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Navigating Two Realms: A Comparative Exploration of Community-Engaged Architectural Education in Spain and the UK

Posted on 04-12-2023

Embarking on two distinct secondments—one in the vibrant city of Valencia, Spain, from October to December 2022, and the other in heart of Sheffield, UK, from late September to late November 2023—provided me with a unique opportunity to delve into the realms of community-engaged architectural education. Each experience not only offered insights into the diverse approaches of two renowned institutions, the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the Sheffield School of Architecture, but also shed light on the nuances that exist when navigating language barriers and cultural disparities.   Spain: Bridging the Language Gap My first secondment in the Polytechnic University of Valencia presented an initial challenge: a language barrier that I had yet to conquer. My rather non-existent proficiency in Spanish restricted my direct engagement with students, but it did not hinder my ability to observe the innovative pedagogical methods employed by the institution. During my time in Valencia, I witnessed a series of exercises designed to cultivate creativity and empathy among students. These exercises pushed boundaries, encouraging students to think beyond conventional architectural norms. Despite the linguistic challenges, I was able to appreciate the universality of architectural exploration as a means of fostering innovation and expanding students' perspectives. One noteworthy initiative was the participatory design & build activity, "JugaPatraix." Collaborating with the local architectural practice FentEstudi, students engaged in creating small-scale, acupuncture interventions in the Patraix neighbourhood. Drawing inspiration from the unobstructed exploration of toddlers in urban surroundings, these interventions transformed the streets into playful landscapes. The project demonstrated that, with enthusiasm and a modest budget, transformative architectural endeavours can thrive, transcending language barriers.   UK: The Dynamics of Mentorship in Sheffield In Sheffield, my second secondment involved shadowing the "Live Projects" studio—a powerhouse within the Sheffield School of Architecture. Often referred to as the juggernaut of the Architecture School, Live Projects operates as a student-led studio that has built a reputation extending beyond city borders. A notable distinction was the choice of nomenclature; the term "mentor" took precedence over "tutor." This seemingly subtle shift in language encapsulated the essence of the Live Projects studio. Here, teaching staff assumed a guiding role, providing support when necessary, as opposed to the conventional tutorship that typically directs the entire process. This departure from the traditional model showcased a student-centric approach, emphasizing autonomy and self-direction.   Comparative Reflections Both experiences offered invaluable insights into the multifaceted world of community-engaged architectural education. Despite the contrasting contexts, a common thread emerged: the importance of fostering creativity, empathy, and innovation within architectural pedagogy. In Spain, the emphasis on unconventional exercises and participatory design highlighted the potential for transformative architectural interventions, even in the face of language barriers. The JugaPatraix project exemplified how collaborative efforts, driven by a shared passion, can reshape urban landscapes on a tight budget. On the other hand, the Live Projects studio in Sheffield showcased the power of student-led initiatives and the significance of mentorship over traditional tutoring. The dynamic, boundary-crossing reputation of Live Projects underscored the impact that a student-centric model can have, transcending institutional and national boundaries.   Conclusion In retrospect, these secondments were more than a mere exploration of architectural education—they were windows into the dynamic intersection of culture, language, and pedagogy. The experiences in Spain and the UK illuminated the universal capacity of architecture to transcend barriers and foster transformative change. As I reflect on these enriching experiences, I am immensely grateful for the insights gained, the lessons learned, and the enduring impact on my perspective as a participant both in the global discourse of architectural education and in the local context of the University of Cyprus. As I move on to the next phase of my fieldwork, all the questions I carry forward with me begin with the same two words: What if...?   Acknowledgements I would like to thank my co-supervisor, Carla Sentieri for making my stay at UPV as fruitful as possible, and Míriam Rodríguez and Fran Azorín Chico (members of FentEstudi) that allowed me to tag along, ask questions and observe their activities. Then, I would like to thank Karim Hadjri and Krzysztof Nawratek at Sheffield School of Architecture for facilitating all the paperwork as well as Carolyn Butterworth, Daniel Jary and Sam Brown for being more eager to help me out that I would have ever hoped for, Finally, a big thank you to my colleagues Aya Elghandour and Mahmoud Alsaeed for making my stay in Sheffield memorable within and beyond the confines of the Architecture School.

