Purchasing new hardware? Read our latest product comparisons

Viennese squeeze: CJ5 house offers slim solution to urban density


July 17, 2014

The sculptural concrete wrap (Image: Hertha Hurnaus)

The sculptural concrete wrap (Image: Hertha Hurnaus)

Image Gallery (14 images)

Vienna is by no means the most crowded metropolis in the world, or even in Europe. Even so, Caramel Architects has designed a house on the outskirts of the city that provides a model for getting more people into a smaller area without giving up amenities like natural light and private garden space.

It is widely estimated that 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. So questions are being asked about where to put all of those new residents. To many urban planners, the answer lies in tower blocks. The CJ5 house designed by Austrian practice Caramel Architects offers a different solution.

The prototype has a lower floor-area ratio (the proportion of usable living space to the overall property area) than most of the standard housing types in its Vienna district. This means that more of the site is used for livable functions and there is less waste. Caramel achieved this maximal usage by employing a narrower plan (5 x 35 m/16 x 115 ft) and by assigning all of the available space. For example, the wide open stair contains the kitchen and dining furniture.

But the house is not purely about shoe-horning life into small boxes. The CJ5 is a 3-story house of 170 sq m (1,829 sq ft) that achieves a high-quality living environment with spaces that flow into one another. The horizontal and vertical open plan allows the interior to feel much larger than its footprint. The living area extends through the courtyard, expanding the area for relaxing or entertaining, and a terrace on the upper floor makes the modest interior space feel much more luxurious.

The tall, narrow structure also maximizes natural light. Wrapped in white concrete, the house has a sculptural presence, as it is not currently surrounded on all sides by other buildings, and it appears to be dense and solid. But inside the spaces receive ample sunlight through windows on the entrance façade, through large light wells and from the wide courtyard opening.

The plan for the CJ5 includes all of the features expected of a modern home, as well as a garage and cinema room, and the open-air courtyard/garden space at the center that defies all the bleaker notions that the word "density" usually inspires. All of the functions work around and through the courtyard. And no space is left vacant.

Attention to materials also makes this house a more attractive option than the spatial measure might suggest. Textured formwork concrete walls and oak flooring are used throughout. This continuity of materials also helps to make the interior feel like a large open area that branches into different zones, rather than a series of small articulated spaces.

This prototype has been designed with a single bedroom and an extra "atelier" space that can be used for sleeping,too. The garage can also be used as a studio space, as the current resident is an artist. Since the CJ5 is intended to be a model that can be replicated, the structure has been designed to be part of a series of such homes. The house is contained in a three-sided firewall, which allows for further houses to be built right up against it.

The CJ5 is almost completely energy independent, the architects say. It derives its own power supply from photovoltaic panels located on the south-facing section of the roof, and it uses an air-to-water heat pump, which converts energy stored in the outside air for use in heating and hot water. It has also been constructed with high insulation values.

While this is no doubt an attractive, livable house, the question still remains how such a model might replace multi-story apartment blocks, especially when faced with the numbers of families who will need at least two or three bedrooms. But the idea of condensing space while upping design quality is certainly a sign of thinking in the right direction.

Source: Caramel Architects

About the Author
Phyllis Richardson Phyllis is an architecture and design writer based in London. She champions the small and sustainable and has published several books, including the XS series (XS, XS Green, XS Future) and Nano House. In her spare time she ponders the impact of the digital world on the literary. All articles by Phyllis Richardson

They could save yet more space by getting rid of a garage for a car, and simply provide space for a cargo bike and a couple of regular bikes.

The few times the year people need a car, they can just rent one. It's cheaper, too.

Freyr Gunnar

Horrible. It's a horrid polyester eye sore. Modern architects are clueless.

Florin Nicoara

I can see where Gunnar is coming from, but in a lot of housing areas. shops or work can be beyond cycling distances. People there would need a car more than having one of these homes nearer the inner city or employment. The terrain is also a consideration, hilly areas are much less kind to the health of biking shoppers than cars.

The Skud

Best not ever break a leg or develop arthritis. It has all the charm of living in a basement stairwell.


I live in Mies' Lafayette Park Townhouses in Detroit. These are arguable as the finest housing project in the US. In December they will be declared a National Landmark,

As an architect with 100 projects in my resume I must say...

TOO NARROW for livability!

Our units are nominally 18' wide with the 12 x 12 grid (note that I refuse to use metric dimensions since the British system is based upon the human form which is much more rational).

Now I would say that a 20 foot dimension is far more humane and comfortable if not elegant.

While I like the geometry expressed here and the sculptural adeptness I think that the extra dimension would allow for a more livable life without depression. White paint cannot solve the problem of adequate space and furnishability.

Nice but no cigar!

Island Architect

It's true that most multi-level units are unsuitable for everyone. A design can incorporate or set aside space for an elevator. The width of the house appears to be limited by the width of the site. Only because it was brought up, multiplying & dividing by 10 is much more rational to the human mind than using a variety of conversion factors.


A skinny house is nothing new, we've been building them for generations. http://www.tinyhouseliving.com/wp-content/uploads/shotgun-cottage-1.jpg New Orleans, Louisiana, USA


I think that it is a good idea, but the duel space, dining area and stairs, are not going to work, it is neither one or the other. Also it is not user friendly for the older generation, but still I think that it is well worth consideration.

Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles