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HOUSEFUL: Els Mestres, Sabadell

Created on 26-05-2023 | Updated on 12-02-2024

Bloc Els Mestres (The Teachers Block) is a social housing apartment block in Sabadell, Spain, that has recently undergone a deep energy retrofit (DER). Built in 1956 to house the teachers of the adjoining school, the building is one of four pilot projects in Spain and Austria to undergo retrofitting as part of the EU-funded project, HOUSEFUL (2018-2023). This initiative aimed to integrate circular solutions and services into the retrofit.

The school, the teachers’ residences, and the expansion of two housing estates were some of the first buildings to occupy the sparsely populated location of Sabadell Sud, which is near the city’s airport. By 1984, the expansion had reached Bloc Els Mestres which 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, the nine-story residential building, which occupies a triangular corner plot, boasts a distinctive façade of harmonious natural limestone, yellow render, terracotta brick, and glass panels, creating a warmth complemented by the Mediterranean sun. 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.

In-house at Agència de l'Habitatge de Catalunya (AHC)

Sabadell, Spain

Project (year)
2018 - 2021

Construction (year)

Housing type
Social housing block, 4-bedroom apartments (converted from teachers’ apartments)

Urban context

Construction system
Solid brick and ceramic

Building renovation


Innovative Aspects of the Housing Design/Building:

Bloc Els Mestres underwent a major retrofit as part of the EU-funded HOUSEFUL project, integrating innovative circular solutions and services. Tenants were involved through technical systems operation learning and feedback sessions. Tenant engagement methods included interviews and workshops focused on teaching residents how to engage with energy consumption and learning the energy consumption of home systems. As with typical DER, there were four main technical improvements to the building: (1) airtightness, (2) insulation, (3) smart systems, and (4) renewable energies. Circular solutions also incorporated into the retrofit to reduce waste include: (1) reusing the balcony balustrades after raising their height to meet building regulations, (2) recycled wall cladding product, and (3) greywater to be treated using the Nature Based Solution (NBS) of a green wall inside the courtyard.

Construction Characteristics, Materials, and Processes:

After the rehabilitation, the housing block has evolved into a resilient structure with two four-bedroom apartments per floor, spanning the 1st to the 8th floor. Its distinctive design encompasses an array of materials, from natural limestone and cork SATE for insulation to yellow render, terracotta brick, and unobstructed glass panels. With a strategic south-east orientation, the building optimizes natural light, thanks to square windows and cantilevered balconies. Inside, the apartments are designed in a clean, white palette, giving tenants the freedom to infuse their unique style and personal touch.

Energy Performance Characteristics:

Physical deep energy retrofit interventions included: cork external wall insulation; airtightness, fixing holes and fissures, double glazing, or other solution to reduce thermal coefficient; mechanical ventilation; hydraulic balance valve with differential pressure measurement for the determination of the circulation flow, with insulation; and solar thermal panels, owned by the building owner, together increasing energy efficiency by approximately 50% compared to pre-retrofit. Tenants received technical training on how to use dwelling systems, potentially improving energy efficiency.

Involvement of Users and Other Stakeholders:

The rehabilitation process has involved collaborative decision-making among key stakeholders: LEITAT, non-profit organisation managing and researching sustainable technologies—project co-ordinators; AHC—Housing Agency of Catalonia and building owners; Sabadell Council; WE&B, organised co-creation activities and resident outreach; Housing Europe; members of the tenants’ association; Aiguasol, solar thermal energy; and ITEC, Catalan Institute of Construction and Technology—performed LCAs (life cycle analyses) to decide on cost-effectiveness of circular solutions.

The retrofit project encompassed low levels of tenant consultation and feedback sessions. The importance of managing conflicts that arise during tenant involvement in decision-making processes was recognized. A 'circularity agent' was proposed to teach tenants how to use complex technical systems, potentially fostering in-house expertise.