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)

Secondments, Reflections

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COP28: 'Trying to try' is simply not good enough

Posted on 01-12-2023

Over 28 years ago, the Conference of the Parties (COP) convened in Berlin, Germany, marking the commencement of an annual gathering that brings together global leaders, delegates, observers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), industry representatives and members of indigenous peoples and local communities. The main purpose of these meetings is to assess the progress made in combating climate change and to negotiate the implementation of further measures.   Before we get into the details of this year's COP, it is important to take a brief look back at the last COPs. COP 25 in Madrid emphasised the resilience of the global climate process and the Paris Agreement despite setbacks. However, it also became clear that governments have not made sufficient commitments to combat and mitigate the consequences of climate change. At COP 26 in Glasgow, the Global Coal Phase-out Agreement was discussed, and the Global Methane Pledge was signed, with over 100 countries committing to a 30% reduction in methane emissions by 2030. At COP 27 in Sharm El Sheikh, it was agreed to set up a fund for loss and damage and to define the details for implementing the Santiago Network. In addition, food security was recognised as a critical issue for the first time.   "It's simply not good enough for us to be 'Trying to try'. […]Turn the badge around your necks into a badge of honour, and a life belt for the millions of people you are working for." Simon Stiell, UNFCCC Executive Secretary. Opening ceremony of COP28, 2023.   A few months ago, I was informed that I could attend this year's COP as an observer representing the University of Sheffield, so I take the opportunity to share what I have observed so far. COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates, began yesterday – 30 November 2023 – with a minute of silence to mourn the passing of Pete Betts, a British climate negotiator known as one of the architects of the Paris Agreement. And Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi-British scientist who was instrumental in tackling climate change and helping in setting up the Loss and Damage Fund. As at previous COPs, the Presidency's action plan focused on implementing the pillars of the Paris Agreement, which aim to accelerate the energy transition, improve climate finance, put nature, people, lives and livelihoods at the centre of climate action and underpin everything with full inclusiveness. Simon Stiell emphasised that while we are taking steps, these are more "baby steps", and the six-year window of opportunity is closing fast - the window of opportunity in which we will exhaust our planet's capacity to deal with our emissions. The window of opportunity in which we will break the 1.5-degree barrier. Jim Skea, Chair of the IPCC, on the other hand, explained that it is crucial to use science effectively to meet the challenges and to design climate action based on science, but without forgetting that science alone is no substitute for action.   The highlight of the first day was the operationalisation of the long-awaited Loss & Damage Fund, which aims to compensate vulnerable nations for the impacts of climate change. Numerous countries pledged financial resources to the fund, including the United Arab Emirates with USD 100 million, the United Kingdom with up to GBP 60 million, Japan with USD 10 million, the United States with USD 17.5 million for the new fund and a further USD 7 million for other loss and damage financial mechanisms. Finally, the European Union pledged 225 million euros, including the German contribution of 100 million US dollars.   Despite the initial positive momentum, the challenges of previous COPs remain. These include the lack of clear and ambitious targets, disparities in responsibility, and an absence of robust enforcement mechanisms. Overcoming these challenges will be crucial to ensure the future effectiveness of global climate efforts. Let us hope that this COP will be different and bring about real change, as we cannot afford to waste any more time.

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)

Conferences, Reflections

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Do we truly need a framework?

