When designers at the Chicago firm Zoka Zola Architects are tasked with designing buildings with small carbon footprints, they take it literally. In a project that is expected to be finished by the end of the year in Rijeka, Croatia, according to eVolo, the designers have created four blocks of flats that seem to float above the verdant hillside of their site on the Adriatic coast.
There’s no levitation magic, of course, but an ingenious cantilevering of the residential blocks over a fragile slope. The four widely spaced, four-story towers in Zoka Zola’s design will appear to hover one-story above the ground, closely following the rolling topography of the hill and preserving the natural landscape in an unbroken, undisturbed greenbelt.
In between the four condominium blocks, pine trees will be left in place, giving the impression that the buildings are a part of the natural forest adjacent to the site. The four garages that will serve the 80 affordable-housing units in the complex will all be hidden underground, further preserving the natural environment. If the same size units were built in the conventional manner, most of this virgin habitat would have been removed and the hills leveled out.
The design for the 63,000-square-foot project earned top prize at a 2008 Croatian Architectural and Urban Competition for connecting modern residential units with open green space.
The challenge in the competition called for designers to come up with a plan for three to five condo blocks, 120 parking spaces and some commercial space to be added to a site that contained several 15- to 20-foot forested hills and small hollows, plus a circular wetland area. “Its topography is like scrambled papers,” say the architects on the Zoka Zola website.
The buildings are also set at varying angles to each other and perpendicular to the street, matching the uneven levels on the site, which also provides spectacular views of the nearby Adriatic Sea. To aid in natural ventilation, each condo unit spans the width of each building, allowing for cross breezes and ample daytime illumination on both sides.
“We call the project ‘Interpolation,’ which, in architectural vocabulary, usually means insertion of a building in a tight and mature city fabric,” according to Zoka Zola. “But this time we mean interpolation of [a] building into … nature.”