»Tradition is a dare for innovation.«

Alvaro Siza

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Ain't No Mountain

Zvi Hecker's Housing Dream

  • “First one does something which seems original, only to find out that nature was there earlier.” Mountain housing proposal for Amsterdam, 1999. (All images courtesy Zvi Hecker) 1 / 38  “First one does something which seems original, only to find out that nature was there earlier.” Mountain housing proposal for Amsterdam, 1999. (All images courtesy Zvi Hecker)
  • The undulating forms of a mountain range in China... 2 / 38  The undulating forms of a mountain range in China...
  • ...inspires a sketch... 3 / 38  ...inspires a sketch...
  • ...and some abstract colour experimentation... 4 / 38  ...and some abstract colour experimentation...
  • ...which are then combined ... 5 / 38  ...which are then combined ...
  • ...before the slopes evolve into more rectilinear forms... 6 / 38  ...before the slopes evolve into more rectilinear forms...
  • ...and storeys start to be defined... 7 / 38  ...and storeys start to be defined...
  • ...made clear by a section view... 8 / 38  ...made clear by a section view...
  • ...a model is developed... 9 / 38  ...a model is developed...
  • ...giving a sense of scale... 10 / 38  ...giving a sense of scale...
  • ...before the full scheme for the units becomes clear. 11 / 38  ...before the full scheme for the units becomes clear.
  • The plan for Berlin (1995-98) began in a similar way... 12 / 38  The plan for Berlin (1995-98) began in a similar way...
  • ...sketches are developed to establish the basic form of the buildings... 13 / 38  ...sketches are developed to establish the basic form of the buildings...
  • ...this time with a more craggy feel... 14 / 38  ...this time with a more craggy feel...
  • ...and the scheme is mapped out on the neighbourhood of Marzahn... 15 / 38  ...and the scheme is mapped out on the neighbourhood of Marzahn...
  • ...where the units will traverse the axes of the streets... 16 / 38  ...where the units will traverse the axes of the streets...
  • ...and create a punctuated skyline. 17 / 38  ...and create a punctuated skyline.
  • The plan for Bucharest (1995-96) featured a more curved sillhouette. 18 / 38  The plan for Bucharest (1995-96) featured a more curved sillhouette.
  • The arc of the units providing a stark contrast to the straight edged structure of the existing cityscape. 19 / 38  The arc of the units providing a stark contrast to the straight edged structure of the existing cityscape.
  • The scheme is projected onto the existing environment... 20 / 38  The scheme is projected onto the existing environment...
  • ...and occupies a large section of central Bucharest. 21 / 38  ...and occupies a large section of central Bucharest.
  • “Archaic” forms that provide solutions to modern problems.  22 / 38  “Archaic” forms that provide solutions to modern problems. 
  • The project’s Amsterdam incarnation (1999) was characterised by more thickset mountain sillhouettes. 23 / 38  The project’s Amsterdam incarnation (1999) was characterised by more thickset mountain sillhouettes.
  • A section view shows the interconnected structure of the protruding forms... 24 / 38  A section view shows the interconnected structure of the protruding forms...
  • ...with the different parts of the building connected on the ground floor. 25 / 38  ...with the different parts of the building connected on the ground floor.
  • The plan shows densely packed apartments on the sixth floor... 26 / 38  The plan shows densely packed apartments on the sixth floor...
  • ...and more generously spacious apartments on the eleventh. 27 / 38  ...and more generously spacious apartments on the eleventh.
  • A three dimensional working drawing shows the depth of the “Mountains”. 28 / 38  A three dimensional working drawing shows the depth of the “Mountains”.
  • The process of development through sketching is repeated with wooden models, first with the basic forms... 29 / 38  The process of development through sketching is repeated with wooden models, first with the basic forms...
  • ...followed with some texturing... 30 / 38  ...followed with some texturing...
  • ...then a more detailed look at the interior structure. 31 / 38  ...then a more detailed look at the interior structure.
  • The whole scheme is revealed...in technicolour! 32 / 38  The whole scheme is revealed...in technicolour!
  • Perhaps a welcome addition to a place oft-referred to as sinking city… 33 / 38  Perhaps a welcome addition to a place oft-referred to as sinking city…
  • ...Hecker’s alpine installation for the 2000 Venice Biennale… 34 / 38  ...Hecker’s alpine installation for the 2000 Venice Biennale…
  • ...proposed to elevate the land alongside the banks of The Grand Canal. 35 / 38  ...proposed to elevate the land alongside the banks of The Grand Canal.
  • Despite Hecker’s high-rise proposal modelled here‚ Berlin remains a predominantly low-rise city... 36 / 38  Despite Hecker’s high-rise proposal modelled here‚ Berlin remains a predominantly low-rise city...
  • ...however the same cannot be said for another city in his sights, London... 37 / 38  ...however the same cannot be said for another city in his sights, London...
  • ...one of the few places where the peaks of any mountain housing would now likely be towered over by megastructures of a rather different type. 38 / 38  ...one of the few places where the peaks of any mountain housing would now likely be towered over by megastructures of a rather different type.

While trawling his archives for our Zvi Hecker issue, uncube became entranced with the architect’s “Mountains”, an urban housing masterplan imagined for European cities from London to Bucharest and inspired by undulating natural forms. “The ‘Mountains’ project doesn’t imitate Nature, but mimics it” argues Zvi, who sought to introduce a new paradigm for grand ensemble housing projects that rejected the rectilinear and the monolithic in favour of the organic. Despite its soaring ambitions, the project has not yet made it to fruition, so for now allow uncube to take you through the peaks and valleys of the “Mountain” housing story.

Zvi Hecker first introduced this project proposal in 1994 for the “Green Heart of the Netherlands” competition in Rotterdam. As well as mimicking the asymmetrical arc of a mountain, his housing units would serve to define the frontier of the city, much like the natural borders created by mountain chains and hills at the backs of cities such as Kyoto and Santiago de Chile. The formidable structures would provide high density residential units with the aim of constructing a new type of environment and “to provide different living conditions within this environment”.

Hecker’s proposal was unsuccessful in Rotterdam but undaunted he has continued to create various adaptations. In 1996 he submitted a version for Bucharest, Romania at the “International urban planning competition: Bucharesti 2000”, this time with a line of “Mountains” traversing the centre of the city and forming an arched skyline.

Still unbuilt, still unperturbed, Berlin was the next city to host Zvi’s summits in its imagined sightlines; this time with sharper peaks contained in the eastern neighbourhood of Marzahn. And so it continued, with plans for London, Amsterdam and Achtkamp and an alpine installation for the 2000 Venice Biennale, each one rising and falling like the very forms they hoped to replicate.

As Hecker himself notes, “housing as a subject of interest…diminished over the eighties and nineties”. Perhaps the return of housing to architectural discussions will signal a re-emergence of Zvi’s mountain range and the eventual realisation of the project, taking it from the Sisyphean to the spectacular.

-George Kafka

For more, both built and imagined, from the oeuvre of this visionary architect visit uncube issue no. 41: Zvi Hecker.

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