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The winning project creates free space within the city

Architecture students submitted 36 projects for microliving apartments in the Hawa Student Award 2020 competition. Jury President András Pálffy explains what the challenges were – and how the winning project foiled expectations.

Among architecture students in Switzerland, Germany and Austria, few awards are as coveted as the Hawa Student Award. Microliving was the central theme of the 2020 competition. The fictional building projects were situated at the approx. 7,000 square meter big area of the bus station in Zurich, Switzerland. The contest sought convincing solutions for a residential apartment building with 250 to 300 small apartments, including spaces for common use, such as relaxing areas and coworking spaces. The existing bus station had to be harmoniously integrated into the project.

Mr. Pálffy, you’ve been working as an architect and professor for over 30 years. How have the demands of living changed in the urban environment over this time?
Thirty years ago there were significantly more properties available for constructing buildings on. The cost pressure affecting residential construction was lower than it is today. Back then, the challenges we faced in residential construction were less than in today's growth phase. The high demand for living space in urban centers has imposed design restrictions and places economic pressure on the planning of apartments to ensure they remain affordable. Today apartments must satisfy demanding requirements: they must give inhabitants the greatest possible versatility and spatial availability within a compact floor plan. It's also interesting to note the fact that due to shrinking personal living space and increasing building density, public outdoor spaces are gaining in importance and undergoing improvements. The prevailing conception of living quality is also expanding to include outdoor spaces.

City planner

András Pálffy, born in Budapest, is a professor at Vienna Technical University and Chair of the Institute for Architecture and Design. He served as President of the Vienna Secession association of fine artists from 2007 to 2013. He has maintained an architectural practice with Christian Jabornegg in Vienna since 1988.

A large apartment was long considered a status symbol. But now younger people are increasingly accepting less living space in favor of a central location. Is this a countertrend?
This impression is misleading. It overlooks the family phase of life, which still exists for the majority of people today. For this reason I believe that people tend to live in small, centrally located apartments for two reasons. On the one hand, they do so during the life phase in which one has only minimal requirements for their living environment. During this time, people lay the economic foundation that will later enable them to move into a higher-quality living environment. On the other hand, increasing numbers of people live in both the city as well as in the country. They spent two to three days a week in the city for occupational reasons and would rather not stay at a hotel during these periods. They therefore rent a small apartment that enables at least a modicum of individuality. Such people spend the rest of the week at their principal place of residence in the country, where they can afford significantly more living space. In my opinion, this model is currently becoming a trend and is supported by effective public transportation connections.

"Many people have two residences: one in the city and a larger one in the country."

What place will microliving have in the European cities of the future?
The cities of Europe are all very different. In the future, microliving will play an important role wherever land is in short supply. In such places, available apartments are rare and expensive. The market has to create offerings that cater accordingly.

In terms of planning, what specific requirements apply to the minimized apartments?
One particular challenge consists in offering, within a very small area, a living environment that can be changed around and respond again and again to new spatial desires.

This adaptability can be achieved by using flexible floor plans and movable elements. Is there a hierarchy here?
My position is clear: no matter what type of residential building one builds, quality is always determined by the maximum availability of the space. Therefore no area can be wasted and the rooms should be able to fulfill several different functions. If the living area is small, as an architect one really has to consider how this quality can be achieved. Room elements that support versatile uses can also play a role here.

You served as jury president for this year's Hawa Student Awards. How significant for the students are architecture competitions sponsored by companies?
First of all, the students are inspired by the challenge of dealing with an exciting topic and naturally also the prospect of winning the prize money. Moreover participation in the contest may help with a subsequent employment application.

What’s your motivation for serving on the award jury again, for a total of three times?
Although it may sound sentimental: on the one hand, it’s my affection for the products of Hawa Sliding Solutions, which I've known and loved since my student days. On the other hand, the connection between the people at Hawa Sliding Solutions and me has grown over the years. We have great respect for one another.

The Hawa Student Award 2020 asked the students to design solutions for a microliving project right in the heart of Zurich. What were the greatest challenges?
The creative tension between the objective of creating optimized living forms, on the one hand, and creating an appropriate solution for the built urban environment, on the other, was difficult to manage. Contestants had to consider whether to just spatially compress the apartment itself in terms of small floor area, or whether the entire building would result in increased subsequent density in the overall context of the neighbourhood. In other words: the question about the socially tolerable density had to be answered not just for the individual apartment, but also at the macro level – from the built urban environment right down to the sleeping berth.

