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Cheap and cheerful: low-cost housing is given an eye-catching and inventive twist on Slovenia's Adriatic coast.

Premiated in the 2004 Emerging Architecture Awards for its imaginative addition to Ljubljana's City Museum (AR December 2004) Ofis is a young Slovenian practice now honing and testing its skills in a series of new housing projects with demanding briefs and unforgiving budgets. Confronted with a serious shortage of housing and stratospheric free-market prices, the Slovenian government has introduced a national housing policy, financed by the Slovenia Housing Fund and also encouraged competitions for new projects in an effort to raise the standard of architecture. Many have been won by younger practices, such as Ofis, but it is perhaps too early to tell whether the fresh thinking generated by youthful brio will percolate more meaningfully around the state subsidised housing system.

First featured in the AR Preview issue last year (April 2005), Ofis's competition-winning scheme for two housing blocks on Slovenia's Adriatic coast is now complete. The brief was for 2800 sq m of accommodation in twin blocks, each containing 30 apartments for sale. Construction costs were nailed down to 600 euros per sq m, which translated into a 1250 euros per sq m selling price. Arranged six per floor over five storeys, dwellings are intended to be affordable, aimed at young couples and families, so space standards are far from generous. As a result, floor plans are admirably modular and economical, with communal areas reduced to a minimum.

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Despite these constraints and the additional drawback of a site on the industrial edge of town, Ofis has succeeded in creating a pair of lively and eye-catching blocks, their facades animated by angular loggias. The tightly packed, regular geometry of the loggias evokes comparisons with the organic structures of nests or beehives. Sun shading and privacy is provided by coloured textile screens, which add to the general gaiety and variety of the composition. Wrapped in timber cladding, the sides of the loggias are perforated to encourage cross ventilation in Izola's hot summers.

By providing precious intermediate indoor/outdoor space, the loggias extend the compact apartments. Flat types range from studios, as the emphasis is on the starter home market, to two-bedroom family units. Internal planning is simple and logical, with flats double banked off a central spinal corridor and ancillary spaces (kitchens, storage and bathrooms) contained in an inner service zone. Larger two-bedroom apartments are placed on the corners to take advantage of the double aspect.

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Living spaces and bedrooms connect directly with the loggias which, unlike conventional terraces, have a greater degree of privacy due to the angular kinks of their geometry. Hence they are more like small rooms or modern versions of the traditional enclosed balconies of Ottoman and Moorish architecture, where intricately carved mashrabyia screens filtered light, air and views. Here, blinds are made from translucent material in jaunty shades of blue, green, pink and yellow, so preserving views and a sense of connectedness with the wider world. The potential for human animation of the loggias is considerable: residents can dine, sit, read, play, sunbathe or even garden. The dogged economy of the internal planning finds giddy release against the playfulness of the facades, adding surprising life to what, on paper, could have been just another very dreary state-sponsored housing block. C. S.

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Article Details
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Author:Slessor, Catherine
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EXSL
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:553
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