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The Housing Crisis Is So Bad, Architects Are Hiding Apartments In Air Ducts

Don’t worry, no one’s living in it. The statement installation highlights the need for new policy that responds to the housing shortage.

The urban housing crisis has become so dire that architects are exploiting planning-code loopholes to squeeze living spaces into every available area. And in London this means rooftop ventilation systems–well, sort of.

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This year the Architecture Foundation, a design advocacy group based in the United Kingdom, invited architects to come up with creative and sustainable housing alternatives for its Antepavilion competition. The winner, the London-based PUP Architects, proposed hiding apartments in plain sight to add much needed supply to the real estate market. The firm calls its idea “guerrilla habitation.”

[Photo: Jim Stephenson/courtesy PUP Architects]
PUP Architects scoured planning regulations and discovered that builders don’t need official permission to install rooftop mechanical systems for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). By designing a unit that mimics the silhouette and look of an HVAC exhaust, PUP figured it could theoretically build thousands of dwellings across London’s rooftops.

[Photo: Jim Stephenson/courtesy PUP Architects]
The designers’ pavilion–dubbed H-VAC–is a simple wood-framed structure clad in gray shingles made from Tetra-Pak offcuts. Its snaking shape looks like a large exhaust vent. The unit itself is fairly small and doesn’t fit more than a couple of benches where up to six people can sit.

The real point of the project is to highlight how the regulatory system has contributed to the crisis and how it could potentially be reformed to allow proper micro apartments.

While permitted development exists for large-scale infrastructural roof installations, little challenge has been made for other viable and productive uses for rooftops,” PUP Architects said in a statement. “By subverting the form of the permitted and giving it a nonstandard use, we hope to bring into question this order of priorities.”

[Photo: Jim Stephenson/courtesy PUP Architects]
Planning regulations exist for good reason–they ensure that buildings are constructed to scale and in a way that’s safe and responsive to context and a population–but there is ample room for improvement when it comes to what gets built, where, and how long the process takes. For too long, cities have prioritized the construction of luxury condos over affordable housing, and hundreds of thousands of these units lie empty as owners use them as investments, not for habitation. If cities are to take a more aggressive approach to solving the housing crisis–which they must–this will require reassessing policy. Making it legal to safely construct apartments in all available space, like rooftops, could be one fix.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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