Network members activities
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A Culture of a British Housing Association

Posted on 20-07-2023

  On the top floor of their building, where green trees peeked through houses that covered one of Sheffield's seven hills, a farewell party was held. It marked the end of an 11-year journey for Miranda Plowden, the business director of South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA). During this heartfelt and humble gathering, Juliann Hall, her close friend, teammate, and co-director of Care, Health, and Wellbeing, shared Miranda's story and her visionary approach to cultivating a unique "culture" within SYHA. However, this was not your typical notion of culture.   Miranda envisioned A Culture of Joy and Right to Beauty, encompassing every decision and detail at SYHA. This culture went beyond their housing schemes and influenced their daily work environment and attitudes. It stemmed from a people-first approach, firmly believing that happy and compassionate employees would naturally deliver homes that inspire happiness.       The Culture and Residents’ Health and Wellbeing   SYHA is keen to spreading joy and promoting the right for everyone to experience beauty in their housing schemes. Their strategic plan focuses on providing affordable homes where residents feel happy, healthy, and proud. This is exemplified in the elegant and modern design of their properties, such as the recent North Wingfield Road social housing complex and the Wikihouse project.   The culture of promoting beauty extends beyond housing schemes to the surrounding landscapes for residents to have beautiful views and shared spaces. SYHA actively participates in creating vibrant meadow-like landscapes in urban areas, which serve as habitats for pollinators and require less maintenance. Through careful selection of plant species, they demonstrate how urban spaces can be transformed into visually appealing and environmentally friendly areas.   The culture of joy also encompasses care for residents' health and well-being, which is evident in various initiatives. For instance, they care to conduct co-design focus groups with residents to update design briefs for future projects. They maintain good communication channels through their customer experience team. Workshops with customers are held to continuously improve their services.   An interesting insight from one of SYHA's co-production workshops is the residents' dislike of jargon. They find terms like "fuel poverty" aggressive and prefer simple language that allows them to understand and feel in control of their decisions without being stigmatized. Similarly, the term "heat pump" can cause frustration, as residents desire clear and accessible language.   SYHA's Livewell department is dedicated to supporting residents' health and well-being. They provide mental health and wellbeing support and assistance in overcoming daily challenges, regardless of whether someone is a SYHA customer or not. They also have staff members focused on helping individuals find employment and integrate naturally into the community.       A unique work Culture, deviating from usual corporate work style   As an architect, I cannot overlook how SYHA implemented their culture of joy and right to beauty in the workplace as well as in their homes and services. Working closely with the interior designer, they ensured that every detail reflects this culture. Miranda's quote describes it best:   “People expect Google to have beautiful offices, but not a charitable organisation in Sheffield. The feedback from our teams shows that design and beauty in places where they are least expected can have a positive effect on wellbeing and make people feel valued. At South Yorkshire Housing Association, we believe that everyone has a right to beauty and joy, especially people who didn’t expect to experience either.”    As cited in SYHA’s interior designer: 93ft website  (accessed on 17/07/2023)   What amazed me was SYHA's boundary-less workplace. There were no individual offices, walls, or closed doors between departments and team members. They have a bookable rooms for meetings and workshops with teams and residents. If you just want to disconnect in peace, there is a room for prayer and meditation regardless of your belief. During her speech at the farewell party, Miranda emphasized the importance of maintaining the joy at work, smiling at one another, opening doors for one another and caring for both colleagues and customers. It's the small gestures that make a lasting impact.   At SYHA, everyone, from newcomers like myself to the CEO Tony Stacey, worked together in the same open space without assigned desks. On my first day, I sat at one of the long tables alongside Miranda (the business director), Natalie (the team's head), and my new colleagues. On the same table on the next day I sat with other directors and team leads and was able to schedule an interview with them within minutes. This setup promotes collaboration and easy access to discussions. It also harnesses a sense of collaboration and support beyond hierarchies. Being physically present in this open environment allowed me actively to engage in conversations, observe ongoing discussions, and receive immediate responses to my inquiries. What better setting could I had for my Transdisciplinarity based research?       SYHA’s Culture and my Research Secondment   Understanding SYHA's core values and culture assured me that I am in a fitting workplace aligned with my research. Their belief in enabling individuals to settle into a welcoming home, live well, and achieve their full potential resonated deeply with the core motivation behind my research on Health and Wellbeing. My study aims to incorporate Life Cycle Costing into the design stages to prioritize the health and well-being of residents. Working in an environment that not only embraced meaningful slogans but also genuinely believed in and implemented them proved to be an invaluable experience for me.   As part of my Marie-Curie research project, I embarked on a three-month secondment with SYHA's Development and Asset Management team, under the guidance of Natalie Newman, the head of the team, who served as my secondment supervisor. Throughout our discussions, she openly shared her opinions, provided critiques, offered feedback, and provided guidance in approaching individuals and gathering necessary data. Likewise, my regular supervisor, Matteo Martini, supported, encouraged, and ensured my seamless integration within SYHA.   The knowledge and insights I gained during these three months at SYHA would have taken years to acquire independently. The colleagues at SYHA, with whom I discussed my topic, showed great enthusiasm and generously answered any doubts I had. They also expressed their willingness to continue supporting my research even after the end of the secondment.   By the end of secondment and being part of an association working hard to realize this culture, I felt hopeful and now eagerly look forward to contributing to the day when the belief in the Right to Beauty and Joy becomes the normal for all humans and for the betterment of our planet.       More interesting readings: How SYHA started and the influence of Cathy Come Home movie SYHA’s history and the founders mission and vision. A beautiful low-maintenance landscapes of Pictorial meadows. How did SYHA communicate their business purpose through their workplace design. 93ft sharing SYHA's interior design.    

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4)


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The “regeneration wave”, hopefully not another missed opportunity to create social value

