Soft architecture for slow living


"Don't live like you're afraid of being late for your own funeral," advises Geir Bertelsen, founder of the World Slowness Institute. No, this is not a fictional institution, but a very real organization that promotes the ideas of slow living.

Not a snail's pace, but the right speed

The philosophy of slow living, which is quite popular today, originated in Italy at the end of the 1980s. The starting point for the development of this movement was the creation of the Slow Food organization. Political activist Carlo Petrini founded this association to oppose the proliferation of fast food restaurants in Italy, in particular the McDonald's chain, which opened its first establishment in the country in 1986.

The goal of Slow Food was to support the antipodes of fast food with its focus on uniformity, quick and inexpensive snacks. In contrast, Petrini's followers sought to preserve traditional national and regional cuisine, encouraged the cultivation of local products, and respected the traditions of feasting and leisurely enjoyment of eating.

View of Tower Bridge from More London Riverside, London, UK. Photo: Dan Freeman/Unsplash

Soon the concept of slowness spread to other areas of life, marking the emergence of the entire slow movement. His manifesto can be considered the book "No Fuss" by the Canadian journalist Karl Honoré, published in 2004. It examines how the principles of leisure can be applied in every field of human activity. "The slow philosophy is not to do everything at a snail's pace. It is in the desire to do everything at the right speed. Enjoy the hours and minutes, not just count them. Do everything as best as possible, not as soon as possible. It's about quality, not quantity, in everything from work to food and raising children," explained Honoré.

"Festina Lente," say slow living followers. Hurry up slowly. The philosophy of slow is not about falling behind, not about denying progress and new technologies, but about balance in life. About spending time more consciously. About enjoying moments. It is this approach that makes life healthier, prosperous, happier, and work more productive.

The slow life movement originated in Italy and quickly spread around the world

The World Institute of Slowness, founded by Geir Bertelsen, is only one of the few organizations in the world that promote the ideas of slow living. Moreover, followers of this movement believe that everything can be slow: art, education, science, travel, fashion, raising children, aging, sex, medicine, technology, architecture, cities...


Slow cities

One of the most widespread branches of the slow worldview was the movement for slow cities, which also arose in Italy. Paolo Saturnini, then the mayor of the Tuscan town of Greve in Chianti, stood near its springs. It all started with the fact that he and three of his colleagues agreed to change life in their settlements according to the principles of slowness. To consolidate this decision, the Cittaslow organization was created in 1999, which still exists today.

Montefioralle, Greve in Chianti, Italy. Photo: Matej Drha / Unsplash

Only a city with a population of no more than 50 can become a full-fledged member of Cittaslow, which undertakes to meet a number of requirements: to support local production, to preserve cultural heritage and history, to seek to improve the well-being of residents by slowing down the pace of life, to create the appropriate infrastructure for this, encourage a healthy lifestyle. The main task is to preserve cultural diversity against the background of widespread homogenization.


Slow architecture

Slow architecture is another urbanist concept that grew out of the slow food movement. This term refers to architecture that is created gradually, organically fits into the environment and satisfies the needs of the user at all levels.

A slow architect will spend as much time as he needs to research the climatic conditions, landscape features, and the social and psychological needs of the client. Again, this doesn't mean that building a slow home will take forever. It will only take as much time as is really necessary.

Slow architecture strives for harmony with the environment

Slow Home founder John Brown says slow living is about living within your means, not about buying the biggest estate. Thus, slow architecture is a movement from size to quality and durability. 

One of the aspects of slow architecture is the reuse of objects, structures, and materials. Yes, slow architects prefer to fill and densify existing urban spaces rather than build suburban areas. In addition, used or locally produced materials become part of the architectural project. The purpose of such use is not only to reduce costs, but also to pay tribute to the culture and history of the region.

Although slow architecture strives for harmony with the environment, avoiding the feeling of "artificiality" and respecting local traditions, modern design or construction technologies are not taboo at all. However, they should not define the look of slow houses, which range in style from ultra-traditional to avant-garde.


Peter Zumthor - thermal baths and chapel

A real symbol of slow architecture was the Waltz Terme complex in Switzerland, built according to the project of Pritzker Laureate Peter Zumthor in 1993-1996. The architect wanted to emphasize the play of light and shadow, water reflections, air saturated with steam, the unique acoustics of the premises, the feeling of warm stones - everything to enhance the ritual of bathing in thermal waters.

"Therme Vals" is an architectural interpretation of the image of the cave. The roofs of the baths are covered with earth, they are partially sunk into the hillside, and the walls are lined with slabs of greenish-gray quartzite quarried in the region.

