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Sustainability

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.

References

Aras, G., & Crowther, D. (2009). Making sustainable development sustainable. Management Decision, 47(6), 975–988. https://doi.org/10.1108/00251740910966686

Bookchin, M. (1982). The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. Cheshire Books.

Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2022, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/

Dempsey, N., Bramley, G., Power, S., & Brown, C. (2011). The social dimension of sustainable development: Defining urban social sustainability. Sustainable Development, 19(5), 289–300. https://doi.org/10.1002/sd.417

Diesendorf, M. (2000). Sustainability and Sustainable Development. In D. Dunphy, J. Benveniste, A. Griffiths, & P. Sutton (Eds.), Sustainability: The corporate challenge of the 21st century (pp. 19–37). Allen & Unwen.

Jakobsen, O. (2022). Why Does UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Frequently End Up in Greenwashing – Enlightened by Black Box Theory. In Ethical Economy (Vol. 59, pp. 39–50). Springer Science and Business Media B.V. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-81743-5_3

Jenkins, P., & Forsyth, L. (2009). Architecture, participation and society. In Architecture, Participation and Society. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203869499

Mebratu, D. (1998). Sustainability and sustainable development: Historical and conceptual review. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 18(6), 493–520. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0195-9255(98)00019-5

Miessen, M. (2011). The Nightmare of Participation (Crossbench Praxis as A Mode of Criticality). Sternberg Press.

Newton, C., & Rocco, R. (2022). Actually Existing Commons: Using the Commons to Reclaim the City. Social Inclusion, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v10i1.4838

Purvis, B., Mao, Y., & Robinson, D. (2019). Three pillars of sustainability: in search of conceptual origins. Sustainability Science, 14, 681–695. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-018-0627-5

Smith, R. C., & Iversen, O. S. (2018). Participatory design for sustainable social change. Design Studies, 59, 9–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.destud.2018.05.005

Tulloch, L. (2013). On science, ecology and environmentalism. Policy Futures in Education, 11(1), 100–114. https://doi.org/10.2304/pfie.2013.11.1.100

Tulloch, L., & Neilson, D. (2014). The neoliberalisation of sustainability. Citizenship, Social and Economics Education, 13(1), 26–38. https://doi.org/10.2304/csee.2014.13.1.26

Turner, J. F. C. (1982). Housing by People: Towards autonomy in Building Environments. Pantheon Books.

United Nations. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future.

Created on 08-06-2022 | Update on 09-06-2022

Related definitions

Area: Community participation

In a broader sense, co-creation means the joint effort of bringing something new to fruition through acts of collective creativity (Sanders & Stappers, 2008) which can be manifested in both tangible (making something together) or intangible (learning something together) outcomes (Puerari et al., 2018). Recently, the concepts of co-creation or co- production have been applied to describe the processes of participation in urban planning and design. Both terms place particular emphasis on the partnerships formed between citizens and the public sector, in which a high level of citizen involvement is pivotal. Participation has been defined through its different levels of citizen involvement, ranging from non-participation to greater degrees of citizen control (Arnstein, 1969) indicating the different levels of influence a participant can have on a participatory process. From the perspective of urban planning, citizen participation is beginning to be described as co-creation when citizens’ roles become more prominent, presenting aspects of self-organisation, increased commitment and a sense of ownership of the process (Puerari et al., 2018). Recent research is exploring new methods of urban planning in which citizens, the municipality and private organisations co-create new planning rules (Bisschops & Beunen, 2019). However, co-creation along with co-production and participation, often used interchangeably, have become popular catchphrases and are considered as processes which are of virtue in themselves. Furthermore, while there is substantial research on these processes, the research conducted on the outcomes of enhanced participation remains rather limited (Voorberg et al., 2015). This highlights the ambiguity in terms of interpretation; is co-creation a methodology, a set of tools to enhance and drive a process, or a goal in itself? (Puerari et al., 2018). There have often been cases where participation, co-creation and co-production have been used decoratively, as a form of justification and validation of decisions already made (Armeni, 2016). In the provision of public spaces, co-creation/co-production may specifically involve housing (Brandsen & Helderman, 2012; Chatterton, 2016) and placemaking: “placemaking in public space implies engaging in the practice of urban planning and design beyond an expert culture. Such collaboration can be described as co-creation.” (Eggertsen Teder, 2019, p.290). As in participation, co-creation requires the sharing of decision-making powers, the creation of  joint knowledge and the assignation of abilities between communities, while urban professionals and local authorities should draw attention to the active involvement of community members. Furthermore, co-creation does not take place in a vacuum, but always occurs within socio- spatial contexts. This points to the objective of co-creation as a tool to influence locally relevant policy through innovation that is “place-based”. To conclude, co-creation can be perceived as a process that is both transdisciplinary in its application, and as a tool for achieving transdisciplinarity on a broader scale through a systematic integration in existing standard practices in urban planning, housing design and architecture. Despite the persisting ambiguity in its definition, co-creation processes can provide more inclusive platforms for revisiting and informing formal and informal knowledge on sustainable and affordable housing.

Created on 16-02-2022 | Update on 21-02-2022

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Area: Community participation

