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Community choice

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Brian Avery's visionary ATH modular housing system uses stackable, expandable prefabricated room units Architect Brian Avery has been talking with Corus about constructing the modular elements of his visionary ATH modular housing system. Architect for both the Museum of the Moving Image and the new Imax cinema at Waterloo as well as the new RADA theatre in Bloomsbury, he has designed a number of projects around the lift-access stackable prefabricated room units, the most recent of which is Wilderness City, a proposal for compact high-density towns in wild countryside.

There is a great deal in Avery's general proposition about the nature of the future community of which Wilderness City is an example, which will be familiar to aficionados of such 1960s architectural heroes as Yona Friedman, Archigram, Cedric Price, John Habraken and maybe the Situationists. And Avery has the advantage that he's been able to develop the proposition as things have changed: the heroes had an inkling of the possibilities of the electronic technology to come, Avery is living with them.

His proposition is that 'as the electronic revolution takes effect, industrial production facilities will become ever smaller and more environmentally benign. Linked by global communications and rendered autonomous by cheap business machines, industries will become more and more decentralized and decreasingly dependent on historical and geographical factors. . . they will become less constrained to the town.'

Avery has a very clear idea of that new housing. The basic module is 4m wide and up to 8m deep. Designed to be prefabricated in room pod sizes, the house is expandable simply by adding units. So, to use the example offered by Avery, a young couple would order a two- or three-room unit and, as their family size grew, would add bedrooms, an office, workroom and so on. Because it is possible to expand in this way, people have less incentive to move - thus fostering the rebirth of community. Avery says, 'it would be possible for families to remain rooted in their neighbourhood for the rest of their lives' simply because they lived in houses which accommodated and even celebrated the fact that people's housing needs change.

A standard pod features a clip-on prefabricated facade incorporating glazing and a furniture hoist hatch. For centuries Amsterdammers have been hinging open or temporarily removing the sash windows in their narrow-gutted houses and hauling up furniture on small permanent cranes, so there is good precedent for this part of Avery's proposal.Cells are stacked on top of each other or added to the side or back to back depending on the configuration of the whole block. In a sense, blocks composed of these cells are organic because they can grow in shape and form over time.On the other hand, it is possible to deploy the cell strategy to create architectural harmony by composing (and later recomposing) the clip-on fronts in a different array. No messy and anarchic Habraken-style support structures here.

Although blocks would have integral fire stairs, a critical element in the Avery proposal is the use of two-person voice-controlled linear-drive lift systems to move rapidly between floors. Such buildings would have a 24m height limit - the historic average in London and Paris.

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