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Dissart, J.-C., & Ricaurte, L. (2023). Assessing social value in housing design: contributions of the capability approach. Buildings and Cities, 4(1), 867–882. https://doi.org/10.5334/BC.328    

https://doi.org/10.5334/BC.328

Posted on 11-10-2023

A conceptualisation of social value in the built environment is provided from the perspective of the capability approach (CA). The CA is a theoretical framework that has been used to assess inequality and poverty, particularly in less-developed countries; its multidimensionality and flexibility make it a useful approach in advanced economies as well. The CA can be a theoretical underpinning to assess the social value created in the built environment, particularly in its spatial dimension. Its use is explored to assess the design features of housing schemes and the wider environment as a fundamental conversion factor in creating capabilities and achieving valued functionings. In addition to theoretical considerations, a capability-based assessment of social value is presented for housing design.

Practice relevance

The CA offers a promising approach to architects, designers and policymakers. The core idea of expanding the freedoms and opportunities of inhabitants in terms of capabilities can serve as a guiding principle for creating social value through housing design. Key themes from the Quality of Life Foundation’s Quality of Life Framework can be harnessed to define social value in housing: control, health, nature, wonder, movement and community. This illustrates the links between social value and capabilities, focusing on spatial relationships and scales. A CA-based assessment of social value is presented that can assist practitioners.

