Overlapping and Sharing in Tight Cities

Graham Crist | John Doyle | Taishin Shiozaki

Excerpt from Supertight, by Graham Crist and John Doyle, published by Actar Publishers.

The overlapping of functions in physical space is critical to the tight use of cities and adaptations to density. Far from being functionally segregated or zoned, sharing space for multiple, simultaneous events produces both the pleasures and the efficiencies of tightness.

Very dense environments are often imagined obsessively through a quantified or measured formula. The image of a very dense utopia is formal fields of tightly condensed elements. Michael Wolf’s photo series The Architecture of Density captures this condition in Hong Kong’s ubiquitous housing estates.[1] This density is an intricate formal network extending to micro-apartments and other compartmentalised and unitised components. It is a system where the functions of living in tiny spaces are regulated through modules of functional separation.

In fact, tight cities require a high degree of organisational and functional looseness to operate. As density increases, it becomes necessary to set aside the separation of functions in daily life. When space is limited, arbitrarily designating only one activity to a location is not a legitimate luxury. The tendency to compartmentalise functions within an architectural plan is driven by social expectations and status.

Hotel Pickering, WOHA. Singapore.

The concept of overlapping in architecture and urbanism describes a condition in which space and its functions are collapsed. Rather than allocating a distinct space for each activity, a single space becomes the backdrop to the ever-changing series of occupations. Observations of public space in Japan show how spaces play host to a broad number of activities that can vary from extremely dense to completely empty depending on daily, weekly and annual cycles.[2] Similar observations can be made about a building’s interior. Rather than being simply small, a tight space can be multi-functional, multi-generational, multi-household containers where all aspects of life might play out.

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[1] Refer to www.photomichaelwolf.com.
[2] Graham Crist & John Doyle, Supertight, Actar Publishers, 2022, p 320-349.
[3] Eric Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960, The MIT Press, 2000, p 85.
[4] Le Corbusier & Pierre Jeanneret, ‘Analysis of the fundamental elements of the “minimum house” issue’, Paper presented at the CIAM II: Die Wohnung für das Existenzminimum, Frankfurt, 1929.
[5] Nate Berg, ‘William Gibson Worries Your City May Be “Cooked”, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-05-08/william-gibson-worries-your-city-may-be-cooked.
[6] Helier Cheung, ‘Chungking Mansions: Inside Hong Kong’s favourite “ghetto”, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-24015987.
[7] The tube house is the common name for the very narrow tall house types in Vietnam and is a notable characteristic of the urban fabric.