Posted on 15-07-2023

We are almost on the home straight of RE-DWELL and the Summer School in Reading was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the different approaches to housing production in European cities, in this case, using the British experience as a backdrop. The week-long programme was dedicated to exploring innovative schemes and approaches to development. Keynote speakers and participants agreed that a more dynamic and diverse supply is at the crux of the solution, as is the inevitable need for political will and policy aimed at reducing the economic burden that often curtails the viability of projects and has been the Achilles heel of innovation, experimentation and diversification in housing markets.   Creating the much-needed housing stock required to tackle Europe's housing crisis is in many cases taking shape through regeneration. In cities like London, where access to land is limited, housing providers are opting for a mixed-use approach to development with the intention of funding the quota of affordable and social housing units required by local and national plans while embellishing the brief with appealing terms like diversity, inclusion and mixed-communities. Scholars and activists have referred to this process in a less benevolent narrative, describing it as a gradual phenomenon of displacement and replacement of less affluent communities, that inevitably gravitate to the urban fringes, with a more well-off population, in something more akin to state-led gentrification (Hubbard & Lees, 2018; Lees & Hubbard, 2021; Lees & White, 2019). These problems are exacerbated by the fact that many social housing estates are sitting on land that is nowadays very attractive to investors, they have been the object of decades of neglect characterised by poor maintenance and budget cuts, and feature complex issues of anti-social behaviour and deprivation associated with mismanagement and an inability of landlords to cater for the needs of residents. As might be expected, the literature on this issue describes disproportionate impacts on BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) residents, characterised by disruption of livelihoods and loss of cultural and social capital that certain areas of the city face as a result.   Furthermore, the fact that residents are being priced out from their local area by regeneration projects becomes more egregious when one analyses examples such as the redevelopment of Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle and the ongoing dismantling of Aylesbury Estate. Both schemes and their vast sites were testaments to the now withered social housing boom that spearheaded Welfarist policies in post-war Britain. These symbols of large-scale Brutalist housing architecture are located in the London Borough of Southwark, which is one of the largest social landlords in the country with around 53,000 homes (Southwark Council, 2017). It is therefore no coincidence that this borough has been one of the most affected by mixed tenure regeneration schemes that have started to lead the provision of housing in the city. The question is whether this approach to development is rightfully addressing the demand gap where it is most needed. Estimates made after the regeneration of the Heygate estate denoted a significant loss of council homes which were not replaced as part of the new project. According to the borough, 25 per cent of the 3,000 dwellings approved for the new scheme are allocated to affordable housing, which equates to only 750 dwellings. Originally, the estate comprised 1,212 dwellings, of which 1,020 were owned by the council and 192 were privately owned, bought under the right-to-buy scheme (Southwark Council, 2023).   However, other sources tally an even more pessimistic outcome: only 212 homes will be affordable (80 per cent of the local market price) and 79 socially rented (Cathcart-Keays, 2015). One can wonder why there is such a mismatch between the figures but what is more concerning is the net reduction of social housing in either scenario. In the case of the Aylesbury Estate, the council has followed a very similar modus operandi in its ongoing regeneration. The estate consists of 2,402 homes let by the council and 356 homes sold under the right to buy. They will be replaced by 4,900 homes in various tenancies, of which 1,473 will be social housing (Hubbard & Lees, 2018). Again, this will represent a foreseeable change in the socio-demographic make-up of the local area in the medium- to long-term. As a result, we would not only fail to provide more affordable homes in well-connected and serviced areas of the city, but also reduce the already insufficient housing stock.   To consider social value at the heart of a regeneration project becomes central to avoid the above mentioned scenarios. It is now ten years since the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 came into effect in January 2013. A legislation that requires those commissioning public services to consider, generate and demonstrate wider social, economic and environmental benefits to the community. The Act encourages commissioners to work with the community and local stakeholders to design and shape the services to be provided, having a great implication for the built environment sector because of the inherent impact it has on society. Social value should therefore be thoroughly discussed when it comes to regeneration. Since the passage of the Act, social value has become relevant, particularly for housing providers, to provide evidence of the added value of their operations. This momentum has been catalysed by the publication of several metrics and frameworks intended to benchmark and standardise the sector's approach (See Samuel, 2020; UKGBC, 2020, 2021). However, challenges have been identified in assessing the social outcomes of projects, particularly those serving disadvantaged communities. As is so often the case with sustainable development, it is more straightforward to demonstrate economic gains or environmental breakthroughs than social impact.   Someone has to pay for it   During the Summer School, we had the opportunity to talk to a wide range of stakeholders who are shaping the cityscape of London and Reading. Examples ranged from developers of build-to-rent schemes to housing association-led regeneration projects. They allowed us to reflect on the crucial role of housing providers, developers and architects in adding real value by providing the homes we need and targeting the populations that have been left out of the market and who need it most. Conspicuously, the panorama is dominated by large-scale redevelopment projects, driven by an eminently commercial interest, which are instrumentalised to cross-subsidise social housing, in many cases not even built as part of the scheme. "Someone has to pay for it" has become the new mantra used to justify this approach. Perhaps it is because of government inaction that this is now our most powerful and effective tool for creating affordable and social homes today in many cities across Europe. However, it is unlikely that the supply gap can be bridged let alone met at the current rate in the foreseeable future. In the case of the UK, we are talking about 10% being earmarked for affordable housing in any major development (Barton & Wilson, 2022). This, of course, overlooks the real issue of affordability: Affordable housing (remember: a rent of up to 80% of the market rent) is virtually unaffordable for a large swathe of the population in cities like London. The term affordable housing is becoming an oxymoron for Londoners. Approaches such as the Building for 2050 project and Clarion's strategy for regeneration were then discussed and analysed with a view to future prospects. As Paul Quinn from Clarion pointed out, regeneration should put residents at the heart of the process, choosing to preserve livelihoods and avoid disruption as much as possible. The retrofit of the current housing stock in the hands of housing associations and local councils should always be considered as a first option, but for this, we still need decisive support from decision-makers. We need more social and affordable homes and housing associations have both a huge responsibility and opportunity to accelerate and scale up regeneration by treating housing as a fundamental right, not a commodity, while increasing its social value.   References Barton , C. and Wilson, W. (2022) What is affordable housing? - House of Commons Library, What is affordable housing? Available at: (Accessed: 12 July 2023).   Cathcart-Keays, A. (2015, February 16). Report: London loses 8,000 Social Homes in a decade. The Architects’ Journal.   Hubbard, P., & Lees, L. (2018). The right to community? City, 22(1), 8–25.   Lees, L., & Hubbard, P. (2021). “So, Don’t You Want Us Here No More?” Slow Violence, Frustrated Hope, and Racialized Struggle on London’s Council Estates. Housing, Theory and Society , 39(3), 341–358.   Lees, L., & White, H. (2019). The social cleansing of London council estates: everyday experiences of ‘accumulative dispossession.’ Housing Studies, 35(10), 1701–1722.   Samuel, F. (2020). RIBA social value toolkit for architecture. Royal Institute of British Architects.   Southwark Council. (2017, April 20). Regeneration at Elephant and Castle and Affordable Homes. Southwark Council.   Southwark Council. (2023, February 14). Elephant and Castle Background to the Elephant Park development site. Southwark Council.   UKGBC (2020). Delivering social value: Measurement.   UKGBC (2021). Framework for defining social value.