Related case studies

Related vocabulary

Post-occupancy Evaluation

Social Value

Area: Design, planning and building

As the name suggests, Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) is the process of assessing the performance of a building once it has been occupied. It is often conflated and falls under the umbrella of Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) (Boissonneault & Peters, 2023; Preiser, 2005; Stevenson, 2018). Other definitions refer to POE as any activity intended to assess how buildings perform and the level of satisfaction of their users, ranging from simple survey questionnaires to indoor environmental quality (IEQ) measurements, which makes its scope very broad (Li et al., 2018). Nevertheless, in the case of POE, the focus should be on the occupants’ experience of the building and the impact of spaces on their behaviour and well-being (Watson, 2003 in Sanni-Anibire et al., 2016). It is commonly suggested that POE should be conducted at least a year after the handover and occupation of the building so that users can experience and test it under different weather conditions (RIBA et al., 2016). In the context of housing, housing providers, developers and architecture practices can benefit from enquiring what makes a good design from the occupants’ point of view. A systematic and rigorous POE combined with periodic user experience surveys can be very beneficial as it helps to improve relationships with tenants and provide a better picture of the quality of the housing stock. Thus, POEs do not only help to balance the scale between the social, economic and environmental aspects of buildings but also revitalise the role of research in the whole life cycle of projects. Despite its potential benefits for the various stakeholders engaged in the production of the built environment, POE is not a widespread practice in the sector. There is a notable absence of literature and research on the subject (Durosaiye et al., 2019; Hadjri & Crozier, 2009). However, since the 2010s, there has been a growing academic interest in POE, as evidenced by the increasing number of scientific publications, including studies related to post-occupancy evaluation (Li et al., 2018). There is a consensus in literature that learning from experience, whether from unintended consequences of ill-considered design or from successful projects, through the active involvement of occupants and users of buildings is a pathway for innovation. POE is commonly considered as an activity that requires long-term commitment and can be time and resource-consuming. This is a limitation that can be explained by the short-term logic of the construction sector and the fleeting commitment of developers, especially private and profit-driven, to the communities and clients they work with. In the same vein, the question of who is responsible for commissioning and conducting a POE represents the biggest barrier to its widespread implementation in the sector (Cooper, 2001). Concerns are inextricably linked to the cost and scope of the assessment, the equipment and professionals involved, and the possibility of being held accountable for flaws that might be exposed by the activity. Discussions around the importance of inspecting buildings after completion to assess their environmental performance have gained momentum in recent decades as a consequence of the evidenced climate crisis and the significant share of carbon emissions attributable to activities related to the built environment (according to UNEP (2022), 37 per cent of CO2 emissions in 2021). Nonetheless, the emergence of POE as a concept for the built environment dates back to the 1960s in the USA, where it was originally used to assess institutional facilities and fell mainly within the remit of facility managers (Preiser, 1995). Later, the PROBE (Post Occupancy Review of Building Engineering) research conducted between 1995 to 2002 on 23 non-residential case studies in the UK helped spread the concept among the whole gamut of professionals involved in the design and construction of buildings (Bordass et al., 2001; Cohen et al., 2001). With respect to design and housing, the work of Marcus and Sarkissian (1986) in Housing as if People Mattered is worth mentioning. In this book, the authors have outlined a set of design guidelines derived from evidence gathered through POEs. Their research was conducted with the aim of comprehending people's preferences and dislikes about their neighbourhoods and homes, utilizing a people-centred perspective that delves into " the quality of housing environments from a social standpoint, as defined by residents" (p.5). Their approach to POE is grounded in viewing housing as a process rather than a mere product. They propose rethinking the relationship between the designer and inhabitant, extending beyond the completion of buildings. This perspective aligns with that of Brand (1995), who views buildings as intricate systems governed by the 'Shearing layers of change', a concept developed from Duffy's proposal (Duffy & Hannay, 1992). Accordingly, buildings are understood as layered structures in which time plays a pivotal role in the way they interact with each other and with the user. As Duffy stated, quoted in Brand (1995, p.12): “The unit of analysis for us isn’t the building, it’s the use of the building through time. Time is the essence of the real design problem.” This renders it necessary to go back to the building once finished and continue doing so throughout its lifecycle. The levels of POE The literature distinguishes between three ‘levels of effort’ at which POE can be conducted, which differ mainly in terms of the thoroughness and purpose of the assessment: indicative, investigative, and diagnostic (Hadjri & Crozier, 2009; Preiser, 1995; Sanni-Anibire et al., 2016). These levels vary in methods and