Dwelling in Commonality: Redefining Boundaries towards an Architecture of Community

Abigail Hilario

Hero Abi H

The vast development of residential structures has created monotonous expanses of building conformity which lack key ingredients of urban unity and less feeling for urban community. This thesis proposes a new typology of dwelling for the design and development of an urban village in the outskirts of Auckland CBD. It seeks to redefine dwellings as a microcosm of community architecture and in doing so, challenges the preconceptions of modern dwellings. This is through the investigation of the architectural elements that comprise the idea of dwellings at three different scales: the individual, the collective, and the greater public. Through this, the project explores how architecture can be a medium to support an alternative mode of dwelling that fits within the contemporary context of compact living and increased density. The project aims to suggest that connectivity and the place of community is not restricted to the ground plane. Instead, its qualities and richness can be brought into all planes. This is a step towards breaking away from the stigma of living in social isolation, which is associated with verticality, density and small spaces.

The thesis analysed models of village communities that have created their own typology. In the spatial arrangement of these communities, there is a particular dependence on the street and laneway network, where there is the capacity for domestic elements to spill into public space. Urban informality enabled micro-flows of information, materials and social practices that made life sustainable for the inhabitants even under impoverished conditions.

The Neolithic Village Çatalhöyük in Anatolia, Turkey, showcased the practice of clustering private dwellings adjacent to one another, and led for the roof plane to be used as a main path of circulation and a place of social gathering.

The Kowloon Walled City exemplified intense vertical densification and led to the multi-functionality of spaces. Because of this, places of communality and places of privacy exist in the same plane of hierarchy, and many find that they do not need to leave the confines of the city.

Robin Evans’ writing on 18th century London slums presented a condition of private dwelling where every possible space is occupied. This led to an investigation of a model of a private dwelling composed of interlinked rooms, pushing the function of hallways and corridors to a common thoroughfare.

Then, there is the informality of the Favelas’ urban pattern. The layering and stacking of modular volumes and their incremental process of construction has prompted stairs to become a typology of common social space.



Through models and drawings, the concept of how single elements can be collaged and layered over another to establish new conditions was explored. Reminiscent of earlier precedent studies, the method suggested the individuality of each dwelling. The thesis then continues to question and analyse how the actions of dwelling can be used as boundary conditions to establish the commonality and relationship between personal dwelling and collective dwelling. It aims to find the balance between the two realms of public and private to conceptualise a dwelling that allows for the security found within the privacy of a home, and a place for communication and nourishment of social relationships cultivated in the publicness of urban space. 

The design approach of the project first focused on the spatial and architectural elements of the smaller domestic scale. Simultaneously, it explored how the relationship between private dwellings can be linked through the bigger scale of urban space. 

This is a holistic approach to re-situating private dwellings in the context of belonging to a collective whole in order to endorse an architecture of community.

Development 1
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Development 4

Finished Product

To summarise the design proposal, the village challenges the preconception of what a dwelling is. A dwelling is proposed to be a microcosm of community in which all elements link and refer to a greater context. This is done through three main design implications:

First; the connectivity and relationship of dwellings relies on a main circulation, not only serving as a thoroughfare between dwellings, but also allowing for the communication and exchange of social relationships. Additionally, it defines a space in which collective dwelling can occur.

Second; the circulation is not a formalised structure, but rather informalised in the sense that the expanse of dwellings depend on the changing context. Therefore, the main circulation adapts or moulds informally to the dwelling’s condition.

Third; qualities of public and private element exist within a single dwelling. Overall it looks at how dwellings in a village or settlement link together, and how productively creates a place of communality within the village structure.  

Furthermore, there were three scales in which this was implemented: the resolution of domestic elements, the relationship between dwellings, and the village’s overall relationship with the outer urban context.


Critic's Text

Following the implementation of Auckland’s Unitary Plan there have been many Master of Architecture Professional theses and publications which have looked at ways of improving the design of medium density housing. However very few, in this climate of increased density at all costs, have had the courage to fundamentally question the development values implicit in this process. Abi’s thesis examined the possibility of an architecture that enabled new strategies of communal and cooperative dwelling within the contemporary urban context. Driven by the shrewd observation that, despite the populous context of the city, developer-driven apartment design constructs increased levels of social isolation and their associated pathologies. 

Abi’s thesis argument drew not only from contemporary social science but from an illuminating assembly of architectural precedents.These insightfully selected case studies enabled her to demonstrate humanity’s long history of a tendency towards communality and its diverse architectural expression. Abi’s bibliography shows her research as traversing both historical and theoretical writing as well as contemporary architectural discourse. 

The greatest strengths of her thesis production were her relentless formal and material enquiries which resulted in many inspiring models and abstract compositions.These models began to define systems of formal as well as social organisation which closely informed her final design.The social programme Abi developed for her design was closely tied to her research and its radical and humanist character was explicit in the final complex layout.  Abi’s impressive final models and drawings did not simply describe a building as much as an entire social and architectural programme.  

 - Jeremy Treadwell, supervisor