Network members activities
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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)

Conferences, Secondments

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Creating impact through transdisciplinary housing research

Posted on 17-05-2023

To hear about the impact on society that academia and research are bringing about is becoming commonplace in discussions held by researchers in school meetings and doctoral conferences. The sector is evolving rapidly and donors increasingly want to see tangible evidence of the results and outcomes achieved by the projects they fund. It can be argued that this can bring undeniable pitfalls. This can inadvertently put pressure on universities to work, produce and compete in a field that increasingly resembles one of companies dominated by strict or rather unforgiving quantitative metrics presented on a spreadsheet in an annual report. The reality is that when researching complex societal issues, articulating the impact we create is almost as important as finding the perfect research question or formulating the best five-minute elevator pitch to explain what your contribution to knowledge is.   Providing affordable and sustainable housing in Europe is a research endeavour that requires a kaleidoscope of lenses working together in unison. This network intends to do so, and the secondments are the vehicle that links the lecture hall with the field, the idea with the end product, and the research question with the answer. We could argue that, in this context, they play a pivotal role in creating an impact on society.   My secondment in Clarion Housing, the largest provider of social housing in the UK with more than 125,000 homes across the country, began four months ago with a determined aim: to leverage the access granted to expertise, secondary data and, perhaps most valuable to my research, to the inhabitants of the housing estates. My project aims to interrogate the impact of housing design decisions on people's quality of life in the form of social value. As many researchers can attest, accessing and recruiting research participants can pose a colossal challenge to surmount to keep pace with the research plan.   Housing associations hold a privileged middle-ground position between tenants and local authorities. By definition, they have an abiding commitment to their beneficiaries as long-term stewards of the homes. Their social function should characterise and define the operation and management of the existing stock as well as the provision of new developments. This role enables housing associations to have a profound impact on people's lives, not only on those they serve directly, but also on the functioning of the wider community in which they operate. In this context, the degree of engagement with housing practice and the contribution that the research project can gain from the collaboration with Clarion can never be equated with research conducted within the strict confines of a mono-disciplinary enquiry.   Several practitioners at Clarion and partner organisations were interviewed about their approach to creating social value and the methods they use to measure and assess their impact on communities. At the same time, participant observation and interviews were conducted with the inhabitants of the estates to triangulate and obtain a comprehensive picture from the top-down and bottom-up. All of this has a particular interest in the long-term impacts of regeneration and development and the intangible outcomes associated with residents' well-being. But it is not just researchers who benefit from collaborating with industry partners. The position of a research secondee allows you to have something that sometimes becomes scarce in 'real-world' practice -time. Time to analyse, time to problematise and time to construe.   A researcher's inquisitive lens can help mentors see things from a different angle. Often practitioners' embeddedness in the real world prevents them from seeing the obvious, and sometimes the obvious is also the hardest thing to prove. Both the mentor and the mentee need to display a range of transferable skills to navigate changing contexts and engage in meaningful discussions with the variety of stakeholders involved. This is where the knowledge transfer takes place. These experiences are the bottom line of transdisciplinary housing research projects such as RE-DWELL, where it is first crucial to develop a comprehensive and shared appreciation of the problem at hand in order to come up with actionable innovative solutions. This is often referred to as the development of common ground between investigators, a must-have for the co-production of knowledge.   These reflections stem from the experience of conducting research in such a context and underpinned the course of the investigation while on my secondment at Clarion. The support of Dr Elanor Warwick has been fundamental to navigating this new scenario. Her extensive experience in deconstructing the boundaries between practice and academia, and the fact that she has been very much involved in the evolution of my PhD helped to make my time with the organisation highly productive. Broadening my understanding of the practical aspects of research in industry and the intrinsic constraints and demands of the sector.   Currently, data collection is still in progress. The journey has been bumpy and is likely to continue to be so. This is part of the contingent nature of fieldwork. As some experienced community consultation researchers within the RE-DWELL network avow, delving into the confines of people's lives and experiences is an undertaking that requires tact and dexterity, rightly conferred by experience and perseverance. In the meantime, I will wear a pair of field boots of stubbornness and determination and continue to try to uncover the lived experience of life in between the buildings.  

