Four Courts Apartment Building

We started working on the apartment building by asking a seemingly trivial question: What is an apartment? Every architect should know the legal definition of “apartment,” classification of apartments and the standards and prescribed values that determine if a space can still be regarded as an apartment. But does all of this really answer the question of what an apartment is about?

This job created plenty of room for experimentation, giving us a chance to find our own answer to the question and perhaps challenge some of the established notions of what an apartment is and what it should look like. The project is inspired by our quest for finding answers to what the very nature of an apartment is and how it has developed – in terms of urban planning, the inner courtyard, the layout and the private room.

The Four Courts development (Čtyři dvory) is situated on the border of the two largest housing estates in Budweis – Máj and Vltava. Built in a high modernist vein, both estates champion rationality, efficiency and restraint. One could argue the detached buildings, drowned in greenery, work as “machines for living.” Our proposal makes this type of development compatible with the idea of a traditional enclosed urban block. This is achieved by creating a hybrid – a block that seems rational from the outside and is demarcated by a new orthogonal network of streets, but breaks up as one walks inside, giving rise to an irregular, dynamic inner landscape.

This is a landscape where space flows freely at the level of the courtyard. By gradually widening and narrowing the space, the visitor is guided, in an unforceful manner, through the space and invited to explore it further inwards. This almost mannerist effect of spatial tension is strengthened by greenery which, in addition to being distributed across the space in a way that feels unforced and natural, creates areas with varying degrees of privacy. There is smooth gradation: public areas give way to semi-private spaces used by inhabitants of the building, which in turn give way to the most intimate spots.

We take a holistic approach to the design of the apartment building. That is why we follow the same principles when it comes to the layouts too. Importantly, people’s homes have not always had orthogonal layouts — layouts were originally irregular, circular, haphazard. It was only when the society had gradually become more complex that more structured housing layouts started to appear. A higher degree of organisation was easier to achieve using rectangular layouts rather than irregular ones. Over time, efficiency rather than thorough architectural solutions became of utmost importance. Architecture turned into mere functional zoning. Nowadays, conventional apartment building development only has one major criterion when it comes to choosing an apartment – the number of rooms and their functions. We choose between studios, one-bedroom apartments, two-bedroom apartments and so on without considering if the apartment is intended for a cyclist, dog breeder, aquarist or a retired teacher couple with a huge library.

Our design experiments with going back to apartments with irregular spaces, seeking to eliminate the role of separate individual rooms. Rather than a set of separate rooms, we perceive the apartments in question as spaces where space flows unobstructed, inviting one to move freely. These create tensions, as does the inner courtyard, giving rise to an irregular “landscape” inside the apartment. This renders the individual rooms and the corridor virtually unnecessary.

We do not believe the architect’s job is to dictate functions, but rather to offer a range of possibilities for the client to choose from. Housing should not adapt to suit the needs of the market — it should reflect the needs of inhabitants. And the same applies to architecture.

Four Courts


project: Four Courts Apartment Building
location: Budweis
together with: Malý Chmel
team: Markéta Štorová, Marek Hlavička, Václav Centner,
Georgi Dimitrov, Anna Vrzalová, Miroslav Malý,
Radek Zabloudil, Natálie Ivkovičová, Daniel Struhařík,
Zdeněk Chmel, Petr Malý, Miroslav Chmel, Petra Mlýnková,
Ondřej Machač, Jan Bureš 
author: Miroslav Chmel (architect, partner of Malý Chmel s.r.o.),
Zdeněk Chmel (architect), Petr Malý (architect),
Daniel Struhařík (architect, partner of peer collective s.r.o.), Miroslav Malý (architect)
status: ongoing documentation for planning permission
topics: apartment and its development, historical research, spatiality,
public space, block, park, the relationship of flats/houses to each other
based on: competition, 1st place
images: willbe studio