Peter Zumthor. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

The complex consists of 15 different blocks that connect to each other like a large labyrinth. Zumthor carefully designed the path of bathers along it to lead them to specific points where people could enjoy beautiful views and their own intimate experience of taking thermal baths. Small spaces are interspersed with large baths with the help of the so-called meander (a type of geometric ornament in the form of a broken line) - the space between the blocks that connects them together.

"Movement around this space means discovery. It's like you're walking in the woods. Everyone there is looking for their own way," explains Zumthor. The architect wanted time to stop for visitors to the thermal baths, so he was even against placing a clock inside. However, some time after the opening, he still appeared there.

Another slow work of Zumthor is the Chapel of Brother Claus in Germany. The architect agreed to take on the project almost free of charge after being approached by local farmers. They wanted to pay tribute to Nicklaus of Fleuet, a Catholic saint who lived in the XNUMXth century and whom they considered their patron.

"Therme Vals" complex, Switzerland. Architect: Peter Zumthor. Photo: Jeremy Mason McGraw ELITE INT PHOTO

The chapel of Nicklaus of Flue, or Brother Claus, was built in the middle of the field. Behind the strict geometric facade hides a mystical interior. Light enters the temple through an opening in the roof. Since the opening is not covered by anything, along with the light, rain and snow also get there. Thus, the experience of being in the sanctuary depends on the time of day and the weather, but inevitably leads to gloomy feelings and existential thoughts.

The original method of building the chapel is of interest. At first, the farmers built a frame from 112 pine trunks, reminiscent of an Indian wigwam. Then 24 layers of concrete (each about half a meter thick) were laid on this wooden base. When the concrete hardened, the wooden frame was set on fire. As a result, a cavity with charred walls remained inside the temple. There is no running water or electricity in the chapel. With burnt concrete walls and a lead floor, it is an extremely ascetic place.


Wang Shu is a museum and campus

Pritzker Prize winner Wang Shu is called a model follower of the movement for slow cities and even "China's champion of slow architecture." He can spend years thinking about his projects.

What worries Wang Shu is the destruction of old Chinese hutong quarters and the construction of soulless new buildings in their place. The architect collected tons of fragments of old bricks and tiles from demolished buildings and created new unique structures from them. This is his way of ensuring the continuity of the story in the new construction.

Wang Shu. Photo: Zhu Chenzhou

The most famous projects of Amateur Architecture Studio, which Wang Shu manages with his wife Lu Wenyu, are the Xiangshan Campus of the Chinese Academy of Arts and the Ningbo History Museum. In both projects, Wang used the remains of demolished buildings, which were considered construction waste. The use of this material in combination with rammed earth is what Wang calls "sustainable construction in Chinese."

Wang Shu uses bricks and tiles from demolished old buildings in his projects

The History Museum in Ningbo was built using a traditional Chinese technique called wapan, which consists of creating whole structures from different types of elements. This method was used for rapid construction of walls after natural disasters. Wang Shu also used a large amount of concrete for the facades of the museum, which contrasts with the ruins of old buildings collected in the surrounding area. According to the architect, such a museum building will help local residents preserve their memories of lost villages. Some of the materials used are over a thousand years old.

Ningbo History Museum, China. Architect: Wang Shu. Photo source:

Xiangshan Campus in Hangzhou is like a small town for students and teachers. It consists of over twenty separate buildings, including a library, a gallery, a small stadium, six academic buildings and two art studios. Each building was carefully designed with its purpose and location in mind, wind, sun and connection to the rest of the campus. Wan's approach was to let the landscape, with its large hill, river and trees, define how the architecture would be positioned. As a result, nature and architecture not only coexist, but also complement each other.


Eduardo Soto de Mora — a private house and a hotel

The Portuguese Eduardo Sota de Mora, another winner of the Pritzker Prize, is also often called a master of slow architecture, in particular because the construction of even a small building according to his project can take many years.

Eduardo Soto de Mora. Photo: © DR / © 2020 Notícias ao Minuto

His architecture is contextual and rarely influenced by modern trends. "For me, architecture is a global issue. There is no green architecture, no smart architecture, no sustainable architecture — there is only good architecture,” he says.

Sotu de Mora designed many residences, one of them is the house in Moledu, which took seven years to build. It so happened that for the architect the characteristics of the place are more important than the client's requirements. In the case of Moledu, the client was undemanding (he only wanted a house with a certain set of premises), but the location turned out to be very demanding - it was a terraced slope overlooking the Atlantic coast.

House in Moledo, Portugal. Architect: Eduardo Soto de Mora. Photo: Luis Ferreira Alves. Photo source:

Soto de Mora decided to preserve the terraces on the site and hide the residence in this specific landscape. The problem is that the height of the terraces did not allow the house to fit there, so the architect had to reconstruct the slope with new retaining walls and platforms. These manipulations cost more than the building itself, but fortunately for Soto de Mora, the client turned out to be an understanding person.