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, participation is “the act of taking part in an activity or event”. Likewise, it can also mean “the fact of sharing or the act of receiving or having a part of something.” It derives from old French participacion which in turn comes from late Latin participationem, which means “partaking” (Harper, 2000).  References to participation can be found in many fields, including social sciences, economics, politics, and culture. It is often related to the idea of citizenship and its different representations in society. Hence, it could be explained as an umbrella concept, in which several others can be encompassed, including methodologies, philosophical discourses, and tools. Despite the complexity in providing a holistic definition, the intrinsic relation between participation and power is widely recognised. Its ultimate objective is to empower those involved in the process (Nikkhah & Redzuan, 2009). An early application of participatory approaches was the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) which exerted a significant influence in developing new discourses and practices of urban settings (Chambers, 1994; Friedmann, 1994). In the late 1970s increasing attention was paid to the concept by scholars, and several associated principles and terminologies evolved, such as the participation in design and planning with the Scandinavian approach of cooperative design (Bφdker et al., 1995; Gregory, 2003). Participation in design or participatory design is a process and strategy that entails all stakeholders (e.g. partners, citizens, and end-users) partaking in the design process. It is a democratic process for design based on the assumption that users should be involved in the designs they will go on to use (Bannon & Ehn, 2012; Cipan, 2019; Sanoff, 2000, 2006, 2007). Likewise, participatory planning is an alternative paradigm that emerged in response to the rationalistic and centralized – top-down – approaches. Participatory planning aims to integrate the technical expertise with the preferences and knowledge of community members (e.g., citizens, non-governmental organizations, and social movements) directly and centrally in the planning and development processes, producing outcomes that respond to the community's needs (Lane, 2005). Understanding participation through the roles of participants is a vital concept. The work of Sherry Arnstein’s (1969) Ladder of Citizen Participation has long been the cornerstone to understand participation from the perspective of the redistribution of power between the haves and the have-nots. Her most influential typological categorisation work yet distinguishes eight degrees of participation as seen in Figure 1: manipulation, therapy, placation, consultation, informing, citizen control, delegated power and partnership. Applied to a participatory planning context, this classification refers to the range of influence that participants can have in the decision-making process. In this case, no-participation is defined as designers deciding based upon assumptions of the users’ needs and full-participation refers to users defining the quality criteria themselves (Geddes et al., 2019). A more recent classification framework that also grounds the conceptual approach to the design practice and its complex reality has been developed by Archon Fung (2006) upon three key dimensions: who participates; how participants communicate with one another and make decisions together, and how discussions are linked with policy or public action. This three-dimensional approach which Fung describes as a democracy cube (Figure 2), constitutes a more analytic space where any mechanism of participation can be located. Such frameworks of thinking allow for more creative interpretations of the interrelations between participants, participation tools (including immersive digital tools) and contemporary approaches to policymaking. Aligned with Arnstein’s views when describing the lower rungs of the ladder (i.e., nonparticipation and tokenism), other authors have highlighted the perils of incorporating participatory processes as part of pre-defined agendas, as box-ticking exercises, or for political manipulation. By turning to eye-catching epithets to describe it (Participation: The New Tyranny? by Cooke & Kothari, 2001; or The Nightmare of Participation by Miessen, 2010), these authors attempt to raise awareness on the overuse of the term participation and the possible disempowering effects that can bring upon the participating communities, such as frustration and lack of trust. Examples that must exhort practitioners to reassess their role and focus on eliminating rather than reinforcing inequalities (Cooke & Kothari, 2001).

Created on 17-02-2022 | Update on 08-03-2022

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Community Empowerment

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

Area: Community participation

Community empowerment appears in the literature of participatory action research (Minkler, 2004), participatory planning (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018), and community development (Luttrell et al., 2009) as a key element of participatory practices, understanding it as a process that enables communities to take control of their lives and their environments (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Many argue that community participation becomes meaningless if it does not lead to, or pass through community empowerment. As the term is being used in diverse and ubiquitous ways, it runs the risk of ending up as an empty definition and a catch-all phrase (McLaughlin, 2015). It is therefore important to specify the perspective through which we will view the term and clarify the nuances.  Since its origins, empowerment has been used in two different ways. Firstly, top-down as the power that had been ‘granted’ by a higher authority, such as the state or a religious institution, and secondly, bottom-up, as a process by which groups or individuals come to develop the capacity to act and acquire power. Examples of the latter can be found in social groups such as feminists working in nongovernmental organizations throughout the global south in the 1970s, who found a way to address social issues and inequalities that enabled social transformation based on women’s self-organization (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). The term was gradually appropriated by welfare, neoliberal, and social-neoliberal agendas whose priority was individual agency and choice. In neoliberal rationality, empowerment is related to efficiency, economic growth, business productivity, and individual rational choice to maximize profit in a competitive market economy. In social liberalism agendas, empowerment is understood as ‘effective agency’, where ‘agency’ is not an inherent attribute, but something that needs to be constructed through ‘consciousness-raising’ (McLaughlin, 2016). A broader definition sees empowerment as a social action process through which individuals, communities, and organizations take control of their lives in the context of changing the social and political environment to improve equity and quality of life (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Rowlands (1997), refers to four types of empowerment: power over, as the ability to influence and coerce; power to, to organize and change existing hierarchies; power with, as the power from the collective action and power within, as the power from the individual consciousness. Using this classification, Biewener & Bacqué (2015), adopting a feminist approach, understand empowerment as a multilevel construct with three interrelated dimensions: 1) an internal, psychological one, where ‘power within’ and ‘power to’ are developed, 2) an organizational, where ‘power with’ and ‘power over’ are strengthened and 3) a social or political level, where institutional and structural change is made possible through collective action. Thus, community empowerment links the individual level, which involves self-determination, growth of individual awareness, and self-esteem, to the collective level, relating critical consciousness and capacity building with the structural level, where collective engagement and transformative social action take place. This view of empowerment, which considers its goals and processes, has a social dimension that is lacking in other approaches that prioritize individual empowerment. Aside from the feminist movements, the philosophy and practices of community empowerment have been greatly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and an advocate on critical pedagogy. Freire proposed a dialogic problem-solving process based on equality and mutual respect between students and teachers; that engaged them in a process of iterative listening-discussing-acting. Through structured dialogue, group participants shared their experiences, discussed common problems, and looked for root causes and the connections among “problems behind the problems as symptoms” (Freire, 1970). The term conscientization, that Freire proposed, refers to the consciousness that arises through the involvement of people in the social analysis of conditions and their role in changing them. This awareness enables groups to be reflexive and open spaces, to enact change or to understand those limited situations that may deter change (Barndt, 1989). Empowerment can be understood as both a process and an outcome (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018). As a process, it refers to “the development and implementation of mechanisms to enable individuals or groups to gain control, develop skills and test knowledge”(Harrison & Waite, 2015) and it entails the creation of new subjects who have developed a critical consciousness and the formation of groups with a ‘collective agency’ ‚ or ‘social collective identity’ (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). Empowerment as an outcome refers to “an affective state in which the individual or group feels that they have increased control, greater understanding and are involved and active” (Harrison & Waite, 2015). This can lead to a transformation of the social conditions by challenging the structures and institutionalized forms that reproduce inequalities. The values and the significance of community empowerment can be further applied in the participatory and community-based approaches of the housing sector. Examples of such approaches in the housing provision are the housing cooperatives, and self-developed and self-managed housing groups. Housing cooperatives aim at promoting co-creation to engage future residents, professionals, and non-profit organizations in all the stages of a housing project: problem-framing, designing, developing, cohabiting, managing, and maintaining. Such organisational models stress the importance and pave the way for community empowerment by uniting individuals with similar interests and ideals, enabling them to have housing that responds to their needs, preferences, and values. The participation of the residents aims to strengthen their sense of ownership of the process, the democratic decision-making and management, and the social collective identity, making community empowerment an integral characteristic of cooperative housing initiatives. With this social perspective, residents can gain individual and collective benefits while contributing to fairer and more sustainable urban development on a larger scale (Viskovic Rojs et al., 2020).

