Las Americas Social Housing
SO – IL
Florian Idenburg, Ilias Papageorgiou, Isabel Sarasa, Seunghyun Kang, Sophie Nichols, Pam Anantrungroj
Inmuvi Municipal Housing Institute (Instituto Municipal de Vivienda de León)
SO - IL was tasked to work with Imuvi Development and the City of León, firstly to rethink housing models in the city, and secondly to develop a prototype structure for vertical housing.
The prototype needed to be highly cost-effective and relatively low-tech so as to enable local workforce involvement in construction. Given that single-family home ownership had been historically preferred by tenants and developers, the prototype also needed to encourage tenants to experience vertical dwellings as appealing as their freestanding single-family counterparts.
Beyond prototyping, the directive was to create a project whose impact would go beyond housing for 56 families. On a larger scale, the project would support the local government’s desire to express a change in direction for urban developments, building toward a denser and more integrated city.
At the turn of the millennium, Mexico's federal government mounted a massive campaign against crowded and inadequate housing to raise the living standards of its working-class families. Despite occasional success, still millions of Mexicans are living in substandard housing. Many remote suburban neighborhoods constructed as part of the campaign have deteriorated due to a lack of services and access, while other developments have been abandoned entirely.
Traditional notions of homeownership currently lock new developments into becoming acres of identical free-standing homes in remote areas far from the economic center. Extensive municipal utility expansion and expensive transportation programs have led to a decline in the region’s economy, and a loss of critical density within León.
The call for a more sustainable solution to low-income housing has never been more urgent. In 2016, SO – IL began work with IMUVI in the populous city of León in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato to develop a housing program that could address issues of cost, quality, and loss of critical urban density.
To accommodate an extremely limited budget, the project was designed with shared utility cores and prefabricated components. Rather than using construction materials requiring specific expertise and heavy machinery to assemble, SO – IL and IMUVI worked directly with local fabricators to develop a 17 kg concrete block, the maximum weight an individual worker can carry and install by hand, so that the local workforce could assemble the project. This novel approach expanded the labor force, distributing the limited budget more equitably among local workers.
Resonant of the traditional home’s sense of privacy, no two units face one another. Units are arranged in a single-loaded corridor to face the courtyard and provide views out to the neighborhood, promoting the sense of private homeownership. A façade assembled of uniquely developed concrete blocks enhances privacy and shading, generates a unique interior atmosphere, and lends character to the building exterior.
Las Américas challenges the status quo by reasserting the primacy of the human dimension and encouraging a communal context to single-family living. A collection of shared patios along a public staircase encircles the common green space, strengthening a sense of community by offering residents built-in opportunities to socialize with neighbors.
Located just outside the city center, the project is a model of connectivity for areas affected by urban sprawl, with a wide variety of shops, clinics, parks, and public transportation immediately available to residents.