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)

Secondments, Reflections

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Retrofit and The Social Agenda

Posted on 08-05-2023

Imagine you are standing at the top of a residential block in a large open park, slightly raised above the ground, with playground equipment catering to various age groups: climbing frames, monkey bars, zip lines, swings… the lot. Walking down the pedestrianised centre of the road, lined with benches and trees (not the norm in arid Barcelona), you arrive at a nine-storey residential building occupying the triangular corner plot. The surrounding buildings occupy a lesser height, so the yellow façade is immediately visible, seamlessly rendered over cork SATE (external wall insulation). Approaching from the street, this is what you would see: at eye level, a west-facing facade with natural limestone wrapping the entire first two storeys; tilt your head upwards, you are looking at yellow-render on the top right two-thirds of the remaining wall, terracotta brick on the top-left third, and the edge of the apartment’s balconies; next, walk around the chamfered the corner, the first two storeys of limestone continues, but, glancing upward again, full balconies are visible on both sides, in the centre of the wall is a central panel of unobstructed glass, and the rest of the wall is terracotta brick; continue your stroll around the building, you are now looking at the south-west facing wall, you see the same material pattern as the west-facing facade, but mirrored. The building is tonally harmonious and the effect is soft and warm—accentuated by the sunshine outside.    The building is called Bloc Els Mestres (The Teachers Block). It was built around 1956 to house the teachers of the adjoining school. The school, the teachers’ residencies, and the expansion of two housing estates were some of the first buildings to occupy the sparsely populated Sabadell Sud location. The site is near Sabadell Airport. By 1984, the expansion had caught up to Bloc Els Mestres and it was no longer isolated between fields but surrounded by residences to the North, West and East. By the year 2000, it was nestled in at all sides. By 2018, however, Bloc Els Mestres sat vacant, neglected, and in major need of renovation.    Today, two structurally sound wings fan out either side of the bright central stairwell, with two approximately 100m² four-bedroom apartments per floor —one in each wing (1st – 8th floor). The ground floor belongs to the community. The south-east building orientation allows light to stream through the square windows that punctuate the longest façades; slightly cantilevered balconies also benefit from this orientation. The apartment interiors are a simple white, giving tenants a wide scope to personalise and redecorate.   HOUSEFUL: Innovative circular solutions and services for the housing sector   The Catalan Land Institute—Institut Català del Sòl (Incasól) are the main landowners and developers of social housing in Catalunya. But while they own the land, the buildings themselves are managed by their sister organisation—Agència de l'Habitatge de Catalunya (AHC). Social housing retrofit—or rehabilitación in Castellano—is therefore overseen by the AHC. A lesson I learned quickly after starting my secondment in social housing retrofit… at Incasól. Graciously, introductions were made at the AHC, the owner (unusual) and manager (usual) of Bloc Els Mestres and partner in the HOUSEFUL project.   Bloc Els Mestres has undergone a major retrofit as part of the EU funded HOUSEFUL project (2018-2023) – integrating innovative circular solutions and services into the retrofit of four pilot projects in Spain and Austria. More information can be found here. An ambitious project in sustainable retrofit, physical building upgrades have been combined with smarts systems, reuse, and tenant inclusion through technical systems operation learning and feedback sessions, enhancing social sustainability by ‘consultation’ (Arnstein, 1969) and ‘collaboration’ (Oevermann, 2016). It is now occupied by social housing tenants, who rent the homes directly from the building owner (AHC) at a discounted rate.   I attended two site visits to Els Mestres during my secondment at Incasòl, one included a feedback session with key stakeholders: AHC, Aiguasol, WE&B, Sabadell Council, Saneseco, the Social Association, and Fundació EVEHO – a group who temporarily place young people in HOUSEFUL to aid in their move to Spain.   Bloc Els Mestres feedback session takeaways:   Barrier 1: How to visualise the benefits of the HOUSEFUL solutions. Solution1: Create a report to present the solutions to building owners, manager, and public authority. Place an information board at the building entrance (outside) and inside the building, with a QR code taking people to the website with constantly updated information.   Barrier 2: Language – not all residents were raised in Spain, and therefore speak and read Spanish or Catalan. Solution2: Consider different dimensions of accessibility. Audio translations, an instruction manual for technical components that is easy to comprehend, beautiful, and visual.   Barrier 3: The water system needed a lot of space and maintenance; constant analysis of the treated water was also needed - the tenants association asked for removal. Solution 3: It was finally agreed with the tenants’ association to install the water system temporarily, in order to evaluate it.   Barrier 4: A “circularity agent” should be allocated to teach tenants how to use complex technical systems. Solution 4: A ‘president’ of the residents could be trained to take this role, in-house expertise and earning a social place in the building.   Barrier 5: Safeguarding future tenants use of technical systems. Solution 5: Contract states the obligation for new tenants to receive technical training regarding how to use the dwelling.   Going forward with my own research, it is important to keep in perspective that conflicts will arise when tenants are involved in decision-making processes. As a result of this, it is important to foresee these potential conflicts, plan possible solutions, and manage expectations.   A huge thanks to Pere Picorelli at Incasòl and Cristina Cardenete, Esther Llorens, and Anna Mestre at AHC for their help, time, access, and guidance.   References:   Arnstein, S. R. (1969). A Ladder Of Citizen Participation. Journal of the American Planning Association, 35(4), 216–224. Oevermann, H., Degenkolb, J., Dießler, A., Karge, S., & Peltz, U. (2016). Participation in the reuse of industrial heritage sites: The case of Oberschöneweide, Berlin. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 22(1), 43–58.