the degree of engagement of researchers and participants, and encompassing the phases of planning, conducting and applying. They can be described briefly as follows: Indicative: This level provides a general assessment of the most important positive and negative aspects of the building from the users' point of view. It involves a brief data collection period, characterised by walk-throughs, interviews and survey questionnaires with occupants. It is not exhaustive and may reveal more complex problems that need to be addressed with an investigative or diagnostic POE. It can be completed in a few hours or days. Investigative: If a relevant problem identified in an indicative POE requires further research, an investigative POE is carried out. This second level implies a more robust amount of data to be collected, the use of more specialised methods, and possibly the disruption of occupants' routines and building use due to the prolonged engagement in the research endeavour. It can take weeks to months to complete. Diagnostic: This level is characterised by its approach which is both longitudinal and cross-sectional. It may involve one or more buildings and a research process that may take months to a year or more to complete. It is more akin to research conducted by specialised institutions or scholars. The scope can be very specific but also have sector-wide implications. Possible applications of the information gathered through POE A more recent review of the literature on POE studies highlights the variegated range of purposes behind it: impact of indoor environmental quality on occupants, design and well-being, testing of technologies, informing future decision-making or feedforward, and impact of building standards and green rating systems, to name a few (Boissonneault & Peters, 2023; Li et al., 2018). The breadth of applications and rationale for conducting POE studies show that it is a powerful tool for assessing a wide array of issues in the built and living environment, and partly explain the interest it holds for researchers. However, the industry is still lagging behind, which hinders the dissemination and further implementation of the findings and results.  More collaboration between academia and industry is therefore crucial as the great impact lies in applying POE and BPE as a structural part of the sector’s practice. Moreover, since POE primarily relies on fieldwork and the collection of empirical data, a more comprehensive assessment that incorporates mixed methods and a systematic approach can yield greater benefits for the entire building production chain. The collected feedback, analysis and resulting conclusions can create learning loops within organisations and bring about real changes in the lives of current and future building users. Therefore, a robust POE should be accompanied by the implementation of the concomitant action plan to address the problems identified. For this purpose, a theory of change approach can be helpful. In this sense, POE can become a very effective facility management tool (Preiser, 1995). Some examples of the varied uses of data provided by robust POE and BPE include the creation of databases for informed decision-making, benchmarking and integration into BIM protocols or GIS-powered tools. In this sense, generating data that can be compared and benchmarked is critical to the long-term impact and value for money of undertaking the activity. It is therefore imperative to recognise POE for its benefits rather than viewing it as a liability or a mere nice-to-have feature. On the other hand, POE inherently involves a wide range of disciplines within the built environment, including design, engineering, psychology, policy and finance, among others. This multidisciplinary aspect can be leveraged to promote transdisciplinary research to help better understand the relationships between buildings and people It delves into the impact of these relationships, considering human behaviour and well-being. This perspective is often referred to as the building performance-people performance paradigm, as denominated by other POE researchers (Boissonneault & Peters, 2023). Architectural geographers, for instance, have explored the various meanings and emotions ascribed by inhabitants to buildings, particularly council estates in the UK, through actor-network theory-informed research (Jacobs et al., 2008, 2016; Lees, 2001; Lees & Baxter, 2011). Similarly, the work of organisations such as the Quality of Life Foundation encompassed in the Quality of Life Framework (Morgan & Salih, 2023; URBED, 2021), has highlighted the link between the places where we live and its impact on our quality of life through systematic POEs conducted in collaboration with social housing providers and local authorities. Amid the climate emergency and the pressing need to curtail carbon emissions, there is now a need for the sector to innovate and mitigate the impact of building construction and operation. It has been argued that sustainability cannot be achieved only by adopting energy-efficient technologies or by promoting certifications such as LEED, Passivhaus, or assessment protocols such as BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology). As discussed earlier, conducting these assessments is an effective tool to mitigate and solve the discrepancy between the expected energy performance of the designed building vis à vis that of its real-life counterpart, the so-called performance gap. POE can be used to ascertain the social performance gap by including qualitative and well-being-related indicators (Brown, 2018). In this way, buildings are evaluated not only in terms of their ability to comply with building regulations and environmental goals, but also in meeting social objectives in order to provide greater sustainability and affordability, particularly in housing.

