The Commons

Mtarfa Social Housing Project, Malta / 19.01.19

The conspicuous common parts of this building occupy an area equal to that of the stacked housing units forming the volume of this complex. The equal measure of commons-to-private arrangement not only invites individual residents of the collective to actively engage with their neighbours, but also accepts the quiet participation of outsiders in the community’s day-to-day: we walk effortlessly up the open staircases, along the elevated walkways, past private entrances and up to the roof without a second look from the residents.

What facilitates our movement across the gentle contours of ownership boundaries is a careful curation of wall and ground planes to create a desirable distance for privacy or alternatively a comfortable intimacy. The architecture endlessly dances between these two polarities: for instance, the unfolding terraces serve as platforms for light and conversation, but are arranged to avoid surveillance from overhanging windows. Washing rooms with open roofs that demarcate ownership of the washing lines, are playgrounds or mazes for young children to run around, and chatting corners for the adults.

Entrance ways boasts extravagant greenery and religious kitsch statuettes – a silent competition fought between residents for the best front porch. It is revealing of a healthy sense of identity and engagement with the commons, yet maintenance is clearly lacking in many of the common parts. Everyone owns the commons, so nobody owns it.