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Chun Wai Cheung

Finding The Common Land
Aldo Van Eyck's Orphanage

Finding The Common Land

Base on the United Nations projected that nowadays almost half of the population in the world are living in the urban area. In the same report, it projected that the global proportion of urban population will rise to 60% by 2030. People keep moving from village to the city in this hundred of year. By solving the housing problem, lots of high density residential buildings, complex are built. The study of the “vertical suburban” start in early of 20thCentury. The unité d'habitation inMarseilleis one of the example applying the concept of “vertical suburban” , which also bring out Le Corbusier's vision of communal living to solving the housing problem of post-war France, which would have a profound impact on multi-family housing projects. Same as the result of unité d'habitation inMarseilleis,lot of high density residential complex do not have much success. The current phenomenon recognize when people live closer inside a high density vertical suburban. The relationship of neighbor can not get closer or keep normal. Oppositely, it emphasize the distance between people and the loneness and emptiness of people. That indicate the failure of functional communal area inside the high density living environment.

The dwellers' communal life of Lower Ngua Tau Kok Estate in between its inner corridor and public pathway was captured by a Hong Kong photographer, John Choy. From the images, it shows the unique usage of the connection between flat to flat, floor to floor, inside to outside, those common area recorded the daily life of the people, simultaneously created their collective atmosphere and memories. In the description of Choy's photography exhibition, it end up with “The new public housing supplanting the estates offer better conditions in every measurable way – and yet, the community itself has become somehow colder and more alienated.” The core of this research is a reaction to this phenomenon, the raise of individualism, and a rethinking and revitalization of the humanist values in architecture and living environment.   
The general definition of community is a group of interacting people living in a physical, common location. Firstly, by using the LNTK estate as an example, a community is always addressed with a physical location. This vertical community is build up by corridor, connecting lobby, path way, shopping street and playground. Those surrounding common spaces physically connecting units together, weaving the social fabric to created their own collective culture and memory. As Christopher Alexander mentions those different kind of “activity nodes” is essential for generating communal relationship. 1Dutch architect, Aldo van Eyck express his passion of exploring the possibility of enriching the meaning of humanity inside a common area and transform it to the communal place. In his design for an Orphanage (1957-62) in Amsterdam, the arrangement of the rooms allowed him to create indoor and outdoor spaces, both open and closed, depending on the 
function.  These spaces flow into one another, creating a greater intimacy. As Francis Strauven mentioned “In Van Eyck's conception of architecture the “inbetween” is by no means leftover space, a void between built volumes (something it tends to be in modern architect and planning) but is elevated to a substantial place . It be come the place where architecture 'breathes in and out', a place whose visualized ambivalences satisfy essential human ones. It becomes space, conceived 'in the image of man'.”2Unfortunately, those substantial place is not easy to be found in current high density residential building, because of the physical limitation always exist in the situation.   
Since the invention of technology, especially internet, the concept of community and sharing no longer have a physical limitations. As Peter Weibel mentions “long distance communication without a body means that technology can surpass the limits of physical space.”3The “activity nodes” can be transcend the physical limitation by different ways of communication. On the same article, he express his notion of emancipation of unmarked space since “the architecture begins where the body-centered experience of space of classical architecture end.” Clearly the private residential space is always an over -marked space compare with the unmarked common corridor and other common facilities. The unmarked communal space can be remarked by this detachable non-bodied communication.   
Another fundamental element of communal living is interaction between people. In particular, a face to face interaction which have been show to have greater impacts then non-face to face relationships. However, in psychological aspect, psychologist McMillan & Chavis propose that the Sense of Community is composed of four elements, “membership”, “influence”, “integration and fulfillment of needs” and “shared emotional connection”. Sharing emotional connection is one of deeply interaction inside the communal life, which base on the face to face interaction and beyond this interaction. They summarize the statement on shared emotional connection that "it seems to be the definitive element for true community"4and mention the role of shared history (participation in or at least identification with it) is important to communal relationship. As Lars spuybroek mention in “Motorization of Reality”, “The (perspective) instruments for recording (reality) are always instruments of creation (of reality).”. Visualizing the communal place act as a recording instrument of people daily life and simultaneously creating their emotional connection, the connection between people to people and people to space. The connection developed by their action, reaction and interaction inside the place. A collective trace will leave in both the place and people's mind. The communal place is a record device simultaneously a continuous process, an environmental artwork creating by the community.   
Today the existing communal facilities is disregarded. The technology and new notion bring out a new order of forming a community, for better or for worse, the new vision of collective consciousness come. The new spatial possibilities of the “inbetween” from physical to virtual interaction is need to be explored. Re-injecting the humanist values to architecture and reforming a new common land for the in the high density living environment is essential to the future urban development. As Christopher Alexander empathize the importance of communal space by saying “Without common land no social system can survive”.   
1Christopher Alexander(1977). A Pattern Language. P.87
2Francis Strauven (1996). Aldo Van Eyck's Orphanage. P.11
3Peter Weibel. Machine-Experienced Space. Volume 14. P.158
4McMillan, D.W., & Chavis, D.M. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. American Journal of Community Psychology. P.14