Relationship to Urban Environment:

Located in Sabadell Sud near the local airport, the block has undergone a significant transformation over the years. It has evolved from an isolated building, the once surrounding fields now transformed into a densely populated urban environment. Notably, it seamlessly integrates into this urban landscape, with a tonally harmonious façade that bathes the surroundings in a warm and visually appealing ambiance. The ground floor is dedicated to the community, fostering a strong connection to the local area and its residents. The nearby pedestrianized streets, adorned with benches, trees, and versatile playground equipment for all age groups, create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. This building plays a vital role as it provides accommodation exclusively for social housing residents, contributing to the rich social fabric of the urban community.

Alignment with project research areas

Design, planning, and building

  • Existing building designed to retrofit with circular principles
  • Novel NBS for greywater, through plants.
  • Biowaste considered but removed.

Community participation

  • Inclusive design for marginalised groups—keeping cost of bills low and neutral interiors
  • Workshops and interviews with residents
  • Decision-making with tenants’ association members on the board.

Policy and Financing

  • The building is owned and managed by Agència de l’Habitatge de Catalunya (AHC).
  • Partly financed by the HOUSEFUL Horizon 2020 project
  • Part of the EU’s “Affordable housing initiative”.

Design, planning and building

Community participation

Policy and financing

* This diagram is for illustrative purposes only based on the author’s interpretation of the above case study

Alignment with SDGs

HOUSEFUL responds to the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

Goal 1 No Poverty: ensuring social housing that is affordable for all residents—four bedroom apartment costs 400-500 EUR per month.

Goal 6 Clean water and sanitation: greywater treated with NBS—a green wall inside the courtyard.

Goal 7 Affordable and clean energy: Passive and mechanical solutions to a reduction in energy costs and carbon output

Goal 9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure: Cork SATE (external wall insulation), circularity—reuse of existing balconies

Goal 12 Responsible consumption and production: Energy consumption results are pending, but the expected energy reduction is 50% compared with pre-retrofit.


Agència de l’Habitatge de Catalunya. (2022, October 5). Projecte HOUSEFUL.

Agència de l’Habitatge de Catalunya (AHC). (2018) PROJECTE DE REFORMA DE L'EDIFICI DE BLOC DELS MESTRES (I), Barcelona: AHC. Unpublished.

Houseful. (n.d.). HOUSEFUL: Els Mestres. Retrieved January 16, 2023, from

Medina, B., Brummer, M., & Smith, D. (2019). D 3.1: Social engagement strategy for the co-creation of HOUSEFUL solutions as new services (version I). Barcelona: Houseful. Unpublished.