Created on 22-10-2023

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)

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Area: Community participation

Social value (SV) is a wide-ranging concept that encompasses the wider economic, social and environmental well-being impacts of a specific activity. Given its applicability across various sectors, diverse interpretations and definitions exist, often leading to its interchangeable use with other terms, such as social impact. This interchangeability makes it difficult to establish a universally accepted definition that satisfies all stakeholders, contributing to the term’s adaptability and to a variety of methods for identification, monitoring, measurement and demonstration. Nevertheless, common themes emerge from literature definitions. First, SV involves maximizing benefits for communities and society beyond an organisation's primary goals, which requires innovation and a focus that goes beyond financial values. It is often referred to as the added value of an intervention. Second, the short-, medium- and long-term effects of activities, as well as their broader community reach, need to be assessed in terms of a life-cycle project perspective. Thirdly, SV aligns with the triple bottom line of sustainability, which underlines social, environmental and economic considerations in well-being. In the UK, SV gained prominence with the introduction of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. This legislation mandates organisations commissioning public services to consider and account for the wider impacts of their operations (UK Government 2012; UKGBC, 2020, 2021). The Act has provided incentives to quantitatively measure the impact of projects on communities and standardise approaches in the built environment, a sector that has been significantly influenced by this regulatory framework. Organisations such as the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) have played a crucial role in shaping a common agenda through reports such as Delivering Social Value: Measurement (2020) and Framework for Defining Social Value (2021), which set out the steps needed to determine social value. Recognising that SV is strongly influenced by contextual factors, these publications emphasize the challenge for formulating an all-encompassing definition. Instead, they advocate for focusing efforts on developing context-specific steps and methods for measurement.     However, the existing literature is mainly concerned with SV during the procurement and construction phases, overlooking the SV of buildings during the use phase and the potential opportunities and benefits they offer to users. This bias is due to the construction sector's rapid response to the Act and its easier access to certain types of information. This influences the prominence of certain data in project’s impact assessments and SV reports, such as employment opportunities, training, placements, and support of local supply chains through procurement. More intangible outcomes such as community cohesion, quality of life improvements, enhanced social capital, cultural preservation, empowerment and long-term social benefits are rarely featured as they are deemed more challenging to quantify due to their subjective or qualitative nature. Similarly, there remains a lack of clarity and consensus regarding a standardised approach to assessing the added value created. The challenge stems from diverse interpretations of value among stakeholders, influenced by their unique interests and activities. Communicating something inherently subjective becomes particularly daunting due to these varying perspectives. Additionally, translating all outcomes into financial metrics is also problematic. This is primarily due to the unique circumstances that characterise each development and community, making it impractical to hastily establish targets and universal benchmarks for their assessment. (Raiden et al., 2018; Raiden & King, 2021a, 2023). This complexity is recognised by Social Value UK (2023: n.p.), stating: “Social value is a broader understanding of value. It moves beyond using money as the main indicator of value, instead putting the emphasis on engaging people to understand the impact of decisions on their lives.” Moreover, the growing significance and momentum that SV is gaining are evident in the emergence of analogous legislations that have appeared in recent years and that have a direct influence on shaping how the built environment sector operates in their respective countries. Noteworthy examples of social value-related regulations include the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015 in Wales; the Procurement Reform Act 2014 in Scotland; the social procurement frameworks in Australia; the Community Benefit Agreements in Canada; the Government Procurement Rules in New Zealand; and the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria considered in various countries around the world, among others.   Identifying and measuring social value SV should be an integral aspect of project development and, therefore, must be considered from the early stages of its conception, taking into account the entire lifecycle. The literature highlights a three-step process for this: 1) identifying stakeholders, 2) understanding their interests, and 3) agreeing on intended outcomes (UKGBC 2020, 2021). More recently, Raiden & King (2021b) linked the creation of SV to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the context of the built environment, SV can contribute to reporting on the SDGs, elevating the value the sector creates to society onto the international agenda (Caprotti et al., 2017; United Nations, 2017). While SDG 11 “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, is often placed within the remit of the built environment, SV programmes developed by social housing providers, for example, extend