Network members activities
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Collaboration transcending the secondment

Posted on 17-10-2023

In the course of my doctoral research journey, the European Federation for Living (EFL) emerged as an extremely valuable secondment partner. This collaboration has been instrumental in shaping my research and fostering a mutually beneficial relationship, which I am eager to share in this blog post.   Building a network in social housing   EFL has been as an important platform for professionals in the European social housing sector for quite some time. It caters to those keen on staying updated with innovations in policy, finance, and construction, while building an international network. About a year before my official secondment began in July 2022, I had the privilege of being invited to present at their summer school in Bochum, Germany. The fact that the event was particularly tailored for younger professionals in the sector allowed me to blend in very easily. The constructive feedback I received on my early-stage work during this event proved invaluable in understanding how to practically apply the academic literature I had been exploring in my first year, and the connections I made during those days have remained a valuable part of my network.   Facilitating my focus group study   One significant aspect of my collaboration with EFL was the establishment of a focus group study involving social housing professionals from England, France, and the Netherlands. These in-depth discussions, spanning several hours, allowed us to gather crucial insights into their the sector's efforts to address energy poverty. Specifically, we delved into their perceptions of targeted approaches for the future. While I was already familiar with individuals at Ymere in the Netherlands and Clarion in England, it was through EFL's chair Ben Pluijmers' introductions that I was able to connect with key figures at Peabody (England), Havensteder (Netherlands), Paris Habitat, and Polylogis (both France), who played a pivotal role in this study.   Sharing insights and disseminating results   The collaboration with EFL presented various other opportunities to share my findings with a broader audience. I had the opportunity to present preliminary findings at two webinars hosted by EFL’s 'Social' topic group, graciously invited by Anita Blessing and John Stevens. Building on this, I shared valuable insights during EFL's Spring Conference in Paris in May 2023.   The pinnacle of this dissemination effort comes in the form of a comprehensive 20-page whitepaper that synthesises key learnings from our focus groups, focusing on energy poverty alleviation in the social housing sector. Collaborating closely with EFL and co-authors Joris Hoekstra and Ute Dubois, this whitepaper has been a collective endeavour. It is now scheduled for printing and will be shared with those interested at EFL’s upcoming Autumn Conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in early November. I am eagerly anticipating this event, and I am grateful to have been invited by EFL’s director, Joost Nieuwenhuijzen. In other words, stay tuned for updates on this page or join us during EFL's conference, because this collaboration is far from over!   Click here for a draft programme of EFL's Autumn Conference that takes place from 8-10 November in Belfast.

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)


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Exploring the right to housing in Spain: some reflections

Posted on 22-09-2023

I had the chance to participate in the seminar, `Housing and Neighborhood´ (Vivienda y Vecindario), held in Valencia and organized by the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo. The seminar, directed by Carles Dolç Soriano and David Estal Herrero, provided an interdisciplinary platform for learning from academics, policymakers, and members of social movements and reflecting on the state of housing in Spain and the ongoing challenges it faces.    Historically, Spain has favoured private ownership in housing, and there have been limited public housing options. However, in recent decades, the landscape of housing has undergone significant changes. As affordable, adequate and sustainable housing seems unreachable for a big part of the population, issues such as the scarcity of social housing, the increasing vulnerability of the residents in certain urban areas and neighbourhoods, the growing need for community-oriented housing solutions, and the issue of reuse of vacant properties through rehabilitation, need to be addressed.    The starting point for the discussions was the new housing law, which came into effect in Spain in May. This landmark legislation is the first of its kind, aimed at establishing principles and guidelines for ensuring equal access to affordable and adequate housing for all. Doubts have arisen about the law's effectiveness, particularly regarding the lack of specific implementation mechanisms, as the responsibility for regulating the housing market and providing solutions falls on each autonomous community. Despite these challenges, the recognition of housing as a fundamental human right is steadily gaining ground.    As a consequence, the debate that took place focused on how this right to housing should be realized, taking into account all the current challenges, as well as the mistakes of past policies, and thinking on strategies and tools to achieve it. The seminar provided an opportunity for collective reflection on public housing policies, new architectural typologies and models that promote and support community living, and the enhancement of energy efficiency in vulnerable households facing energy poverty.    In the world that we live in today, a world vastly different from the times that produced the established housing systems, we face urgent social and environmental crises. Housing can no longer be viewed as a commodity with exchange value, it must be recognised as a shelter, a fundamental human need that takes precedence over all other societal concerns. This makes us wonder whether now is the moment for radical changes, to push for tangible solutions and for new models. These discussions and reflections make us think that we are maybe evolving towards new cultures of inhabiting.  

