|A more recent Traditional Euro-bloc in Prague|
|Traditional Euro-bloc seen from the street, in Prague|
|Older Prague Traditional Euro-blocs, less straight streets, courtyards are mostly built out|
|From the street, buildings are a bit lower than in the previous images|
|Euro-blocs are made up of a lot of narrow buildings, not of a few big ones|
|The bloc's basic design is already present, but some buildings are older, smaller, with only 2 stories, whereas buildings on the main avenue are deeper and taller, yet they have the same width, so can be built on the same lot|
|A 3-story pop-out in a 1- and 2-story area|
|5-story pop-out near 2-story housing|
I know many urbanists and architects have eyes only for the ultimate form of Paris, central Prague, central Munich and others, areas that have already largely maxed-out their Euro-blocs, with similar-looking buildings over whole blocs...
|Barcelona from the street|
|In Lyon, one small hold-out in an area of 6-story high apartment buildings|
Can we build this today too?Actually, the exact form of these Euro-blocs would probably be illegal, and adapting them to fulfill the legal obligations would make them much more expensive.
The primary reason is that these small buildings were walkups with, in general, 2 units per floor maximum, some are less than 9 meters wide (30 feet) and so have 1 unit per floor. They only had stairs to allow people to move from one floor to the other, even when they had 5 or 6 stories. They also were designed to be deep, to have windows both facing the street and the courtyard. Remember that exterior walls are crucial because windows are required for bedrooms and living rooms (either required by law or by buyers' demand).
|Schematic of a possible walk-up building forming part of a Euro-bloc|
So you're piling on cost after cost, and losing some floor space every time. But if you have a small building with 4 units (a 9-meter wide, 4-story tall building) or even a larger one with 8, these fixed costs weigh heavily on each unit, making them much more expensive than they otherwise would be if the building was a traditional wooden-frame walk-up, up to 60% more expensive by my rough estimates. To solve the issue, you need to build more units per building so as to spread the costs around, and you can do that one of two ways:
1- Build higher, at 8 stories you can have twice the number of units you'd have at 4 stories, and an elevator's marginal cost per additional floor isn't that high
2- Build a much wider building, so that each floor is bigger and has more units, units sharing the same elevator.
In the first case, you go much higher, which is a marked departure from the traditional Euro-bloc. In the latter, the effect is less perceptible... from the outside, but the impact on residents is much greater. Whereas in the previous walk-ups the units had windows in the front and in the back, allowing for some natural air flow through the unit, the units in a wide building will have windows only on one side, making it harder to get good ventilation and proper illumination (a famous issue with back-to-back houses, but one that is not often mentioned when talking of condo units with a similar layout)
|Interior schematic of a wide apartment building with a corridor separating front and back units in order to allow residents of each to get to the shared elevator|
|Alternative design, rare (but more common in Japan) where a long balcony serves as an exterior corridor connecting apartments, with windows opening on it|
|Example of this design in Fukuoka, shared balcony on the front of the building, connecting apartments to the stairs and elevator|
|A view of the doors and windows on the front|
|In the back, private balconies, also note that the ground floor is used for parking|
Regulations imposing harmony between buildings also make it much harder for redevelopment to occur, as they force entire blocs to be redeveloped at the same time, which is extremely hard to do, unless one uses eminent domain, or if there are abandoned areas in cities, old industrial areas or blighted neighborhoods, which by definition tend not to be areas where demand for housing is highest.
Emulation of the model outside of EuropeNorth American cultures mainly come from European civilizations, but they have distanced themselves from Europe over time. Older areas tend to be most similar to Europe, areas like Boston and Québec City.
|Street from the old areas of Québec City|
|Brooklyn, the attached narrow walk-up building model of the Euro-bloc is present, but wide streets and front setbacks have been added, with front stairs to create a buffer between the sidewalks and the buildings|
|From the sky, Brooklyn bears some resemblance to the Euro-bloc, but the courtyards are next to never developed and don't seem shared|
|Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie in Montréal: also with attached building, but 2 to 3 stories only, with Québec-style exterior stairways, front setbacks, wider streets and private backyards, often with a back alley cutting the yards in two|
|From the sky, the blocs tend to be much longer than in Europe, courtyards are less developed|
Now, in most recent years, there has been a few outright emulations of the FORM of the Traditional Euro-bloc, but the process behind their creation has been completely different. Generally, a developer will seize upon a vacant or blighted large lot and build a few big buildings copying the Euro-bloc, if not outright a bloc-sized building. For example:
|Recent apartments built in downtown LA that copy the Euro-bloc form|
|This is the view from the street|
I've also chanced upon a weird example of Euro-bloc emulation in Japan through Google Maps. It was so glaring that I was able to find it while looking at a large zoom level.
|I am not kidding, I spotted this neighborhood UFO from this zoom level, just by looking at patterns that can be seen here, the squares in the red circle do not belong there|
|The central blocs of Utase, with big parking lot in background|
|Street view of Utase, big sidewalks, not much place for on-street parking and balconies fronting the street|
The 6-story high Euro-blocs tend to have been built over time, in areas that were already in the heart of cities, full of services and retail. This was built in a relatively secluded area, as a result, parking had to be provided. The Euro-bloc form is not really friendly to cars as it offers little parking, often taking place in the street, an impossibility in the Japanese regulatory context. The result was instead huge bloc-sized parking lots as seen in an earlier image, or even elevated parking garages built in the "courtyards" of the blocs.
|3-story elevated parking garages built inside the blocs surrounded by tall towers|
|You can see the parking garage between the nearer and farther towers|
ConclusionSo that was my take on the traditional European urban form of development, as I understand it. Again, it is important to keep in mind that the form that it took was due to the economic and technological realities of European cities. That form makes perfect sense in that context, but it may not be adequate in other contexts. This is the pitfall that many urban-minded people fall into, they come into contact with that building form, whether on trips to Europe or while in school studying urban planning, and they decide they like that form, then push for it.
Euro-blocs often have 4 to 6 story limits? OK, but those limits were due to the absence of elevators and regulatory environment that allowed wooden-frame 4+-story walk-ups. Nowadays, it's largely not possible to build something like that. At 4 stories and more, we are often required to use concrete, have elevators and sprinkler system, which pile on costs and make the typical building seen in Euro-blocs uneconomical to build, so if you want the Euro-bloc logic to function, you have to allow buildings that allow these higher costs to be diluted on more units. So being too focused on copying the form may severely handicap our ability to build cities that respond to people's needs and ambitions.