Posted on 13-11-2023

Over the course of three days, the RE-DWELL network met again in Delft with the hope that this gathering would not be our last, as the RE-DWELL conference is set to take place in Barcelona on May 16-17, 2024. A heartfelt acknowledgement is extended to the TU-Delft team, particularly Marja Elsinga, Marietta Haffner, and Tijn Croon, for their remarkable efforts and impeccable organisation of such a workshop. The workshop was not marked as another academic meeting but also as a transdisciplinary meeting in which the ESRs, supervisors and representatives from partner organisations actively participated. The focal point of many debates, however, was the RE-DWELL framework and its structural components. This blog post, therefore, delves into the significance and applicability of frameworks in addressing challenges related to housing affordability and sustainability. What constitutes a framework and its function? The term "framework" embodies a broad concept that takes on varying meanings across different fields. From a linguistic perspective, it represents a system of rules, ideas, or beliefs used for planning or decision-making, akin to a supportive structure upon which decisions can be constructed. In the realm of architecture, a framework serves to establish common practices, a set of principles, and a detailed description of singular or multiple activities. These activities often revolve around addressing a design challenge, translating it into practical language, and utilising architectural elements to surmount the challenge. Notably, building standards, regulations, and policies can also be viewed as types of frameworks, as they share the overarching goal of establishing common practices and achieving specific outcomes. In contrast, within the realm of social science, a framework takes on a different connotation. It typically refers to a theoretical or conceptual structure that forms the bedrock for understanding and analysing complex social phenomena. This framework aids researchers in organising their thoughts, framing research questions, and interpreting findings. Social science frameworks manifest in various forms, often drawing from established theories or perspectives within the specific field under investigation. While this blog post merely scratches the surface of framework typologies, it is essential to recognise their diversity. Some noteworthy examples include the conceptual framework, which centres on the theoretical structure supporting the understanding of a research problem; the theoretical framework, comprising a set of concepts and propositions guiding research; and the programming framework, a pre-established set of rules and tools for building software applications. Deciphering the RE-DWELL Framework As of now, the precise nature of the RE-DWELL framework remains elusive. However, it can be asserted with confidence that it does not conform to a mere checklist, a tick-box approach, or resemble systems like BREEAM or LEED. Instead, the RE-DWELL framework operates with a simpler structure, aiming to unify language, create a common ground, and establish a transdisciplinary perspective on the interconnected fields of housing, sustainability, and affordability. Do we truly need a framework? In short, yes, absolutely, we need a framework. The absence of a formal and universal language that brings all stakeholders to the same table persists as a challenge rarely addressed. Establishing such a framework requires concerted efforts and collaboration among the ESRs, supervisors, and partners. Crucially, it necessitates dismantling the borders that each field has erected around its knowledge. This is with hopes of promoting simple and effective practices to achieve the desired affordable and sustainable housing in Europe. Finally, let us maintain optimism and look forward to meeting again in Barcelona!

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)

Workshops, Reflections

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Financial viability, frameworks, prisons and mummified corpses

Posted on 06-11-2023

At INCASOL, I focused on the financial viability housing projects. Interestingly, these assessments are conducted by architects. I have deeply enjoyed working with architects that master valuation techniques, as well as intervening in architectural contests all of that while providing affordable housing. For all the criticism civil servants receive in Spain, INCASOL is efficiently run by truly dedicated professionals. This has changed my mind. Before, I used to think naively that architects’ main focus was building, buildings that is.   Talking about buildings, among the most fascinating buildings in Barcelona is La Modelo, an old prison with a panopticon. The panopticon is a fascinating design by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, conceived to observe prisoners without being observed. Funnily enough, Benthan’s mummified corpse is preserved at University College London.  If you’re interested in reading more, Surveir et Punir by Foucault is a classic. As I contemplated the panopticon, I couldn’t help but wonder: where else has the work of an architect been used to oppress? One is in fact not short of examples. For instance, Le Corbusier’s orthopaedic architecture intended to produce obedient citizens (I guess this kinda chimes with his connections to totalitarian regimes of all sign). Nowadays, most architectural delusion just stops at the glorification of outdated standards. Any first-year undergrad will make a model of whatever Aalto, Mies or Wright design they’ve recently encountered. They sometimes go even further and justify it by quoting an obscure philosopher. However, as some take this orthopaedic drive further, it becomes a demiurgic obsession. A project for the organisation of the universe. In Platonic philosophy, the demiurge is the artisan-god, charged with the task of ordering the world.   Nevertheless, there’s a particular point of encounter in the professional world between the architect and the economist. As much as it would not make justice to architects to reduce them to a modernist pipedream, maybe we shouldn’t reduce social sciences to small preset containers? Does research need an organising framework or should we throw out orthopaedics? Do frameworks necessarily constrain or can we use them to connect? Is Le Corbusier alive and well under the guise of holistic transdisciplinarity?

Author: A.Fernandez (ESR12)


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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.   Fundació Mies van der Rohe. (n.d.). Haarlemmer Houttuinen Housing. Eumiesaward.   Fundació Mies van der Rohe. (n.d.-a). DeFlat Kleiburg. Eumiesaward.   Himelfarb, E. (2018, November 13). How Bijlmer transformed from Amsterdam’s no-go zone to the city’s most exciting ’hood. The Independent.   Olsson, L., & Loerakker, J. (2013, April 26). Revisioning Amsterdam Bijlmermeer. Failed Architecture.   Wassenberg, F. (2013). Large housing estates: Ideas, Rise, Fall and Recovery: The Bijlmermeer and beyond. IOS Press.              