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

Reflections, Conferences

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Social Sustainability in post-communist countries

Posted on 18-09-2023

During my secondment at CERANEO, I gained valuable knowledge about housing needs in Croatia and about the causes and effects of homelessness together with the various programs and interventions that can be used to prevent and reduce homelessness. I also learned about advocacy and how to collaborate with civil society organizations to achieve social change.   I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with such dedicated and passionate people, like Mr. Zvonko Mlinar (Croatian Network for the Homeless), Professor Olja Druzic Ljubotina (University of Zagreb, Faculty of Law, Department of Social Work) and Maja Bukovšak (Croatian National Bank). In the case of the Croatioan Network for the Homeless, I had an insight into the work of the network. I saw the “different faces” of homelessness and how the network continues to advocate for the rights of homeless people and to promote policies that will improve their lives. Hopefully, Housing First can be proven effective in Croatia, helping homeless people find and maintain permanent housing.   My visit to the Croatian National Bank was useful for my macro investigations. I familiarized myself with statistics and different studies (about relevant provisions, and loan schemes that are/were unique or highly relevant) that can help my work. I checked out and discussed the proportion of housing loans compared to GDP (total outstanding residential loans to GDP ratio), also, I looked for information about existing subsidies, the number of transactions per year, and the characteristics of the system of housing finance. (We discussed questions, such as: Is there a relevant difference between the number of “investment” loans - and the number of traditional housing loans? What are your thoughts about the relevance of spatial inequalities in the country? What do you think of the importance of Euro? Is there a correlation between housing loans and housing costs? Who is the main target group of housing loans?  What do you think about the role and consequences of inflation these days? What do you think about the risk of people not paying back loans?  Do you see significant patterns in building permits/housing completions? Is there an estimation for new constructions? And so on.)   During my stay in Zagreb, I explored the possibility of making a comparative study between Croatia and Hungary. My specific interest lies with social sustainability in these post-communist countries, where homeownership is a dominant form of housing tenure (it is accepted as a social norm), while adequate housing is unaffordable to more and more people. It is interesting to see (historically) how Croatia and Hungary succeeded/failed in “regulating” the market, noting special "cracks" in their systems.     Altogether this secondment completes my previous secondments nicely. I like the way CERANEO is working on projects with a focus on trends in social development, such as poverty and unemployment, and monitoring the provision of social services, such as housing and healthcare. I honestly believe that housing and healing (care) have a close connection and it is timely to investigate and critically reflect on the contested provisioning of these two sectors. CERANEO and the Croatian Network for the Homeless are making a real difference in the lives of homeless people in Croatia. I commend them for their work, and I encourage them to continue to fight for the rights of homeless people.   Finally, I would very much like to thank Professor Bežovan and Marko Horvat for making my stay worthwhile with their constant support and productive help.

Author: A.Martin (ESR7)


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Activism and Philanthropy: A Call for Collaboration in Addressing Housing Affordability and Social Challenges in Europe

Posted on 13-09-2023

Over the past few decades, housing affordability for low-income individuals and families in Europe has been on a steady decline. The marketized housing systems, which once promised a sustainable and socially vibrant living environment, have been plagued by long-term issues that have threatened the very fabric of our communities. Within the European Union, member states share both similarities and differences, ranging from institutional and legal frameworks to political landscapes. Following the transition to multiparty democracies in Eastern European countries, there was a glimmer of hope as these nations boasted a well-educated and cost-effective workforce. However, the path to development has been marred by various challenges, including recession, privatization, restitution, and price liberalization. These hurdles have particularly impacted the social aspects of these countries, leading to persistent social tensions. Despite significant progress since the early 1990s, negative demographic trends continue to exacerbate the existing social challenges. Additionally, the prevalence of informal economies in these countries remains higher compared to their counterparts. This can be attributed to reduced tax revenues and inadequate support schemes that fail to target those in need. It is clear that the current support systems are dysfunctional and require a collaborative effort from various stakeholders to bridge the gaps and foster mutual learning. In light of these pressing issues, it is crucial for activism and philanthropy to join forces and work hand in hand. Activism, with its ability to raise awareness and mobilize communities, can shed light on the dire housing affordability situation and advocate for policy changes that prioritize the needs of low-income owners and renters. Philanthropy, on the other hand, can provide the necessary resources and support to implement sustainable solutions that address the root causes of the problem. By fostering a close collaboration between activists, philanthropists, policymakers, and other stakeholders will enable us to develop innovative strategies that tackle housing affordability and social challenges in a holistic manner. It is only through such collective efforts that we can restore sustainability and social cohesion within our communities.   Here are some key elements that can contribute to addressing challenges: 1. Long-term Vision and Housing Policy Framework: A clear and comprehensive housing policy framework is essential to guide decision-making and ensure a long-term vision for affordable and sustainable housing. This framework should prioritize the needs of low-income individuals and families and address the root causes of housing affordability issues. 2. Strategy to Fight Homelessness: It is crucial to develop a strategy that focuses on preventing and addressing homelessness. This includes measures to stop the criminalization of homelessness and provide protection for vulnerable groups, such as families with children. Adequate support and resources should be allocated to ensure that those in need have access to safe and stable housing. 3. Alleviation of Housing Poverty: Housing subsidization should be targeted towards those who are in genuine need, ensuring that the most vulnerable individuals and families receive the support they require. 4. Increasing the Stock of Affordable Housing: Efforts should be made to increase the availability of not-for-profit and affordable housing. This can be achieved through partnerships with housing providers, philanthropic organizations, and other stakeholders. Investing in the development of new homes and renovating existing ones can help expand the stock of affordable housing. 5. Supporting Energy-Efficient Renovations: Many housing units are in poor condition, contributing to energy poverty and environmental degradation. Supporting energy-efficient renovations can improve living conditions, reduce energy costs, and contribute to sustainability goals. Funding and incentives should be provided to encourage homeowners and landlords to undertake these renovations. 6. Collaboration between Housing Providers and Philanthropy: Housing providers, including local authorities and community organizations, play a crucial role in delivering affordable and sustainable housing services. However, they often face challenges in funding and resources. Philanthropic organizations can play a vital role in providing funding and support for essential community investments. This collaboration can lead to the development of stronger community efforts and innovative housing solutions. 7. Flexibility in Funding: Greater flexibility in utilizing EU funding for housing initiatives, combined with central state support, can help foster the growth of affordable rental housing and combat energy poverty. This flexibility allows for tailored approaches that address the specific needs of different regions and communities.  