Created on 03-06-2022 | Update on 03-06-2022

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Social Sustainability

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)

Area: Community participation

From the three pillars of sustainable development, economic, environmental and social, the latter  involving social equity and the sustainability of communities, has  been especially neglected. Ongoing problems caused by conflicting economic, environmental and social goals with regard to the processes of urbanisation continue. underpinning economic growth that contradict principles of environmental and social justice (Boström, 2012; Cuthill, 2010; Winston, 2009). Research on sustainable development highlights the need for further investigation of social sustainability (Murphy, 2012; Vallance et al., 2011). Social sustainability has been interpreted as an umbrella term encompassing many other related concepts; “social equity and justice, social capital, social cohesion, social exclusion, environmental justice, quality of life, and urban liveability” (Shirazi & Keivani, 2019, p. 4). A vast number of studies have been dedicated to defining social sustainability by developing theoretical frameworks and indicators particularly relevant to urban development and housing discourse (Cuthill, 2010; Dempsey et al., 2011; Murphy, 2012; Woodcraft, 2012). However, with a lack of consensus on the way of utilising these frameworks in a practical way, especially when applied to planning, social sustainability has remained difficult to evaluate or measure. Consequently, planning experts, housing providers and inhabitants alike understand social sustainability as a normative concept, according to established social norms, and less as an opportunity to critically examine existing institutions. Vallance et al (2011) provide three categories to analyse social sustainability, development, bridge and maintenance sustainability: (a) social development improves conditions of poverty and inequity, from the provision of basic needs to the redistribution of power to influence existing development paradigms; (b) the conditions necessary to bridge social with ecological sustainability, overcoming currently disconnected social and ecological concerns; and (c) the social practices, cultural preferences as well as the environments which are maintained over time. Maintenance social sustainability particularly deals with how people interpret what is to be maintained and includes “new housing developments, the layout of streets, open spaces, residential densities, the location of services, an awareness of habitual movements in place, and how they connect with housing cultures, preferences, practices and values, particularly those for low-density, suburban lifestyles” (Vallance et al., 2011, p. 345). Therefore, the notion of maintenance is especially important in defining social sustainability by directly investigating the established institutions, or “sets of norms” that constitute the social practices and rules, that in turn, affect responsibilities for planning urban spaces. A conceptual framework that appears frequently in social sustainability literature is that of Dempsey et al. (2011)⁠ following Bramley et al. (2009), defining social sustainability according to the variables of social equity and sustainability of community and their relationship to urban form, significantly at the local scale of the neighbourhood. In terms of the built environment, social equity (used interchangeably with social justice) is understood as the accessibility and equal opportunities to frequently used services, facilities, decent and affordable housing, and good public transport. In this description of local, as opposed to regional services, proximity and accessibility are important. Equitable access to such local services effectively connects housing to key aspects of everyday life and to the wider urban infrastructures that support it. Sustainability of community is associated with the abilities of society to develop networks of collective organisation and action and is dependent on social interaction. The associated term social capital has also been used extensively to describe social norms and networks that can be witnessed particularly at the community level to facilitate collective action (Woolcock, 2001, p. 70). They might include a diversity of issues such as resident interaction, reciprocity, cooperation and trust expressed by common exchanges between residents, civic engagement, lower crime rates and other positive neighbourhood qualities that are dependent on sharing a commitment to place (Foster, 2006; Putnam, 1995; Temkin & Rohe, 1998). In fact, “the heightened sense of ownership and belonging to a locale” is considered to encourage the development of social relations (Hamiduddin & Adelfio, 2019, p. 188). However, the gap between theoretical discussions about social sustainability and their practical application has continued. For example, the emphasis of social sustainability as a target outcome rather than as a process has been prioritised in technocratic approaches to planning new housing developments and to measuring their success by factors which are tangible and easier to count and audit. Private housing developers that deal with urban regeneration make bold claims to social sustainability yet profound questions are raised regarding the effects of gentrification (Dixon, 2019). Accordingly, the attempted methods of public participation as planning tools for integrating the ‘social’ have been found to be less effective - their potential being undercut due to the reality that decision-making power has remained at the top (Eizenberg & Jabareen, 2017). Therefore, social sustainability is not a fixed concept, it is contingent on the interdependence of the procedural aspects (how to achieve social sustainability) and substantive aspects (what are the outcomes of social sustainability goals) (Boström, 2012). From this point of view, social sustainability reveals its process-oriented nature and the need to establish processes of practicing social sustainability that begin with the participation of citizens in decision-making processes in producing equitable (i.e. socially sustainable) development. As a dimension of sustainable development that is harder to quantify than the economic or environmental aspects, the operationalisation of social sustainability goals into spatial, actionable principles has remained a burgeoning area of research. In such research, methods for enhancing citizen participation are a particularly important concern in order to engage and empower people with “non-expert” knowledge to collaborate with academic researchers.

Created on 03-06-2022 | Update on 08-06-2022

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Energy Retrofit

Author: S.Furman (ESR2)

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 | Update on 20-09-2022

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Indoor Thermal Comfort

Author: S.Furman (ESR2)

Area: Design, planning and building

Improving indoor thermal comfort is a widely agreed motivate for housing retrofit (Femenías et al., 2018; Outcault et al., 2022; Sojkova et al., 2019; Zahiri & Elsharkawy, 2018). Low carbon retrofit of existing social housing tends to be driven by cost, the use of eco-friendly products, and energy savings (Sojkova et al., 2019). Energy savings are particularly important in colder climates where households require larger energy loads for space heating and thermal comfort and are therefore at greater risk of fuel (energy) poverty (Sojkova et al., 2019; Zahiri & Elsharkawy, 2018). Femenías et al.’s (2018) extensive literature review on property owners’ attitudes to energy efficiency argues that renovations are 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” (Outcault et al., 2022, p.3) refer to comfort, modernity, health, safety, education, and better indoor air quality (Amann, 2006; Bergman & Foxon, 2020; Broers et al., 2022; Outcault et al., 2022). In poorly maintained social housing, however, the desire to improve indoor air quality and thermal comfort will have an impact on energy consumption. Occupants will, for example, use extra heating to feel comfortable in a damp, mouldy, or cold home. (Zahiri & Elsharkawy, 2018).   There are three main technical improvements to low carbon retrofit: (1) enhancing the building fabrics thermal properties; (2) improving systems efficiency; and (3) renewable energy integration (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). In order for the Passivehaus Institut’s EnerPHit Retrofit Plan to meet Passivhaus standards for indoor air quality, homes must achieve high levels of air tightness complemented by a mechanical ventilation system including heat recovery (MVHR). Specifically, “airtightness of a building must achieve an air change per hour rate of less than 0.6 at 50 Pa of pressure (n50), and have ventilation provided by either a balanced mechanical heat recovery ventilation or demand-controlled ventilation systems” (McCarron et al., 2019, p.297). This airtightness concept is revered for saving energy, avoiding structural damage, and contributing to thermal comfort (Bastian et al., 2022) while requiring no natural ventilation such as open windows. Mechanical HVAC units alter indoor air temperature, air movement, ventilation, noise levels, and humidity (Outcault et al., 2022). But despite known benefits to physical health and clean air, this may not lead to optimum user-comfort. This is because social housing residents have unique housing needs that differ from homeowners (Sunikka-Blank et al., 2018) and cannot be predicted without resident engagement, as residents are experts in the way they live and use their homes (Boess, 2022; Gianfrate et al., 2017; Walker et al., 2014).   Post Occupancy Evaluation after retrofit has found that social housing residents are often unfamiliar with mechanical systems and their sustainable benefits, especially when retrofit occurs without resident input (Garnier et al., 2020). This can lead to misuse, overheating, the prebound effect, and the rebound effect where affordable energy bills lead to excessive heating—at times 25-26°C (Zoonnekindt, 2019)—contributing to performance gaps as high as five times the predicted energy consumption (Traynor, 2019). Other households considered mechanical systems to be bulky, ugly, and noisy, prompting removal, lack of use, and at times emotional distress (Lowe et al., 2018). DREEAM’s Berlin pilot site found one household blocking mechanical ventilation with tissue paper because they considered the air too cold and residents “haven’t been informed about the positive impact of a well working ventilation on their health and on the energy efficiency of the heating in their apartment” (Zoonnekindt, 2019). DREEAM continued the project with Green Neighbours (Zoonnekindt, 2019), an innovative engagement program co-designed with and for residents to better inform mechanical systems usage. However, literature shows (Boess, 2022; Gianfrate et al., 2017; Walker et al., 2014) that informing residents on how to use mechanical systems is unlikely to change use-habits or adequately combat performance gaps. In order to change residents’ energy behaviours, resident stakeholders should be integrated in retrofit decision-making.

