Community In A Cube
by FAT


An assortment of building typologies appear to be stacked on top of one another at this housing block in Middlesborough, England, by London architects FAT (+ slideshow).

CIAC Housing by FAT

The Community In A Cube (CIAC) building was first conceived as part of a larger masterplan drawn up by architect Will Alsop in 2004 for a site beside the city's old docks. Other ideas for the development included a building shaped like a toaster and an apartment block resembling a stack of Jenga pieces.

CIAC Housing by FAT

The crash in the economy stalled almost all of these projects, so nearly ten years later FAT's cartoon-like building is the first and only project to complete. FAT director Sean Griffiths told Dezeen he is confident it won't stand alone for long: "The developers were trying to add a bit of of pizazz and glamour, which I think was a great idea and I think it will in time spark more development."

CIAC Housing by FAT

The nine-storey building comprises three tiers. At the lowest level, a gabled timber chalet sits alongside a row of shop units, which together support a six-storey apartment block in the middle section. Above this, two vernacular houses appear to be sitting on the roof.

"The idea was that it was like a little urban village," said Griffiths. "It was about assembling disparate elements you would think of as incongruous into a collage that has an expression of community."

CIAC Housing by FAT

He continued: "You have a thing that looks like a Swiss chalet on the ground floor, which was going to be the the local community pub. Then you have housing on the roof that taps into local culture. They're not exactly ordinary houses, more of an aesthetic expression you'd be more likely to find in New England or Kent, but they become very odd because they sit on top on an apartment building."

CIAC Housing by FAT

A total of 82 apartments are accommodated within the U-shaped plan and fold around a central south-facing courtyard. Balconies extend out over this space, while more are located in a large recess on the northern facade.

CIAC Housing by FAT

The architects used a variety of materials to give the building its colourful appearance. Purplish engineering bricks appear on the outward-facing elevations, while the walls flanking the courtyards and recesses are clad with timber and decorated with a black-painted lattice.

CIAC Housing by FAT

Apertures in the walls are created with a pattern of triangular, circular and square perforations. On the opposite side, the main stairwell is highlighted with geometric patterns in pink, green and blue.

CIAC Housing by FAT

"Our general philosophy about architecture is that much of it is very dull with no sense of exuberance, or any openness to a wider variety of influences and sources" added Griffiths. "This building is part of our expression that architecture should contribute something more memorable."

CIAC Housing by FAT

The entrance to the building sits beneath a parapet of cloud motifs, where a single flight of stairs leads up to the terrace, then a spiral staircase winds up to the main access corridor on the second floor. This sequence was designed to encourage interaction between residents.

Heating and hot water for the building comes from a wood chip biomass boiler, plus the walls are heavily insulated to stop heat from escaping.

CIAC Housing by FAT

Architecture studio FAT, short for Fashion Architecture Taste, is run by three directors; Charles Holland, Sean Griffiths and Dezeen-columnist Sam Jacob. They're also currently working on a house inspired by fairytales and recently completed a museum of copying at the Venice Architecture Biennale. See more architecture by FAT.

See more housing projects on Dezeen, including another pile of buildings in France.

CIAC Housing by FAT

Above: spatial organisation diagram

Here's a project description from FAT:

FAT Architecture have recently completed CIAC, an £11.8M, 82 unit housing project in north east England. Designed for a joint venture client comprising developers BioRegional and Quintain, the brief was to deliver a highly sustainable, landmark housing project.

CIAC Housing by FAT

Above: site plan - click for larger image

The buildings simple block form is eroded and sliced by different housing typologies, courtyards, shared amenities, garden space and circulation routes to create a vertical community, from which its nickname ‘Community In A Cube’ is derived. The architectural language explicitly expresses the diversity of the buildings community to create a rich visual and spatial experience.

CIAC Housing by FAT

 Above: ground floor plan

Flats have generous 2.7m floor to ceiling heights, and are carefully planned to maximise dual aspect views that take advantage of the buildings waterside location. Circulation links the shared garden space with the public square below though planted terracing, encouraging a strong link between public, semi public and private space. The building addresses its surrounding public space with commercial units, a community centre and a pub to form a streetscape while its higher levels respond to the scale of the surrounding docks and city.

CIAC Housing by FAT

Above: first floor plan

Materially, the building uses a pallet of tougher brick to its exterior, responding to the industrial landscape of the old docks. Its interior court is lined with a softer, warmer timber to which graphic motifs and planting are used to add to its intimate, sheltered character.

CIAC Housing by FAT

Above: second floor plan

CIAC follows the "One Planet Living" principles developed by Bioregional and WWF to promote the concepts of sustainable living and ecological footprinting addressing carbon emissions, recycling, transport, materials, opportunities for on-site food production, water consumption, biodiversity, sustainable community structure, and access to pleasant outdoor space. Exceeding an Eco Homes Excellent rating, it's sustainable design features include a high thermal performance for the external envelope and a wood chip biomass boiler which meets 100% of the buildings demand for heating and hot water as well as providing capacity for further neighboring developments.