Author: A.Martin (ESR7)


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Urban regeneration and new housing research — European network of housing research conference (ENHR) 2023

Posted on 01-09-2023

In the final week of June, I had the luck of participating in this year´s ENHR conference which was held in Lodz, Poland. This three-day event was a great experience, featuring a plethora of insightful presentations stemming from research projects addressing the current housing challenges. Amidst engaging conversations and exchanges with colleagues, the conference provided the opportunity to delve into the issue of urban regeneration. The topic of this year was “Urban regeneration: shines and shadows”, and as the conference was held in Lodz —a city undergoing significant revitalization over the past decade—we were able to witness firsthand the profound impact of urban renewal. The central question explored in the main plenary sessions was: Can regeneration occur without triggering gentrification?   I participated in the collaborative housing workshop, which featured an impressive lineup of presenters covering a diverse range of topics related to collaborative housing models. The workshop consisted of five sessions, each offering insights into various investigations of community-led housing. There were presentations that delved into the historical evolution of cooperative housing in different parts of the world, including Finland, Hungary, and Denmark. We also learned about ongoing research projects focusing on the current state of cooperative housing in cities like Barcelona, Prague, Berlin, and Leeds. In other sessions, we gained perspectives on topics such as Generation Z's attitudes towards cooperative housing, the phenomenon of home-sharing in Brussels, and the dynamics of senior cooperative housing in the Netherlands and Denmark.   I presented my paper: “Understanding Community Participation in Cooperative Housing using the Capabilities Approach: The Case of Catalonia”. This took place within a stimulating session chaired by Claire Carriou. Alongside me were Henrik Larsen, who presented a historical overview of cooperative housing in Denmark, and Valentina Cortés-Urra, who shared her latest research on scenarios for the development of collaborative housing in Chile.   Leaving the conference, I felt inspired by the presentations and the things that I learned from all the participants! I am grateful that this conference brings together all these amazing researchers. With a refreshed perspective, I feel excited to continue the work and already looking forward to next year´s conference!

