Designing for Dommeldange

Smart housing solution relies on ecofriendly architecture and materials.
18 April, 2017
When the Metaform architecture firm in Luxembourg took on a multifamily housing project, they also accepted a number of challenges that came with the territory.
First there was the challenge of the site location on a pronounced curve of a street, perched on a steep grade with a 10-meter height difference.

Next came the 300-year-old trees, which are classified as a protected natural resource under local law. Finally, there was the question of density and how to deliver a sustainable and high quality of life in a series of connected units. That meant ensuring privacy while also fostering community, but it also meant seeing that the units were spacious, bathed in natural light, and departing far from the drab rectangle.
On one side was a large-scale apartment block, and on the other smaller housing units. The first move was to build the new units so they transitioned between the two while opening like a fan within the arc of the curved street. The result was six smaller, vertically shifted units – each 2,250 square meters – rather than the single-block building with a two-story flat basement, which was what zoning allowed.

From the air, it's easy to see the living triangles that are green rooftops on each building. From street level, however, it's just as easy to admire the aluminium triangles that make up the exterior cladding of the buildings.
The units themselves are made of reinforced concrete, with ventilation built into the low-maintenance façade. Their orientation was carefully considered so that the north façade remains mostly closed, but the south and east welcome the warmth and light of the sun.

Those design features, along with solar panels for hot water heating, help meet Luxembourg's requirements for low-energy use buildings. Mineral fiber is used for thermal insulation, while the windows feature three-layered glass in aluminium frames, specially coated with anti-UV film to prevent the building from overheating.
The triangular folds of each unit create both the privacy and connected community the architects envisioned, but the fanning shape also maximizes the natural light and opens up panoramic views of the landscape, city and sky. From the inside, the immaculate spaces in minimalist white are bathed in the natural light that's been so carefully protected. The top floor of each unit, stepping down the site grade from the previous one, allows for uninterrupted views and light for the occupants of each private unit.
On the other hand, the community kitchen, leisure room and similar facilities create common shared indoor spaces that foster the sense of belonging that's so often missing in apartments or townhouses. Another "apartment complex" puzzle that Metaform solved was the parking and storage issue. Rather than long corridors – and the noise that so often comes with them – there are three vertical cores within the entire complex. They connect, directly and safely, to the underground parking and storage spaces, and are made possible by the three-sided apartments that cluster in triangles and support the cores.
Ultimately, the architects designed a 15-unit apartment complex that met all of their design challenges without yielding to the safe but less sustainable standard rectangular apartment house. That work has not gone unnoticed: The Dommeldange housing project now has been nominated for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award 2017.