Related vocabulary

Energy Retrofit

Housing Retrofit

Social Housing


Area: Design, planning and building

Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU (European Commission, 2021). Energy retrofit is also referred to as building energy retrofit, low carbon retrofit, energy efficiency retrofit and energy renovation; all terms related to the upgrading of existing buildings energy performance to achieve high levels of energy efficiency. Energy retrofit significantly reduces energy use and energy demand (Femenías et al., 2018; Outcault et al., 2022), tackles fuel (energy) poverty, and lowers carbon emissions (Karvonen, 2013). It is widely acknowledged that building energy retrofit should result in a reduction of carbon emissions by at least 60% compared with pre-retrofit emissions, in order to stabilise atmospheric carbon concentration and mitigate climate change (Fawcett, 2014; Outcault et al., 2022). Energy retrofit can also improve comfort, convenience, and aesthetics (Karvonen, 2013). There are two main approaches to deep energy retrofit, fabric-first and whole-house systems. The fabric-first approach prioritises upgrades to the building envelope through four main technical improvements: increased airtightness; increased thermal insulation; improving the efficiency of systems such as heating, lighting, and electrical appliances; and installation of renewables such as photovoltaics (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). The whole-house systems approach to retrofit further considers the interaction between the climate, building site, occupant, and other components of a building (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). In this way, the building becomes an energy system with interdependent parts that strongly affect one another, and energy performance is considered a result of the whole system activity. Energy retrofit can be deep, over-time, or partial (Femenías et al., 2018). Deep energy retrofit is considered a onetime event that utilises all available energy saving technologies at that time to reduce energy consumption by 60% - 90% (Fawcett, 2014; Femenías et al., 2018). Over-time retrofit spreads the deep retrofit process out over a strategic period of time, allowing for the integration of future technologies (Femenías et al., 2018). Partial retrofit can also involve several interventions over time but is particularly appropriate to protect architectural works with a high cultural value, retrofitting with the least-invasive energy efficiency measures (Femenías et al., 2018). Energy retrofit of existing social housing tends to be driven by cost, use of eco-friendly products, and energy savings (Sojkova et al., 2019). Energy savings are particularly important in colder climates where households require greater energy loads for space heating and thermal comfort and are therefore at risk of fuel poverty (Sojkova et al., 2019; Zahiri & Elsharkawy, 2018). Similarly, extremely warm climates requiring high energy loads for air conditioning in the summer can contribute to fuel poverty and will benefit from energy retrofit (Tabata & Tsai, 2020). Femenías et al’s (2018) extensive literature review on property owners’ attitudes to energy efficiency argues that retrofit is typically motivated by other needs, referred to by Outcault et al (2022) as ‘non-energy impacts’ (NEIs). While lists of NEIs are inconsistent in the literature, categories related to “weatherization retrofit” refer to comfort, health, safety, and indoor air quality (Outcault et al., 2022). Worldwide retrofit schemes such as RetrofitWorks and EnerPHit use varying metrics to define low carbon retrofit, but their universally adopted focus has been on end-point performance targets, which do not include changes to energy using behaviour and practice (Fawcett, 2014). An example of an end-point performance target is Passivhaus’ refurbishment standard (EnerPHit), which requires a heating demand below 25 kWh/(m²a) in cool-temperate climate zones; zones are categorised according to the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) (Passive House Institute, 2016).  

Created on 23-05-2022

Author: S.Furman (ESR2)