Author: S.Furman (ESR2)


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What does 'Being Humble!' have to do with affordable and sustainable housing?

Posted on 19-04-2023

The provision of affordable and healthy homes in England is a complex matter involving factors from different walks of life. As an Egyptian/Portuguese and having won the ESR4 post in RE-DWELL, to be a researcher and PhD candidate in The University of Sheffield, I am exploring the English context with a fresh eye. In addition, as an architect, I have always been biased towards architecture to have the power to change things, and in particular how people live and feel in their homes.  But since I have been learning more and more about transdisciplinarity, I have noticed that this attitude is gradually changing; it is not only about architecture ... You know, the only constant in life is change! but what made that change?  Let us talk about it in a story.      Recently, I travelled to Zagreb in Croatia for the RE-DWELL workshop on policy and financing for affordable and sustainable housing which is a key research in the "Transdisciplinarity" of RE-DWELL research. But, what is this word "Transdisciplinarity" that has become fashionable in research lately? In RE-DWELL we are 15 researchers from different fields of knowledge such as architecture, industrialised construction, retrofitting, finance, politics, mobility, community participation and social sciences. We meet almost every 6 months for workshops and summer schools and continuously train in research methods and transferable skills to understand transdisciplinarity better and better. But why? Because our plan is to create a transdisciplinary framework for affordable and sustainable housing by the end of this project. Again, why a transdisciplinary framework! Is it because you want to add a fashionable term?   Nope! there are a lot of things (research, news, etc.) that show how complex it is to build sustainable and affordable homes. If you stay away from what's happening in the real world, you might get the idea: Hey guys, it's not that complicated, we have videos of sustainable materials everywhere, why do not you just do it?    But! the more I expand the perspective to understand how the provision of affordable and healthy homes for low-income communities on a large scale is challenging, the more I discover new challenges and new factors "the devil's in the detail". It is also becoming clearer to me that it is not just the responsibility of the architects. In fact, there are too many factors and challenges that I learn about through my ongoing interviews that tie the hands of architects. That is why transdisciplinary research is necessary!   Similar to the world of architecture, researchers can propose a great solution to something, but when it hits the ground, it gets a shock and break! And this is what is called the gap between research and practise. This gap, by the way, poses a problem for many researchers. In some cases, practitioners are not interested in working with researchers because they think we are in LaLa land! Here comes the importance of research that digs in to preceive the real world context. It is also important how the researcher communicate the research and its impact to others. This why we are now in the RE-DWELL Transferable Skills TS4 on Communication, Engagement, and Impact led by Lorraine-Farrelly from The University of Reading and Adrienne Csizmady from Hungarian Academy of Sciences.    Fortunately, on RE-DWELL project as ESRs, we are collaborating with non-academic partners who are keen to work with researchers to better understand tricky issues and exchange knowledge with us while we develop the transdisciplinary framework for affordable and sustainable housing. And here comes the reason for: Why transdisciplinarity?   Transdisciplinarity is a paradigm of thinking where the biases of each discipline are set aside to focus on understanding or solving a particular problem. Hence, this paradigm is adopted by RE-DWELL. As Marja Elsinga from TU Delft during the workshop discussed with us, it is not something new!   Simply put, transdisciplinarity is about "Being Humble" and recognising that everyone is on a continuous learning journey and no one knows everything. The term "Being Humble" was shared with us by Leandro Madrazo while reflecting on Ashraf Salama's publication on transdisciplinarity. But for me, it really simplified what transdisciplinarity means, which in many situations was confussing. "Being Humble" means that we should listen, question others and ourselves, reflect, share and be open to change. And this is similar to what Salama referred to transdisciplinarity as a “Mutual Learning” process between various disciplines.   "Being humble" came back to my mind during Ana Vaz Milheiro session when she told us a story of architects in Portugal who designed houses a long time ago thinking they had a good design, but people did not like it and did not want to buy or rent it. And another example of some flat buildings that for architects may not seem to be of good design, but whose inhabitants expressed that they loved them and liked living in them. These are examples of how the monothematic mindset can sometimes not predict what will really work on the ground for the end users "the residents".    Getting this real-world essence into research via interviews is one of the most common research methods in a transdisciplinary research. "How much does it cost to build an affordable and healthy house and maintain it for years?" This is the question I am currently eliciting answers for, through a series of interviews to understand the different factors that influence this and then develop a life cycle costing model to estimate these costs. So far, I am finding that interviews are interesting opportunities to talk and share knowledge. And the best part for me is this "wow" moment when I discover factors I have never thought or came across before.   The researcher immerse in a non-academic experience of engaging with the subject is another powerful method of a transdisciplinary research. For this reason, I am now joining South Yorkshire Housing Association, who are one of the non-academic partners of the RE-DWELL project. They provide affordable housing and also look after the wellbeing of end users through their LiveWell team. I will be working closely with SYHA Development team for 3 months adopting a transdisciplinary mindset. I will be open to learn and share knowledge with them while putting aside my own professional biases.   Speaking of biases, in the workshop Montserrat Pareja-Eastaway opened the discussion of how it is difficult in many cases nowadays, an in particular in housing related-studies, to say that “I have a specific discipline”.  Many of us in RE-DWELL are continously gaining experience that is correlated with various fields. That's why she is ecouraging that we need to replace the word discipline with area of knowledge. For example, in my own research, I am cooking up the work of cost consultants, sustainability consultants, architects and housing providers in one pot to produce new knowledge and share with the world.   So as you can see, transdisciplinary is like a conversation and a way of thinking – my favourite to say: it is also like cooking - where new knowledge is created through genuine integration - mixing - of knowledge of academics and non-academics from various fields, where own biases disappear and the main focus is on a certain subject. The results then will be hard to say: Oh! it is this specific discipline that produced it.    In the end, I hope you enjoyed reading and learned something new about transdisciplinarity as I did in Zagreab Workshop: “Being Humble” is not only important in dealing with people in our daily lives, but also in the way we see our own field of knowledge. Let's put our biases and egos aside and work together to make the world a better place.    Thank you for reading and Good Bye!   