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

Conferences, Reflections

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Let’s talk embodied carbon

Posted on 26-07-2023

I’m happy to report of some good news for once from the UK, although I am a Londoner now living in Barcelona, I am trying to keep my finger on the pulse with the goings-on of all things sustainability back home.   There have been some promising updates regarding embodied carbon, with real steps being taken to actually limit it, rather than just talking about it. But first to clarify what embodied carbon is, the World Green Building council defines it as “the carbon emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole lifecycle of a building or infrastructure”, the lifecycle refers to extracting raw materials, transportation to factories, manufacturing processes, transporting products to site, construction on site, maintenance and replacements during the use phase, and the end of life phase (i.e. when the building is transformed and hopefully not demolished). Until recently the conversations really centred around operational carbon, which is the energy consumed during the use phase by occupants mostly for heating, cooling, lighting, and powering appliances and devices.   To reduce the amount of embodied carbon that is put out into the world, the first practical step is to stop and think whether a project should be built at all, as per the R ladder by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which goes beyond the famous 3R’s (reduce reuse recycle). Given that we do build in most cases, the focus must be on reusing as many materials as possible to reduce embodied carbon, rather than recycling (downgrading), landfilling, backfilling, and incinerating.   Here are some of the good discussions going on:   The RIBA has launched a new prize championing reuse called the Reinvention Award that “recognises achievement in the creative reuse of existing buildings through transformative projects that improve environmental, social, or economic sustainability”. This will incentivise architectural practices to push for reuse and in time provide excellent case studies for others to follow suit.   Oxford street’s Art Deco M&S building has been saved from demolition after a long campaign launched back in 2021. Knocking the building down would have generated almost 40,000 tonnes of embodied carbon and acted counter to the UK’s net-zero targets. To stop more projects like these trying to get through, it would be extremely helpful to have a tax reform removing VAT on refurbishment projects – whereas in contrast new build projects (which often entail demolition) are currently exempt.   Steps are being taken to regulate embodied carbon slowly, but promisingly. The push has come from industry with the Part Z proposal and a campaign launched by ACAN UK in February 2021. In February this year the Carbon Emissions (Buildings) Bill went for its second reading. The UK Parliament's Environmental Audit Select Committee’s 2022 report highlighted the fact that current policy inadequately addresses the need to reduce embodied carbon, develop low-carbon materials, or prioritise reuse and retrofit. Whilst “[ot]her countries and some UK local authorities are already requiring whole life carbon assessments to be undertaken. This leaves the UK slipping behind comparator countries in Europe in monitoring and controlling the embodied carbon in construction. If the UK continues to drag its feet on embodied carbon, it will not meet net zero or its carbon budgets.” The Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and France have already introduced regulation on whole-life carbon emissions. Apparently, the UK is considering including regulating embodied carbon in 2025 building regulations.   Some outgoing thoughts:   All buildings should be built as monuments, meaning we need to literally build in value so that they are considered worth keeping in the future. Today developers, insurers, and designers take too much of a short-term view to the detriment of building quality. What’s more, we need to put more thought into how we can better design buildings to be dismantled and adapted in the future to deal with changing needs and climate change. We have countless world heritage and listed buildings that have stood for centuries that have been reconfigured and maintained throughout time. This level of protection should be afforded to all buildings to limit further carbon emissions.   Re-skilling: There is a great need to re-train current built environment professionals and overhaul academic curriculums to reflect the skills needed to prevent further destruction of biodiversity and climate change. That means rather than striving to build whatever the client wants - regardless of potential negative environmental impacts – the priority should be to make sustainability focussed design decisions. That is at least until legislation catches up.   High-tech solutions are not the answer, unquestioningly embracing new technologies such as AI and the ubiquitous use of smartphones is having negative and even dangerous effects on our lives. The same can be said for the over-reliance of smart systems, mechanical solutions, and overengineering in the built environment. This quote from a recent report by Unesco about the overuse of digital technology on learning outcomes and economic efficiency also applies to construction: “Not all change constitutes progress. Just because something can be done does not mean it should be done.” An example of high-tech energy efficient solutions masking the embodied carbon cost is Foster + Partner’s Bloomberg building which claimed to be the “world's most sustainable office building” and was awarded BREEAM’s highest rating Outstanding in 2017, despite the high embodied carbon that went into building it. Since the invention of electricity, we have relied heavily on it to heat, cool, and light our buildings and homes and have turned our backs on passive strategies which rely less on the production of electricity and the extraction of an increasing number of critical materials.   It's not all about embodied carbon. It’s important to bear in mind that carbon is not the only cause of climate change (methane is another contributing greenhouse gas); climate change itself is also just one of nine planetary boundaries identified by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, which are moving towards tipping points and endangering the earth’s stability.   Although these last remarks sound quite existential, I’d like to bring the focus back to the positive moves happening back home (and abroad). The seemingly small wins of promoting reuse, actively preventing demolition, and regulating embodied carbon are the foundations of building a sustainable future.     Sources World Green Building Council’s embodied carbon definition found in report   R ladder by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency      RIBA Reinvention prize,%2C%20social%2C%20or%20economic%20sustainability   M&S building saved from demolition   Proposed Part Z regulating embodied carbon in the UK   ACAN UK’s regulating embodied carbon campaign   The Stockholm Resilience Centre planetary boundaries  

Author: A.Davis (ESR1)


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Something is blooming in Nicosia: community-engaged design & build activities at UCY School of Architecture