Created on 20-09-2022 | Update on 01-12-2023

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Life Cycle Costing

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4)

Area: Design, planning and building

Life Cycle Costing (LCC) is a method used to estimate the overall cost of a building during its different life cycle stages, whether from cradle to grave or within a predetermined timeframe (Nucci et al., 2016; Wouterszoon Jansen et al., 2020). The Standardised Method of Life Cycle Costing (SMLCC) identifies LCC in line with the International Standard ISO 15686-5:2008 as "Methodology for the systematic economic evaluation of life cycle costs over a period of analysis, as defined in the agreed scope." (RICS, 2016). This evaluation can provide a useful breakdown of all costs associated with designing, constructing, operating, maintaining and disposing of this building (Dwaikat & Ali, 2018). Life cycle costs of an asset can be divided into two categories: (1) Initial costs, which are all the costs incurred before the occupation of the house, such as capital investment costs, purchase costs, and construction and installation costs (Goh & Sun, 2016; Kubba, 2010); (2) Future costs, which are those that occur after the occupancy phase of the dwelling. The future costs may involve operational costs, maintenance, occupancy and capital replacement (RICS, 2016). They may also include financing, resale, salvage, and end-of-life costs (Karatas & El-Rayes, 2014; Kubba, 2010; Rad et al., 2021). The costs to be included in a LCC analysis vary depending on its objective, scope and time period. Both the LCC objective and scope also determine whether the assessment will be conducted for the whole building, or for a certain building component or equipment (Liu & Qian, 2019; RICS, 2016). When LCC combines initial and future costs, it needs to consider the time value of money (Islam et al., 2015; Korpi & Ala-Risku, 2008). To do so, future costs need to be discounted to present value using what is known as "Discount Rate" (Islam et al., 2015; Korpi & Ala-Risku, 2008). LCC responds to the needs of the Architectural Engineering Construction (AEC) industry to recognise that value on the long term, as opposed to initial price, should be the focus of project financial assessments (Higham et al., 2015). LCC can be seen as a suitable management method to assess costs and available resources for housing projects, regardless of whether they are new or already exist. LCC looks beyond initial capital investment as it takes future operating and maintenance costs into account (Goh & Sun, 2016). Operating an asset over a 30-year lifespan could cost up to four times as much as the initial design and construction costs (Zanni et al., 2019). The costs associated with energy consumption often represent a large proportion of a building’s life cycle costs. For instance, the cumulative value of utility bills is almost half of the cost of a total building life cycle over a 50-year period in some countries (Ahmad & Thaheem, 2018; Inchauste et al., 2018). Prioritising initial cost reduction when selecting a design alternative, regardless of future costs, may not lead to an economically efficient building in the long run (Rad et al., 2021). LCC is a valuable appraising technique for an existing building to predict and assess "whether a project meets the client's performance requirements" (ISO, 2008). Similarly, during the design stages, LCC analysis can be applied to predict the long-term cost performance of a new building or a refurbishing project (Islam et al., 2015; RICS, 2016). Conducting LCC supports the decision-making in the design development stages has a number of benefits (Kubba, 2010). Decisions on building programme requirements, specifications, and systems can affect up to 80% of its environmental performance and operating costs (Bogenstätter, 2000; Goh & Sun, 2016). The absence of comprehensive information about the building's operational performance may result in uninformed decision-making that impacts its life cycle costs and future performance (Alsaadani & Bleil De Souza, 2018; Zanni et al., 2019). LCC can improve the selection of materials in order to reduce negative environmental impact and positively contribute to resourcing efficiency (Rad et al., 2021; Wouterszoon Jansen et al., 2020), in particular when combined with Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is concerned with the environmental aspects and impacts and the use of resources throughout a product's life cycle (ISO, 2006). Together, LCC and LCA contribute to adopt more comprehensive decisions to promote the sustainability of buildings (Kim, 2014). Therefore, both are part of the requirements of some green building certificates, such as LEED (Hajare & Elwakil, 2020).     LCC can be used to compare design, material, and/or equipment alternatives to find economically compelling solutions that respond to building performance goals, such as maximising human comfort and enhancing energy efficiency (Karatas & El-Rayes, 2014; Rad et al., 2021). Such solutions may have high initial costs but would decrease recurring future cost obligations by selecting the alternative that maximises net savings (Atmaca, 2016; Kubba, 2010; Zanni et al., 2019). LCC is particularly relevant for decisions on energy efficiency measures investments for both new buildings and building retrofitting. Such investments have been argued to be a dominant factor in lowering a building's life cycle cost (Fantozzi et al., 2019; Kazem et al., 2021). The financial effectiveness of such measures on decreasing energy-related operating costs, can be investigated using LCC analysis to compare air-condition systems, glazing options, etc. (Aktacir et al., 2006; Rad et al., 2021). Thus, LCC can be seen as a risk mitigation strategy for owners and occupants to overcome challenges associated with increasing energy prices (Kubba, 2010). The price of investing in energy-efficient measures increase over time. Therefore, LCC has the potential to significantly contribute to tackling housing affordability issues by not only making design decisions based on the building's initial costs but also its impact on future costs – for example energy bills - that will be paid by occupants (Cambier et al., 2021). The input data for a LCC analysis are useful for stakeholders involved in procurement and tendering processes as well as the long-term management of built assets (Korpi & Ala-Risku, 2008). Depending on the LCC scope, these data are extracted from information on installation, operating and maintenance costs and schedules as well as the life cycle performance and the quantity of materials, components and systems, (Goh & Sun, 2016) These information is then translated into cost data along with each element life expectancy in a typical life cycle cost plan (ISO, 2008). Such a process assists the procurement decisions whether for buildings, materials, or systems and/or hiring contractors and labour, in addition to supporting future decisions when needed (RICS, 2016). All this information can be organised using Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology (Kim, 2014; RICS, 2016). BIM is used to organise and structure building information in a digital model. In some countries, it has become mandatory that any procured project by a public sector be delivered in a BIM model to make informed decisions about that project (Government, 2012). Thus, conducting LCC aligns with the adoption purposes of BIM to facilitate the communication and  transfer of building information and data among various stakeholders (Juan & Hsing, 2017; Marzouk et al., 2018). However, conducting LCC is still challenging and not widely adopted in practice. The reliability and various formats of building related-data are some of the main barriers hindering the adoption of LCCs (Goh & Sun, 2016; Islam et al., 2015; Kehily & Underwood, 2017; Zanni et al., 2019).