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4)

Workshops, Secondments, Reflections

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Towards flexible and industrialised housing solutions

Posted on 24-02-2023

Near the end of 2022 I had the chance to complete my first secondment of two months at La Salle, in Barcelona. This was a great opportunity to understand how the municipality of Barcelona, architecture firms and industry partners are developing more flexible and sustainable housing solutions that can accommodate new family structures and different ways of habitation.  Furthermore, it became the perfect occasion to reconnect with the state of the industry in my home country, increase my network of contacts and work hand-in-hand with my co-supervisor Nuria Martí.      Within the Spanish territory, Barcelona is the city leading change with innovative housing solutions, promoting the creation of non-hierarchical and resilient distributions, and incentivising the use of industrialised construction through public competitions. This change of paradigm is not only increasing the current affordable housing stock, but is integrating new actors in the decision-making process through participatory practices.    The main goal of my secondment was to develop a case study assessment methodology that would combine a taxonomical classification of the building systems and highlight the design strategies for each of the building layers (structure, façade, access and circulation, services and internal dividing elements). Ultimately, correlating these criteria with the type of customisation offered in the domestic space. Besides helping me establish the parameters to compare and classify the housing case studies, the interviews to practitioners also shed some light on some of the challenges ahead.   Support and infill   Habraken’s (1961) critical response to mass housing proposed an approach in which a dwelling should encourage adaptation and become an instrument to empower the user. This approach took into account different needs and time horizons dividing the building into 2 groups: the long-life components that constitute the communal structure, and the short-life components that respond to individual needs and can be modified without hindering the overall integrity of the system. This concept is strongly related to what Steward Brand (1995) proposed with his ‘Shearing layers of change’, which emphasized these layers to be differentiated according to their particular lifespans. Building upon the mentioned authors, Bernard Leupen (2006) suggested that it is precisely the permanence of the frame (known as support in the Open Building movement) that enables the generic space to be altered, extended or used in a variety of ways. More recently, Jeremy Till and Tatjana Schneider (2007) conveyed the idea that “the most productive approach to prefabrication for flexible housing is probably not one that invents new systems from scratch, but one that assembles existing prefabricated elements in an adaptable manner.”   My research is therefore using a set of case studies to analyse the design strategies, construction system and level of industrialisation per building layer, identifying those that belong to the support, and defining the type and degree of customisation offered to the infill.   Non-hierarchical spaces   Due to the increasing variety of family structures and the pressing need to design resilient dwellings that can be adapted to future needs, recent housing developments in Barcelona are proposing non-hierarchical distributions. Spatial polyvalence is essential to enable the flexibility for user customisation (Hertzberger, 1991). Flexibility has become a prerequisite for today’s collective housing solutions and, moreover, it is a strategy that promotes gender equality in distributions. Gender equality seeks to break with the traditional role division in the domestic space and promotes the involvement of all family members in the household tasks, for example by bringing the kitchen to a visible and central position as opposed to secluded and closed-off (Montaner et al., 2019).   