the sector’s impact beyond SDG 11, covering a broader range of areas  (Clarion Housing Group, 2023; Peabody, 2023). This aspect is also echoed in the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Sustainable Outcomes Guide, which links the SDGs to specific outcomes, including the creation of SV (Clark & HOK, 2019). Over the past decade, various methodologies have been proposed to undertake the intricate task of assessing value beyond financial metrics, drawing inspiration from the work of social enterprises. Among the most prominent and widely adopted by diverse stakeholders in the sector are the Social Return on Investment (SROI), Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) — sometimes referred to as SCBA when given the social epithet—, and the well-being valuation approach. (Fujiwara & Campbell, 2011; Trotter et al., 2014; Watson et al., 2016; Watson & Whitley, 2017). The widespread implementation of these approaches can be explained by the development of tools such as the UK Social Value Bank, linked to the well-being valuation method. This tool, used to monetise ‘social impacts’, is endorsed by influential stakeholders in the UK’s housing sector, including HACT (2023), or the Social Value Portal and National TOMs (Themes, Outcomes and Measures) (Social Value Portal 2023). In the measuring of SV, these methodologies unanimously emphasize the importance of avoiding overclaiming or double-counting outcomes and discounting the so-called deadweight, which refers to the value that would have been created anyway if the intervention had not taken place, either through inertia or the actions of other actors. While the development of these approaches to measuring SV is pivotal for advancing the social value agenda, some critics contend that there is an imbalance in presenting easily quantifiable outcomes, such as the number of apprenticeships and jobs created, compared to the long-term impact on the lives of residents and communities affected by projects. This discrepancy arises because these easily quantifiable metrics are relatively simpler to convert into financial estimates. Steve Taylor (2021), in an article for The Developer, pointed out that the methods employed to measure social value, coupled with the excessive attention given to monetisation and assigning financial proxy values to everything, may come at the expense of playing down the bearing of hard-to-measure well-being outcomes: “As long as measurement of social value is forced into the economist’s straightjacket of cost-benefit analysis, such disconnects will persist. The alternative is to ask what outcomes people and communities actually want to see, to incorporate their own experiences and perspectives, increase the weighting of qualitative outcomes and wrap up data in narratives that show, holistically, how the pieces fit together. We loosen the constraints of monetisation by mitigating the fixed sense of value as a noun; switching focus to its role as an active verb – to ‘value’ – measuring what people impacted by changes to their built environment consider important or beneficial.” The process of comprehensively measuring and reporting on SV can be challenging, time-consuming and resource-intensive. It is therefore important that stakeholders truly understand the importance of this endeavour and appreciate the responsibilities it entails. Recently, Raiden and King (2021a, 2023) have highlighted the use of a mixed-methods approach for assessing SV, proposing it as a strategy that can offer a more thorough understanding of the contributions of actors in the field. They argue that an assessment incorporating qualitative methods alongside the already utilized quantitative methods can provide a better picture of the added value created by the sector. These advancements contribute to the overarching goal of showcasing value and tracking the effects of investments and initiatives on people's well-being. Nevertheless, a lingering question persists regarding the feasibility of converting all outcomes into monetary values. Social value in architecture and housing design In the field of architecture, the RIBA, in collaboration with the University of Reading, took a significant step by publishing the Social Value Toolkit for Architecture (Samuel, 2020). This document provides a set of recommendations and examples, emphasizing why architects should consider the SV they create and providing guidance on how to identify and evaluate projects, incorporating techniques such as Post-Occupancy Evaluation. This is a remarkable first step in involving architects in the SV debate and drawing attention to the importance of design and the role of architecture in creating value (Samuel, 2018). More recently, Samuel (2022:76) proposed a definition of SV in housing that places the well-being of residents at the centre of the discussion. Accordingly, SV lies in “fostering positive emotions, whether through connections with nature or offering opportunities for an active lifestyle, connecting people and the environment in appropriate ways, and providing freedom and flexibility to pursue different lifestyles (autonomy).” In this context, it is also relevant to highlight the work of the Quality of Life Foundation (QoLF) & URBED, who published The Quality of Life Framework (URBED, 2021). This evidence-based framework identifies six themes in the built environment crucial for assessing relationships between places and people:  control, health, nature, wonder, movement, and community. More recently, Dissart & Ricaurte (2023) have proposed the capability approach as a more comprehensive conceptual basis for the SV of housing. This approach expands the work of the QoLF, focusing the discussion on the effective freedoms and opportunities that the built environment, specifically housing, offers its inhabitants. It serves as a means to gauge the effectiveness of housing solutions and construe SV.