As a solution, the winning project proposes a slender high rise. What set this work apart?
First, the clarity and self-evident quality with which the authors arranged the bus parking areas on an open area. This solution creates a great deal of urban open space and it isn’t necessary to cut down the trees on the property. Yet there is still room for a sufficient number of parking bays for the buses in the building itself, where passengers can board and unload under shelter. The high rise is also convincing. For one thing, it clearly separates the private spaces and common spaces into different volumes. For another, it is vertically subdivided into clear units that each span three stories. And finally, I like that the new building's footprint in the city is relatively small and connects to the existing structures.

1st prize


Author: Nathalie Birkhäuser, Roman Venzin
University: University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland FHNW
Prize award: 5,500 Francs

The parcel upon which the bus station currently stands in Zurich presented the students with tricky challenges. Today the public square forms a large open area and with its complement of trees, ensures green space in the neighbourhood; moreover, the fictional new building project had to find a way through to the small adjacent structures to the northwest. Nathalie Birkhäuser and Roman Venzin succeeded in meeting all the requirements with a clear placement of the buildings: they concentrate all uses in a slim, disc-shaped high rise as well as a two-story annex that docks onto the main building at a right angle. Both buildings stand in the southwest corner of the parcel. Therefore they keep the public square free while simultaneously making it possible to preserve most of the trees. The jury was convinced not only by

the positioning and overall form of the buildings, but also their inner zoning as well as the design of the individual residential units. The covered boarding and unloading places for the buses as well as the infrastructure for the passengers are housed on the ground floor of the two-story annex as well as in the basement of the high rise. The story above this houses the spaces to be used in common by the building residents. The 264 residential units, of which 198 have just one and 66 have two rooms, are all housed in the high rise. Despite having a small area, the individual apartments offer different usage zones with high quality of living. Such as a niche with a window for the bed; a living area; a small, private balcony facing southwest and a semi-private outdoor space near the arcade on the northeast side.

2nd prize

ZCP-Galeriewohnen am Zürcher Carpark

Author: Christian Bischoff, Jonas Trittmann
University: Leibniz University Hanover
Prize award: 4,500 Francs

A square multi-use foyer forms the heart of Christan Bischoff and Jonas Trittmann's project – a 35 by 35 meter covered urban space. Aside from serving as a waiting area for bus passengers, it also functions as a marketplace or exhibition space. The multi-use foyer is bounded on the northwest and northeast side by two L-shaped residential towers with 11 and 19 stories, respectively. They are connected by a common access tower located between the two parts of the building. The boarding and unloading zones for the bus passengers can be sealed off with large folding gates and are located on the ground floor of the shorter residential tower. Within the building, sets of two stories with apartments form a unit with a commonly used winter garden, which also serves as horizontal access. The jury especially liked the project’s sensible positioning of the buildings on the property and the clear separation of public and private uses.

3rd prize


Author: Jiahui Zou, Jiaying Zhu
University: Stuttgart university
Prize award: 2,000 Francs

The proposal by Jiahui Zou and Jiaying Zhu places great value on the quality of the public outdoor spaces. They therefore arrange the bus station in the first basement, and the apartments and commonly used spaces for the building residents in a discshaped high rise, which stands perpendicular to the two streets that run parallel to the property. The building divides the parcel into a public square to the southeast and a green area to the northwest. A central access core in the center of the building not only connects all of the stories with one another, but also houses part of the commonly used spaces. One element that also convinced the jury was the design of the individual apartments. Thanks to a sophisticated arrangement of the bath, kitchen, living and sleeping areas in just 22 square meters of floor area, they even offer an area for residents that can be freely reconfigured.

Highly qualified jury

The 36 submissions were evaluated by a jury lead by András Pálffy, professor at the Technical University of Vienna. He was joined on the jury by Bettina Götz (University of the Arts, Berlin), Annette Spiro (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich), Hans Gangoly (Graz University of Technology), Hermann Kaufmann (Technical University of Munich) and Dominique

Salathé (University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland ). The jury received reinforcements from professional judges: Heinz Haab, CEO of Hawa Sliding Solutions, as well as Anke Deutschenbaur, the company's Project Manager for Marketing and Communication. The total prize amount disbursed for the Hawa Student Award was 12,000 Francs.

Microliving, Hawa Student Award
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