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6th Sep 2022

Architect Africa Online

Africa's Leading Architecture Aggregator

50 Urban Blocks 2

50 Urban Blocks 2: How to use Form, Floor Area Ratio & Density

a+t research group

a+t, December 2020

55 cards | 3 x 5 inches | English/Spanish | ISBN: 978-8409253555 | 22€


Citadels, Patios, Archipelagos, Amoebas, Snakes, Barcodes, Clusters, Labyrinths, Dice and Chunks are the ideas that inspire this deck of cards.

These urban forms breathe through their openings, through the relationships among volumes, through the participation of emptiness in the composition and through fragmentation. They connect with the environment through unexpected visuals. They avoid individualism and encourage community interaction.

50 Urban Blocks 2 combines Form, Floor Area Ratio and Density in 50 examples that organize a given block, propose housing units and add space for other uses that boost urban life. This third deck of cards is part of the collection created by a+t research group aimed at facilitating the design of a balanced and affordable city.


Aurora Fernández Per, Javier Mozas, and the rest of the so-called “a+t research group” are infatuated with density. Since at least 2002, and the start of the four-part Density magazine series, the Spanish publisher has explored density through contemporary projects — mainly collecting housing — that are extensively documented with photographs, drawings, and their own helpful diagrams. Books followed, including the hefty D BOOK: Density, Data, Diagrams, Dwellings, but recently a+t has ventured into cards that explore housing density as the primary factor among some other concerns, including mixed uses, open space, and privacy. So far a+t has produced three sets of cards50 Urban Blocks + 50 Urban Blocks 2 + 50 Housing Floor Plans. So what are the cards, and how are they used?
Well, first of all, the cards — at least 50 Urban Blocks 2, as I haven’t seen the others — are not like the books: they do not present projects by contemporary architects. You won’t find an actual MVRDV project, for instance, on one of the cards. But you will find a scheme whose organization is based on one of their projects, as well as schemes following from projects by other contemporary architects. The projects are reimagined and formatted to fit the standard square blocks that comprise each card, displayed with a floor plan on one side, an axonometric on the other, with unit footprints, and bits of data.
One way to think of the cards is like the zoning diagrams that, in NYC at least, illustrate the maximum buildable volume based on a property’s FAR (floor area ratio), setbacks, height restrictions, and other factors, as determined by a zoning analysis. Whereas typical zoning diagrams give a sense of what can be accomplished within legal parameters, their purpose is removed from architectural form-making and other realms of creativity. They are the opposite of the a+t research group, which is all about educating and inspiring architects.

To emphasize the creative potential of designing projects that meet certain FARs, the 50 urban blocks are organized into ten families: Citadel, Patio, Archipelago, Amoeba, Snake, Barcode, Cluster, Labyrinth, Dice, and Chunk. Clearly these are formal families that capture the way contemporary architects shape open spaces and organize building volumes. Although it’s rare for an architect to be given a perfectly square site — much less given a full urban block — the use of a consistent square block allows simple comparisons of the 50 schemes.

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