The Sociopolis project came into being to explore the possibility of creating a ‘shared habitat’ that would encourage a greater social interaction between its inhabitants, proposing new housing typologies in keeping with the new familial conditions of our time, in a setting of high environmental quality. In Valencia for the Biennial of the Arts cultural and political support provides the basis of universal reflection to researching and developing new kinds of buildings that respond to our present needs and prefigure future situations.
Social Aspect of Housing
Traditionally the responsibility for building such homes (ranging from housing for disadvantaged sectors of the population to the subsidized housing that is more common in our time) rests with the same department responsible for constructing roads and other infrastructures. There is thus a tendency to attach far more importance to problems of production or budget than to social problems. The departments responsible for ‘social action’ devote much of their efforts to meeting the demands of the European model of a welfare society, but in most cases make no attempt to situate these policies in their spatial dimension. Nevertheless, the present project had an eminently social impetus, impelled by bodies that work with groups at risk of social exclusion and are concerned with generating forms of housing that respond to the new social needs. There is at present a shortage of affordable housing for young people, for elderly people (many of them living alone) who require some degree of public support, for people who have arrived from other regions or countries, and for people involved in specific social programs. Taken together, these constitute a sizable portion of our society.
The New Housing Project
The first decades of the 20th century established many of the characteristic features of housing that are still with us today: new standards of hygiene, the incorporation of electricity (and the appliances associated with it), the standardization of furniture and regulations governing housing requirements have combined to provide more or less decent housing for most citizens of the western world. This situation has tended to consolidate routine approaches to the construction process and given a little impetus to innovative discourse in relation to housing. The information society poses new challenges and generates new opportunities: How do we avoid the total isolation of the individual in their environment, and achieve a greater social cohesion? How do we promote greater environmental quality, integrating nature into habitable environments? How do we use the new information technologies to build better and live better? How do we integrate new functions into the home? How do we foster a supportive habitat?
New family units
The traditional family of two parents and one or more children now accounts for less than 50% of households in many regions of Spain. Increasing international —and especially infra-European— mobility, the emancipation of young people and the delay in starting to have children, higher life expectancy and the improvement in the quality of life of senior citizens are factors that condition the way people group together to occupy a house. We are now seeing the emergence of the concept of the virtual family, in which people of various generations who are not blood relatives behave to some extent as a family, sharing resources or activities. Sociopolis thus proposes an open-ended organization of residential units, facilitating multiple configurations within a single building and enabling each house to be as individual as the people who live in it.
Sociopolis Masterplan 2005-2010
Sociópolis was presented at the Valencia Biennial in 2003, as a project in which 13 international architecture firms took part. The project put forward a model of new urban development in which housing and multifunctional amenities were integrated into an agricultural environment, a continuation and updating of the model constituted by the Mediterranean hortulus. Following the presentation of the project it was decided to construct the first neighbourhood of 2,500 homes in the La Torre district to the south of the city of Valencia, on a 350,000 m2 site on the banks of the new course of the diverted River Turia; the same principles would be followed but on a larger scale. In this project, the urban transformation is guided by a commitment to ensuring the maximum protection for the existing huerta (one of the traditional agricultural zones surrounding the city of Valencia) irrigated with waters from the River Turia by way of channels originally dug by the Arabs some 800 years ago. The new urban development reinforces the protection of the landscape and the environment while at the same time fulfilling a much-needed social function, making housing available at a controlled price to a great number of people.
In contrast to an urbanism of the peripheries, sociopolis propose an interactive, non-linear urbanism capable of interacting with its environment on an appropriate scale, in which the analysis of the functional and environmental conditions of the site serves to develop ad hoc responses. The essential thing is to define the places of encounter between the natural and the artificial. Sociopolis promotes urbanity without a traditional urban form. It foments social relations, hybridization, interaction, functional mixicity and the creation of green zones and amenities while proposing the construction of an open interface between the city and the huerta, the irrigated agricultural land outside Valencia. Part of the tension that supports the huerta is due to the ‘red line’ that delineates what is city and what is country. Sociopolis proposes to create an urban space that will act as a pre-park to an open metropolitan space which should include a considerable part of the huerta.
All of the proposed buildings are oriented toward the central landscaped zone, which has a surface area of 120,000 m2, with direct access from the peripheral traffic circuit running around the complex and will also promote social interaction and a sense of community. The public buildings will have rental housing intended for young people under thirty and elderly people, and at the same time all of the buildings will fulfil their public vocation by means of programmes that encourage social relations, such as an arts centre, a kindergarten, a sports zone, a social centre, a youth centre and studios for artists.