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So what of the rich and dense built fabric of coloured masonry buildings built on long, long timber piles?  I carried only one (non-E) architectural book with me; Steen Eiler Rasmussen’s “Experiencing Architecture” (1959). SER really did help me to  experience architecture on my trip. This sensible, bookish, sometime expatriate, Danish Anglophile has his own stubborn and peculiar view.

Monks passing St. Marks

He looks at the the rich, exotic  facades of the buildings that line the Grand Canal and sees Turkish carpets. I didn’t see that. But I am willing to go along with him, because he is such an winning and amiable guide.

He sets the scene “Venice itself looms like a mirage, a dream city in the ether….coloured phantoms of buildings…when every self- respecting town was surrounded by….. impregnable fortifications.. the first impression of this metropolis must have been of an earthly paradise where fear was unknown…graceful arcades swarming with carefree people… large, lively market places opened out towards the sea”. Perhaps he is a little too imaginative there, but his heart is in the right place.

“Here the Orient began, but a transfigured Orient, an idealised Orient.”

SER points out that it was traditional to hang your rugs or carpets out the window, to decorate the facade. And that the facade designs are “attempts to make that festive array permanent. The mosaic floors in St. Mark’s are really costly carpets fashioned of coloured stones.”

And its facade is chequered in white and red.

“at the corners are twisted columns .. .so thin that they are no longer supporting elements but simple edgings like the cord upholsterers use to hide seams”.

Thank you Steen Eiler.

six weeks of preparation and getting things in shape, six weeks of travel, then twelve weeks of getting things back into shape…

thus this blog is not in the present tense anymore. I am reflecting on my trip , and informing my report. I am presently wrangling gigs and gigs of timelapse data. But also looking at the timelapses and videos i took with my iPhone.


like this, showing the explosion of arrival in Venice


or the peace and beauty at the edge of the lagoon, (a day after a little tornado struck Venice)

In the morning we travel sleepily through the flat fresh greenery of unremarkable countryside. Then we are rolling on a long causeway over the lagoon, which is smooth and calm. The light is brilliant. Santa Lucia is a terminus so our arrival is relaxed and enjoyable. The sleeper carriage is the last, so we travel the full length of the narrow platform before we stand at the broad Rationalist portal of the station. And it’s an explosion. We are standing on the banks of the Canal Grande; colour, noise, sunshine, a throng of bobbing boats, opaque limestone coloured water, the temple opposite, people peeling off right and left. Like a Canaletto with speedboats. And the exotic rich facades of the buildings that line the canal.

We stop, stare and take a vaporetto to San Marco.

Venice is unique, its like a big round cake full of fruit, chocolate and spices that has risen evenly to a height of 5 storeys. The open space is the lagoon itself.

Apart from the serpentine Canale Grande cutting though, the many small squares, canals and calle are no more than fissures and marks in the rich and dense built fabric of coloured masonry buildings built on long, long timber piles.

We walk through Venice and sit in its sheltered, almost indoors, open spaces.



The final result will be 5-7 short time lapse movies depicting high density life published on the “Architectural Insights”; the NSW Architects Registration Board’s website. A brief report will include data, comments and conclusions.


Some by products may include interviews with inhabitants/ architects/ passer-by, maps of shared spaces, continued dialogue about housing and finally this blog.


Blogs are commonly written in a chronologically and “as it happens”. Given that I am currently in Denmark, and the weblog is currently in Paris, this blogging model is unfeasible. However, gentle reader, I shall be posting in a more “sustained release” mode, ruthlessly editing my posts in order that they are pithy and direct (and to minimise your scrolling fatigue). Please enjoy or endure as appropriate.


to see and record the shared pleasures of high density life, I have chosen the following cities and buildings.



Barceloneta (in Barcelona),

A Hausmann-era city block in Paris

Piraeus- a 1990s a mixed-use apartment megablock in Amsterdam

Spangen Quarter, a 1920s apartment building in Rotterdam

Ypenburg Centrum 2000, a new precinct near The Hague formed of perimeter blocks, courtyards and streets designed by one architectural firm.

A 1890s Berlin Mietskaserne apartment block

Hornbaekhus- a 1920s Copenhagen megablock

House 8, 2010, an ambitious, intriguingly manipulated large megablock in Copenhagen.

I have been travelling for two weeks, and the weather has been good and the shadows sharp. We arrived in Austria, and acclimatised by the lime green leaves of the forests by a deep lake with a now appearing, now disappearing view of the Alps.

After a few days of comfortable family life and long breakfasts we left F and T with their adoring, suffering grandparents, aunt,uncle and cousin.

We travelled to the gloomy, sleety, Grimm’s fairy tale rocks of Salzburg. R and I walked the dark streets, wearing all our clothes, and wondered at the scattering of padlocks fastened to the footbridge across the river (more about this later).