An example of a non-hierarchical, flexible and gender-equal solution is the award-winning 85 social housing units in Cornellà by Peris + Toral Arquitectes which proposes a matrix of connected rooms that allow the user to inhabit the space in multiple ways. The 3.6 x 3.6 module promotes porous distributions, non-linear circulation, and adaptability throughout time. This is also the case in the Illa Glòries by Cierto Estudio, which I was lucky enough to interview while on my secondment. Aiming to create versatile homes that can be adapted to the tenant’s changing needs in a simple and reversible way, the connections between adjacent spaces are multiplied while the corridors are removed. A central room ‘rótula’, makes it possible to create diagonal visual connections and increase the circulation possibilities while conferring independence to the surrounding rooms. This matrix of non-hierarchical rooms creates a dynamic housing aggregation system, where the limits of the flats have the potential to vary and different layouts are possible.   Industrialised public housing   In order to promote the use of industrialised construction methods, the IMHAB (Institut Municipal de l’Habitatge I Rehabilitació de Barcelona) has created several public housing competitions where the architect, the consultants and the construction company had to work collaboratively from the early stages of the design. Some of the objectives the IMHAB sought to achieve through these public competitions were the acceleration of the production processes, the reduction of the carbon footprint, the increase of the quality of the buildings and shortening the execution time. The resolution of the proposals shows a growing interest in the use of engineered timber components such as CLT or glulam. The design teams highlighted several benefits in using this material as the reduction of the embodied emissions, the lower costs of foundations due to a lighter structure, or the increased precision when prefabricating components with computerised numerical control (CNC). Additionally, companies as 011h are collaborating with design teams to digitalise their kit of parts in such way that the data can be utilised throughout the entire process of design, manufacturing and assembly. This high level of digitisation requires a greater coordination between stakeholders on early stages of the design and could become a tool to provide mass-customised dwellings at an affordable price.   However, the slow adoption of digital technologies, limited wood suppliers, and the strict Fire Safety and Acoustic regulations in Spain, have become major barriers when using engineered timber in housing. To comply with the regulations, most of the projects had to incorporate wet screeds after the dry construction, hindering the possibility to disassemble the components for future reuse or recycling.   Flexible housing solutions   Flexibility is necessary to allow for the customisation of housing in the short term and ensure the adaptability in the long term. The way architects and industry professionals define the built environment impacts enormously on the transformation capacity that housing has to incorporate different needs over time. This flexibility is tightly linked to dimensions, design strategies and construction systems, and can contribute to a democratisation of design by integrating new voices in the process. Barcelona turned out to be an extremely useful secondment to understand how some of these strategies and construction systems are implemented in practice.     References   Brand, S. (1995). How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built. Penguin Books.   Habraken, N. J. (1961). Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing. Routledge.   Herman Hertzberger. (1991). Lessons for Students in Architecture. 010 Publishers.   Leupen, B. (2006). Frame and Generic Space. 010 Publishers.   Montaner, J. M., Buron, J., Mira, A., Valiño, V., Prats, M., Font, G., Ventura, N., & Palay, J. (2019). Flexibilidad e igualdad de  género en la vivienda.   Schneider, T., & Till, J. (2007). Flexible housing. Elsevier.

