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Tzika, Z., Sentieri, C., & Martinez, A. (2023). Towards collective forms of dwelling: Analysis of the characteristics of the emerging grant-of-use housing cooperatives in Catalonia. Revista de Arquitectura

Posted on 04-10-2023

The grant-of-use cooperative housing model that has emerged in Catalonia since 2015, has received interest as an alternative form of housing, originating from grassroots initiatives and placing the emphasis on community. Cooperative housing appears during periods when prevailing housing markets fail to provide adequate solutions. Groups are engaging in self-organisation, and collective decision-making, to assess their needs, negotiate resources, and co-create alternative housing options. While affordable housing access remains a core objective, cooperative housing goes beyond that, challenging individualistic living norms and emphasizing community relationships. This article examines the current state of cooperative housing in Catalonia, and explores its characteristics, through a comparative analysis of the existing cases, using graphs with the data from the Observatory of Cooperative Housing of Catalonia. The analysed attributes are categorised into five main areas: location, constitutive characteristics, the process of participation, economic characteristics, and communal living. Based on the analysis, it is observed that Catalonia´s cooperative housing model has been evolving towards greater diversity, offering new possibilities for dwelling and fostering community-oriented housing. This evolution is evident in both the spatial characteristics of the houses and their social organisation. However, despite efforts from the cooperative housing groups and non-profit organisations in the sector to address challenges related to inclusion, long consolidation processes and financial barriers, there is still room for improvement.

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Community Empowerment

Participatory Approaches

Social Sustainability

Area: Policy and financing

Housing is usually deemed unaffordable when it consumes more than a set percentage of a household's monthly income. The Eurostat (2022) and the OECD (Chung et al., 2018) follow this threshold approach and define households overburdened with housing costs as those that spend more than 40% of their disposable income on housing. However, this indicator fails to capture financial hardship, particularly among lower-income households. In fact, lower-income households may be spending less than 40% of their income on housing and yet failing to meet adequate consumption levels for other goods. As a response, the residual income approach ascertains housing (un)affordability by defining a minimum level of consumption for a set of goods according to particular household types. The residual income approach builds on consumption data to define the minimum level of income necessary for a household to survive after housing costs. The main shortcoming of this approach is that relies on subjective measures of what constitutes the necessary minimal expenses for a household. These two definitions of affordability navigate two tensions 1) between housing and other types of consumption and 2) between the individual conceptions of what is affordable and what the government considers to be affordable (Haffner & Hulse, 2021). More recently, scholars have emphasized the multi-faceted nature of affordability to include commuting and transport costs together with energy costs (Haffner & Boumeester, 2010). Other approaches focus on supply-side measures, for instance on the share of the housing stock that a household can afford (Chung et al., 2018). Evolutions in the measurement of affordability bear witness to the complexity of housing systems. Affordability is not only dependent on housing consumption but also on housing supply, particularly in inelastic markets where providers have considerable power, see for example Kunovac & Zilic (2021). At the same time, displacement pressures and rising energy costs in an older and inefficient stock add pressure on households to access affordable housing.

Created on 21-04-2023

Author: A.Fernandez (ESR12), M.Haffner (Supervisor)


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

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9), A.Panagidis (ESR8)


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

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)


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

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13), L.Ricaurte (ESR15), M.Alsaeed (ESR5)


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

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)



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Cooperative housing in Barcelona

Posted on 01-02-2023

Cooperative, community-led, or collaborative forms of housing appear as collective responses to the way we inhabit. At times they are perceived as experimentations in a certain socio-spatial context that seek to push the limits, question or re-interpret existing practices of inhabiting. As a phenomenon tends to reappear and grow in periods where the mechanisms in place for the provision and distribution of housing are not providing solutions (or adequate solutions) for all households. The main values that have been identified as drivers of such initiatives are: fostering a communal way of living, seeking affordable solutions through collective action, rethinking the ecological impact of housing, and addressing gender equality, as well as aging issues. The difference between cooperative housing and market or state-provided housing is that it attempts to overlap three aspects of housing that are usually separated: property, development of housing, and participation in decision-making (Lacol et al., 2018).   In the last months, I have been conducting my case study research in Barcelona, as part of my secondment, where there is a renewed interest in this form of housing. Since its initiation, starting from bottom-up collectives, and neighborhood movements, and growing towards more parts of society, the groups manifest for the right to housing, stressing the importance of the engagement of the inhabitants and the creation of non-speculative and long-term affordable housing. Currently, there is a collective effort in place, from the groups and the support organisations, to promote the model and make it more inclusive. A platform was created at the regional level, where all the cooperatives participate to discuss the evolution of the model. The values that the platform is highlighting as the core of the model, and the ones to reinforce and improve are (XES, 2019):   Non-profit and collective property The cooperatives use collective tenure forms, through long-term and secure access to housing but without the possibility of owning the property and making a profit out of it.   Community engagement and self-management The participation of the inhabitants in the decision-making is at the core of this model. As each group is different, with different priorities, resources, and skills, community engagement can take different forms.   Affordable and inclusive housing One of the key stakes of the model is affordability. The main mechanism for that was initially the grant of use of land, instead of buying it. However, as the model is evolving more mechanisms are being tested and implemented to include more people.   Replicability Collaboration and exchange of knowledge are being promoted among the groups. As practices are being shared and knowledge is being slowly generated, we can look at the lessons learned and understand the critical points.   Sustainability Most of the cases are opting for sustainable housing solutions, by focusing on low-carbon materials, the passive design of the building, and renewable energies. As we are in a moment, when energy and material prices are increasing because of inflation, we see how the trends of the material choices of the initial projects are changing towards locally produced ones.   References: Lacol, la Ciutat Invisible, & la Dinamo Fundación. (2018). Habitar en comunidad : la vivienda cooperativa en cesión de uso. Catarata. XES. (2019). Regulatory principles of cooperative housing in grant of use by the sector for cooperative and transformative housing of the social and solidarity economy network of Catalonia.

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)


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Exploring the right to housing in Spain: some reflections

Posted on 22-09-2023

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

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

Reflections, Conferences


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