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PREVI Case Study 1: Zamora Family House
Lima, Peru
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Experimental Housing Project: Incremental Courtyard House

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in use
James Stirling
2 July 2014

As one of the 26 architects, James Stirling was invited to design a cluster of dwellings for the PREVI project. The project, which was experimental for it’s time, had certain requirements for the housing design. While only allowing low-rise strutures, the architects were asked to design a high-density scheme. Besides an incremental scheme was requires, for the families to grow their own house around a traditional courtyard.

With three prefabricated components (the walls, the pillars and the floorslabs), James Stirling designed a so-called Hypercasa, an optimum for social investments in housing. The economy of the hyperhouse lies in the ability to bring in family income through renting out apartments, starting small businesses or giving workshops. The house can then generate an income; its value is not only the ability to dwell, but also to strengthen the financial situation of the family and ables them to live.

“James Stirling interpreted the future behaviour of the families with certain amount of accuracy: Stirling houses were the most requested and those that display PREVI’s finest qualities of occupancy” Garcia-Huidobro, Torriti & Tugas, Time Builds! (2008)

Even though it is common in cities with an extended informal occupation, the hyperhouse has a good development in the PREVI project, thanks to the flexibility foreseen in stage zero.

cultural and social context

Thirty years after construction, the Zamora family transformed the original, one-storey dwelling into a three-storey family house, rooms for tenants, a shop, office spaces, dental surgery and even a kindergarten; a Hyperhouse.

The transformation is enornmous and took great advantage of the particular location in the neighbourhood. The corner house ensured a great flow of pedestrians which initiated a first change; opening a shop in the corner courtyard. After extension of the first floor, two of the four children left home. To generate extra income, the Zamora family rented out space - a docter’s surgery and an office.

A flat roof is an essential element in the Peruvian building tradition. In places of high density, which is often the outcome of many individual extensions, the roof compensates the lack of ground area and garden space. With a second floor partially constructed, the daugther runs a nursery on the roof.

Thanks to their privileged position, the Zamora Family House, shows how the process of transformation can add economic value to the neighbourhood (services as shop and nursery) and to the family (income tenants and services). The actual structure – a built perimeter with impassable walls and a free interior defined by only four pillars – ensured optimal conditions for these opportunities. The transformation of the Zamora family is a great example of this.

“One of PREVI’s great successes. People didn’t move out as their financial situation improved. Residents stayed and turned a housing estate into what feels like a middle-class community.” – Justin McGuirk, DOMUS (2011)

materials and building techniques

The three prefabricated components form the original structure of the house. The walls provided a rigid grid which is difficult to modify and defined the property. The pillars marked the corners of the house and provided a strong relationship between the rooms and the central courtyard. The lightweight floorslabs could be erected with self-built method, which made expansions easily possible on top of the original structure. The extensions were proposed above the floors and the corner courtyard, sharing it’s walls with the neighboors.

The lounge and the bedrooms were arranged around the central courtyard, while the kitchen, the bathroom and the service zone were situated around the corner courtyard. Each house had two front doors, one leading directly into the living room, while the second led to the circulation area connecting the entrance to the bedrooms.

Each rooms was foreseen with openings on opposite walls to create natural cross ventilation.

earth and climate

Despite the Peruvian coast is an extended desert, the coastal climate of Lima enjoyes temperatures with great fluctuations, meaning that the minimum habitat has very few building needs. The mats typically used as a material in early construction stages. The wish to built a solid construction is more cultural and led by the available resources than on the climatic needs.

image gallery
Couple in front of their house

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Zamora Family House

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James Stirlings project in 1976

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technical drawings
Plan and Section

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Plans by James Stirling

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Low-cost Housing Floor plans

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