Area: Design, planning and building

Environmental Retrofit Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy consumption and 36% of carbon emissions in the EU (European Commission, 2021). Environmental retrofit, green retrofit or low carbon retrofits of existing homes ais to upgrade housing infrastructure, increase energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, tackle fuel poverty, and improve comfort, convenience and aesthetics (Karvonen, 2013). It is widely acknowledged that environmental retrofit should result in a reduction of carbon emissions by at least 60% in order to stabilise atmospheric carbon concentration and mitigate climate change (Fawcett, 2014; Johnston et al., 2005). Worldwide retrofit schemes such as RetrofitWorks, EnerPHit and the EU’s Renovation Wave, use varying metrics to define low carbon retrofit, but their universally adopted focus has been on end-point performance targets (Fawcett, 2014). This fabric-first approach to retrofit prioritises improvements to the building fabric through: increased thermal insulation and airtightness; improving the efficiency of systems such as heating, lighting and electrical appliances; and the installation of renewables such as photovoltaics (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). The whole-house systems approach to retrofit further considers the interaction between the occupant, the building site, climate, and other elements or components of a building (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). In this way, the building becomes an energy system with interdependent parts that strongly affect one another, and energy performance is considered a result of the whole system activity. Economic Retrofit From an economic perspective, retrofit costs are one-off expenses that negatively impact homeowners and landlords, but reduce energy costs for occupants over the long run. Investment in housing retrofit, ultimately a form of asset enhancing, produces an energy premium attached to the property. In the case of the rental market, retrofit expenses create a split incentive whereby the landlord incurs the costs but the energy savings are enjoyed by the tenant (Fuerst et al., 2020). The existence of energy premiums has been widely researched across various housing markets following Rosen’s hedonic pricing model. In the UK, the findings of Fuerst et al. (2015) showed the positive effect of energy efficiency over price among home-buyers, with a price increase of about 5% for dwellings rated A/B compared to those rated D. Cerin et al. (2014) offered similar results for Sweden. In the Netherlands, Brounen and Kok (2011), also identified a 3.7% premium for dwellings with A, B or C ratings using a similar technique. Property premiums offer landlords and owners the possibility to capitalise on their  retrofit investment through rent increases or the sale of the property. While property premiums are a way to reconcile          split incentives between landlord and renter, value increases pose questions about long-term affordability of retrofitted units, particularly, as real an expected energy savings post-retrofit have been challenging to reconcile (van den Brom et al., 2019). Social Retrofit A socio-technical approach to retrofit elaborates on the importance of the occupant. To meet the current needs of inhabitants, retrofit must be socially contextualized and comprehended as a result of cultural practices, collective evolution of know-how, regulations, institutionalized procedures, social norms, technologies and products (Bartiaux et al., 2014). This perspective argues that housing is not a technical construction that can be improved in an economically profitable manner without acknowledging that it’s an entity intertwined in people’s lives, in which social and personal meaning are embedded. Consequently, energy efficiency and carbon reduction cannot be seen as a merely technical issue. We should understand and consider the relationship that people have developed in their dwellings, through their everyday routines and habits and their long-term domestic activities (Tjørring & Gausset, 2018). Retrofit strategies and initiatives tend to adhere to a ‘rational choice’ consultation model that encourages individuals to reduce their energy consumption by focusing on the economic savings and environmental benefits through incentive programs, voluntary action and market mechanisms (Karvonen, 2013). This is often criticized as an insufficient and individualist approach, which fails to achieve more widespread systemic changes needed to address the environmental and social challenges of our times (Maller et al., 2012). However, it is important to acknowledge the housing stock as a cultural asset that is embedded in the fabric of everyday lifestyles, communities, and livelihoods (Ravetz, 2008). The rational choice perspective does not consider the different ways that occupants inhabit their homes, how they perceive their consumption, in what ways they interact with the built environment, for what reasons they want to retrofit their houses and which ways make more sense for them, concerning the local context. A community-based approach to domestic retrofit emphasizes the importance of a recursive learning process among experts and occupants to facilitate the co-evolution of the built environment and the communities (Karvonen, 2013). Involving the occupants in the retrofit process and understanding them as “carriers” of social norms, of established routines and know-how, new forms of intervention  can emerge that are experimental, flexible and customized to particular locales (Bartiaux et al., 2014). There is an understanding that reconfiguring socio-technical systems on a broad scale will require the participation of occupants to foment empowerment, ownership, and the collective control of the domestic retrofit (Moloney et al., 2010).

Created on 16-02-2022

Author: A.Fernandez (ESR12), Z.Tzika (ESR10), S.Furman (ESR2)