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)

Summer schools, Reflections

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Retrofit and Social Engagement | We can do better

Posted on 13-07-2023

That’s it. The final summer school of RE-DWELL has officially been and gone. This year saw input not only from my cohort of ESRs and supervisors, but we were joined by industry partners to test the first iteration of RE-DWELL’s ‘Serious Game’ – which will be coming to a city near you. ‘Serious Game’ combines academia and industry to help all housing stakeholders navigate complex questions regarding holistically sustainable housing. Through the game, transdisciplinary discussion promptsaction through tools and methods within policy and finance; design, planning and building; and community participation – the benchmark of RE-DWELLS investigations. This output will form a part of the transdisciplinary framework based on the ESR’s PhD’s.   One turn of the 'Serious Game' took our group from the solution “new tools to tailor make housing solutions”—through exploring methods including urban rooms, workshops with critical action research, transdisciplinary collaboration, and grant of use models—to an answer: “could the participation of people living in social housing improve retrofit solutions more than end point performance targeted retrofit?” Funnily enough, this question is identical to one of my research questions.   Working on my PhD in social housing retrofit with tenant engagement, has put the terms “retrofit” and “social sustainability” on the tip of my tongue. Constantly ready to listen, learn, and discuss these concepts, I see blind spots everywhere. Tom Dollard from Pollard Thomas Edwards revealed a stunning environmentally sustainable scheme, even attempting some socially sustainable effort on the Blenheim Estate greenfield site in Oxfordshire but drew attention to the ethical grey area of building on a greenfield. Paul Quinn from Clarion revealed plans for regeneration that prioritise the Right-to-Return but is often not taken advantage of. A good way to keep the existing community together, Quinn says, is to build new environmentally sustainable housing on the same plot, decant the existing tenants into this housing, then retrofit the rest. Of course, this only works if the plot allows new buildings, and often buildings with retrofit potential are still cited for demolition and rebuild.   85-95% (European Commission, 2020) of buildings will remain standing in 2050, in the UK this extends to 80% of all dwellings (Pierpoint et al., n.d.) and they desperately need retrofitting for the climate crisis and for inhabitants. There are residential buildings in London designed for 40% occupancy. These leave 60% of those homes empty, acting as safety deposit boxes called “foreign investment”. Do we need to build more? Or do we need to re-enforce existing building stock and insist on full occupancy? When asked about retrofit, “we could do better” is a common reply from architects and housing associations. So why aren’t we doing better? It’s true that retrofit incurs more upfront cost that new build—in part because new build in the UK is exempt from tax, while retrofit is not—but the opportunities for long-term returns are enormous. To name a few: embodied carbon savings; new supply chains; opportunities to upskill unemployed tenants in a field with huge skills gaps; upskilling construction workers who fear a dwindling construction sector; physical and mental health and wellbeing implications; and integrative, iterative learning from the tenants who are experts in the way they live.   During the RE-DWELL visit to London, I visited the Building Centre exhibition Retrofit 23:Towards Deep Retrofit of Homes at Scale*. The exhibition (which I highly recommend) displays examples of retrofit from around the UK. The questions identified in the exhibition read “how do we fund retrofit and leverage the benefits? How best can deep retrofit be scaled up locally across streets and neighbourhoods to meet the net zero goals?”. It states that improving performance brings environmental, economic, and social benefits. Environmental benefits are easily displayed through energy performance statistics, economic benefits are displayed in terms of financial cost, but social benefits remain a struggle to translate beyond technical measures such as quantifiable indoor air quality and temperatures. The lack of quantifiable social benefits can be a huge barrier in tenant engagement because of the need to justify the extra expense, especially in social housing. But this is where engagement is most needed. In homes where residents are already disempowered by the knowledge that changes to their homes are not their decision to make. Noble efforts of community engagement displayed on a handful of case studies in the Retrofit 23 exhibition include: meetings with installers, on-site training, and one example of a resident design group where tenants had some real design impact.   Deep Retrofit comes with a specific restriction: to reduce energy consumption by 60-90% of pre-retrofit levels (Fawcett, 2014; Femenías et al., 2018) and therefore immediately places the focus on environmental sustainability and economic viability, consequently deemphasising social sustainability. So I ask the question: can deep retrofit lead to holistic sustainability? Mostly, engagement efforts are systems motivated, attempting to teach residents the correct use of technical systems, at times nominating technical agents from within the building to help transfer this knowledge to the others.   The biggest success of the Retrofit 23 exhibition must be the message board. Full of answers to the question “how can the challenge of retrofitting homes be made easier?”. Answers included: more grant money; increased low-carbon incentives; neighbourhood scale solutions; increase supply chains; increased education and training; upskill; knowledge sharing with children, schools, and communities; and attention to detail to avoid costly mistakes. My personal additions included cut tax on retrofit, extend funding spending deadlines, and legislate social engagement processes.   Often, social housing residents don’t want costly mechanical interventions, they want people to listen to their input and learn from the way they occupy their homes. Not that technical solutions don’t have their place, of course. But there are plenty of energy savings to be had with passive solutions, education, and conversation.   Let’s do better.     *Retrofit 23: Towards Deep Retrofit of Homes at Scale is a free exhibition held at the Building Centre in London until 29thSeptember 2023.     References European Commission. (2020). A Renovation Wave for Europe -greening our buildings, creating jobs, improving lives.   Fawcett, T. (2014). Exploring the time dimension of low carbon retrofit: Owner-occupied housing. Building Research and Information, 42(4), 477–488.   Femenías, P., Mjörnell, K., & Thuvander, L. (2018). Rethinking deep renovation: The perspective of rental housing in Sweden. Journal of Cleaner Production, 195, 1457–1467.   Pierpoint, D., Rickaby, P., & Hancox, S. (n.d.). Social Housing Retrofit Toolkit MODULE 3: Housing Retrofit Policy Summary.

Author: S.Furman (ESR2)

Summer schools, Reflections

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Serious Games in Housing Research