A cold sleety summers midnight is about the only time when the facade of Mozart’s birthplace is not obscured by platoons of large, brightly dressed Americans ( tourist in genera, like ourselves).

We repaired to a snug, smoky timber booth in an establishment by the river Salzach (named after the salt trade up the river). I had a bowl of ghoulash soup, streaked with floating beads of chilli and flavoured with caraway. That, and a half a litre of Doppel Malz bier. Just the ticket. Mmmm.

Then to the station to board the sleeper to Venice.

We didn’t wake when the train started off at 1 AM, and began its hurtling trip through the Alps and to the warm Adriatic.


rain on the skylight above my desk, rain spattering the admirably made zinc roof and soldered gutters.

its approx 12 degrees, this is not the Mediterranean. And France has been knocked out of Euro 2012. All is quiet in Paris.

Time to blog!

I am in the on the 6th floor of a hotel on the Rue Turin in the NE corner of the 8th arrondissement. The star shaped streets layout is beautiful, bewildering and gives some scintillating camera angles.

My window looks onto the Rue Clapeyron, all is no longer quiet!. Down which a trumpet player and alto sax player are walking trailing their boom box on wheels as they bounce their brass up the seven storey limestone clad walls.

Mietkaserne (literally “Rent Barracks” in German) are a type of housing peculiar to Berlin. From what i gather thus far; the Mietkaserne was originally housing for the Prussian Military. Married officers were obliged to share the barracks with unmarried personnel.

This is a very good document;

Mietskaserne – TU Delft Institutional Repository

Berlin’s biggest Mietkaserne is described in detail . “Meyer’s Hof” was laid out as 7 x 40 metre long  buildings parallel to the street that marched back into the 140 metre deep block. The courtyard widths accommodated the turning circle of a fire water pump, and the height was limited by fire regulations to five storeys.

There is a remarkable view through the tall arches that form the centre of each block. Meyers Hof was a magnificent building!

Michael and I talked about housing amenity – privacy, solar access and light, air, cross ventilation and so on- qualities that bring comfort, calm and pleasure to daily lives, and

he said I should first look at SEPP 65 * (which he is working on)

State Environmental Planning Policy 65 – Design Quality of Residential Flat Development (SEPP 65)

We discussed different ways of measuring density. dwellings per hectare is a common measure. But bed/ ha and plot ratio/FSR are perhaps more useful

we discussed time lapses and MZ showed me a time-lapse of a recently completed project using the iPhone “miniatures” app…

he suggested that i tweet my themes as I progress- which could later serve as captions for an exhibition.

i should consider alternative ways of classifying my projects ; old/new, seven cities, in order of density, collective efficiency perhaps

consider an exhibition later..

further comments from MZ

  • the Dutch wait 20 years to watch what others do and  what will work- don’t innovate
  • Jim Weirick has a good knowledge of  housing in Berlin
  • check out Catherine Furet building in A& T, project architect Frank Minnaert
  • There is a Mietkaserne room type- corner room- corner window?
  • look at Atlas of Dutch Housing
  • Have I read “the intermediate scale”?
  • Lisebet van der pol – in Amsterdam Zuid- rennet- perimeter block

further comments from Kieran McInerney

  • Godin’s Phalanstery- check it out
  • Meyershof-  Mietkaserne in Berlin
apologies for the bullet points- its a log! – unfortunately logs can be quite tedious sometimes…

I whizzed down the hill from Newtown towards the Summer Hill – where my mentor for this project works

This suburb with the anodyne name is indeed very pleasant- it is that horrid cliché the urban village- made real

It sits to the south of Summer Hill station and its shops are located on four streets in a grid

In the centre there is a square. Well it’s a car park. But with a little work- a beautiful piazza!

There are some good cafes and delis, and an excellently smelling well named “summer hill wine shop”. The strangling creeper of home wares shops are gathering however. Nothing is perfect.

MZ, and his peers work in a tall skillion roofed space above a charity shop. The stair meanders up, heading south, then north, east and finally west. It charms you into taking the stairs two at a time – so much so that I carried my bike all the way up.

I explained the new name of the project and Michael repeated it quietly to himself, layers of living, living layers…

He began to edit my thoughts aloud

the shared pleasures I speak of could be classified into two;  efficiency/time and collective /sharing

That what I am looking at is collective spaces

The journey from public spaces to your front door and back again – collective spaces constructed by the route from street to court

Have I read “the intermediate scale”? – He asked

I should do hand sketches / diagrams of lobbies

Forget apartment plans; most architects can do a unit plan, but struggle to string them together- he declaimed


Its going to be good – I think – he murmured.