Posted on 21-07-2023

Learning is never confined solely to an institutionalised classroom. - bell hooks, Teaching Community: a pedagogy of hope, 2003     At the end of June, the 1st official iteration of the module at the University of Cyprus in Nicosia wrapped up successfully. A semester-long process, based on the co-creation and design & build methodologies resulted in the designing and building of a shaded sitting/meeting platform. The platform, named “Take a seed”, designed for the Latsia Highschool courtyard, aims to encourage user appropriation and foster a feeling of collectiveness, also considering educational aspects around native plants through the inclusion of a system for planting and seed distribution.   The module involved three different courses: The Y2 housing co-creation studio, titled “co-creating urban commons: from the home to the neighbourhood”, in which students were tasked with critically think about the notions of “housing”, “sharing”, “co-living” and the “commons”, and designing housing that reflects their own positioning about these concepts. They were also asked to contemplate on the role of the local high school in Latsia’s suburb as a potential focal point in the future neighbourhood and spatially translate their vision in collaboration with the Y3 & Y4 students and with the high school students that participated in the semester-long co-creation workshops; The Y3, Y4 co-design course, titled “co-design, co-build, co-inhabit: co-creation from design to construction”, in which students collaborated with with high school students to co-design in detail small-scale spatial interventions answering to the actual needs of the school users, while promoting social interaction, encouraging appropriation; and The Y2, Y3, Y4 summer course, titled “co-design, co-build, co-inhabit: all hands on deck!”, in which students were tasked with constructing a selected project from the co-design course and delivering it to its users.   All of these different educational activities were created to both illustrate the dependencies of architecture, but also to challenge the ever persisting modernist, hetero-patriarchal norms, behavioural codes and stereotypes of the architect as an identity (what Jeremy Till refers to as “architecture culture” [1]), as well as their role in society. In the hopes of subverting false ideas of a detached practice, often unconsciously perpetuated within architecture schools, students were asked to navigate diverse situations, not necessarily confined to what would traditionally be considered “architectural”: from translating concepts into spatial elements, to conversing with stakeholders; or from managing social media campaigns, to solving material shortage problems. In essence, students were asked to find their bearings within a continuous fluctuation between real-world conditions and abstract imaginaries, beyond architecture and into spatial agency [2].   Specifically, during the final stage of the module – the “building phase” –, students were asked to assume different mantles; builder, communicator, researcher, carer, mediator, enabler, among others. Within three weeks of continuous shifting between roles, of collective effort towards a goal with real impact on the high school community, students exhibited increasing levels of confidence in their own abilities, and their growing eagerness to take initiative and their ability to work together was translated into instances of self-organisation. Ultimately, this stage allowed each member of the group to bring in their own unique set of capabilities and personality and contribute in diverse, yet equally meaningful ways.   While all the activities of which the module consists fall under a mode of learning called “experiential”, i.e. learning through experiencing [3], this final stage is perhaps a learning environment that ties experiencing with empathising. All this mantle-changing, the different roles and situations to which students are exposed, shifts “being” an architect, into “becoming” a spatial agent. While “being” signifies the uncritical appropriation of the norms and stereotypes that have been dominating architectural education, “becoming” implies motion, a constant re-working and re-discovery of the self, the knowledge and the tools we use, a joyful thrusting into new frontiers [4]. Architectural education, especially in challenging local contexts (post-colonial, developing, etc.), needs pedagogical vessels that fundamentally challenge architecture culture, which operate through tactical and direct action within the margins of the market economy, towards the creation of meaningful spaces for local communities.   There is still a lot of work to be done, but the aspiration for the module for the future is to become a threshold, a gateway from architecture into spatial agency, and a medium through which the Architecture School of the University of Cyprus can become a crucial actor in matters concerning spatial interventions in Nicosia. After all, as Harris & Widder say, “the reality of building can only be experienced by building reality” [5].   If you would like to meet this year’s team, follow this spring semester’s project(s) and browse through past ones, follow us on social media:                 [1] Till, J. (2009). Architecture Depends. The MIT Press. [2] Awan, N., Schneider, T., & Till, J. (2011). Spatial Agency: Other Ways Of Doing Architecture. Routledge. [3] John Dewey was a scholar of education who first developed the theory around experiential learning in 1938. [4] Sewell, J. I. (2014). “becoming rather than being”: Queer’s double-edged discourse as deconstructive practice. In Journal of Communication Inquiry (Vol. 38, Issue 4, pp. 291–307). SAGE Publications Inc. [5] Harriss, H., & Widder, L. (2014). Architecture live projects pedagogy into practice.

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)


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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 prompts action 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 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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