Posted on 10-07-2023

A Reflection on the Reading Summer School   The Collins Dictionary explains that summer school is the conduct of comprehensive and intensive educational activities that rapidly raise participants' awareness or deepen their knowledge of various topics. And that is precisely what the Reading Summer School did. The summer(-ish) summer school was an excellent opportunity to review, discuss and address several important topics, including evidence-based housing, financing models for affordable housing and innovation in housing research. These topics align perfectly with the research projects of my fellow RE-DWELL(-ers). Chapeau! Dr Lorraine Farrelly and Leonardo Ricaurte for putting together such an intensive and comprehensive programme. Although, it is intriguing to write about all the activities of the Summer School. However, the focus of this blog is on the use of games in housing research as a decision-making support tool.   A serious game in research refers to the use of gaming principles and technologies to explore, analyse and address different aspects of topic-related issues. It involves developing and applying interactive and immersive game-like simulations or tools to explore, understand and potentially solve real-world challenges. From a housing perspective, games have gained popularity in recent years. The earliest example of their use can be traced back to the late 1990s when researchers at the University of Southern California used SimCity to study the relationship between land use regulations and housing affordability. By adjusting zoning regulations and development restrictions within the game, they could observe the impact on housing supply, housing prices and neighbourhood characteristics.   What was that game? And how does it work?   On the third day of the Reading Summer School, a serious game session was conducted - designed by Dr Alexandra Paio and Androniki Pappa. The theme of the game was "Building together RE-DWELL affordable and sustainable housing assessment framework ". However, the purpose of the game was to establish a transdisciplinary dialogue bringing together academic and industry views on the development and delivery of affordable and sustainable housing. At the same time, it aimed to help researchers identify and explore new links and connections between the identified challenges, the actors involved and the housing development processes from the three main themes of RE-DWELL (design, planning and building, community participation and policy and finance). It also highlights the differences between top-down and bottom-up approaches to decision-making that affect the outcomes.   Five teams were formed, each consisting of three researchers, one supervisor and two industry partners. Three types of cards were developed from individual projects. The red cards were derived from the research questions and were designed to review and explain the themes of each question and the research field behind it. The green cards, on the other hand, focused on the methods and tools that can be used to answer the identified research questions. The blue cards represent the impacts the research questions intend to achieve. Teams were asked to select a research question, then use the green cards to find answers to the questions, and finally connect the cards with an impact as the outcome. This puzzle-building technique perfectly stimulated discussion among the team members. At the end, dual connotations were derived from the game. First, the academic view focuses on the validity of the method and the structure of the research questions. Meanwhile, the industry partners and housing sector stakeholders focus on the simplicity, clarity and usability of the outcomes. Only by linking both perspectives can "good" results be achieved that address the challenges in housing.   Why is it important?   Unlike monofocused methods, serious games in housing research can serve multiple purposes, with data collection and analysis taking a central place. Researchers can design games that collect data from participants to gain insights into their housing preferences, behaviours and decision-making processes. These games can simulate scenarios related to housing affordability, location choice, energy efficiency, sustainable design and other relevant factors. The collected data can inform policy decisions, urban planning and housing interventions. Serious games can also be used to evaluate the impact of different housing policies or interventions. By creating virtual environments and scenarios, researchers can model the impact of policy changes on housing markets, affordability, social equity and sustainability.   From an engagement perspective, games can engage the public and raise awareness of housing issues. By developing interactive and accessible games, researchers can communicate complex concepts and challenges related to housing engagingly and understandably. This approach can facilitate community participation and promote informed discussions on housing issues. In line with engagement, games can be used as teaching tools for housing professionals, policymakers and students. They can simulate real-life situations and provide a risk-free environment for learning and practising skills related to housing design, urban planning, property management and housing policy development.   What is the next step?   Serious games in housing research offer a dynamic and interactive approach to exploring and addressing various housing-related topics. By combining the immersive nature of games with the complexity of housing problems, researchers can gain valuable insights and engage stakeholders in finding innovative solutions. The game played at the summer school was the first step in building the planned framework. Over the next few months, various adjustments will be made to overcome the initial challenges, and perhaps guidelines for using games in housing research will be established.

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)

Summer schools, Reflections

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Housing in 21st century - Croatian National Housing Strategy 2030

Posted on 30-06-2023

Zagreb just hosted a two-day conference titled "Housing in the 21st Century," organized by the Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction, and State Assets. The primary objective of this conference was to address pressing issues in Croatia's housing market, explore global trends, and propose policy measures to achieve more affordable housing. These discussions were intended to inform the forthcoming national housing strategy for 2030. Prominent architects and policymakers from the field shared their insights during the event, with some presentations proving highly valuable while others lacked relevance in terms of decreasing housing affordability. Although the architects' perspective dominated the conference, it is crucial to recognize the significance of social scientists in understanding the role of housing within our welfare and society. Here are the key takeaways from the conference: Croatia requires a comprehensive national housing strategy that considers local housing strategies. This approach would enable the country to seek foreign funding and delegate responsibilities to suitable entities, such as housing funds or organizations, similar to Slovenia's model. In doing so, it is essential to ensure that land ownership, construction, and maintenance are overseen by the local (or national) government, rather than driven solely by profit motives.   Utilizing existing space and minimizing material consumption should be prioritized. Local authorities own numerous vacant housing units that are not utilized for public or social rental purposes. Relying solely on new land development as a solution is inefficient in various ways. Sustainability does not always align with affordability. For instance, constructing buildings with timber may offer environmental benefits and create a more liveable environment. However, this approach typically increases project costs by approximately 15%. Careful consideration is necessary when implementing sustainable practices to balance cost-effectiveness. Local residents face competition from foreign capital, raising concerns about protecting "Croatian land" from foreign investment funds. Domestic buyers often struggle to compete with foreign entities, as there are no legal barriers for foreigners to acquire construction or agricultural land in Croatia due to EU membership status. Therefore, implementing measures to tax housing units based on their intended use (residential or business) could help address this issue. However, policymakers must be mindful of the impact on rural areas, ensuring that such policies do not exacerbate their economic challenges. The conference was timely, although some may argue it was long overdue. It is commendable that Croatia aspires to learn from countries like Austria and the Netherlands regarding affordable housing provision. However, valuable lessons should be drawn from countries such as Slovenia and Slovakia, which share similar historical and cultural backgrounds, but are much more advanced in affordable housing provision. I eagerly await the national strategy, hoping it includes a comprehensive needs assessment, an actionable plan, and measurable goals against which the success of housing policies can be evaluated.

Author: M.Horvat (ESR6)

Conferences, Reflections

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The fallacy of “sustainability”