Created on 16-11-2023

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)

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Architecture enables, not dictates ways of life. Good design doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag

Posted on 02-11-2023

This is the story of two housing schemes that depict the spirit of their times in terms of habitation tenets. Their walls and the spaces between the buildings indicate two different, perhaps even opposing, understandings of the relationship between the city and the dwelling and, by extension, between the citizen and the inhabitant. Both stand in Amsterdam, a global city with exorbitant real estate prices and a housing market that struggles, to say the least, to cope with the demand. Yet, both are embedded in diametrically different local contexts. Their scale is antonymous, and so is the sense of containment they transmit to the passerby, in this case, embodied by the author of this post. Conveniently for the purposes of this reflection, both have also been praised, at their respective times, for their architectural qualities. Both were worthy of being considered for the prestigious Mies van der Rohe award; one was shortlisted in 1988, and the renovation of a block of the other took the honour in 2017. However, it is prudent to admit that this might be the comparison of three housing projects, not two. The first is a CIAM-inspired mass housing-led development that offered the solution to the provision of new housing units and increased the footprint of the city in the sixties; the second is a low-rise, high-density, neighbourhood-scale housing scheme of the late 1980s that turned to the street and shared spaces as the foci of human interaction; and the ‘third’ is a 2016 built manifesto for renovating as an alternative to the wrecking ball.   The turbulent story of the Bijlmer Housing provision is a major societal need and therefore it has always been a major driving force in the development of cities, innovation of building technologies and improvement of people’s quality of life. The outstanding need for providing mass housing that many countries in Europe faced in the second half of the XX century was only a surmountable challenge thanks to breakthroughs in building techniques and new paradigms in the way city planners and architects approached the project of bringing about solutions to the housing shortage. The Bijlmermeer neighbourhood, in south-east Amsterdam, exemplifies this zeitgeist in design, planning and building that was prolifically replicated in many cities around the world. When it comes to modernism, in architecture one word immediately comes to mind: functionalism. As its name suggests, its main feature was the division of functions. There should be a place for living, working, studying, shopping, socialising, connecting with nature, and so forth. All these activities were mediated by the automobile, the great ally of Le Corbusier’s machine for living in,  and to a lesser extent, public transportation. The result was a series of nodes of activity that connected by avenues and highways would leave enough space for nature. A greenery that for the modernists was more about visual enjoyment, an oasis thought to be contemplated from the living room of one of the housing units on a high storey of a uniform-looking housing block, reflecting the victory of man over nature, than to be incorporated into the city to accessed directly and casually at ground level.   Some of these influences can be witnessed in the spatial configuration of the Bijlmer, as it is known colloquially. The characteristic heaviness of the volumes, surrounded by the now green areas and small bodies of water, is emphasised by the height and length of the blocks and the modular façades created by the use of precast concrete panels, state-of-the-art technology at the time, and by the deck access, featured by the once glorified streets in the sky. However, the project never reached the expectations or matched the grandeur with which it had been conceived. The utopian dream rapidly turned into a nightmare, the area was not desirable anymore, and the housing corporations that managed the complex at the time were struggling to fill empty units that did not cease to increase due to the constant tenant turnover. A long-lasting process of renewal and redevelopment of the neighbourhood led by the local government aimed at unleashing the promised paradise that never materialised began and some blocks started to be demolished and replaced with lower-rise housing. As though the scenario was not bleak enough, an unfortunate and catastrophic event took by surprise the Bijlmer residents on an October night in 1992, a plane crashed into one of the blocks, causing the deadliest aviation accident in the Netherlands with at least 43 casualties.   Good design doesn’t have to be expensive Built in 1987, Haarlemmer Houttuinen Housing was designed by Herman Hertzberger. This housing complex epitomises a paradigm shift that became apparent in the residential built environment in the late seventies and eighties. The large volumes of the Ville Radieuse laid the foundation for a countermovement in design and city-making that returned to relationships between functions and space that are more aligned with the organic development and mix of uses of the mediaeval urban layout. The street becomes the urban living room, a space for socialising that had to be reclaimed from the fast pace of the automobile. Hertzberger incorporates the notion of human scale as a prime consideration in the arrangement of volumes that are noticeably smaller in scale, and malleable at the discretion of the user. It is rather a matter of enabling the users the opportunity to shape their own living environment through possible spatial configurations. The Diagoon housing in Delft (1967-1970) is a preceding experiment that undoubtedly influenced the architect’s approach to this project, which is set in the centre of Amsterdam in a more constrained urban context, with a busy street and an elevated railway on one side acting as a boundary, and the rest of the city with its characteristic lower building profile and tightly packed streets on the other. This dual nature of the site is articulated in two types of façades with distinctive characters, the north is more self-contained, with no balconies or direct access to the blocks in response to the heavily transited road. By contrast, the collective and social side of the complex is placed on the south façade, within the urban block and in a street that has been deliberately safeguarded from vehicles, except