House in Moledo, Portugal. Architect: Eduardo Soto de Mora. Photo: Luis Ferreira Alves. Photo source:

As many as eight years went to Sota de Mora for another project - Santa Maria do Buro. As a result, the half-ruined monastery of the XII century. turned into the State Inn. This is not a reconstruction of the building in its original form - the project is aimed at adapting the ruins to new functions. Many stone columns and arches of the ancient monastery have been preserved, but those elements that have not survived to our times have not been restored. The architect created new spaces that correspond to the history, but are modern in their concept.


How to slow down life in big cities?

Big cities cannot join the Cittaslow organization, life in them a priori has a higher pace, because residents of New York or Tokyo have to cover long distances in a day, they do not have time to stop and enjoy the moment. On the other hand, megacities are becoming globalized as a result of rapid development, admitting international corporations, due to which they lose their uniqueness. And slow architecture rarely finds a place in the concrete jungle. It seems that slow living is impossible in big cities?

Not quite so.

Apparently, the high pace of megacities cannot be stopped. You don't have to. However, it is possible to create some oases of slowness - places where a person can stop running and rest.

New York Central Station, USA. Photo: Frederic Muller / Unsplash

American architect and co-founder of the Slow Space movement, Mette Aamodt, suggests designing slow spaces — places with ideal conditions for slowing down, thinking, and engaging all human senses. She cites Central Station in New York as an example of such a slow space. "Despite the fact that it is built for passengers who are in a hurry, when you enter the great hall, you involuntarily slow down (and maybe that's the point)," the architect notes.

Slow spaces in the understanding of Aamodt must meet three main characteristics: beautiful, clean and fair. For a space to be good, it must be beautiful, human-centered, and durable. In order for it to be clean, it should contribute to people's health and not have negative consequences for the environment. To be fair, all construction participants must receive fair compensation for their work.

Soft architecture is a movement from quantity to quality

Chinese urbanists Zhengkun Gang, Linge Long and Wen Uyang propose the term "soft architecture" in their work Soft Architecture and Slow Cities. In their opinion, the weaving of such buildings into the fabric of the city can bring residents closer to the ideals of slow living.

Soft architecture should perform more than purely architectural functions and offer public spaces that facilitate various urban activities and interactions between people, meet the needs of citizens at different levels and improve their quality of life. At the same time, interiors and exteriors of soft architecture must correspond to the cultural and behavioral characteristics of users. Soft architecture (as opposed to hard, soulless) is a movement from quantity to quality.


INTERGAL CITY as an example of architecture for slow living

The multifunctional complex INTERGAL CITY, which is being built in the Pechersk district of Kyiv under the project of OMEGA ARCHITECTURAL BUREAU, can be considered an example of architecture that helps to slow down fast life. How is this achieved?

INTERGAL CITY multifunctional complex project, Kyiv, Ukraine. Developer: "Intergal-Bud"

Mixed use

The combination of several functions in one complex saves users' time. To buy groceries for dinner or a new outfit for a party, INTERGAL CITY residents just need to go down to the supermarket or mall. You don't need to take your child to kindergarten across half a city, because there is a children's center right in the complex. Food courts are available for office workers during their lunch break. A fitness center is open to everyone who wants to keep fit. The number of things you manage to do during the day does not decrease, and time is freed up.

Proximity of transport hubs

INTERGAL CITY is located within walking distance of Pecherska metro station and public transport stops. It takes no more than 10 minutes to get to the city center by car. Convenient transportation means more time to enjoy your morning cup of coffee and what is called a slow morning.

INTERGAL CITY multifunctional complex project, Kyiv, Ukraine. Developer: "Intergal-Bud"

Large parking lot

Surface and underground parking for 1 spaces potentially removes abandoned cars from the roadway, curbs and sidewalks of surrounding areas, freeing up more space for cars and pedestrians. Fewer obstacles mean a more pleasant ride or walk.


Several terraces are provided for office workers, residents and guests of INTERGAL CITY — with walking areas, places to rest, children's playgrounds, and beautiful views of the slopes of the Dnipro and the city. Such spaces by themselves provide an opportunity to relax and reflect, without rushing anywhere.


Public spaces

Open public spaces facilitate communication between different users of the complex and guests, increase social involvement.


A bold, but not aggressive architectural image, which is strikingly different from the reinforced concrete boxes scattered around Kyiv, thanks to the fluidity of the lines, creates a more friendly environment. Such an object can itself become a point of attraction. In addition, the architecture provides for large panoramic windows. Inspirational views from each apartment are a unique experience available to residents on a regular basis.