Posted on 20-06-2023

Since the day I received my first certificate in sustainability from LEED as a Green Associate in 2012, I defined myself as an advocate for the environment. And I mouthed the word "sustainability" every chance I got, and I even have a tiny line under my email signature that says, "Do not print. Think sustainability." Since then, I have continued to accumulate certificates and attend training courses on all aspects of "sustainability". And if someone dares to ask me what sustainability is? I will confidently scratch my beard and flood them with a stream of quotes from the Brundtland Report, research and academic debates, saying, "sustainability is the only key to a better future, the threshold to preserving our planet, the process of balancing our needs, the act of reducing our consumption" and keep adding "fashionable" terminologies. And for all this, I am a fraud, and I have lied. And let me tell you why sustainability is misleading.   What is sustainability? Let us take a step back and look at the question and the concept. Linguistically, sustainability means the ability to maintain something (e.g. a state, an object or a process). "Sustainability" began as an abstract philosophical ideology that admired the surrounding nature and described the "stability" of shelter, food and fuel and the balance between humans and nature, most clearly in the works of Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics), Plato and Socrates. However, it quickly evolved into a crucial element in the history of human development. It transformed into a method of recognising and addressing the severe impact of humans on natural resources. This change has not stood still but has significantly influenced today's understanding of sustainability as a contemporary method for effectively balancing the social, economic and environmental aspects of societies with the needs of human development. But what exactly is sustainability?   Like any self-defined researcher with access to numerous online libraries, I fired up my laptop and googled the "big" names in the philosophy of sustainability (John Evelyn's Sylva, Baruch Spinoza, Carl Linnaeus, Georges-Louis Leclerc and John Muir). Then I added a dozen journal articles on sustainability science. After a few hours, I was frustrated and even more confused. However, to save you the trouble, I can confirm that sustainability is not a new science, paradigm or set of qualitative indicators. Rather, it is a set of wicked problems that holistically challenge the planet and its systems and impact human existence and well-being in the present and future. I also suggest that three dominant ideologies have shaped the current perception of sustainability. The first is "sustainability through conservation capacity", which promotes a "balanced" state that aims to "sustain" the existence of entities through the ability to endure challenges over time. The second is "sustainability through quantifiability", which defines sustainability as an abstract concept that only comes into play on a quantifiable and global scale. And the third is "sustainability through integration(-ability)", which defines sustainability by describing a state of mutual interest, integration and balance between the three aspects of economic development, environmental capacity and societal needs.   In the end, I also tell you that sustainability is not defined and can not be defined. The difficulty in defining the term is due to the fact that there is no definitive formulation, no stopping rules and no precise boundaries for the timeframe or the problem. So the question is not "what is", but "why" and "how".   Why is it misleading? I am not arguing "scientifically" in the literal sense here. Still, first, I quote Charles L. Choguill (2007), who says: "The term sustainability has become one of the most overused and all too often misused terms in the development literature". The concept of sustainability is often seen as a positive goal. However, I suggest that sustainability can be misleading and insufficient when addressing the complex challenges we face today. An example is the global goal of reducing the temperature by 1.5 degrees, for which there is still no feasible and precise plan. Sustainability often focuses on maintaining current systems and practices without questioning the underlying assumptions. As a result, the root causes of environmental degradation, social inequality and economic instability may not be adequately addressed. The term "sustainability" implies maintaining the status quo indefinitely, which can give a false sense of security. In reality, our planet faces urgent and interconnected crises such as climate change, biodiversity loss and resource depletion. These problems require more immediate and ambitious action than simply maintaining existing conditions. We have been talking about a "climate emergency" for the last few decades, but how long can an "emergency" last?   Moreover, striving for sustainability may mean making trade-offs between environmental, social and economic goals. For example, focusing only on ecological sustainability may neglect social justice or economic growth. Moreover, well-intentioned sustainability efforts can sometimes lead to unintended negative consequences in other areas, such as land-use conflicts or community displacement. Methodologically, however, sustainability is often considered in isolation, without taking into account the interconnectedness and complexity of ecological, social and economic systems. This fragmented approach can hinder holistic solutions and fail to address the underlying systemic problems that perpetuate unsustainability.   What should we do? I do not have a definitive answer to this question, but I am not saying we should abandon our ideology of preserving the planet and reversing the damage done. Instead, I am suggesting a shift towards more transformative and regenerative approaches and ideologies. We should also go beyond the boundaries of sustainability and even consider changing the terminology we use.

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)


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ISHF 2023: “At the end of the day, we are all here for the same reason. And we have to look out for each other”

Posted on 16-06-2023

Last week marked the fourth edition of the International Social Housing Festival (ISHF) and unlike last year in Helsinki, I didn’t spend the entire week in my hotel room with coronavirus. HURRAH! In fact, I was able to sleep in my own bed, because this year the festival came to my current hometown, Barcelona.   More than 1,800 international social and affordable housing providers, policymakers, city representatives, urbanists, architects, researchers, NGOs, and activists celebrated social housing over three days of activities: seminars, lectures, workshops, exhibitions, and site visits.   I was fortunate to help facilitate transfer of knowledge through seminar, exhibition, workshop, and live blogging, in collaboration with multiple social housing actors: RE-DWELL (academic), where I am an Early Stage Researcher; Housing Europe (European Federation), my current secondment in Brussels; and the Agència de l'Habitatge de Catalunya AHC (Regional Government Organisation), my previous collaborator on the HOUSEFUL project.   Read on to find out more.     RE-DWELL | Exhibition and Seminar   RE-DWELL designed and facilitated a participatory workshop in Helsinki, regarding our network’s three key research areas: Design, Planning, & Building; Community Participation; and Policy & Finance. RE-DWELL expanded with two key contributions in Barcelona: an exhibition of network-wide output – vocabulary entries and case study analyses; and a collaborative seminar with Housing Europe titled “Mass renovation of Affordable Housing: Industrial and Social Innovations”, investigating how social policies align with environmental policies and whether environmental housing policies are socially just, or bring tenants further burdens. Key takeaways include: we must retrofit en masse, industrialise the renovation process, avoid creating segregation, deploy organisational transformations to allow social innovation to emerge, value design by employing architects, and ensure socially just quality of life improvements.    The challenge is to consider behaviour to reduce the rebound effect and increase quality of the works and supply chain. Industrialisation could help, but for residents, CO2 reduction is a co-benefit to retrofit. The main benefits and desires are improved quality of life, summer comfort, vegetation, and new local business.     Housing Europe & AHC | Retrofit Workshop My secondment at Housing Europe enabled my involvement in “Resident Engagement Practices in Energy Efficient Social Housing”. The event began with presentations exploring sustainable projects: positive energy neighbourhood Syn.ikia EU by Incasòl, which I was fortunate to visit in Santa Coloma De Gramanet; and retrofit projects Green Deal ARV by Ajuntament De Palma and HOUSEFUL, 4RinEU, PLUG-N-HARVEST, and RELS by AHC. I then facilitated a workshop using a game of cards to explore different methodologies and tools to engage marginalised tenants in the retrofit process*.   Some results from the discussion:   ENGAGEMENT Engagement should occur at the beginning of a project to give tenants options. When occurring at the end of the project, it’s hard to engage people. Tenant engagement should be factored into the programme at every stage of the project.   Tenants with little time and money are more difficult to engage. For example, elderly and very low-income residents. Children and parents are easier to engage, however, and we can offer incentives such as childcare and food.   METHODS OF PARTICIPATION  Overall, the most useful methods chosen in the workshop were sensory and/or tactile. Videos showcasing previous retrofit projects helps engagement, encouraging groups to come, join, and share the experience before facilitating a discussion. A demonstration house where people can attend and interact with the architects and products can be used – but only if designs are finalised. Expectations must be managed if it is subject to change. A challenge to consider: Is there room for a demo-house as a decision-making tool?   TIMING AND TRANSPARENCY Timing is a typical problem for housing associations. Everything should be discussed with all stakeholders to ensure everyone is on board and minimise time delays. If delays occur, transparency and honesty are key to cultivating trust – tenant updates should occur throughout the process.   LONG TERM Tenant partnerships with construction projects are a great way to increase sense of ownership, upskill, and create jobs.     Housing Europe | Blog Throughout the event, I was live blogging for the Housing Europe website, alongside four colleagues. This was a fantastic way to stay consistently engaged and distil the most important aspects of the events I visited – despite the cramp in my hand from typing so fast!   1. THE CARDBOARD FACTORY, FÁBRICA DE CARTRÒ BY INCASÒL Fàbrica de Cartró, an old cardboard factory in Sant Joan Despí, Catalonia, is being investigated for retrofit and reuse by Incasòl. The aim is to create mixed-tenure housing, with a focus on sustainability, including social rental housing, affordable rental housing, cooperative spaces, and private ownership, considering the local community's participation. Desired features include prefabricated systems, renewable energies, a new public space linked to the river, increased dwellings, and common spaces for social value. Incasòl is exploring a public-private partnership model for a long-term lease, ensuring sustainability standards. The retrofit will be a long journey. The structure needs improving to hold more storeys, the basement needs reinforcement. But the space is ethereal, and the façade is beautiful; it could always be removed and reused – an idea already under investigation.   Who will win? Retrofit, circularity, or demolition?  We'll have to wait and see.   2. RENT CONTROL, RENT CONTROL! The war in Ukraine has led to a 30% increase in construction costs, exacerbating the housing crisis amid growing urban migration. Insufficient housing supply results in vulnerable individuals living in subpar accommodations. The head of the EU office of the International Union of Tenants, Barbara Steenbergen calls for rent regulation and caps, while cautioning against landlords exploiting furnished apartments to evade rent control laws.   3. HOW FINLAND AVOIDS EVICTION In 2002, a house fire caused by five people addicted to drugs prompted Finland to establish a proactive service aimed at preventing crises before they occur. Instead of relying on treatment, focus shifted to prevention. Housing Advisors, available to all residents regardless of tenure, offer housing advice to avoid evictions and serve as intermediaries between residents and social services. This approach helps individuals facing issues such as gambling addiction retain their homes and access the appropriate support services. Finland's high salaries and robust public social services do give it advantages over other states. But, consider this, the cost of a single eviction for housing companies is €10,600. Saving three people from eviction, therefore, covers the salary of one Housing Advisor. Simple, yet effective. 4. ISHF TALKS ON PARTICIPATION, POLICY, RETROFIT, AND ENGAGEMENT Montserrat Pareja, a housing researcher from the University of Barcelona, facilitated quick fire presentations of innovative academic research on social housing, covering topics such as tenant participation, policy, retrofitting, and engagement.     I end by quoting an insightful social housing tenant in the documentary about their new home: Casa Bloc: Rehabilitació d’una idea’ (Casa Bloc: Retrofit of an idea) – “At the end of the day, we are all here for the same reason. And we have to look out for each other”.   *Game cards were based on the results of an investigation into people-centred energy renovation processes by Broers et al. (2022).     References and Further Reading   The full Housing Europe live blog can be found here.   Read more about the documentary Casa Bloc: Rehabilitaciód'una idea   Broers, W., Kemp, R., Vasseur, V., Abujidi, N., & Vroon, Z. (2022). Justice in social housing: Towards a people-centred energy renovation process. Energy Research and Social Science, 88.  