Area: Policy and financing

A universal definition of social housing is difficult, as it is a country-specific and locally contextualised topic (Braga & Palvarini, 2013). This review of the concept focuses on social housing in the context of the UK from the late 1980s, which Malpass (2005) refers to as the phase of ‘restructuring the housing and welfare state’, to the early 2000s, known as the phase of the ‘new organisation of social housing’. In response to previous demands for housing, such as those arising during the Industrial Revolution, and recognising the persistent need to address the substandard quality of housing provided by private landlords in the UK (Scanlon et al., 2015), the primary objective of social housing has historically been to enhance the overall health conditions of workers and low-income populations (Malpass, 2014; Scanlon et al., 2015). However, this philanthropic approach to social housing changed after the Second World War when it became a key instrument to address the housing demand crisis. Private initiatives, housing associations, cooperatives and local governments then became responsible for providing social housing (Carswell, 2012; Scanlon et al., 2015). Social housing in the UK can be viewed from two perspectives: the legal and the academic (Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). Along these two perspectives, social housing is often analysed based on four main criteria: the legal status of the landlord or provider, the tenancy system or tenure, the funding mechanism or subsidies, and the target group or beneficiaries (Braga & Palvarini, 2013; Carswell, 2012; Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). From a legal perspective, social housing maintained its original goals of affordability and accessibility during the restructuring period in the late 1980s. However, citing the economic crisis, the responsibility for developing social housing shifted from local authorities to non-municipal providers with highly regulated practices aligned with the managerialist approach of the welfare state (Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019; Malpass, 2005; Malpass & Victory, 2010). Despite the several housing policy reviews and government changes, current definitions of social housing have maintained the same approach as during the restructuring period. Section 68 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, updated in 2017, defines social housing as low-cost accommodation provided to people whose rental or ownership needs are not met by the commercial market (HoC, 2008; 2017, pp. 50-51). The Regulator of Social Housing, formerly the Homes and Communities Agency, has adopted the earlier definition of social housing and clarified which organisations provide it across the UK. These organisations include local authorities, not-for-profit housing associations, cooperatives, and for-profit organisations (RSH, 2021). In contrast, the National Housing Federation emphasises the affordability of social housing regardless of the type of tenure or provider (NHF, 2021). From an academic perspective, Malpass (2005) explains that during the restructuring phase, social housing was defined as a welfare-supported service – although it did have limitations, which meant that funding principles shifted from general subsidy to means-tested support for housing costs only, which later formed the basis for the Right to Buy Act introduced by the Thatcher government in the early 1980s (Malpass, 2005, 2008). The restructuring phase, however, came as a response to the housing 'bifurcation' process that began in the mid-1970s and accelerated sharply from the 1980s to 1990s (Kleinman et al., 1998; Malpass, 2005). During this phase, the role of social housing in the housing system was predominantly residual, with greater emphasis placed on market-based solutions, and social housing ownership concerned both local authorities and housing associations (Malpass & Victory, 2010). This mix has influenced the perception of social housing in the 'new organisation' phase as a framework that regulates public housing intervention for specific groups and focuses on enabling non-municipal providers (Malpass, 2005, 2008; Malpass & Victory, 2010). Currently, as Carswell (2012) explains, social housing plays an important role in nurturing a variety of initiatives aimed at providing ‘good-quality’ and ‘affordable’ housing for vulnerable and low-income groups (Carswell, 2012). Oyebanji (2014) sees social housing as any form of government-regulated housing provided by public institutions, including non-profit organisations (Oyebanji, 2014). Additionally, Bengtsson (2017) describes social housing as a system that aims to provide households with limited means, but only after their need has been confirmed through testing (Bengtsson, B, 2017 as cited in Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). To a great extent, social housing in the UK can be seen as a service system that is intricately linked to the welfare state and influenced by political, economic, and social components. Despite being somehow determined by common factors and actors,  the relationship between social housing and the welfare state can sometimes be complex and subject to fluctuations (Malpass, 2008). In this context, the government plays a vital role in shaping and implementing the mechanisms and practices of social housing. While the pre-restructuring phase focused on meeting the needs of the people by increasing subsidies and introducing the right to buy (Stamsø, 2010), the aim of the restructuring phase was to meet the needs of the market by promoting economic growth (privatisation, market-oriented policies and reducing the role of local authorities) (Stamsø, 2010; Malpass, 2005) . The new organisational phase, on the other hand, works to meet and balance the needs of all, with people, politics and the economy becoming more intertwined. Welfare reform legislation passed in 2010 aims to enable people to meet their needs, but through 'responsible' subsidies, leading to a new policy stance that has been described as 'neoliberal' thinking (Hickman et al., 2018). However, there are still no strict legal requirements for the organisation and development of social housing as an independent service system, and most of the barriers to development are closely related to the political orientation of the government, rapid changes in housing policy and challenges arising from providers' perceptions of existing housing policy structures (Stasiak et al., 2021).

