67, no two homes are truly alike. For fans of Ayn Rand’s book The Fountainhead, Habitat 67 would make Howard Roark himself very proud, as it seems to be the embodiment of that fictional character’s Monadnock Valley Resort design. It achieves so much, and is virtually incomparable to any other structure in the world.
Habitat 67 Gallery
If urban community living is your lifestyle of choice, would you consider living in any of these homes? Which is your favorite and which is not? Let us know in the comments. If you’re lucky enough to live in any one of these structures, be sure to share your story in the comments below. If you know of a housing structure you would like to see represented here, be sure to mention it as well.
In the mean time, check out these other architecture features here on TheCoolist that we know you’ll enjoy: