Brankov / Development of contemporary models of temporariness in the conceptualization of common areas in multi-family housing

Development of contemporary models of temporariness in the conceptualization of common areas in multi-family housing

Author: Borjan Brankov, University of Belgrade

Supervisor: Ana Nikezić, Dr., Associate Professor, University of Belgrade

Research stage: Academic level: PhD, Stage: late

Category: Paper


In the time, and shortly after the two big world wars, the idea of ​​collective housing, as opposed to individual housing, was recognized as a model for solving multiple problems: lack of housing funds, intensification of collective housing in cities, and the intensification of social changes, which copped with the increase in the number of inhabitants in cities (Schneider & Till, 2007; Teige, 2002; Živković, 1980). Housing became the biggest architectural story of postwar Europe (Kostof & Castillo, 1995). After the initial housing development in the first half of the 20th century, new motives led to a different architectural strive in the second half of the century with increased social dynamics, intensified individualization, and the tendency towards atomizing the household and family life (Tomić, 1977). As the activities were rapidly changing in multi-family housing, the space needed to adapt based on general spatial conceptions and through the understanding of everyday life with the living space (Kurokawa, 1994; Milenković, 2004). The change occurred in two parts: the dwelling and the common areas, which were significantly less analyzed in the aspect of the evolution of space through time and activities primarily used for collective purposes of the residents.

The research includes an overview of common areas' possible temporary use in multiple global and Europe examples and a practical study of these global principles in the case of New Belgrade blocks development in the second half of the 20th century. This includes defining multiple spatial levels of multi-family housing, addressing the change and influence of different systems through development and building use (private, public, etc.), with different typologies of building, and repurposing these areas in later stages of the housing life (after the 1990s), with the suppressed importance of the community.

In the former socialist country of Yugoslavia, starting from the late 1950s, multi-family housing development has been focused on new concepts that, in the sense of new development goals, empowered adaptability and flexibility (Brankov, 2019; Marušić, 1975), thus different authors/architects explored the possibilities for a changeable living space that can accommodate temporary uses.


Research first defines common areas as a spatial determinant for analyzing the question of space changeability. The analysis includes legislative, theoretical, and other sources. After that, the examinations consist of an overview of the temporary use and deduction to specific parameters (theoretical and analysis of multiple housing examples), which generate starting models of temporary use. Research also includes a historical analysis of theoretical directions, concepts, and ideas that contain the characteristics of temporality (20th century), which emphasizes specific principles and parameters that are put to use in design stages, which were used for the analysis of case studies, and modified for the specific Serbian context, which in the end, forms variations of the models with positive and negative feedbacks. Case studies in the research include two selected blocks from the thesis (B22, B29), with graphic analysis on the floor plan level. The output of the case studies includes a variation of models with the relation to the deprivation (final/current use) of common areas (most in the transitional time of the 1990s) with annexed dwellings on the roofs, permitted in the post-war 1990s (Law on the extension of buildings and the conversion of common premises into apartments, 1988).

Defining and positioning Common areas as part of the multi-family housing space

For defining the spatial focus of the research work, the thesis primarily determines the definition of common, especially common areas1 (primarily focused on semi-private space). A few standpoints define this elaboration: theoretical discourse in the global sense of commons (common space), theories of commons in Socialist Yugoslavia and Post-Socialist Serbia, and past and current Laws regarding the commons in the housing field in Serbia and Belgrade.

