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Leonardo Ricaurte


Leonardo holds a bachelor's degree in architecture from the National University of Colombia. He has experience in design, regulatory coordination and construction site supervision of housing projects in Bogotá. He also holds a joint Erasmus Mundus Master’s degree in International Cooperation in Urban Development and Planning between the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany and the University of Grenoble Alpes in France. He has gained experience in participatory design activities and co-creation sessions with communities in Colombia and Germany, participating in collective projects on capacity building, urban upgrading and grassroots movements at the interface between academic and professional scenarios.

He has also gained research experience in sustainable and affordable housing projects promoting participatory practices, the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda through an internship at the CRAterre research laboratory in Grenoble. In 2020, he defended his Master's thesis entitled “Possibilities of participatory tools in the attainment of sustainable housing solutions: The case of Bogotá”, which was awarded a "mention très bien" by the jury. This research focused on the production of social housing in the context of international frameworks for sustainability and the impact of market-driven housing systems, urban inequality and gentrification in the development of comprehensive policies and strategies.

Research topic

Updated sumaries

September, 01, 2023

April, 01, 2022

September, 17, 2021

This research project aims to contribute to the emerging field of measuring social value in the built environment. By focusing on housing and its design, the research project interrogates the conceptualisation of social value in the built environment, especially in the context of the Public Services (Social Value) Act in the UK. It addresses the theoretical gaps and offers a complementary approach underpinned by Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach and the pivotal role of housing as a conversion factor that enables residents to live lives they value and flourish in. To this end, the research focuses on analysing the spatial dimension of housing and the extent to which it enables a valuable state of affairs for its residents. It is therefore emphasised that a holistic assessment of social value carried out by housing providers should focus on the expansion of residents’ capabilities, in which notions of agency, control and choice, which are central factors in determining the trajectories of individual lives should be accounted for. A case study of a large housing association in the UK is used to illustrate how social value is defined, procured and measured, and the impact of current practices on residents' lives. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with residents of housing estates as well as with practitioners and housing association staff. The proposed methodology for identifying the relationship between space and wellbeing is a capability-based post-occupancy assessment, which helps to provide a fuller picture of the social value created by housing providers, architects and local authorities, particularly the more intangible and often overlooked long-term outcomes. The findings of this study are relevant to policymakers and practitioners in the field of social value and housing, along with housing providers, architects and designers who aim to better understand and evaluate the impact of design decisions on the quality of life of their tenants.

Reference documents

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Capturing the social value of design in housing regeneration projects: The potential of POE and learning loops in the built environment


The aim of this project is to develop a framework for capturing the social value of housing at a building scale in collaboration with the housing association Clarion. Post-occupancy evaluation (POE) is a promising methodology to gauge a project’s capacity to meet social impact aims, comply with building regulations, and deliver improved sustainability and affordability (RIBA, 2020). It is subtly different to Building Performance Evaluation (BPE), whose scope tends to be limited to environmental impacts, performance benchmarks, and energy efficiency (Hay et al., 2017; Stevenson, 2019). POE has the potential to show what works in a building and what needs to be improved from the inhabitants’ point of view. When it comes to housing, a decision on the height of a bench in a common space, the position of windows in relation to a playground or the size of a stairwell can impact the social value of a project. Although architects such as Herman Hertzberger speculate about these impacts they have not been subject to systematic study or brought into line with contemporary debates about the social value of housing. This thesis seeks to align the potential of the ‘Capability approach’ of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum with debates on social value at the scale of a housing block.


The consideration of social value as an integral aspect of POE has been advocated by several publications in recent years (Behar et al., 2017; Samuel, 2020; Watson et al., 2016; Watson & Whitley, 2017). Social Value is understood as an umbrella term that encompasses the wider economic, social and environmental effects of any given activity; it is a concept that has become very prominent, especially in the UK after the advent of the Social Value Act in 2012 (UKGBC, 2020, 2021). Since then a great deal of progress has been made in incorporating the idea of measuring quantitatively the impact of projects in communities and in general in society. Nevertheless, when it comes to the establishment of the role of the construction field in its implementation, the transition has been sluggish (Samuel & Hatleskog, 2020). The social value of design is the focus of this thesis. This research aims to complement the body of knowledge devoted to understanding how buildings work, but bringing forward the human scale and the inhabitants' interaction with and behaviour in the space. In the end, architecture should be first about people and then about buildings; or in the words of Jan Gehl: “First life, then spaces, then buildings. The other way around never works”.


Keywords: Post-Occupancy Evaluation; wellbeing assessment; housing regeneration; affordability by design; social value of design



Behar, C., Bradshaw, F., Bowles, L., Croxford, B., Chen, D., Davies, J., Heaslip, M., Helliwell, T., Holgate, P., & Keeling, T. (2017). Building Knowledge: Pathways to Post Occupancy Evaluation.


Clapham, D., Foye, C., & Blyth, R. (2019). How should we evaluate housing outcomes?


Hay, R., Samuel, F., Watson, K. J., & Bradbury, S. (2017). Post-occupancy evaluation in architecture: experiences and perspectives from UK practice. Building Research & Information, 46(6), 698–710.


RIBA. (2020). Post Occupancy Evaluation An essential tool to improve the built environment.


Samuel, F. (2020). RIBA social value toolkit for architecture. Royal Institute of British Architects.


