Peric / The hidden potential of the dvor

The hidden potential of the dvor Reshaping semi-private spaces in Moscow

Author: Bogdan Peric, Politecnico di Milano

Supervisor: Alessandro Rocca, Professor Dr., (Polimi), AUID, DAStU, Politecnico di Milano; Camillo Magni, Politecnico di Milano; Yuri Grigoryan, Prof., Moscow Institute of Architecture

Research stage: Intermediate doctoral stage

Category: Extended abstract

The research explores the semi private spaces between the housing units in the Moscow periphery called dvor. The work is focusing on the model of open space that was generated by the specific architectural conditions during the Soviet standard housing period starting from the mid 50’s. The dvor has become an outcome of the mass construction, shaping a unique open space environment whose contrasting characteristics generated the distinctive fusion between public and private.

This historical phenomenon gives us an extraordinary lesson on the use of the space between the buildings and opens a new perspective to the development of the open space typologies. It is nevertheless important to draw the line, and define a clear difference between the accessible public space and the more intimate semi private character of the dvor.

In order to understand the dvor it is important to investigate the development of these spaces, and analyse the impact of the standard housing typology evolution on the open space.

Historically the dvor was conceived as an additional space behind the house for animal farming, but in course of time evolved into a complex typological variety of outdoor spaces defined by the semi private condition. The space between the buildings was mostly formed as the light well, without any design for the specific functions.

After the revolution, the soviet architectural practice was based on four generations of standard housing experiments 1, which gave the possibility for the development of the specific urban conditions, establishing the new typology of public spaces.

The dvor became a space for social interaction, defined as a threshold space, and usually associated with leisure and daily activities. It could be described by the term of a “common space” used by Stavros Stavrides 2, distinguishing it from the public and private and suggesting the definition of a dvor as the site open to the public in which the rules do not depend on prevailing authority. Indeed, the forms of use of the dvor are more often imposed by the self-organisation of the inhabitants representing their idenity.

The objective of the work is to define the qualities of the dvor in order to determine the architectural design tools: the applicable device that allows developing projects with quality space between the buildings. The idea is to dig into the structure of these spaces, analysing the dvor as a complex architectural typology.

The starting point for this research is the morphological analysis. After the thorough studies of the Moscow urban fabric, it is possible to define the three main categories of the dvor in terms of their shape and permeability: open, closed and semi-open. (fig.1)

Dvor typologies, by author

Figure 1: Dvor typologies, by author

Unlike the western model of private and public, dvor is defined by a liquid structure becoming a transitional space between the private building and the very public street. The perception of its limits is strongly defined by the daily routine along with its physical limits. (fig.2)

Limits of the dvor, by author

Figure 2: Limits of the dvor, by author

From the scientific point of view, there have been numerous studies about the typological development of the housing units from the Soviet period, but there are no sufficient studies about the open space - dvor, which created a peculiar knowledge gap in the research of the public space.

The true meaning of the research is to examine the dvor from the critical point of view and read its architectural context by means of design driven approach.

The semi private characteristics of the dvor represent the unique quality of the space between the buildings. Therefore, this research is focusing on understanding the important architectural issues related to the physical aspects of the dvor such as: the questions of subjective perception of its limits and the disproportion of scale.

The vast territory of the space between the buildings represents an under designed living environment used by the inhabitants, becoming a valuable common space for daily activities with a flexible structure. These particular spatial conditions of the dvor give a significant potential for the future development both for the residential housing and general construction of the city.

The goal of the research is to establish the study of a dvor as an architectural typology by means of research by design methodology composed of the several consistent steps. The idea is to define the physical qualities of dvor typology and illustrate the potential of the Soviet period open space heritage in Moscow.

The work can be divided into two main parts:

Realistic – Learning from the dvor and utopian– “What if?” scenarios

The starting point of the research is based on the analysis of the actual condition – reality, through the typological study of the dvor, defining the specific morphological characteristics and their relation to the context by means of the precise case study selection.

This part of the work is focusing on the fragilities of these spaces, investigating the relation between architecture and the society, as well as the physical impact of the dvor to the living environment.

It is important to focus on the quality of the semi private space and define its role through the understanding of the meaning of the liquid space – transitional public space with no precise boundaries and defined by a subjective perception.

The actual condition study is subsequently divided in two principle approaches. One, based on the idea of walking through, which illustrates the atmosphere and explores the geometrical aspects of the dvor such as the dimensions, distances and proportions. This step is efficiently represented by means of photographical report aiming to communicate the subjective perception of the borders and the general open space structure from the inside of the living environment.

The other approach is based on the view from the top, focusing on the examination of the maps, the documentary drawings and the archives related to the development of each selected case study. The meaning of this important step of the research is the development of the analytical drawing background in order to gather and synthesis the existing knowledge and information about the dvor. (fig.3)

Existing context, by author

Figure 3: Existing context, by author

This preliminary work is crucial in order to illustrate the current spatial condition of the liquid space between the buildings and investigate the potential problematic and fragilities related to the dvor typology.

The second step of the work is related to the experimental design analysis called “What-if?” The idea is based on architectural research by design approach similar to the
scientific laboratory studies by means of experiments. This method focuses on the imaginary considerations and hypothetical scenarios in search of proofs and consequences. (fig.4)

What if diagram, by author

Figure 4: What if diagram, by author

Each alteration of the open space condition generates a new ‘reality’ establishing the dialog between the buildings and a different typology of open space, shifting the limits of dvor. Each of the suggested visions explores a different architectural meaning of the semi private condition.

The utopian design ideas enable to simulate contrasting social and physical relations in order to emphasise the potential qualities of dvor and the liquid space characteristics. A variety of these imaginary scenarios raise a number of research questions helping to acknowledge the problems and fragilities of the dvor typology in a hypertrophied form as under the magnifying glass. (fig.5,fig.6,fig.7,fig.8)

 What if 1, top view, by author

Figure 5: What if 1, top view, by author

What if 1, perspective view, by author

Figure 6: What if 1, perspective view, by author

What if 2, top view, by author

Figure 7: What if 2, top view, by author

What if 2, perspective view, by author

Figure 8: What if 2, perspective view, by author

  1. Meuser, Philipp, Zadorin, Dmitrij (2015): Towards a typology of soviet mass housing: prefabrication in the ussr 1955 - 1991, Dom Publishers, Berlin
  2. Stravrides, Stavros (2016): The city as Commons, Zed books, London