  1. Stavrides explains the common space2 as produced through collective inventiveness while having common interest (which is either triggered by everyday urgent needs or is unleashed in the effervescence of collective experiments), and tends to be constantly redefined while Rabinowitz talks about semi-public space when defining space that is legally defined as private, but collectively owned by the community of unit owners (Petovar & Vujošević, 2008; Rabinowitz, 2012; Stavrides, 2016). Unlike public areas, where access is open to all, these semi-private parts of residential complexes are in the hands of unit owners, who can theoretically restrict the general public from access to it (Rabinowitz, 2012).
  2. The process of change from socialism, self-management socialism3, to ex-socialist and the post-socialist city is seen, by Blagojević, as the radical transformation of ownership, value and rights of residence. Substitution of state ownership4 for the former societal ownership replaces the right to a residence by that of occupancy right and, following privatization, private property rights (Blagojević, 2014). Common areas as part of the building were in state ownership (as well as the dwellings) with the right to use, while in the post-socialist period, owners of the separate parts gained the right of collective ownership of these collective parts (Antonić & Đukić, 2017; Law on Housing and Building Maintenance, 2020).
  3. Building, in terms of use and ownership by the legislation in Serbia, is consisted of a separate part (dwelling, commercial space, garage place/box) and a common part (indivisible) of the building. Law on housing and building maintenance defines the common parts of the building as spaces that serve for the use of the building as a whole and do not serve a specific part of the building. Spaces defined are common areas (staircase, entrance areas and windbreaks, common corridor and gallery, attic space, basement, bicycle storage, laundry/drying room, common terrace and other rooms intended for joint use by the owners of separate or independent parts of the building), as well as common building elements, and common installations (Law on Housing and Building Maintenance, 2020; Decision on general rules of house rules in residential and residential-business buildings in the territory of the city of Belgrade, 2021).

Change of common areas

The thesis research addresses the change in defined common areas through three types of temporary use as: (1) designed possible variants of usage (2) changeable (intermediary) use, with the participation of the residents, and (3) deprivation and final alterations (by residents) outside of the designed "normal use" for these spaces. The change begins at the moment of the concept of creation in time and continues throughout the life of the building, bringing with it uses, change and uncertainty. Therefore, spatial variability appears as a consequence of programmatic needs based on general spatial conceptions but also through the understanding of life processes (Kurokawa, 1994; Till, 2009, Milenkovic, 2004).

Temporality and similar characteristics were avant-garde in the 1960s, with a growing awareness that in common practice, there was a lack of a basic connection between the values of a certain architect and the changing needs and customs of the users, which led to a series of reformist movements that tried in various ways to overcome this divergence between the designer and everyday social life (Frempton, 2004). Modernists first used flexibility in their discourse due to the constant care in the design that would protect the user's occupation and use of the space. Forti points out that flexibility in this sense, was seen as the influence of the architect on the projection of control over the designed buildings in the future (after use). As Jencks points out, the user was, however, been, neglected, and the criticism of the modern movement is that housing is designed only for the universal user, which, according to Jencks, does not exist (Dženks, 1985).

Within the theory of the second half of the 20th century and the analyzed mostly European examples of housing, the research extracted different principles of temporariness and their accompanying parameters, which operationalize changes in space in different manners, primarily referring to the research of Schneider and Till, Leupen, Lojanica, Hertzberger (Hertzberger, 2001; Leupen, 2006; Lojanica, 1975; Schneider & Till, 2007; Till & Schneider, 2005; Alfirević & Simonović Alfirević, 2022; Čanak, 2013).

Principles include:

  1. adaptability (superposition, open plan, polyvalence, shared function, self-sufficient space),
  2. flexibility (soft and hard flexibility-absolute, relative enrichen, relative natural),
  3. expansion and growth (external additions5, joining, internal additions, division, replacement, raw space),
  4. compression (exclusion of space).

These parameters influence the character and specific parts of common areas such as construction (construction type, fixation of services), plan (circulation, open/closed plan, size of space, barriers/divisions, geometry), time of application (design phase, building phase, usage phase), spatial levels (surrounding area, building, floor, room). The above-mentioned principles were the result of given authors and multiple housing examples/projects such as Weissenhofsiedlung, Stutgart (1927), Narkomfin building, Moscow (1930), Unité d'habitation, Marseille (1952), Habitat 67, Montreal (1967), Nakagin Tower, Tokio (1972), Alexandra Road, London (1978), Nemausus, Nimes (1985), etc.

General Models adopted from these parameters were divided into two groups:

- changes of space and element with new function (mainly based on Schneider and Till)6:

1. hard structure without big spatial manipulation (static model),

2. possible physical manipulations (dynamic model),

- changes of space in terms of privacy (based on Lojanica, Leupen, Simonović-Alfirević and Alfirević, Čanak)

3. linear changes (closed model)

4. circular or overlapping changes7 (open model)

Multi-family housing in New Belgrade Blocks

More than half of all apartments in Belgrade were built in the post-war period (David, 1975). In that period, the Belgrade apartment (of late modern movement) represents a specific phenomenon of the organization of the apartment, which arose in the 1960s during the 20th century (time of architectural competition for multi-family housing (Alfirević & Simonović Alfirević, 2013). As the research focuses on the context of the multi-family housing complexes in New Belgrade, Serbia, built from 1965-1985, this polygon regards as an example of modern, innovative, and quality housing, with a new level of quality of residential space.

The research analyses common areas in selected case studies on 2 primary spatial levels: 1) the building, 2) the narrow surrounding8. The selected blocks of New Belgrade (blocks 19a, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30 and 61, and 62) [ 1 ] are predominately part of the newly protected housing zone of historical value (Decision on determining the central zone of New Belgrade for the spatial cultural-historical unit (Blocks 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 26, 28, 29 и 30), 2021). Thus, the motivation includes the urgency to develop a sustainable approach to reinventing and highlighting the existing quality urban structures. Historically significant, housing buildings were a target of different annexes, expansions, or deprivations of spaces, often by individual residents. For this paper, research will show examples of 2 New Belgrade blocks, with one selected building each.

Blocks of Central zone of New Belgrade with selected buildings, Source: Borjan Brankov

Figure 1: Blocks of Central zone of New Belgrade with selected buildings, Source: Borjan Brankov

Block 22 was made according to the competition from 1968 by architects B. Janković, B. Karadžić and A. Stjepanović ("Blok 22," 1975, p. 22), and completed in 1976 [ 2 ]. The block consists of 5 longitudinal buildings - lamellas and ten residential towers. The largest lamellas are at the edges of the block on the south and north sides (Čavdarević, 1978). Within the lamella, the typical floor consists of two parallel strips that continue each other, whereby extending one, you move to the next core via horizontal hallways while creating "pockets" of space that are part of vertical cores [ 3 ], and the cascade continues, the entrance to the building is via accessible passage, the basement has common areas such as drying room9.

Block 29 is opposite the Block 22 [ 2 ]. The competition for the architectural design was in 1967, and the construction was from 1969 to 1974. The designer of the urban solution of the block was Milutin Glavički, while the architects were Mihailo Čanak and Milosav Mitić ("Blok 29," 1975, p. 29). The structure of the residential part of the block consists of 7 double tract buildings. The ground floor has an "atrium" in the centre of the building, along with vertical cores, while a typical floor has through vertical core connection to 4 dwellings through an ante-room that is used as a shared space between communications and two dwelling on the floor [ 3 ], the roof has a combination of the house council room, private and shared terraces, while more shared technical rooms are in the basement.

Blocks of Central zone of New Belgrade B22 (left), B29 (right), Source: Borjan Brankov

Figure 2: Blocks of Central zone of New Belgrade B22 (left), B29 (right), Source: Borjan Brankov

Common areas (B29 left-ground floor, typical floor, loft; B22 (segment) right-ground floor, typical floor), Source: Borjan Brankov

Figure 3: Common areas (B29 left-ground floor, typical floor, loft; B22 (segment) right-ground floor, typical floor), Source: Borjan Brankov

Preliminary Results and conclusion

Generated models can be applied mostly in the type of lamellas and double tracts. Temporary use, on the one hand, points to possible new use, or renting common areas, especially the basement, while terraces or common areas on typical floors often lead to legal/illegal appropriation (and privatization) by individual users. Horizontal communications are usually lacking in width for new activities, but depending on the entrance to the apartment's environment, that can be adjusted for the needs of the tenants. With lamellas, horizontal communications play a very important role in defining the possible design variations - Block 22. The modularity allows the continuation of the lamellas on one side, and communication continues unhindered with inserted pockets.