Author: S.Furman (ESR2)

Conferences, Workshops

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Summer in the City

Posted on 13-06-2023

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the International Social Housing Festival (ISHF) in Barcelona alongside fellow network members and 2,000 (!) other participants. The event encompassed a remarkable week filled with seminars, keynote addresses, and informal discussions centred around the core themes of RE-DWELL: housing affordability and energy renovation. I would like to dedicate this blog to a particular question posed during a panel discussion I took part in, which explored the intersection between alleviating energy poverty and mitigating heat stress, as it truly sparked some thinking.   On the final day of the conference, a warm Friday on June 9th, I had the privilege of participating in an event organized by Diana Yordanova from Housing Europe. The event, titled 'Working Formulas and Question Marks for Pathways Out of Energy Poverty,' kicked off with Alice Pittini, Housing Europe's research director, sharing insightful highlights from this year's State of Housing report. Additionally, a panel discussion on effective strategies for alleviating energy poverty took place, where I joined the stage alongside esteemed experts and practitioners such as Eleni Kanellou, Anu Sarnet, Sven Van Elst, and Sergi Delgado. During the event, I had the opportunity to present some of the findings from a collaborative research paper I am currently working on with Joris Hoekstra from TU Delft and Ute Dubois from ISG Paris. Our paper focuses on how social housing organisations can effectively reduce energy poverty among their tenants.   Then, moderator Diana, posed a twofold question: "What were the most efficient measures implemented by housing organisations to shield tenants from the energy crisis during the past winter? And as the hot months lie ahead, what should social housing organisations in countries like Spain, Portugal, and Greece keep in mind as they prepare to support tenants and residents in dealing with heat stress?"   Now, while I know that the energy poverty literature increasingly looks at the lack of insulation and appliances that prevent households from cooling their homes sufficiently in summer, most of the research (including my own) currently tends to focus on the inability to heat during cold winters. However, upon reflecting on these questions, I came to realise that many measures taken by housing providers to address energy poverty in winter months would also contribute to the prevention and mitigation of heat stress.   First and foremost, it is crucial to to identify those requiring urgent assistance, specifically the most vulnerable tenants. Having a clear understanding of where to concentrate efforts, particularly during periods of crisis, is vital for short-term interventions. In another enlightening session at the ISHF, focused on climate justice in the Mediterranean, I had the privilege of listening to Eleni Myrivili, the current Chief Heat Officer of the City of Athens. She eloquently elucidated how heat exacerbates inequalities and lays bare the disparities among various socio-economic groups. This resonates with our observations during the previous winter, as the brunt of these extreme weather events is borne by (largely the same) low-income households residing in energy-inefficient dwellings. Therefore, the initial step is to identify the most vulnerable tenants. Who are they? And where do they live?   Another interesting approach that emerged during the previous winter, particularly in the United Kingdom, was the establishment of warm hubs by social housing organisations and their charitable arms. Warm hubs are essentially community centres where individuals can gather, find comfort, receive blankets, access food, and, most importantly, avoid the need to excessively heat their homes and risk high energy bills. It requires little imagination to envision that warm hubs could serve as cool hubs during heatwaves, providing air-conditioned environments to those most susceptible to heat stress.   Hence, resident engagement represents a critical aspect for both cold winters and hot summers. When executed effectively, resident engagement can significantly reduce vulnerability and foster trust between landlords and tenants. Particularly after retrofitting measures, it is essential to educate and promote sustainable behaviours. New technologies can be challenging to comprehend, especially when individuals are already facing difficult circumstances or language barriers. Improving short-term resilience is thus facilitated by fostering engagement.   And finally, when considering long-term resilience in both winter and summer seasons, it is essential to address the most decisive solution: renovation. Particularly in Mediterranean regions, where extreme heat reaches unprecedented levels, the implementation of green roofs and facades becomes crucial to alleviate such conditions. Additionally, measures such as insulation and double glazing play a pivotal role in reducing vulnerability during both winter and summer months, and their implementation can be achieved within a relatively short timeframe. Therefore, accelerating Europe’s Renovation Wave should be an absolute priority.   This introspection has pushed me to expand my thinking beyond the confines of Western European countries and delve into the diverse contexts in which housing providers operate throughout Mediterranean Europe. Moreover, it has reminded me of my master's dissertation at King's College London, written during the strange (and hot) summer of 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic. In that research, I examined the vulnerability of residents in the Metropolitan Region Rotterdam The Hague to heat stress, considering numerous variables (find the output below). Perhaps it’s about time for me to revisit and re-evaluate this work once again!