Created on 05-12-2022 | Update on 20-05-2023

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Housing Affordability

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)

Area: Design, planning and building

Housing can be perceived as consisting of two inseparable components: the product and the process. The product refers to the building as a physical artefact, and the process encompasses the activities required to create and manage this artefact in the long term (Turner, 1972), as cited in (Brysch & Czischke, 2021). Affordability is understood as the capability to purchase and maintain something long-term while remaining convenient for the beneficiary's resources and needs (Bogdon & Can, 1997). Housing Affordability is commonly explained as the ratio between rent and household income (Hulchanski, 1995). However, Stone (2006, p.2) proposed a broader definition of housing affordability to associate it with households' social experience and financial stability as: "An expression of the social and material experiences of people, constituted as households, in relation to their individual housing situations", ….. "Affordability expresses the challenge each household faces in balancing the cost of its actual or potential housing, on the one hand, and its non-housing expenditures, on the other, within the constraints of its income." Housing costs signify initial and periodic payments such as rent or mortgages in the case of  homeowners, housing insurance, housing taxes, and so on. On the other hand, non-housing costs include utility charges resulting from household usage, such as energy and water, as well as schools, health, and transportation (AHC, 2019; Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019). Therefore, housing affordability needs to reflect the household's capability to balance current and future costs to afford a house while maintaining other basic expenses without experiencing any financial hardship (Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019). Two close terminologies to housing affordability are  “affordable housing” and “affordability of housing”. Affordable housing is frequently mentioned in government support schemes to refer to the housing crisis and associated financial hardship. In England, affordable housing is still concerned with its financial attainability, as stated in the UK Government's official glossaries: "Housing for sale or rent, for those whose needs are not met by the market (including housing that provides a subsidised route to home ownership and/or is for essential local workers)", while also complying with other themes that maintain the affordability of housing prices in terms of rent or homeownership (Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities, 2019). The affordability of housing, on the other hand, refers to a broader focus on the affordability of the entire housing market, whereas housing affordability specifically refers to the ability of individuals or households to afford housing. In the literature, however, the term “affordability of housing” is frequently used interchangeably with “housing affordability,” despite their differences (Robinson et al., 2006). The "affordability of housing" concerns housing as a sector in a particular region, market or residential area. It can correlate affordability with population satisfaction, accommodation types and household compositions to alert local authorities of issues such as homelessness (Kneebone & Wilkins, 2016; Emma Mulliner et al., 2013; OECD, 2021). That is why the OECD defined it as "the capacity of a country to deliver good quality housing at an accessible price for all" (OECD, n.d.). Short-term and long-term affordability are two concepts for policymakers to perceive housing affordability holistically. Short-term affordability is "concerned with financial access to a dwelling based on out-of-pocket expenses", and long-term affordability is " about the costs attributed to housing consumption" (Haffner & Heylen, 2011, p.607). The costs of housing consumption, also known as user costs, do not pertain to the monthly utility bills paid by users, but rather to the cost associated with consuming the dwelling as a housing service  (Haffner & Heylen, 2011). “Housing quality” and “housing sustainability” are crucial aspects of housing affordability, broadening its scope beyond the narrow economic perspective within the housing sector. Housing affordability needs to consider "a standard for housing quality" and "a standard of reasonableness for the price of housing consumption in relation to income" (p. 609) (Haffner & Heylen, 2011). In addition, housing affordability requires an inclusive aggregation and a transdisciplinary perspective of sustainability concerning its economic, social, and environmental facets (Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019; Perera, 2017; Salama, 2011). Shared concerns extend across the domains of housing quality, sustainability, and affordability, exhibiting intricate interrelations among them that require examination. For instance, housing quality encompasses three levels of consideration: (1) the dwelling itself as a physically built environment, (2) the household attitudes and behaviours, and (3) the surroundings, encompassing the community, neighbourhood, region, nation, and extending to global circumstances (Keall et al., 2010). On the other hand, housing sustainability embraces the triad of economic, social, and environmental aspects. The shared problems among the three domains encompass critical aspects such as health and wellbeing, fuel poverty and costly long-term maintenance  proximity to workplaces and amenities, as well as the impact of climate. Health and wellbeing Inequalities in health and wellbeing pose a significant risk to social sustainability, mainly in conditions where affordable dwellings are of poor quality. In contrast, such conditions extend the affordability problem posing increased risks to poor households harming their health, wellbeing and productivity (Garnham et al., 2022; Hick et al., 2022; Leviten-Reid et al., 2020). An illustrative example emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, where individuals residing in unsafe and poor-quality houses faced higher rates of virus transmission and mortality (Housing Europe, 2021; OECD, 2020). Hence, addressing housing affordability necessitates recognising it as a mutually dependent relationship between housing quality and individuals (Stone, 2006). Fuel poverty and costly long-term maintenance Affordable houses of poor quality pose risks of fuel poverty and costly long-term maintenance. This risk makes them economically unsustainable. For example, good quality entails the home being energy efficient to mitigate fuel poverty. However, it might become unaffordable to heat the dwelling after paying housing costs because of its poor quality (Stone et al., 2011). Thus, affordability needs to consider potential fluctuations in non-housing prices, such as energy bills (AHC, 2019; Smith, 2007). Poor quality also can emerge from decisions made during the design and construction stages. For example, housing providers may prioritise reducing construction costs by using low-quality and less expensive materials or equipment that may lead to costly recurring maintenance and running costs over time (Emekci, 2021). Proximity to work and amenities The proximity to workplaces and amenities influences housing quality and has an impact on economic and environmental sustainability. From a financial perspective, Disney (2006) defines affordable housing as "an adequate basic standard that provides reasonable access to work opportunities and community services, and that is available at a cost which does not cause substantial hardship to the occupants". Relocating to deprived areas far from work opportunities, essential amenities, and community services will not make housing affordable (Leviten-Reid et al., 2020). Commuting to a distant workplace also incurs environmental costs. Research shows that reduced commuting significantly decreases gas emissions (Sutton-Parker, 2021). Therefore, ensuring involves careful planning when selecting housing locations, considering their impact on economic and environmental sustainability (EK Mulliner & Maliene, 2012). Moreover, design practices can contribute by providing adaptability and flexibility, enabling dwellers to work from home and generate income (Shehayeb & Kellett, 2011). Climate change's mutual impact Climate change can pose risks to housing affordability and, conversely, housing affordability can impact climate change. A house cannot be considered "affordable" if its construction and operation result in adverse environmental impacts contributing to increased CO2 emissions or climate change (Haidar & Bahammam, 2021; Salama, 2011). For a house to be environmentally sustainable, it must be low-carbon, energy-efficient, water-efficient, and climate-resilient (Holmes et al., 2019). This entails adopting strategies such as incorporating eco-friendly materials, utilizing renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and implementing sustainable water management systems (Petrović et al., 2021). However, implementing these measures requires funding initiatives to support the upfront costs, leading to long-term household savings (Holmes et al., 2019). Principio del formulario Furthermore,  when houses lack quality and climate resilience, they become unaffordable. Households bear high energy costs, especially during extreme weather conditions such as heatwaves or cold spells (Holmes et al., 2019). Issues like cold homes and fuel poverty in the UK contribute to excess winter deaths (Lee et al., 2022). In this context, climate change can adversely affect families, impacting their financial well-being and health, thereby exacerbating housing affordability challenges beyond mere rent-to-income ratios.    

