Row houses in Tartu, Estonia


How does one design a row house that provides the inhabitants with both privacy and the opportunity to socialise? How does one fuse open-air and indoor living? How does one shape a contemporary house on the basis of traditional Estonian architecture?

This design won the special Velux Award of the international Katus Competition for a modular wooden prefabricated row house to be built by the Kodumaja company in the Estonian city of Tartu. The plot is near the Estonian Museum of Agriculture, whose architectural forms inspired the forms of these row houses.

Each of the three row houses comprises three apartments. Each apartment has 120m2 of interior space, 33m2 of garage space and 57m2 of semi-enclosed courtyards.

The houses are energy efficient, with ventilated stone facade on the ground floor and ventilated timber facade on the upper floor level. Heating and hot water are provided by a combination of solar collectors and heat pumps, with additional wood stoves for atmosphere. The house is designed so that it utilises passive solar strategies and provides efficient natural ventilation during the summer. The big southward roof surface can host many photovoltaic panels, and the roof is used to collect rainwater, which is used for flushing toilets and irrigating the garden.

Architectural and spatial solution

The solution in 4 steps and 4x4 benefits:

Put  all cars in a garage volume in the western part of the buildable area. (6 modules)

 • Minimum paved area and maximum green area
 • Cars are protected
 • The garage can also be a shed/workshop
 • The southern side is left clear for exposure to the sun.

Organise all service areas of the 3 apartments into 3 long volumes. (3x2 modules)

 • Wet areas are grouped together
 • The spatial concept is clear and simple
 • The amount of corridors in minimised
 • Living areas of different apartments are separate and private.

Put the living spaces in between the service volumes, fully glazed on the south. (3x1 module)

 • Formation of an entrance+service courtyard (North)
 • Formation of a leisure+garden courtyard (South)
 • One unified spatial sequence formed by interior and exterior living spaces
 • The living space is passively heated by the sun.

Place a longitudinal volume with a gabled roof on top of the ground floor volumes, containing bedrooms and bathrooms. (6 modules)

 • The courtyards get some protection from rain/snow
 • The roof’s southern slope is bigger and hosts roof windows and solar collectors
 • The long gabled roof is a link to the tradition and the surroundings
 • The entire building is visually and thermally compact.

The advantage of living in these apartments is that one can:

 • Enjoy living in a house whose shapes and materials are contemporary but inspired by tradition
 • Enjoy living in ahouse that is approaching its environment in a sustainable way
 • Park the car safely in the garage, leaving plentiful space for guests to park
 • Use half of the garage as a workshop/storage
 • Drive heavy items by car directly to the house
 • Park bicycles under the overhang of the upper floor
 • Access the technical room from the exterior
 • Use the spaces under the stairs for shoe/jacket/skate storage and for kitchen-related storage
 • Have the TV, books and souvenirs in the big niche in the living room wall instead of cramming the space with cupboards
 • Look out of the living space on two sides (and cross ventilate it), but keeping the northern window appropriately smaller
 • Use the glazed sliding door to completely open the living space to the southern courtyard
 • Enjoy the heat from the wood-burning stove and even heat the upper floor with it due to the wide opening in the ceiling
 • Still rely on the sun’s energy and floor heating for thermal comfort
 • See what is going on in the kitchen, but have it as a separate space with daylight
 • Choose from at least three types of kitchen layouts
 • Use the kitchen’s glazed door to access the decking
 • Have shade and fresh air even in summer on the decking thanks to the pergola
 • Enter the shower+sauna space from the kitchen, the garden, or both
 • Enjoy the privacy of the courtyards without fences or walls, simply due to the shape of the house
 • Choose to spend time in the private part of the land or the one that is shared by all neighbours
 • Have daylight in all rooms of the house, even in the toilet thanks to the Velux sun tunnel
 • Have a pleasant corridor between bedrooms due to roof windows and the opening in the floor
 • Have a big study with good northern light and a huge desk area, or a bedroom for kids
 • Have a bedroom for kids with ample space for bunk beds, or choose to have a huge master bedroom, or a private study
 • Have modern design for kid’s bedrooms where all beds can be on a gallery, leaving free space below for playing and studying
 • Enjoy living in a house whose interior dispositions of bedrooms can be changed over time easily
 • Put all clothing in a well proportioned walk-in closet (slightly larger than in the brief)
 Enjoy ample light, air and good views on the upper floor thanks to the combination of wall windows and Velux roof windows.