for the ones of the residents. This narrow street creates a façade and an urban front that is a world away from the hustle and bustle of its counterpart. Different layers are woven by the use of seemingly ordinary elements of the building. The stairwells that lead to the units on the first storey of the blocks, for example, become a place in itself in conjunction with the pillars that support the balconies that oversee the ground floor terraces, urban furniture and the ubiquitous bike racks that residents have decorated with flowerpots that in some cases have flourished to become urban gardens. Most of the accesses and social spaces of the dwellings are connected to some extent with this shared space and the transition between the public and the private is underpinned by the architectural elements that seamlessly set territorial boundaries. Everyone is a few steps from the ground level so the connection with the street is always present. This is accompanied by the surrounding immediate context composed of housing blocks that have opted to follow a similar approach and pocket parks with playgrounds for children complementing the general neighbourly feeling of a place that is located right in the city centre.   Kleiburg, a second chance for the Bijlmer In 2016, Kleiburg, one of the surviving blocks in the Bijlmermeer, was to suffer the same fate as other parts of the massive estate designed by Siegfried Nassuth in the 1960s, namely to be bulldozed and redeveloped. Due to the scale of the project and probably after years of underinvestment and lack of maintenance, it was very expensive for the housing corporation that managed it to retrofit it. This modernist brainchild was about to fall victim to the same approach to placemaking that its architects defended decades before: creating a tabula rasa.   A campaign was launched to save the block and a competition was announced to find out what could be done with the building. In the end, a consortium was selected for its innovative and, above all, affordable approach to retrofitting it. The bigger interventions were focused on correcting flaws in the original structure through purposeful design interventions aimed at reviving the integration of the volume into its surroundings. As highlighted earlier, how a building lands at the ground level and the spaces created by this interaction can have a profound impact on the activities and events that the space between the buildings afford to its inhabitants. In the case of the Kleiburg, a series of poorly conceived underpasses and the use of the ground floor were deemed the culprits. These areas that passed from being envisioned as spaces of congregation and social encounters, to only being used for storage purposes had cut the building off from its context and increased the sense of isolation, anonymity and lack of human scale; that have been linked with perceived or actual higher criminality, anti-social behaviour, and vandalism. Today, the storage rooms have been relocated to the upper levels, closer to the units they are allocated to, and the ground floor lives through infill units that were added in addition to the newly revamped underpasses more clearly announced by a double height and integrated into the pedestrian and cycle paths that criss-cross the site. Elevators have been located in central circulation points and the interior distribution to the flats has been updated to work more efficiently. The interiors of the dwellings have followed a DIY approach reducing the upfront costs that new residents had to cover in favour of a greater agency in deciding for finishes and fittings. Residents can plan according to their budget reducing waste and avoiding extra costs. It is important to note that not the entire Biljmermeer followed this approach, the rest of the blocks are still social housing and are managed by a housing corporation.   The experience of traversing both projects is clearly different. While walking through Haarlemmer Houttuinen, there is a strong sense of place, the pedestrian street is welcoming and it is evident that the residents are in control of their environment, and that they look after it, which in turn explains why it feels alive. A fact that is supported by the sense of containment and positive space that the ensemble creates. The woonerf or living street, a quintessential Dutch way of understanding and experiencing public space, is very much present here. In the case of the Bijlmer, the feeling is almost the opposite. The area is less densely built-up and the blocks look more like a large cruise ship; one perhaps reminiscent of the S.S. Patris, on which the fourth CIAM between Athens and Marseille was held in 1933, where the Athens Charter was discussed and outlined, later to be published by Le Corbusier. Something has changed, however, the blocks still stand, but more like a tree, like those that now thrive nearby, with stronger roots connecting them to the ground and the neighbouring cityscape. In both schemes, the edges and transitions between the public and private spheres have been laboriously crafted to enable a set of relationships that put the experience of the space from the human scale standpoint at the forefront. In 2017, the renovation of the Kleiburg won the Mies van der Rohe Award, a recognition that good architecture does not have to be prohibitively expensive and that there is huge potential to be unpacked in many buildings that sit empty or are being left to rotten.   Further reading ArchDaily. (2017, March 2). DeFlat / NL architects + XVW architectuur. ArchDaily. https://www.archdaily.com/806243/deflat-nl-architects-plus-xvw-architectuur   Fundació Mies van der Rohe. (n.d.). Haarlemmer Houttuinen Housing. Eumiesaward. https://www.miesarch.com/work/1507   Fundació Mies van der Rohe. (n.d.-a). DeFlat Kleiburg. Eumiesaward. https://miesarch.com/work/3509   Himelfarb, E. (2018, November 13). How Bijlmer transformed from Amsterdam’s no-go zone to the city’s most exciting ’hood. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/europe/netherlands/amsterdam/bijlmer-amsterdam-neighbourhood-a8630071.html   Olsson, L., & Loerakker, J. (2013, April 26). Revisioning Amsterdam Bijlmermeer. Failed Architecture. https://failedarchitecture.com/the-story-behind-the-failure-revisioning-amsterdam-bijlmermeer/   Wassenberg, F. (2013). Large housing estates: Ideas, Rise, Fall and Recovery: The Bijlmermeer and beyond. IOS Press. https://doi.org/10.4233/uuid:667bb070-f469-442b-8d72-54c61f61d884              

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)

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