Created on 17-10-2023 | Update on 18-10-2023

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Measuring Housing Affordability

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)

Area: Design, planning and building

Measuring housing affordability refers to assessing the extent to which households can secure suitable housing in relation to their financial resources and other relevant factors. To date there is no global agreement on measuring housing affordability, nor is there a single metric which comprehensively encompasses all the considerations regarding households' ability to access suitable housing in a convenient location at an affordable cost (Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019; OECD, 2021b). Several approaches exist to measure housing affordability, with two popular approaches, namely the Income Ratio Method (IRM), and the Residual Income Method (RIM) (Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019; Stone et al., 2011). Both are recommended to be accompanied by housing quality standards to evaluate what a household is paying for and a measure of housing satisfaction (Haffner & Heylen, 2011; OECD, 2021b). However, the perception of what constitutes satisfactory, quality, or affordable housing is subjective. This perception can be influenced by economic and social circumstances that policymakers may not perceive as directly relevant to housing policy (OECD, 2021b). The Income Ratio Method (IRM) is the most commonly used in policy and housing market-relevant statistics, as it is easy to measure and compare among different countries. It is based on the housing costs to income ratio defined by national authorities not to exceed a certain proportion (Haidar & Bahammam, 2021; Smith, 2007; Stone, 2006). The official EU indicator for IRM is the "Housing Cost Overburden" index. It considers households suffering from affordability issues if more than 40% of their net income is spent on housing costs (AHC, 2019; Hick et al., 2022; OECD, 2020). However, IRM has been widely criticised as it does not reflect if the household could afford non-housing costs and for how long. The focus on housing costs neglects non-housing costs of utility bills, schools, health, transportation, and so on (AHC, 2019). In this sense, Ezennia & Hoskara, (2019) investigation of the weaknesses of measuring housing affordability emphasised the need to reflect a household's capability to balance current and future costs to attain a house – "access to a house at a certain period" while maintaining other basic expenses without experiencing any financial hardship. The Residual Income Method (RIM) is the second dominant approach. It recognises that after paying the housing costs, a household might be unable to satisfy its non-housing requirements. Thus, the RIM is the remaining income after subtracting housing costs, based on the idea that Housing Affordability is the households' ability to cover their housing costs while still being able to pay their non-housing expenditures (Stone et al., 2011; Stone, 2006). The residual income method took a step closer to resonating with non-housing costs. However, both Haffner & Heylen (2011) and Bramley (2012) advised that the IRM and RIM approaches "are not interchangeable" and need to be combined to provide a comprehensive perception of housing affordability. This combination becomes apparent when comparing both for different household compositions, health, or work conditions. For instance, a house might be affordable when measured using the IRM from the housing costs standpoint, but it might not be affordable utilising the RIM, which is connected with non-housing costs. This combination is referred to as the Composite Method from which several advanced economic modelling approaches to measure housing affordability were developed (Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019). However, relying solely on economic criteria to assess affordability and thus overlooking quality and sustainability may not prove sufficient. A poor-quality house can impose hardships on its residents, and an unsustainable dwelling can strain the environment. Mitigating this issue may involve complementing affordability measurements with indicators reflecting housing quality and sustainability to expand the purely economic view (Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019; Haffner & Heylen, 2011; Mulliner et al., 2013; Salama, 2011). Various indicators can be used to assess housing quality beyond just its cost. These indicators could be seen as serving three primary purposes: (1) to measure the quality of a housing scheme and compare it to others within a country (Homes and Communities Agency, 2011), (2) to measure the quality of housing in one country and compare it to other countries (OECD, 2021b), and (3) to measure housing satisfaction across groups (OECD, 2021a; Riazi & Emami, 2018). An example of the first purpose is England's Housing Quality Indicators (HQIs) system (Homes and Communities Agency, 2011), which is currently withdrawn. HQIs served  as “ measurement and assessment tool to evaluate housing schemes on the basis of quality rather than just cost” design standards mandated for affordable housing providers funded through the National Affordable Housing Programme from 2008 to 2011 and the Affordable Homes Programme from 2011 to 2015. The system comprised ten indicators, which can be categorized into four groups. The first category focused on the location and proximity to amenities and services. The second dealt with site-related aspects such as landscaping, open spaces, and pathways. The third pertained to the housing unit itself, encompassing factors like noise, lighting, accessibility, and sustainability. Lastly, the fourth category addressed the external environment (Homes and Communities Agency, 2011). To enable meaningful cross-country comparisons, it is crucial that the data used for measuring and assessing these indicators are both available and up-to-date. However, it is important to acknowledge that this may not be the case in all countries, as pointed out by the OECD in 2021 (OECD, 2021b). Consequently, to accurately determine what residents are paying for in terms of quality and to facilitate meaningful comparisons, the OECD 2021 Policy Brief on Affordable Housing has emphasized the necessity of two additional housing quality indicators to complement affordability measurements. The first proposed indicator is the "Overcrowding Rate," which evaluates whether a dwelling provides sufficient space for household members based on their composition. This metric assesses whether residents have adequate living space according to the size and structure of their household. The second indicator is the "Housing Deprivation Rates," which gauge inadequate housing conditions. This encompasses issues related to maintenance, such as roofs, walls, floors, foundations, and deteriorating window frames. Moreover, these rates consider the absence of essential amenities, including sanitary facilities. By taking all these factors into account, this indicator offers a comprehensive perspective on the overall quality and habitability of housing in a specific area. Considering subjective measures of housing affordability can be advantageous when assessing housing affordability and quality based on household perceptions. These measures aim to capture housing satisfaction, reflecting the quality of the dwelling as accommodation (OECD, 2021a). In a broader context, housing satisfaction might be termed residential satisfaction, encompassing not just the dwelling but also its surroundings, including places and people. Residential satisfaction assesses how well the current residence and surrounding environment align with the household's desired living conditions (Riazi & Emami, 2018). Therefore, incorporating subjective measures is valuable in assessing housing affordability, helping to identify the determinants of housing satisfaction. Indicators such as satisfaction with the availability of good and affordable housing are crucial aspects to consider in this context (OECD, 2021a). When it comes to sustainability indicators, incorporating them into the measurement of housing affordability remains a wicked  problem. Finding a single comprehensive measure that encompasses the multifaceted aspects of sustainability related to housing affordability is challenging. The technical complexity stems from the necessity to integrate assessments of household characteristics, environmental impacts, financing, and financial aspects, along with housing stress factors. This challenge is exacerbated by the persistent fluctuations in housing prices and recurring expenses like water and energy bills (AHC, 2019). Hence, easily calculable methods such as the Income-to-Rent Ratio (IRM) and Residual Income Model (RIM) continue to be widely used for assessing housing affordability from a top-down perspective at a macro level. Although imperfect, these methods still provide valuable support for policy decision-making to a certain extent (AHC, 2019; Haffner & Heylen, 2011; OECD, 2021a).   