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)

Secondments, Reflections

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A Transdisciplinary Peek Behind Secondment Scenes & Common Challenges to Housing Associations in England

Posted on 22-10-2023

Written by Aya Elghandour Reviewed by Natalie Newman     The Housing Crisis, Cost of Living Crisis, and Climate Change Crisis are undoubtedly critical concerns of the general public. The three crises are interrelated. Please take a moment and think, how many disciplines are involved in those crises? Do you think investigating solutions by first understanding the complexity of any housing-related crisis, can stem from a mono-lens? Needless to say, end-users rights might get lost in ongoing debates. For instance: Hello! Do you see as critical in this debate the future of residents' health and wellbeing living in affordable housing properties?     That is why I joined the South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) for a secondment!   Transdisciplinarity in research has been widely recommended to tackle complex situations influenced by various stakeholders. It is all about mutual learning and exchanging knowledge between disciplines and actors to understand complex issues and produce new knowledge comprehensively. This is what I have been doing for the last three months in the South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) while joining the Development and Asset Management team! As an architect-researcher and prior to joining SYHA, my perception was limited to housing associations and architects as key decision-makers whose decisions have the greatest impact on the house quality and as a result the health and wellbeing of future residents. However, being at SYHA's headquarters expanded my horizons and gave me new perspectives on the various factors and stakeholders influencing those decisions. This broader perspective now guides my current research.     Behind the Scenes of how did it all start!   Six years ago, Miranda Plowden SYHA's Business Development Director planted the seed for my research project in collaboration with my supervisor, Professor Karim Hadjri. She emphasized that Life Cycle Costing (LCC) should be one of the critical pillars guiding SYHA's partnership with RE-DWELL. That's why I have spent three months in SYHA to understand their workflow, decision-making process, who are the key stakeholders in the design stages and what initial costs of construction and future costs of maintenance they are responsible for.   During the secondment, I conducted two learning sessions to initiate discussions with the team and gauge their receptiveness to adopting new approaches in constructing and operating houses over their life cycle that could contribute to residents' health and wellbeing. For instance, using sustainable materials with thermal and acoustic insulation properties in construction. Additionally, I showcased an example from the British Council of Dudley, where Internet of Things (IoT) devices were installed in council houses to monitor indoor temperature, humidity, and air quality for residents' awareness. The team shared past incidents where residents had turned off similar devices due to concerns about their lighting. These discussions proved to be highly informative and shed light on aspects that I had not previously considered in my research.     Scene of Life Cycle Costing in SYHA   Life Cycle Cost (LCC) is all about estimating the costs of something over its entire lifespan. For SYHA, their commitment and ambition to LCC covers the entire life of a house.   Currently, SYHA's LCC approach gives a high-level overview, making initial assumptions about construction and future repair costs before seeking planning permissions for housing projects. However, it hasn't fully integrated expenses like estimated energy and water bills that future residents will incur, which is a common practice in existing literature.   My research aims to develop an LCC framework that prioritizes the health and financial wellbeing of households during the design stages of new houses. SYHA's involvement spans from architects' procurement, land selection, and design briefs to evaluating design proposals, obtaining planning permissions, hiring contractors, overseeing construction for quality assurance, and finally, renting out the house or selling it for shared ownership. They also manage and maintain the properties while learning from past challenges to make better future decisions.   SYHA is open to innovative approaches, such as constructing two homes using Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) like the WikiHouse project. This helps them assess whether these methods can reduce construction time, lower maintenance costs, and deliver better quality for end-users.   While the use of LCC isn't common in affordable housing provision, it's a top priority for SYHA. They rely on LCC to understand the long-term financial implications of their decisions.     The Sneak peek on common challenges of housing associations   From day one and from SYHA's reputation, their care for residents' health and wellbeing can be seen in their adoption to people-first approach. The approach is adopted in designing their housing schemes to provide a beautiful, safe, and affordable place to call home. This approach leads to some challenges for housing associations in England to keep high standards with lower than market rent.   My secondment observations and discussions, as well as the ongoing interview conversations revealed some of the challenges facing the provision of an affordable and healthy house, for instance:   The emergence of technologies without the existence of a reliable supply chain for long-term house maintenance. For instance, with SYHA's 50-year presence in the British market, they prioritize relying on trustworthy providers who can ensure the longevity of house maintenance. If a new technology is considered sustainable and beneficial for residents but is not widely adopted in the UK or lacks a reliable provider for long-term support, the adoption process becomes a complex decision as every penny carries a responsibility.   The continuous rise in construction costs after they have secured funding, for a certain price to deliver a certain quality. This hinders them from accomplishing the full quality they are aiming for.   The fact that housing associations' rent is lower than the market price poses future financial risks and stress on affordable housing providers. Let's see SYHA's initial feasibility study  for a new housing scheme that aims to offer units with affordable rent. The process involves several key steps:   Step 1. Identify what type of  housing to build and its specific location.   Step 2. Research and determine the average market price for similar properties in this location.   Step 3. Set the affordable rent at 80% of the market rent.   Step 4. Assess the affordable rent by asking: Would it exceed 33% of the household income?   Step 5. As an ethical provider, If the rent exceeds the 33% threshold, a decision has to be made either to reduce the rent, or not prioritize homes in that location and reconsider the whole project or recognize that a higher rent is the only way these type of homes would be built in a given location.     Housing associations need a certain level of rent to be able to build good homes in the first place and to maintain them to a high standard. In the context of affordable rents, it becomes more challenging to balance. They need to set rents at a level that allows them to construct and maintain quality homes while keeping them affordable for residents over time. This involves choosing suitable locations and constructing quality housing, which already can lead to higher land and construction expenses. Moreover, affordable rents make it take longer for housing associations to recover their construction costs through rental income, especially when compared to the private sector!     Housing associations are currently the primary providers of affordable homes in England! So, it can be seen that the quality, sustainability, energy-efficiency, and location of an affordable house is so far up to housing providers decisions and the robustness of the national building regulations and support!     So what support housing associations need to provide more affordable houses that is healthy, sustainable, and energy-efficient on the long-term? Land price discount maybe to start with? What else would you add to the list?     Some awesome links! Miranda Plowden's Blog on the Wikihouse:    

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4)

Secondments, Reflections

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Collaboration transcending the secondment

Posted on 17-10-2023

In the course of my doctoral research journey, the European Federation for Living (EFL) emerged as an extremely valuable secondment partner. This collaboration has been instrumental in shaping my research and fostering a mutually beneficial relationship, which I am eager to share in this blog post.   Building a network in social housing   EFL has been as an important platform for professionals in the European social housing sector for quite some time. It caters to those keen on staying updated with innovations in policy, finance, and construction, while building an international network. About a year before my official secondment began in July 2022, I had the privilege of being invited to present at their summer school in Bochum, Germany. The fact that the event was particularly tailored for younger professionals in the sector allowed me to blend in very easily. The constructive feedback I received on my early-stage work during this event proved invaluable in understanding how to practically apply the academic literature I had been exploring in my first year, and the connections I made during those days have remained a valuable part of my network.   Facilitating my focus group study   One significant aspect of my collaboration with EFL was the establishment of a focus group study involving social housing professionals from England, France, and the Netherlands. These in-depth discussions, spanning several hours, allowed us to gather crucial insights into their the sector's efforts to address energy poverty. Specifically, we delved into their perceptions of targeted approaches for the future. While I was already familiar with individuals at Ymere in the Netherlands and Clarion in England, it was through EFL's chair Ben Pluijmers' introductions that I was able to connect with key figures at Peabody (England), Havensteder (Netherlands), Paris Habitat, and Polylogis (both France), who played a pivotal role in this study.   Sharing insights and disseminating results   The collaboration with EFL presented various other opportunities to share my findings with a broader audience. I had the opportunity to present preliminary findings at two webinars hosted by EFL’s 'Social' topic group, graciously invited by Anita Blessing and John Stevens. Building on this, I shared valuable insights during EFL's Spring Conference in Paris in May 2023.   The pinnacle of this dissemination effort comes in the form of a comprehensive 20-page whitepaper that synthesises key learnings from our focus groups, focusing on energy poverty alleviation in the social housing sector. Collaborating closely with EFL and co-authors Joris Hoekstra and Ute Dubois, this whitepaper has been a collective endeavour. It is now scheduled for printing and will be shared with those interested at EFL’s upcoming Autumn Conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in early November. I am eagerly anticipating this event, and I am grateful to have been invited by EFL’s director, Joost Nieuwenhuijzen. In other words, stay tuned for updates on this page or join us during EFL's conference, because this collaboration is far from over!   Click here for a draft programme of EFL's Autumn Conference that takes place from 8-10 November in Belfast.

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)


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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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Social Sustainability in post-communist countries

Posted on 18-09-2023

During my secondment at CERANEO, I gained valuable knowledge about housing needs in Croatia and about the causes and effects of homelessness together with the various programs and interventions that can be used to prevent and reduce homelessness. I also learned about advocacy and how to collaborate with civil society organizations to achieve social change.   I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with such dedicated and passionate people, like Mr. Zvonko Mlinar (Croatian Network for the Homeless), Professor Olja Druzic Ljubotina (University of Zagreb, Faculty of Law, Department of Social Work) and Maja Bukovšak (Croatian National Bank). In the case of the Croatioan Network for the Homeless, I had an insight into the work of the network. I saw the “different faces” of homelessness and how the network continues to advocate for the rights of homeless people and to promote policies that will improve their lives. Hopefully, Housing First can be proven effective in Croatia, helping homeless people find and maintain permanent housing.   My visit to the Croatian National Bank was useful for my macro investigations. I familiarized myself with statistics and different studies (about relevant provisions, and loan schemes that are/were unique or highly relevant) that can help my work. I checked out and discussed the proportion of housing loans compared to GDP (total outstanding residential loans to GDP ratio), also, I looked for information about existing subsidies, the number of transactions per year, and the characteristics of the system of housing finance. (We discussed questions, such as: Is there a relevant difference between the number of “investment” loans - and the number of traditional housing loans? What are your thoughts about the relevance of spatial inequalities in the country? What do you think of the importance of Euro? Is there a correlation between housing loans and housing costs? Who is the main target group of housing loans?  What do you think about the role and consequences of inflation these days? What do you think about the risk of people not paying back loans?  Do you see significant patterns in building permits/housing completions? Is there an estimation for new constructions? And so on.)   During my stay in Zagreb, I explored the possibility of making a comparative study between Croatia and Hungary. My specific interest lies with social sustainability in these post-communist countries, where homeownership is a dominant form of housing tenure (it is accepted as a social norm), while adequate housing is unaffordable to more and more people. It is interesting to see (historically) how Croatia and Hungary succeeded/failed in “regulating” the market, noting special "cracks" in their systems.     Altogether this secondment completes my previous secondments nicely. I like the way CERANEO is working on projects with a focus on trends in social development, such as poverty and unemployment, and monitoring the provision of social services, such as housing and healthcare. I honestly believe that housing and healing (care) have a close connection and it is timely to investigate and critically reflect on the contested provisioning of these two sectors. CERANEO and the Croatian Network for the Homeless are making a real difference in the lives of homeless people in Croatia. I commend them for their work, and I encourage them to continue to fight for the rights of homeless people.   Finally, I would very much like to thank Professor Bežovan and Marko Horvat for making my stay worthwhile with their constant support and productive help.

Author: A.Martin (ESR7)


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Activism and Philanthropy: A Call for Collaboration in Addressing Housing Affordability and Social Challenges in Europe

Posted on 13-09-2023

Over the past few decades, housing affordability for low-income individuals and families in Europe has been on a steady decline. The marketized housing systems, which once promised a sustainable and socially vibrant living environment, have been plagued by long-term issues that have threatened the very fabric of our communities. Within the European Union, member states share both similarities and differences, ranging from institutional and legal frameworks to political landscapes. Following the transition to multiparty democracies in Eastern European countries, there was a glimmer of hope as these nations boasted a well-educated and cost-effective workforce. However, the path to development has been marred by various challenges, including recession, privatization, restitution, and price liberalization. These hurdles have particularly impacted the social aspects of these countries, leading to persistent social tensions. Despite significant progress since the early 1990s, negative demographic trends continue to exacerbate the existing social challenges. Additionally, the prevalence of informal economies in these countries remains higher compared to their counterparts. This can be attributed to reduced tax revenues and inadequate support schemes that fail to target those in need. It is clear that the current support systems are dysfunctional and require a collaborative effort from various stakeholders to bridge the gaps and foster mutual learning. In light of these pressing issues, it is crucial for activism and philanthropy to join forces and work hand in hand. Activism, with its ability to raise awareness and mobilize communities, can shed light on the dire housing affordability situation and advocate for policy changes that prioritize the needs of low-income owners and renters. Philanthropy, on the other hand, can provide the necessary resources and support to implement sustainable solutions that address the root causes of the problem. By fostering a close collaboration between activists, philanthropists, policymakers, and other stakeholders will enable us to develop innovative strategies that tackle housing affordability and social challenges in a holistic manner. It is only through such collective efforts that we can restore sustainability and social cohesion within our communities.   Here are some key elements that can contribute to addressing challenges: 1. Long-term Vision and Housing Policy Framework: A clear and comprehensive housing policy framework is essential to guide decision-making and ensure a long-term vision for affordable and sustainable housing. This framework should prioritize the needs of low-income individuals and families and address the root causes of housing affordability issues. 2. Strategy to Fight Homelessness: It is crucial to develop a strategy that focuses on preventing and addressing homelessness. This includes measures to stop the criminalization of homelessness and provide protection for vulnerable groups, such as families with children. Adequate support and resources should be allocated to ensure that those in need have access to safe and stable housing. 3. Alleviation of Housing Poverty: Housing subsidization should be targeted towards those who are in genuine need, ensuring that the most vulnerable individuals and families receive the support they require. 4. Increasing the Stock of Affordable Housing: Efforts should be made to increase the availability of not-for-profit and affordable housing. This can be achieved through partnerships with housing providers, philanthropic organizations, and other stakeholders. Investing in the development of new homes and renovating existing ones can help expand the stock of affordable housing. 5. Supporting Energy-Efficient Renovations: Many housing units are in poor condition, contributing to energy poverty and environmental degradation. Supporting energy-efficient renovations can improve living conditions, reduce energy costs, and contribute to sustainability goals. Funding and incentives should be provided to encourage homeowners and landlords to undertake these renovations. 6. Collaboration between Housing Providers and Philanthropy: Housing providers, including local authorities and community organizations, play a crucial role in delivering affordable and sustainable housing services. However, they often face challenges in funding and resources. Philanthropic organizations can play a vital role in providing funding and support for essential community investments. This collaboration can lead to the development of stronger community efforts and innovative housing solutions. 7. Flexibility in Funding: Greater flexibility in utilizing EU funding for housing initiatives, combined with central state support, can help foster the growth of affordable rental housing and combat energy poverty. This flexibility allows for tailored approaches that address the specific needs of different regions and communities.  

Author: A.Martin (ESR7)


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Urban regeneration and new housing research — European network of housing research conference (ENHR) 2023

Posted on 01-09-2023

In the final week of June, I had the luck of participating in this year´s ENHR conference which was held in Lodz, Poland. This three-day event was a great experience, featuring a plethora of insightful presentations stemming from research projects addressing the current housing challenges. Amidst engaging conversations and exchanges with colleagues, the conference provided the opportunity to delve into the issue of urban regeneration. The topic of this year was “Urban regeneration: shines and shadows”, and as the conference was held in Lodz —a city undergoing significant revitalization over the past decade—we were able to witness firsthand the profound impact of urban renewal. The central question explored in the main plenary sessions was: Can regeneration occur without triggering gentrification?   I participated in the collaborative housing workshop, which featured an impressive lineup of presenters covering a diverse range of topics related to collaborative housing models. The workshop consisted of five sessions, each offering insights into various investigations of community-led housing. There were presentations that delved into the historical evolution of cooperative housing in different parts of the world, including Finland, Hungary, and Denmark. We also learned about ongoing research projects focusing on the current state of cooperative housing in cities like Barcelona, Prague, Berlin, and Leeds. In other sessions, we gained perspectives on topics such as Generation Z's attitudes towards cooperative housing, the phenomenon of home-sharing in Brussels, and the dynamics of senior cooperative housing in the Netherlands and Denmark.   I presented my paper: “Understanding Community Participation in Cooperative Housing using the Capabilities Approach: The Case of Catalonia”. This took place within a stimulating session chaired by Claire Carriou. Alongside me were Henrik Larsen, who presented a historical overview of cooperative housing in Denmark, and Valentina Cortés-Urra, who shared her latest research on scenarios for the development of collaborative housing in Chile.   Leaving the conference, I felt inspired by the presentations and the things that I learned from all the participants! I am grateful that this conference brings together all these amazing researchers. With a refreshed perspective, I feel excited to continue the work and already looking forward to next year´s conference!