Created on 17-06-2023

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)


Area: Community participation

Sustainability is primarily defined as 'the idea that goods and services should be produced in ways that do not use resources that cannot be replaced and that do not damage the environment' (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus, n.d.) and is often used interchangeably with the term “sustainable development”(Aras & Crowther, 2009). As defined by the UN, sustainable development is the effort to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations, 1987) and is often interpreted as the strategies adopted towards sustainability with the latter being the overall goal/vision (Diesendorf, 2000). Both of these relatively general and often ambiguous terms have been a focal point for the past 20 years for researchers, policy makers, corporations as well as local communities, and activist groups, among others, (Purvis et al., 2019). The ambiguity and vagueness that characterise both of these terms have contributed to their leap into the global mainstream as well as the broad political consensus regarding their value and significance (Mebratu, 1998; Purvis et al., 2019), rendering them one of the dominant discourses in environmental, socio-political and economic issues (Tulloch, 2013). It is, however, highly contested whether their institutionalisation is a positive development. Tulloch, and Tulloch & Nielson (2013; 2014) argue that these terms -as they are currently understood- are the outcome of the “[colonisation of] environmentalist thought and action” which, during the 1960s and 1970s, argued that economic growth and ecological sustainability within the capitalist system were contradictory pursuits. This “colonisation” resulted in the disempowerment of such discourses and their subsequent “[subordination] to neoliberal hegemony” (Tulloch & Neilson, 2014, p. 26). Thus, sustainability and sustainable development, when articulated within neoliberalism, not only reinforce such disempowerment, through practices such as greenwashing, but also fail to address the intrinsic issues of a system that operates on, safeguards, and prioritises economic profit over social and ecological well-being (Jakobsen, 2022). Murray Bookchin (1982), in “The Ecology of Freedom” contends that social and environmental issues are profoundly entangled, and their origin can be traced to the notions of hierarchy and domination. Bookchin perceives the exploitative relationship with nature as a direct outcome of the development of hierarchies within early human societies and their proliferation ever since. In order to re-radicalise sustainability, we need to undertake the utopian task of revisiting our intra-relating, breaking down these hierarchical relations, and re-stitching our social fabric. The intra-relating between and within the molecules of a society (i.e. the different communities it consists of) determines how sustainability is understood and practised (or performed), both within these communities and within the society they form. In other words, a reconfigured, non-hierarchical, non-dominating intra-relationship is the element that can allow for an equitable, long-term setting for human activity in symbiosis with nature (Dempsey et al., 2011, p. 290). By encouraging, striving for, and providing the necessary space for all voices to be heard, for friction and empathy to occur, the aforementioned long-term setting for human activity based on a non-hierarchical, non-dominating intra-relating is strengthened, which augments the need for various forms of community participation in decision-making, from consulting to controlling. From the standpoint of spatial design and architecture, community participation is already acknowledged as being of inherent value in empowering communities (Jenkins & Forsyth, 2009), while inclusion in all facets of creation, and community control in management and maintenance can improve well-being and social reproduction (Newton & Rocco, 2022; Turner, 1982). However, much like sustainability, community participation has been co-opted by the neoliberal hegemony; often used as a “front” for legitimising political agendas or as panacea to all design problems, community participation has been heavily losing its significance as a force of social change (Smith & Iversen, 2018), thus becoming a depoliticised, romanticised prop. Marcus Miessen (2011) has developed a critical standpoint towards what is being labelled as participation; instead of a systematic effort to find common ground and/or reach consensus, participation through a cross-benching approach could be a way to create enclaves of disruption, i.e. processes where hierarchy and power relations are questioned, design becomes post-consensual spatial agency and participation turns into a fertile ground for internal struggle and contestation. Through this cross-benching premise, community participation is transformed into a re-politicised spatial force. In this context, design serves as a tool of expressing new imaginaries that stand against the reproduction of the neoliberal spatial discourse. Thus, sustainability through community participation could be defined as the politicised effort to question, deconstruct and dismantle the concept of dominance by reconfiguring the process of intra-relating between humans and non-humans alike.

Created on 08-06-2022

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)


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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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