CIAC Housing by FAT

Above: section from north to south

  • marco

    Congratulations. This is even worse than the last stacked-houses project I saw published on Dezeen.

  • Venturi

    The duck, or the decorated shed?

  • Argh

    This is quite possibly the ugliest thing I have ever seen. Ever.

    • Crackle n Pop

      I thought we agreed Lyons RMIT took that prize ?!

    • Yo mamma

      If you actually venture out into the world you may find something that is truly ugly not just worry about some new houses for people to live in. Try looking at the fur trade in China or genocide in Mali.

  • Will

    A mere mishmash of typologies does not invent a new one. An investigation of new typologies is what is needed. This is pretty but lazy. I am from Middlesbrough and I find it offensive that some trendy firm is stamping an architectural ideology on an area which needs honest work not trends and “trendsetters”.

    • tittly

      Architects can’t deal with problems because they can barely deal with their own egos. Architects need to listen, not sulk about what could have been.

  • Ross

    The only suitable use of this structure would be a prison that focuses on art therapy.

  • leo

    Is that post-post-post-postmodernism, mashed with a sort of revival mashed with some quote of Kahn? Blah – it´s just ugliness, stacked.

  • Graham

    Is this where all the country's human mascots live?

  • Jenny

    Fantastic, beautiful, patterned, imaginative, considered. Call it ugly, fine – a lot of people don’t like FAT’s work, but “lazy” or “trendy stamping” it isn’t.

    2.7 floor to ceiling, dual aspect flat? I’d kill for that! Look at how it celebrates the promenade and civic space. Just fantastic and (gasp) DIFFERENT!

  • Nick

    This is, in a way, an interesting idea. It’s certainy not my cup of tea but if you decide to go down the “anything goes” route to change people’s perceptions of a place, then maybe this works. As long as the apartments themselves work and the space around the block is a vibrant, working area with a well-defined public realm, all good.

    However, that isn’t the case. The photographer has done their best to hide the fact that this building stands almost entirely alone in a huge windswept area of ex-industrial land. That “pub” on the ground floor lies empty (last time I looked) and no one will want it while the area is so deserted.

    Added to that, the masterplan is actually for a number of similar “wacky” towers in a row, surrounded by swathes of open space. Where have we seen that before? The 1960s/70s tower blocks that became hugely disfunctional in part because it involved big blocks of apartments in distant locations with few local facilities, swimming in the middle of poorly defined areas of space. So it’s exactly the same, but with “cer-ay-zee” wallpaper.

    Not FAT’s fault. Definitely Alsop’s fault.

  • Trunz

    Relax, people! It’s architecture and therefore does nothing else other than provide shelter. I’m sure the people buying/living there enjoy it. Can’t stand architect snobiness! This part of the reason why architecture doesn’t seem to break barriers with the ordinary folks and remains an elite game.

    • marco

      Isn’t this pretentious joke the real architectural snobiness, while real architects do a pretty good job making great buildings?

      • Douglas

        But who defines what’s great? Who defines what’s rea’ or honest, as another poster has proposed all architecture should be?

        Architecture doesn’t exist to conform to tepid ideologies and please other architects (usually embittered ones whose work is remarkable only for being unremarkable). The local resident is king in architecture – if they like it, it’s a success.

    • Ema

      Does nothing else other than provide shelter? I can only assume your home is just a coat propped up on sticks if its only purpose is for shelter.

  • Rogerashman

    This is my cup of tea. FAT’s design is much more refined than other stacked building schemes I’ve seen. The simple apartment blocks enriched by hints of playfulness and gable-end ornament created by the two vernacular houses on top work together to give something actually interesting to look at. I love the timber clad internal elevation articulated with simple shaped balconies.

    It’s something simply different and I think it’s great. It would be good to see some more of the quality of the rooms.

  • Gemma

    Ah dear god – that is just vile. The spaces created are very desirable, but the overall aesthetic? I’m lost for words.

  • mmmhhh

    From what’s visible on the plan I really pity the eight poor guys whose bedrooms will open on nothing but an inner courtyard with no light and a pinkish core. Not only is the painting ugly, but the apartment layout is of poor quality.

  • I’m surprised by the negative comments. I’d love to live in such a building. Maybe Middlesborough would be a bit of a push, but hey.

    • Yo mamma

      You obviously have not been to the ‘Boro. They have this thing called community, you should check it out sometime.

  • JayCee

    Fashion Architecture Taste indeed. This will be the clear winner of next year’s Carbuncle Cup. Shame, because the plans are actually quite elegant.

  • Prole

    Community in a desolate post-industrial nightmare.

