I’ve been a fan of Monocle magazine for several years, and bought a copy every month until I moved to St. Petersburg. It covers a very stimulating mix of topics, from business to culture to the fashion industry and urban living. It takes a particular interest in small artisanal companies, and I sometimes used their company profiles as tutorial aids in my marketing and strategy modules.
Monocle‘s editor-in-chief, Tyler Brûlé, also writes a blog for the weekend edition of the Financial Times which, as it’s usually interesting, I have in my RSS feeds. Recently, he wrote a piece called Homing instincts about his ideal urban residential development, and it got me thinking.
According to him, the ideal apartment has double entrance doors, a small foyer, a balcony, and good water pressure. There’s a wide staircase and lifts, and a communal laundry room. The neighbourhood has plenty of trees, and is mixed use, with plenty of small shops serving residents’ needs.
It actually made me look at my own apartment – ‘my own’ in the sense of “where I live”, rather than “that I own” – in a new light.
The ceilings are high enough to feel spacious; that’s important. The water pressure is excellent. It’s got double entry doors – the outer door padded for soundproofing – and a spacious foyer…
It has a comfortably-sized kitchen…
…and a nicely-sized living room…
…which leads onto an enclosed balcony (currently used for storage) with what in summer will be a nice green view:
It’s quite secure: there’s a very solid steel door between the corridor accessing the apartments and the lift lobby:
There isn’t a laundry room in the building itself, but there is a laundry underneath the local supermarket, just a minute’s walk away. I can drop my washing off, and collect it a few hours later, clean and folded. The laundry is staffed by a group of friendly women in their fifties and sixties although Vera, who was on duty when I popped in this morning, didn’t want to be photographed.
There are lots of mature trees in the neighbourhood, which will look lovely in spring and summer.
There are small shops on the ground floor of many of the blocks:
There’s a pet shop,a mini-mall, and a 24-hour flower stall:
The apartment is only five minutes from a metro station, and a range of transport options including tram, trolleybus, bus, and minibus taxis.
Finally, as you can see, the streets are broad, and the buildings are low; this gives a wonderful feeling of light and space.
Sadly, nothing is perfect and, in the case of my apartment, this comes in the quality of everything. There’s no sound-proofing, so I can hear every conversation in the flats surrounding mine. Fortunately, since I don’t speak Russian, this is easy to tune out – it would be harder if I could understand it. Some kind of gas frequently bubbles up from the sewers, making the water in the kitchen sink’s u-tube roil violently and noisily. The bathroom sink has no u-tube, so the smell comes through. I’ve lived in Beijing, though, and often used the public toilets in the hutongs, so I’ve smelt far worse. And, of course, the corridors and stairs are not bump-resistant in the way Tyler would like to see; in fact, they’re showing their age (this area was constructed in the 80s) rather badly.
Still, if we separate concept from execution, it’s pretty clear that Soviet-era town planners and architects had a very good idea of what makes a pleasant, livable environment -even if the builders didn’t do much to make it a reality. But that could be said of many Western builders as well.