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

Conferences, Reflections

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Let’s talk embodied carbon

Posted on 26-07-2023

I’m happy to report of some good news for once from the UK, although I am a Londoner now living in Barcelona, I am trying to keep my finger on the pulse with the goings-on of all things sustainability back home.   There have been some promising updates regarding embodied carbon, with real steps being taken to actually limit it, rather than just talking about it. But first to clarify what embodied carbon is, the World Green Building council defines it as “the carbon emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole lifecycle of a building or infrastructure”, the lifecycle refers to extracting raw materials, transportation to factories, manufacturing processes, transporting products to site, construction on site, maintenance and replacements during the use phase, and the end of life phase (i.e. when the building is transformed and hopefully not demolished). Until recently the conversations really centred around operational carbon, which is the energy consumed during the use phase by occupants mostly for heating, cooling, lighting, and powering appliances and devices.   To reduce the amount of embodied carbon that is put out into the world, the first practical step is to stop and think whether a project should be built at all, as per the R ladder by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which goes beyond the famous 3R’s (reduce reuse recycle). Given that we do build in most cases, the focus must be on reusing as many materials as possible to reduce embodied carbon, rather than recycling (downgrading), landfilling, backfilling, and incinerating.   Here are some of the good discussions going on:   The RIBA has launched a new prize championing reuse called the Reinvention Award that “recognises achievement in the creative reuse of existing buildings through transformative projects that improve environmental, social, or economic sustainability”. This will incentivise architectural practices to push for reuse and in time provide excellent case studies for others to follow suit.   Oxford street’s Art Deco M&S building has been saved from demolition after a long campaign launched back in 2021. Knocking the building down would have generated almost 40,000 tonnes of embodied carbon and acted counter to the UK’s net-zero targets. To stop more projects like these trying to get through, it would be extremely helpful to have a tax reform removing VAT on refurbishment projects – whereas in contrast new build projects (which often entail demolition) are currently exempt.   Steps are being taken to regulate embodied carbon slowly, but promisingly. The push has come from industry with the Part Z proposal and a campaign launched by ACAN UK in February 2021. In February this year the Carbon Emissions (Buildings) Bill went for its second reading. The UK Parliament's Environmental Audit Select Committee’s 2022 report highlighted the fact that current policy inadequately addresses the need to reduce embodied carbon, develop low-carbon materials, or prioritise reuse and retrofit. Whilst “[ot]her countries and some UK local authorities are already requiring whole life carbon assessments to be undertaken. This leaves the UK slipping behind comparator countries in Europe in monitoring and controlling the embodied carbon in construction. If the UK continues to drag its feet on embodied carbon, it will not meet net zero or its carbon budgets.” The Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and France have already introduced regulation on whole-life carbon emissions. Apparently, the UK is considering including regulating embodied carbon in 2025 building regulations.   Some outgoing thoughts:   All buildings should be built as monuments, meaning we need to literally build in value so that they are considered worth keeping in the future. Today developers, insurers, and designers take too much of a short-term view to the detriment of building quality. What’s more, we need to put more thought into how we can better design buildings to be dismantled and adapted in the future to deal with changing needs and climate change. We have countless world heritage and listed buildings that have stood for centuries that have been reconfigured and maintained throughout time. This level of protection should be afforded to all buildings to limit further carbon emissions.   Re-skilling: There is a great need to re-train current built environment professionals and overhaul academic curriculums to reflect the skills needed to prevent further destruction of biodiversity and climate change. That means rather than striving to build whatever the client wants - regardless of potential negative environmental impacts – the priority should be to make sustainability focussed design decisions. That is at least until legislation catches up.   High-tech solutions are not the answer, unquestioningly embracing new technologies such as AI and the ubiquitous use of smartphones is having negative and even dangerous effects on our lives. The same can be said for the over-reliance of smart systems, mechanical solutions, and overengineering in the built environment. This quote from a recent report by Unesco about the overuse of digital technology on learning outcomes and economic efficiency also applies to construction: “Not all change constitutes progress. Just because something can be done does not mean it should be done.” An example of high-tech energy efficient solutions masking the embodied carbon cost is Foster + Partner’s Bloomberg building which claimed to be the “world's most sustainable office building” and was awarded BREEAM’s highest rating Outstanding in 2017, despite the high embodied carbon that went into building it. Since the invention of electricity, we have relied heavily on it to heat, cool, and light our buildings and homes and have turned our backs on passive strategies which rely less on the production of electricity and the extraction of an increasing number of critical materials.   It's not all about embodied carbon. It’s important to bear in mind that carbon is not the only cause of climate change (methane is another contributing greenhouse gas); climate change itself is also just one of nine planetary boundaries identified by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, which are moving towards tipping points and endangering the earth’s stability.   Although these last remarks sound quite existential, I’d like to bring the focus back to the positive moves happening back home (and abroad). The seemingly small wins of promoting reuse, actively preventing demolition, and regulating embodied carbon are the foundations of building a sustainable future.     Sources World Green Building Council’s embodied carbon definition found in report   R ladder by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency      RIBA Reinvention prize,%2C%20social%2C%20or%20economic%20sustainability   M&S building saved from demolition   Proposed Part Z regulating embodied carbon in the UK   ACAN UK’s regulating embodied carbon campaign   The Stockholm Resilience Centre planetary boundaries  

Author: A.Davis (ESR1)





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