Elderly housing Espenhof West

1st Prize
Selective Competition, Zurich, 2020
Realization 2021-2025
Weyell Zipse Architekten, in collaboration with Hörner Architekten

Happiness in old age
From which age is one actually “old”? Medical progress and increasing prosperity result in a continuous increase of the average age in western developed economies. This leads also to a shift in perception about the meaning of age. The retirement age of 65 years surely had a different connotation at the time of introduction of the Swiss pension system AHV in 1948. Nowadays, one might expect that, being blessed with average health, up to a third of one`s lifetime is still laying ahead. How one wants to spend this time, or can afford to spend it, of course depends on the financial possibilities of each. The flats in the Espenhof West estate are provided for a group of residents that is still vital enough to not have to be looked after, but have limited financial ressources, and thus depend on a low rental price. The fact that you cannot afford a single family house on the countryside to spend your evening of life, but instead live in a more collective form of living – with limited amount of space – in the city, does not have to make you less happy. On the contrary: The economist Bruno Frey, one of the pioneers of happiness research from the University of Zurich, regards as the quintessence of happiness not financial independence, but above all the relevance of personal relations – friends, family, acquaintances: “It makes content, to have good relations to other people, even if it is just loose acquaintances, that you maintain every now an then” (*from “This man knows, what makes us happy”, Die Zeit, 20.06.2019). The small size of Espenhof West offers the potential, to establish a neighbourly friendship with vital relations. The areas of encounter play a key role in this social constellation. We believe in a creation of collective spirit, if the architecture manages to introduce spaces with different gradients of privacy, when personal retreat is equally possible as informal encounter or public gatherings.

What if circulation areas would not feel like anonymous corridors, but like a shared living room?  The spatial structure consists of a „rue intérieur“, that vertically and horizontally accesses all flats. Structurally, this circulation zone is executed as a concrete construction, in opposition to the surrounding timber frame construction. The corridor spans accross the whole building length, is articulated through niches and widenings, and at both ends, as well as with a top light in the middle, lit by daylight. Parquet on the floor creates a warm and residential atmosphere. Every flat has a window to this „rue intérieur“, that provides views into the kitchens and vice versa, which can be regulated with curtains. Tiled benches invite for a spontaneous break and neighbourly chats, and carry the memory of warmly heated tiled stoves in the winter months. Elements like an own entry lamp or private post box for house-internal messages form these areas of threshold. Living in a small apartment can thus also feel like owning your own home.