Created on 17-10-2023 | Update on 18-10-2023

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Building Decarbonisation

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

Area: Design, planning and building

Decarbonisation, a term which echoes through the corridors of academia, politics, practical applications, and stands at the forefront of contemporary discussions on sustainability. Intricately intertwined with concepts such as net-zero and climate neutrality, it represents a pivotal shift in our approach to environmental sustainability. In its essence, decarbonisation signifies the systematic reduction of carbon dioxide intensity, a crucial endeavour in the battle against climate change (Zachmann et al., 2021). This overview delves into the multifaceted concept of decarbonisation within the context of the European Union. Beginning with a broad perspective, we examine its implications at the macro level before homing in on the complexities of decarbonisation within the realm of building structures. Finally, we explore the literature insights, presenting key strategies that pave the way toward achieving a decarbonised building sector. From a broad perspective, decarbonisation is an overarching concept that aims to achieve climate neutrality (Zachmann et al., 2021, p.13). Climate neutrality means achieving a state of equilibrium between greenhouse gas emissions and their removal from the atmosphere, preventing any net increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration (IEA, 2022). From an energy decarbonisation perspective, however, in a document provided by the Economic, Scientific and Quality of Life Policy Department at the request of the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee, Zachmann et al. (2021) explain that energy systems require a fundamental shift in the way societies provide, transport and consume energy (Zachmann et al., 2021). In the construct of decarbonisation, as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the focus lies on strategic directives aimed at reducing the carbon content of energy sources, fuels, products and services (Arvizu et al., 2011; Edenhofer et al., 2011). This complex process involves the transition from carbon-intensive behaviours, such as fossil fuel use, to low-carbon or carbon-neutral alternatives. The main goal of decarbonisation, therefore, is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, which are closely linked to the growing threats of climate change (Edenhofer et al., 2011). Hoeller et al. (2023) explain that decarbonisation efforts within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) focus on harmonising economic growth, energy production and consumption with climate objectives to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change while promoting sustainable development (Hoeller et al., 2023). From a pragmatic perspective, however, according to the OECD Policy Paper 31: A framework to decarbonise the economy, published in 2022,  progress on economic decarbonisation remains suboptimal. This raises the urgent need for a multi-dimensional framework that is not only cost-effective but also inclusive and comprehensive in its strategy for decarbonisation (D’Arcangelo et al., 2022). D’Arcangelo et al. (2023) add that such framework should include several steps such as setting clear climate targets, measuring progress and identifying areas for action, delineating policy frameworks, mapping existing policies, creating enabling conditions, facilitating a smooth transition for individuals, and actively engaging the public. From an academic perspective, Weller and Tierney (2018) provide an explanation of decarbonisation, defining it as a twofold concept. Firstly, it involves reducing the intensity of fossil fuel use for energy production. Secondly, it emphasises the role of policy in mitigating the negative externalities associated with such use. They argue that decarbonisation is a politically charged policy area that needs to be 'just', while also serving a means to revitalise local economies (Weller & Tierney, 2018). Kyriacou and Burke (2020) expand on this definition, highlighting decarbonisation as the transition from a high-carbon to a low-carbon energy system. This transition is driven by the need to mitigate climate change without compromising energy security. Boute (2021), on the other hand, emphasises the long-term structural reduction of CO2 emissions as the core strategy of decarbonisation. Boute adds that the effectiveness of decarbonisation must be measured in terms of a unit of energy consumed across all activities. In the economic context, the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies concludes that decarbonisation aims to reduce the carbon intensity of an economy. This reduction is quantified as the ratio of CO2 emissions to gross domestic product (Henderson & Sen, 2021). Addressing methodological concerns, Buettner (2022) added that decarbonisation is often misused as a generic term. Moreover, Buettner highlights the diverse levels at which decarbonisation occurs, ranging from carbon neutrality (focused on reducing CO2 emissions), to climate neutrality (aiming to reduce CO2, non-fluorinated greenhouse gases, and fluorinated greenhouse gases) and, finally, to environmental neutrality (which reduces all substances negatively impacting the environment and health) (Buettner, 2022). The debate on the decarbonisation of the construction sector revolves around similar issues. The report on Decarbonising Buildings in Cities and Regions, published by the OECD in 2022, defines the concept as reducing energy consumption by improving envelope insulation, installing high performance equipment, and scaling up the use of renewable sources to meet the energy demands (OECD, P24). Another definition comes from a working paper by the OECD Economics Department, Hoeller et al. (2023) contend, it is necessary to consider direct emissions from household fossil fuel combustion and indirect emissions from the generation of electricity and district heating used by households (Hoeller et al., 2023). The comprehensive study “Decarbonising Buildings” published by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) in 2022, defines the term as transforming the building sector to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Achieving this goal requires various technological solutions and behavioural changes to decarbonise heating and cooling, such as energy-efficient building envelopes, heat pumps and on-site renewables (CAT, 2022). Gratiot et al. (2023) consider decarbonisation as the process of reducing or eliminating CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change from a building’s energy sources. This involves systematically shifting buildings from carbon-intensive energy sources (e.g., gas, oil and coal) to low-carbon or carbon-neutral alternatives (e.g., solar, wind and geothermal). This process includes improving the energy efficiency of buildings through better insulation, lighting and appliances (Gratiot et al., 2023). Blanco et al. (2021) consider the decarbonisation of buildings and operation of buildings. This includes enhancing the energy efficiency of buildings and minimizing embodied carbon from building materials and construction activities of greenhouse gas emissions from the construction and operation of buildings. Achieving a decarbonised building sector is a multifaceted endeavour that demands extensive efforts in several key areas, such as energy sources, building envelope, building policy and transformation funds. The objective of the energy transition is to shift from reliance on fossil fuels to clean or renewable energy sources, primarily used for heating and cooling, such as heat pumps, district heating, hydrogen (Jones, 2021). Decarbonising the building envelope, on the other hand, involves improving the energy efficiency of buildings through better insulation, lighting and appliances. It also necessitates minimising embodied carbon from building materials and construction activities (CAT, 2022; D’Arcangelo et al., 2022). Incorporating effective policies into building construction is crucial. This includes adopting of performance standards and building codes that regulate the energy use and emissions of both new and existing buildings. These regulations directly impact the extent and pace of decarbonisation (CAT, 2022; Jones, 2021). Additionally, it is essential to establish a clear vision and climate targets for the buildings sector and operationalise them with a comprehensive policy mix that encompass emissions pricing, standards, regulations and complementary measures (Jones, 2021). The most significant challenge lies in financing the transition to a decarbonised sector. Therefore, it is imperative to mobilise finance on a large scale and collaborate with industry stakeholders. This collaboration is vital to facilitate the transition, overcome barriers, and manage the costs associated with deploying low- or zero-carbon technologies (D’Arcangelo et al., 2022). In summary, the overarching concept of decarbonisation primarily targets the reduction of carbon dioxide in economic and industrial activities, with a focus on energy production and distribution systems. At the building level, the emphasis lies in integrating low-carbon or carbon-neutral systems to minimise both direct and indirect emissions. Nevertheless, the literature examined indicates that other societal aspects, including social and behavioural factors, have not been thoroughly researched. This gap in knowledge could challenge the realisation of the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and underscores the need for further studies in these areas.