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)


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Architectural education as commons: Smooth Conference

Posted on 07-06-2023

Last week I had the chance to participate in the three-day Smooth conference: Educational commons and active social inclusion in Volos, Greece, which brought together academics, educators and practitioners in various fields to discuss the implications of the commons for refiguring education and, as the organisers of the conference argue, and I agree, social change in general. By sharing experiences through presentations and workshops, the objectives of the conference were to bring into light diverse practices in terms of geographical, social and institutional characteristics and stress key challenges and opportunities of a commons-oriented education in reversing inequalities and informing political decision-making processes.   The emerging paradigm of commons became popular thanks to the fundamental work of Elinor Ostrom (1990) and is manifested on various examples of social formations around the co-governance of shared resources, based on values of co-responsibility, care, collaboration, sharing, and equality. The notion traditionally refered to natural resources but has been extrapolated in multiple domains, such as the urban realm, and seen as an emancipatory alternative to neoliberal tactics, such as the commodification and privatisation of public assets, offering in response self-sustainable social mechanisms of sharing urban resources, facilitated through social processes of commoning [1].   Understanding education as commons denotes a paradigm shift towards an action system that acknowledges students, their families and often local social groups as active actors in the educational process, fostered by commoning activities as pedagogical tools that promote collective decision making, inclusivity, openness and responsibility.   Whilst my interest focuses on the practical side of commons and specifically the contribution of space and in extension the potential role of design professionals in the development of urban commons practices, I find it intriguing to discuss architectural education becoming not only a commoning process itself, but a commoning process that equips architects with significant skillsets for practicing urban commons. In other words, I find it urgent to explore how architects gain knowledge on urban commons through commoning.   This was the driving question of our presentation “From teaching the commons to commoning teaching: towards a reflexive architectural education”, in which together with my friend Phryne Rousou and my supervisor dr Alexandra Paio we discussed the cross-pollination of our primary findings of two last year’s educational activities, to understand the contribution of commoning as a tool for knowledge production towards the development of social and operational skills of the future professionals. The first activity was a hands-on co-design and build workshop implemented in prototyping a relaxation area at the university campus in Nicosia, and the second, a scenario-based unstructured game of co-strategising urban commons in an empty plot at the university campus in Lisbon.   Along with our presentation, the focus of our session “Space and commons in education” covered a broad range of the understanding of commons in the field of architecture and engineering: from educational resources shared in common by the educational community and the society, such as open libraries of digital design and construction, participatory reuse of materials and knowledge; to methods of interactions across disciplines.   Most importantly, conceptualising architectural education through the ethics of commons lifted considerations on the role and positioning of future professionals, that imply inventing complex senses of democratic identities and transferable skills, while fostering links between educational and non-educational spaces and challenging constitutive processes, educational methods and existing epistemological references. _____________ [1] More information on the definition of urban commons can be found here.     Reference Ostrom, E. (1990) Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/cbo9780511807763.

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)


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Community outcry in public housing refurbishments

Posted on 03-06-2023

Since its establishment, the Republic of Cyprus has enacted housing policy geared towards the enabling of individual homeownership. Important plans included the large state housing estates in many cities across the island, built for people internally displaced by the 1974 division of the island. The houses and apartments have since been transferred to the residents’ own private ownership. Programmes for their rehabilitation have been put forward ever since, but only recently has a comprehensive policy been put together for a national plan to either demolish and rebuild, or refurbish the aging government-built estates. The plan named "Grant Scheme for Existing Multifamily Housing in Government Housing Estates for Displaced Persons" was prepared on the basis of the findings of the structural/seismic evaluation study of a total of 358 existing apartment buildings, accounting for 3,128 apartments in total. On the basis of this study and the structural problems of the apartment buildings, a preliminary decision was made to demolish 43 of them, taking into account social, economic and legal aspects, in order to enable the Scheme's immediate implementation. The total cost of implementing the 10-year Grant Scheme is estimated at a maximum of €130 million and will be financed exclusively from national funds. The Scheme provides for the development of open space within the Government Housing Estates themselves for the construction of new apartment buildings which will replace the ones being demolished. The first stage of the Scheme requires the decision of the eligible residents to participate in the Scheme and to receive a new apartment (with appropriate sponsorship and contribution), or to withdraw from the Scheme and receive a lump sum of the existing apartment and land value attributable to them. However, there has been a very strong backlash by the residents who have been living in these buildings under worsening conditions of disrepair during the past decades.  The most contentious issues have been the provision of rental subsidies and the provision of the lump sum received by those wishing to not participate in the Scheme. For those participating, until the new buildings are constructed, they will have to evacuate the existing buildings and seek rent in the private sector or use the subsidies as they wish while finding accommodation at a friend or a relative, for a period of 24 months and a sum determined by their eligibility status. The largest subsidy amount goes to 1st generation displaced persons and original beneficiaries of the apartments, who are also holders of title deeds. However, the subsidies of a one bedroom apartment being €400 per month, a two bedroom €600 per month and a three bedroom €700 per month are lower than average market prices. For the lump sum recipients, a one-bedroom apartment is valued at €30,000, a two-bedroom apartment at €40,000, and a three-bedroom apartment at €50,000. An example of a plot valued at €180,000 as stated in the Scheme, is divided by 9 homeowners, adding a value of €20,000 for each apartment. During a recent public hearing in Nicosia, many residents voiced their indignation to such a low amount, stating that it will be impossible to find any one-bedroom apartments in the private market sold at €50,000. During the public hearing, strong disagreements were also heard by people in buildings aimed for refurbishment. As the residents of the apartment buildings most often have low or very low incomes, they were unable to repair serious issues such as water penetration, mould and deteriorating structural elements for years. They had to wait for state maintenance workers to come to do the work, and according to the residents, did few repairs, hastily and without much effort. For those residents who spent the little money that they had on essential repairs themselves, it seemed unfair and illogical that they will be receiving subsidies to refurbish the buildings again after the work had been already carried out. Due to such serious shortcomings in truly understanding the above practicalities and the large scope of needs of the Government Housing Estates residents, the policy has been widely discussed in the local media.  Arguably, the lack of consultation with the residents of the housing estates before the preparation of the strategy for their rebuilding and refurbishment has been the largest mistake that the state planners could have done. Confronting perhaps one of the most sensitive housing matters in Cyprus, the top-down strategy that the Planning Department followed in preparing the above Scheme points to the serious inadequacies in the planning system and the failures of hegemonic urban governance institutions in general. This case study  is aligned with the “Design, planning and building” and “Community Participation” of the Re-Dwell project research areas. The government of Cyprus is evidently administering planning system which restricts community participatory processes and offers little transparency in the ways that decisions are made. In general, a real lack of community planning is evident and new housing policies such as the one examined in this case study do little to ensure the affordability or social sustainability of new social housing.