Author: C.Martín (ESR14)


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Clashing Vulnerabilities

Posted on 13-02-2023

Clashing vulnerabilities   The globalization era resulted in the fragmentation of class structures, and regional and social inequalities grew. As a result, upward mobility is declining in most countries in Europe. More and more people are at risk of downward mobility, but they are classified as “not poor enough” to receive help and are pushed back of the queue for benefits, including housing.   Housing affordability is a primary driver of precarity, affecting both upward and downward mobility. A growing number of middle-income people have difficulty affording adequate housing in Europe, facing safety concerns, as they can only access unhealthy, low-quality, energy-inefficient, or overcrowded housing options. Their situation has become fragile partly because of the liberalized labor market, and partly because the system abandoned them as an outcome of the cuts in the welfare state. Meanwhile, the number of evicted and homeless people is also rising.   ”Clashing vulnerabilities” between marginalized people and increasingly downwardly mobile people should be managed, even though risks are being distributed differently, and it is hard to estimate how structural and individual factors influence the probability of becoming downwardly mobile.   I had my first secondment at BMSZKI (Budapest Methodological Centre of Social Policy and its Institutions). BMSZKI is the largest homeless service provider in the capital, also it is one of the largest social service providers in the country and the Central European region. They are making a great effort to ensure the highest quality of services for vulnerable people who turn to them for help, also they developed the methodology of needs assessment for homeless people and established a special professional network to solve issues (e.g: related to housing, health care, addiction). BMSZKI differentiates the profiles of their services based on the needs of homeless people and these services are adapted to the demands that arose.   This secondment demonstrated how “social practices” as a framework can serve transdisciplinarity. There is a certain knowledge that we cannot get from books or lectures. Personal experiences of the working people at particular institutes, or organizations are essential parts of the learning process. During my stay, I learned about the theory and practice of social work, and I had the possibility to have site visits, meeting with the leaders of different programs (FET, No Slum), and homes (Temporary home for families, K22). I had the chance to have individual and multi-person consultations to shape my understanding and the direction of my research.   I benefited from the fruitful discussions about how important it is to open services both for homeless and at risk people. To open the system from the bottom and the top. On the one hand, social/housing policy should lower the number of people who are homeless (living literally on the streets), and on the other hand, it should provide people in general with more opportunities to get a safe, affordable home. A policy that focuses only on the most serious problems or restricts itself to the poorest residents is clearly not sustainable. The question remains: How to find harmony between these two interrelated goals? They are non-contradictory public purposes, but they compete with each other in terms of resources and administrative capacities. There lies the challenge.   I would like to conclude this post with a book recommendation and a quote.   Book recommendation: Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives of Homeless Women by Elliot Liebow The author of this ethnographic research spent time with homeless women in the late eighties (after being diagnosed with cancer). Liebow tells us that these women were not homeless because they had mental health issues or addiction problems. (There are many women who are mentally or physically ill or who are having family issues or addiction problems who have homes.) They are homeless because they cannot afford a home, even when they have several jobs at the same time.   Quote about homelessness from Sharon Stone (from her speech presented at the Compass Community Services, Spring Forward 2009 luncheon, San Francisco, April 23, 2009), who is the co-founder of Planet Hope ( ):   “I think so many people don’t really know what it is to be homeless, or how people get there. Many people hear the word “homeless” and they think of that guy cast in a movie who is kind of skinny and skanky and stinky and stands outside a bar begging. That’s not homelessness. That’s an idea. Homelessness is what happens when you’re one paycheck away from losing your home. When you have tried everything you’ve got. Everything. When you’ve leveraged everything, sold everything, sold your lawn furniture, sold your couch, taken your grandmother’s engagement ring to the pawn shop, given away your clothes, haven’t eaten, live on a dozen eggs for a week, fed your kids but you don’t eat, slept in your car, they’ve taken your car, you’ve lived in a pup tent, and now you don’t have that. Homelessness is when your government job is gone. Homelessness is when you’re a professor, and they don’t need you anymore at the school. Homelessness is when your dental group is cutting down and they don’t need that many dentists anymore. Homelessness is educated people. Homelessness is when you’re a wife, and your husband wants a younger one. Or a different one. And not you and those noisy kids… And when children — good children, not drug users — but good normal children just like yours are in the street, innocent, pure, lovely, beautiful children just like mine and yours are in the street for two weeks, 14 days, and they have nowhere to live, and not a mother who is a tiger, who stands over them and gets them to school and keeps her head together, or something happens to that parent — in 14 days they are prostitutes to live, because that’s the only way they can eat. And that is a governmental statistic. This is homelessness.”