Created on 06-11-2023 | Update on 06-11-2023

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Spatial Agency

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)

Area: Community participation

 “Spatial agency”, a term popularised by Jeremy Till, Tatjana Schneider, and Nishat Awan (Awan et al., 2011; Schneider & Till, 2009) emerged from two growing demands: firstly, the need to decentralise the normative practice and role of architecture within spatial production, and secondly to expand the profession, by elevating diverse human and non-human actors, and various practices that move beyond the confines of what is typically understood as architecture (Lorne, 2017). Ignited by Cedric Price’s call for disrupting the idea that a building is the direct and solely available solution to spatial matters (Matthews, 2006), and drawing upon Lefebvre’s notion of “right to the city” (Lorne, 2017; Purcell, 2014), spatial agency aims to challenge the hegemonic status quo in spatial production by shifting the focus from the urban environment as a collection of tangible objects, to a dynamic socio-political process, and an entanglement of actors and practices that shape it and are shaped in return. Spatial agency Space, according to Lefebvre is a social product (1991, p. 360). This acknowledgment primarily highlights three facts: (1) there is no neutrality when it comes to the production of space. Space is the result of an agonistic relation between the components of the conceptual triad of space[1], resulting from the various conflicts and clashes between social groups with different interests, values, and backgrounds (Awan et al., 2011; Lefebvre, 1991). (2) There is a clear distinction and yet a “contradictory unity” between the exchange value, i.e. the usefulness of a commodity in terms of its capacity to generate economic revenue within the market, and the use value, i.e. the usefulness of a commodity in terms of its effective response to an actual need (Pitts, 2021, p. 36). Within the current economic system, more often than not, the exchange value overpowers the use value (Purcell, 2014). (3) To ensure that the use value of a given space is guaranteed, spatial production should not be the sole domain of experts and those who hold power, but rather citizens and stakeholders should engage in “real and active participation” (Lefebvre, 1991, p. 145; Purcell, 2014). Spatial agency All of the above attempt to answer the question on who should have agency over spatial production, beyond the mandates of the current economic system. Anthony Giddens defined “agency” as a notion in a perpetuate dialectic relation with “structure” (1987, p. 220). While agency is the capacity of an individual to decide and act freely, structure outlines the framework of rules, constraints and limitations that shape a society, and both function as interrelated notions (i.e. none may exist without the other). Awan, Till & Schneider follow Giddens’ take on agency, which dictates that no one -and nothing- is either “completely free […] or completely entrapped by structure” (2011, p. 32), but rather somewhere in between.  This means that space neither entirely shapes society, nor is it entirely defined by society, and “spatial agents” neither act in full freedom nor are they fully restrained by structure. This creates a contextual dependency (different contexts bear different “restraints”) that emphasises the situatedness of any practice within the scope of spatial agency. Spatial agency Spatial agency refers to the capacity of individuals or groups to actively shape and transform their built environment. It is a term that transcends and expands architecture, re-emphasises the need for a critical and politically conscious approach in spatial production and seeks to illustrate both an education and practice of synergies that puts “spatial judgement, mutual knowledge and critical awareness” at the forefront (Awan et al., 2011, p. 34; Lorne, 2017). Through spatial agency, one may embrace the uncertainties that emerge within the highly agonistic and dynamic nature of spatial production.       [1] The conceptual spatial triad, as iterated by Henri Lefebvre: space is not a monolith of tangible, physical elements, but rather it exists on different planes of understanding. Those planes are the perceived space (spatial practice), i.e. what one can see and feel around them, the lived space (representational space), which reflects the everydayness, the activities and the social life, and the conceived space (representations of space), i.e. the projections, plans and ideas on how a space could be used. 

Created on 30-01-2024 | Update on 21-02-2024

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