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)


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Celebrating Social Housing

Posted on 29-05-2023

My dad’s family immigrated to London from what was then called Bombay, now known as Mumbai, in 1962 and would often recount fond memories of living in the East End Dwellings* in Whitechapel, despite not having any running hot water or heating, a proper stove, or toilet (let alone a bath) in their own home. Their first winter was one of the coldest on record, known as the Big Freeze, reaching a staggering -16°C in London. They did not own any proper winter clothing and it was a massive shock to them having come from the considerably warmer climate of India just a few months prior, and I can only imagine how cold it must have felt. After living for 10 long years in the Dwellings in shocking conditions by todays standards, the building was torn down as part of a ‘slum clearance’ and demolition programme, and my grandma, dad, and his siblings and were moved to a council flat further east in Mile End. Then in the early 1980s they exchanged their flat with one in a council estate in Barnet, North-West London.   Fast forward to the 1990s, and I would spend a lot of time at my grandma and aunt’s who continued to live in the council flat, which was in walking distance from the home I grew up in, until the 2010s. It was a ten-story tower block with an eclectic mix of residents with immigrant and non-immigrant backgrounds, including families, single mothers and those living alone. I witnessed first-hand the joys of living in a close-knit community, but also the stresses and dangers of the estate environment. Clearly not everyone who grows up in social housing will be disadvantaged, however I became acutely aware of the impact architecture can have on people’s future prospects.   Whilst studying architecture I was initially struck by the fact that there was no limit to what we could design; whilst the building had to be beautiful, there was never a budget, it could theoretically be clad in gold. During the years I worked in practice, most residential projects I worked on were for the richest 1% and a far cry from the urgently needed social and affordable housing. Despite years of experience and training, I found that social impacts and political contexts were not discussed despite the obvious influence that architecture and housing have on society.    Several architecture practices began to raise the profile of social housing and dedicated their efforts to designing beautiful social housing projects, such as Peter Barber, Karakusevic Carson, and Mikhail Riches. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) then launched a new design award in 2019 called the ‘Neave Brown Award for Housing’, recognising “the UK’s best contributions to affordable housing”, named in honour of the late architect Neave Brown who is revered as a pioneer of social housing in the UK.   You may be surprised to learn, as I was, that there is now a festival dedicated to celebrating and promoting social housing, jovially named the International Social Housing Festival (ISHF). The festival was initiated by Housing Europe - a RE-DWELL consortium partner - and is now in its fourth edition. I participated in the ISHF this time last year in the Finnish capital Helsinki with a group of fellow RE-DWELLers. We designed and facilitated a participatory workshop that interlinked our three research areas of design building and planning, policy and finance, and community participation. I can confirm that like a true festival, there was indeed singing with a live a cappella performance during the opening event. Though I sadly won’t be joining this year, RE-DWELL will be participating in the festival next week in Barcelona, Spain.   As I am nearing the end of the second year of my PhD researching social and affordable housing in the circular economy transition, I remain determined to leave a positive impact on the built environment and help drive change in practice. Social housing is a worthy cause that needs more dedicated professionals in the built environment to ensure it remains something truly worth celebrating.     *The East End Dwellings were built between 1885-1906 to provide housing for the Victorian working class by The East End Dwelling Company (EEDC), which was set up by local philanthropists. Dwellings were a form of social housing which partially evolved into council or social housing as we know it today.   Further reading on the history of the East End Dwellings   Architecture practices mentioned and Neave Brown award winners: Peter Barber Architects with McGrath Road Mikhail Riches Architects with Goldsmith Street   Article dedicated to Neave Brown written by Paul Karakusevic from Karakusevic Carson Architects   RE-DWELL workshop from the International Social Housing Festival 2022   International Social Housing Festival 2023

Author: A.Davis (ESR1)


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WasteBuild Zero conference in Amsterdam

Posted on 18-05-2023

During my current secondment in the Netherlands at TU Delft, I attended the two-day WasteBuild Zero conference at the NSDM in Amsterdam, which pushes circularity in the built environment to the forefront. There was so much to unpack after many great presentations and panel discussions with people passionate about sustainability. Speakers included practicing architects, engineers, deconstruction and demolition experts, sustainability experts, economists, and researchers. Here are some of my key takeaways:   Defining circularity: There are inconsistent ways to calculate circularity across industries and stakeholder groups, it still needs to be defined with a series of agreed metrics and measures. Embodied carbon on the other hand has clear metrics, but few countries regulate it*. Economic incentive: Circular construction and bio-based materials are more expensive; we need to make these solutions more attractive. This can be achieved by shifting taxation from labour to resources. Otherwise, demolition and downcycling are inevitable. In the UK the problem of 20% VAT levy on reuse and refurbishments as opposed to zero on demolition or new-build needs to be fixed. A lack of timber industry: For designers to responsibly specify mass timber (which also sequesters carbon) that doesn’t incur excessive embodied carbon in transport, countries other than Austria and Scandinavia need their own local timber industries. Early interdisciplinary engagement: Figuring out solutions and identifying opportunities for material reuse early-on makes it more likely to be cheaper. Demolition teams and contractors have a lot of knowledge and should lead in strategies from the get-go. Furthermore, demolition companies should also provide a disassembly team to minimise destruction and increase reuse. Flexibility: The design, budget, and scope should have more flexibility and not be fixed to test new methods and products to innovate and challenge the status quo. Pre-demolition audits: Documenting all existing materials on-site helps them go back into the supply chain, maximise reuse and know-how, and should inform the design process. Waste classification: Bodies such as the Environmental Agency are preventing the reuse of existing materials on-site such as excavated clay to make earth-blocks and tiles - there were several examples of this presented in case studies. Procurement: Contractors are not incentivised to incorporate reuse and accept a higher level of risk. Tender documents should also state on the first page the requirement for second-life materials, if it’s on page five it won’t get looked at. Warranties: We need more protocols and standardisation to speed up the warranty process, otherwise each material must be tested which takes too long and is too expensive. Risk engineers and insurers should be engaged early on. If possible, try to involve the company that originally produced the material/product. Supply chains: There is a huge gap in the supply chain, lots of materials are available but performance criteria and a lack of warranties prevent reuse. The supply chain should provide a breakdown of materials and as-built information, and should be engaged to take materials back and remanufacture them. Material passports: These are key at the demolition/disassembly and preparation stage, but there is concern over the level of information needed, it is useful at an element level (products made from few materials) otherwise we could get bogged down with too much data.   It’s tough for construction teams to make sustainable choices when we are living and working in a broken system, where it is currently acceptable to landfill almost absolutely everything and it’s often cheaper and easier to source products from China than to reuse local materials. Architects cannot rely on ‘enlightened clients’ during the continued climate crisis, to quote Hans Hammink from De Architekten Cie, we should rethink the role of the architect as “protector of materials”.   Lastly, the lack of information sharing is holding back more widespread and urgent change, research in industry is usually confidential and money is still the main driver. The transition to a circular economy will require a true sharing economy of both materials and knowledge, and we need to ensure lessons learnt are also looped back into the cycle.   See you next year WasteBuild!   *The Architects Climate Action Network UK are continuing to push forward a bill to regulate embodied carbon:

Author: A.Davis (ESR1)

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