Author: A.Martin (ESR7)


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'we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us'

Posted on 07-02-2023

An academic secondment developed within the RE-DWELL network represents a remarkable opportunity to expand the boundaries of local academic setups, to foster collaboration and exchange, and ultimately to sow the seeds of transdisciplinary research. In my case, I had the chance to spend these two months at the IUGA, Institut d'urbanisme et de géographie alpine, of Grenoble Alps University. This was not only the perfect excuse for me to finally pick up the diploma of my Master's degree I had done there a few years ago and could not get because of COVID, but also to be once again among geographers and urbanists in this contrasting conurbation, recently awarded green capital of Europe, surrounded by the Alps, traversed by hundreds of kilometres of bike paths and coloured by vivid street art murals.    The time there allowed me to refine but also problematise the conceptual and methodological framework of my research project. Oftentimes this can become one of the most challenging tasks in an investigation, and concepts such as theory, conceptual framework, methodology, etc. can be intimidating and difficult to handle. I decided to use some of the time I spent there and in view of a paper that I had to submit to the RE-DWELL conference, to re-imagine a possible different approach to assessing the social value of housing design through Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE).   In recent decades, architecture geographers have questioned the way buildings and urban spaces are studied. Focusing on their impact on society and on their users, they have used qualitative methods to conduct studies of life and everyday patterns of behaviour within spaces, providing a scholarship and expertise that could be used to better understand the impact of residential architecture through POE. The methodology of researchers such as Jacobs, who see buildings as "occupied performative events" (Jacobs, 2006, p.10), is particularly compelling. They view the process of meaning-making as one that is negotiated through socially mediated practises of everyday life. Accordingly, buildings are not static objects but living entities that are 'made' or 'unmade'. Therefore, a building is understood as such as long as its users and the systems that make it up reaffirm their relationships on a daily basis. Buildings and people are part of an assemblage where time also plays an essential role. In a way, this is not far from what Stewart Brand (1995) wanted to convey with the 'Shearing layers of change'. If buildings are made up of complex systems that are intertwined with their users, the methods needed to study them must be able to capture these intricate relationships, which cannot be explained exclusively from either a social or a technical perspective.   These authors used actor-network theory ANT to formulate their investigations. This methodological approach to the analysis of inhabited spaces allows for a very complex representation of the various relationships that can exist between systems and inhabitants within buildings. The so-called 'building events' are the vehicle used by Jacobs et al. (2010), Lees & Baxter (2011) and Rose et al. (2010) to go about the investigation of the built environment by looking at the feel of buildings, feelings in buildings and feelings about buildings in a very detailed way (Rose et al., 2010), complemented by ethnographic methods and participant observation. These methods enabled them to unpack very revealing accounts of the experiences of housing estate residents, in which architectural features of key spaces within the realm of the housing estate are catalysts for human emotions that transcend the boundaries of physical space. Narratives that provide complementary insights into the territorialisation of feelings and emotions and the impact of places on citizens' quality of life.   The way architects and other professionals involved in design do research on the built environment can benefit enormously by adopting systematic research methods in collaboration with academics. POE can become the backbone of the strategy that allows us to demonstrate the value we co-create and sustain learning loops within the praxis. And as this brief account shows, geographers can open up new avenues of collaboration through research that will hopefully yield a fuller picture of the relationships between people and the places they inhabit.   References. Brand, S. (1995). How buildings learn: What happens after they’re built. Penguin.   Jacobs, J. M. (2006). A geography of big things. Cultural Geographies, 13(1), 1–27.   Jacobs, J. M., Cairns, S., & Strebel, I. (2010). More on “big things”: building events and feelings. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35(3), 334–349.   Lees, L., & Baxter, R. (2011). A ‘building event’ of fear: thinking through the geography of architecture. Social & Cultural Geography, 12(2), 107–122.   Rose, G., Degen, M., & Basdas, B. (2010). More on “big things”: Building events and feelings. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35(3), 334–349.

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)





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