The phrases "government housing" and "stylish design" don't get mentioned in the same breath very often, and that goes double for the massive, prefabricated housing blocks of Eastern Europe. In Slovakia, the buildings, known as panelaks, are called "houses for rabbits" for the way they cram people together (one village of these monotonous towers in the capital of Bratislava houses 130,000 people). The architecture firm GutGut felt there was still some life within these structures, and figured out a cost-effective renovation that gave formerly bland, carbon-copy units some individuality and style. It's a model that can be applied to uninspired, institutional buildings anywhere.
"There were so many buildings like this, we wanted to create a catalog for change," says architect Lukas Kordik.
The team at GutGut started by removing panels between units, playing with interior space to carve out a mix of 2-, 3- and 4-room units. Balconies were added and expanded to allow for better indoor-outdoor living, and the ground floor, formerly storage space, was transformed into a common area with a cafe, spa, and gym, along with a concrete overhang above the entrance.
These buildings, relics of Cold War construction, are so numerous in Eastern Europe they can't really be demolished in large numbers. This intervention by GutGut shows a different way forward, and a solution for making outdated buildings more functional, attractive, and modern.