Modifications after the 1990s include the closing of open interior areas (terraces, passages, etc.), as they are often seen as non-functional and unprofitable areas of apartments and buildings. A large amount of undefined space left to users or given to interpretation can also lead to misguided occupation. Roof terraces were often appropriated by the few or demolished by additional new loft extensions, which resulted in the demolition of these spaces, or they were gated by a new private dwelling that prevented communication to the terrace by the residents (Block 28, etc.). The function of laundry rooms has ceased to be essential or even desirable. In this regard, the termination of a function or its neglect during the life of the object's exploitation can lead to an opportunity for a new function, but the basement space is an obstacle to the influx of new functions other than the warehouses.

One of the problems that arise not only from the design but from the state of the commons is the outdoor space near the ground floor of buildings. It is not always possible to determine the exact "belonging" of the external space to the building, which is fully publicly used and possibly abused (block's outdoor spaces ownership is public (city/state). To closely define and potentially, in future in specific laws, change ownership of these spaces, the selected parameters can be used: defining buffer zone, extruded entrances to the building, elevation/plateaus (B22), typology of the building-e.g., half-closed courtyard (B28), the density of paths along the building (certain radius), free parts of the ground floor of buildings- passageways (B22), colonnades (B23), ground floor façade, etc.

Preliminary results include the variations of the models that integrate different needs (positive and negative) of housing in these blocks:

- changes of space and element with a new function:

1. hard structure without big spatial manipulation (static model)

1.1 semi-private consistent spaces – spaces (B29) (polyvalence, shared function, self-sufficient space)

2. possible physical manipulations (dynamic model),

2.1 unwanted/devasting physical manipulations- almost all blocks (external additions (roof, outdoor passages), joining, internal additions, divisions)

2.2. adaptation of unused or repurposed spaces (drying rooms, etc.)

- changes of space in terms of the privacy

3. linear changes (closed model) – one-way changes

3.1. renunciation of common or private areas for renting as a community-B28

3.2. privatizing the common areas

4. circular or overlapping changes10 (open model) – functioning common rooms in the building

  1. common area, as opposed to common space in broader sense, was chosen as a translation of the term “zajednički prostor” recognized in the literature and legislation in Serbia, although some authors use collective space, or collective indivisible ownership. Thesis research and writing is primarily conducted in Serbian language and the term common area defined as “space to use for more than one person”, resemble the meaning of Serbian term better than the other ones
  2. tends to focus on city space rather than more narrow focus
  3. Yugoslav self-management socialism mainly praised things developed within workers’ councils or housing communities – “radnički saveti” or “mesne zajednice” (Kušić & Đokić, 2021).
  4. ownership is devided to state, social, and private (Njegovan, 1989)
  5. usually done with individual housing, e.g. Diagoon Housing, Delft (Hertzberger, 2001)
  6. to a greater extent connected to prefabricated production in the service of changeability
  7. appropriation of space by the user for a particular time and in a certain way, and with the anticipation of different uses, creates (1) spatial variability and (2) the new temporary meaning of that space which enables multiple interpretations (Hertzberger, 2001)
  8. simplified division of spatial levels is based on Ilić’s immediate environment that "surrounds a person in which he lives and in which he moves on a daily basis": (1) immediate surroundings (dwelling), (1.1) near surroundings (a 5-minute walk), (1.2) threshold area (the area between the dwelling and the public area, streets and shops, as well as surrounding apartments within the same building), (2) immediate neighborhood area (space outside the buildings in the circle where daily encounters take place spontaneously), (3) extended neighborhood area (Ilić, 1988)
  9. most of spaces that had function of a drying room are not used anymore in that function, or have never even had that used in the first place, although designed in project documentation
  10. appropriation of space by the user for a particular time and in a certain way, and with the anticipation of different uses, creates (1) spatial variability and (2) the new temporary meaning of that space which enables multiple interpretations (Hertzberger, 2001)


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