  • Amy

    This tyranny of fun must end.

  • sw

    Why so serious?

    Whenever I see work from FAT a little bit inside of me dies. I look at their work and it reminds me that they seem to be the only architects working right now that are having any real fun with design. Like it or hate it, if architecture was more fun the built environment would, on the whole, be a happier, more memorable place. Compare this to the depressing housing blocks going up everywhere around you, its a no brainer.

    These comments need to lighten up.

  • ollie

    It’s annoying, I’m not surprised by the general lack of acceptance of this building. It demonstrates how frightened people are of something different. This attitude is why most new architecture in this country is so awful. FAT’s architecture on the other hand is beautiful and inspirational. More of it would hopefully cheer some of this miserable mob up!

    • mik

      I don’t need to like this just because it is different. People are not afraid of new architecture. There are plenty of other projects like this one, the difference is that this is the ugliest one.

      Maybe the answer is to design fun-palace trash cities for people like you Ollie. Then serious architecture can breed and spread.

      • Douglas

        Define “serious”.

  • 000

    Wonderfully disruptive.

  • Bruce Lee

    “… have housing on the roof that taps into local culture. They’re not exactly ordinary houses, more of an aesthetic expression you’d be more likely to find in New England or Kent….”

    Two sentences that directly contradict each other. How is the vernacular architecture of Kent, or for that matter East Coast USA “local culture”?

    There’s post-modernism, and then there’s stupidity.

  • Kyle

    Why are community housing projects forced to be guinea pigs for typologies? Despite its ‘playful’ appearance this project looks cold and slightly sinister. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live there. It looks like a prison for clowns.

    • rorystott

      “Why are community housing projects forced to be guinea pigs for typologies?”

      What? Community housing projects are community housing projects. Within this typology, you can have new design paradigms, but if you want a new design paradigm for a community housing project you have to try it out on a community housing project. It’s not like this project is being used as a testing ground for the latest ideas in stadium design.

      I will admit that new paradigms for community housing do pop up more often than for other typologies, but this is likely because (shock, horror!) historically community housing has been rubbish.

  • sebastian

    OMG my eyes hurt, this project is one of the worst things I have ever seen in my life.

    • Yo mamma

      You soft-headed rotter. You have led a pretty sheltered life. Try checking out how China harvest fur from animals. I think a new building for people to live in is actually quite nice.

  • Michaela

    If my daugther of (not yet) ten years old was asked to design stacked dwellings this would be probably the result. Absolutely painful.

  • Coffee?

    I think this is fantastic! For those who are having emotions stirred by this, that means it is working! It’s the architecture that you do not care about that you have to watch out for.

  • Robert Hughes would be laughing if he could see this.

  • There is nothing F-ashionable, A-rchitectural or T-asteful about this building. It's a hot mess. *smh*

  • geo

    If we all chip in we can buy them some more balloons and get them UP and back on track to Paradise Falls where maybe Dug and Kevin the bird can help them?

  • Ollie

    Or maybe you could have your way and live in a city designed by the likes of Broadway Malyan. Good luck explaining to the next generation why their environment looks exactly the same as everywhere else on the planet. Or perhaps that makes you feel at home, like going into your favourite Starbucks!

  • Less is more

    FAT (Fashion Architecture Taste) – presumably the name is supposed to be ironic. Fair play to the developers for taking a gamble to achieve something different but good luck trying to flog all those flats to a) a market with niche design taste b) prospective buyers in one of the most economically deprived areas of the UK.

  • bonsaiman

    It is already a ghost building, making the surroundings look even creepier. Imagine this ten years in the future.

  • Roger Emmerson

    Come back, Stanley Tigerman, all is forgiven.

  • less is a bore

    Just because of the simple fact that everyone is so upset I think this is great! Architecture needs diversity and this is a fine example. Why is everyone so afraid of anything that can be related to postmodernism? We need symbolism, we need playfulness.

  • Dezeen. Can you please give us an update when this building is fully leased/owned?

  • Anton Huggler

    …the bottom structure is a “Swiss Chalet”? It looks more like a manufactured trailer home made in USA. A Swiss Chalet it certainly isn’t. I know, I am Swiss. This whole project is a joke. A bad one.

    • Julius Jääskeläinen

      I take it that by “this whole project” you mean the project of increasing general happiness for the population within the capitalist mode of production. I agree.

  • Jack

    I'm mortified that this is in my home town.

  • Yo mamma

    You moaning Southerners can’t take it, the fact that we just got a nice new building. HA! It’s about time some money was spent on regeneration in the North East.

  • Rob T

    The most vomit-inducing design seen since the Fiat Multipla.

  • Gary Walmsley

    Yeesh – it looks like several bad designs were just arbitrarily grafted onto each other.

    Laughable that it was submitted, shocking that it was approved.