Samuel, F., & Hatleskog, E. (2020). Why Social Value? Architectural Design, 90(4), 6–13.


Stevenson, F. (2019). Housing fit for purpose: Performance, feedback and learning. Routledge.


UKGBC. (2020). A guide to measuring the social value of buildings and places.


UKGBC. (2021). Framework for Defining Social Value.


Watson, K. J., Evans, J., Karvonen, A., & Whitley, T. (2016). Re-conceiving building design quality: A review of building users in their social context. Indoor + Built Environment : The Journal of the International Society of the Built Environment, 25(3), 509–523.


Watson, K. J., & Whitley, T. (2017). Applying Social Return on Investment (SROI) to the built environment., 45(8), 875–891.

Reference documents

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Housing regeneration in Europe: Possibilities for social value creation in the context of the Renovation Wave

In the framework of integrated plans such as the Renovation Wave and the European Green Deal, several urban renewal projects are to be implemented in cities across the continent in the coming years. This depicts a remarkable opportunity to channel expertise, decision-making and funds towards better practices and trigger a paradigm shift in city-making. Accordingly, the research question that will steer the development of this study is: How can the social value and wellbeing generated by housing projects be better captured and capitalized in the context of major urban regeneration schemes?


Housing projects that envision creating more cohesive and inclusive communities will be targeted in a series of data collection activities, planned to offer the possibility of experimenting with different methods, and considering all the actors involved. The methodology to be used is a mix of quantitative and qualitative data collection processes, incorporating methods like participatory action research, and selected from the array of existing Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) frameworks and social value toolkits for architecture, selected through a systematic literature review.  The feedback acquired will be instrumental in informing the development of an own tailor-made social evaluating framework. The intention is to demonstrate the benefits of conducting POE and showcasing projects that reconcile affordability and sustainability. And ultimately inspire decision-makers, private developers, academia, and civil society to get on board.


The secondments that complement this research are fundamental for the creation of tangible and productive links between academia and industry. In this aspect, the findings obtained will potentially contribute to the institutions’ own activities. Counting on Clarion’s expertise in regeneration projects for carrying out data collection activities. Consequently, England and France are subjects of a comprehensive analysis, yet other countries participants of the RE-DWELL network remain considered possible sources of input that resonates with the research aims. This study emphasizes the great potential that resides in incorporating practices such as POE, wellbeing and quality of life and social value assessment when developing housing regeneration schemes. Hence, by leveraging on the experiences and momentum, the generation of new projects could be attained.


Keywords: Post-Occupancy Evaluation; social value; Renovation Wave; quality of life; housing regeneration; affordability by design; collaborative housing

Reference documents

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Recent activity

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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.              

Secondments, Reflections

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The “regeneration wave”, hopefully not another missed opportunity to create social value

Posted on 15-07-2023

We are almost on the home straight of RE-DWELL and the Summer School in Reading was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the different approaches to housing production in European cities, in this case, using the British experience as a backdrop. The week-long programme was dedicated to exploring innovative schemes and approaches to development. Keynote speakers and participants agreed that a more dynamic and diverse supply is at the crux of the solution, as is the inevitable need for political will and policy aimed at reducing the economic burden that often curtails the viability of projects and has been the Achilles heel of innovation, experimentation and diversification in housing markets.   Creating the much-needed housing stock required to tackle Europe's housing crisis is in many cases taking shape through regeneration. In cities like London, where access to land is limited, housing providers are opting for a mixed-use approach to development with the intention of funding the quota of affordable and social housing units required by local and national plans while embellishing the brief with appealing terms like diversity, inclusion and mixed-communities. Scholars and activists have referred to this process in a less benevolent narrative, describing it as a gradual phenomenon of displacement and replacement of less affluent communities, that inevitably gravitate to the urban fringes, with a more well-off population, in something more akin to state-led gentrification (Hubbard & Lees, 2018; Lees & Hubbard, 2021; Lees & White, 2019). These problems are exacerbated by the fact that many social housing estates are sitting on land that is nowadays very attractive to investors, they have been the object of decades of neglect characterised by poor maintenance and budget cuts, and feature complex issues of anti-social behaviour and deprivation associated with mismanagement and an inability of landlords to cater for the needs of residents. As might be expected, the literature on this issue describes disproportionate impacts on BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) residents, characterised by disruption of livelihoods and loss of cultural and social capital that certain areas of the city face as a result.   Furthermore, the fact that residents are being priced out from their local area by regeneration projects becomes more egregious when one analyses examples such as the redevelopment of Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle and the ongoing dismantling of Aylesbury Estate. Both schemes and their vast sites were testaments to the now withered social housing boom that spearheaded Welfarist policies in post-war Britain. These symbols of large-scale Brutalist housing architecture are located in the London Borough of Southwark, which is one of the largest social landlords in the country with around 53,000 homes (Southwark Council, 2017). It is therefore no coincidence that this borough has been one of the most affected by mixed tenure regeneration schemes that have started to lead the provision of housing in the city. The question is whether this approach to development is rightfully addressing the demand gap where it is most needed. Estimates made after the regeneration of the Heygate estate denoted a significant loss of council homes which were not replaced as part of the new project. According to the borough, 25 per cent of the 3,000 dwellings approved for the new scheme are allocated to affordable housing, which equates to only 750 dwellings. Originally, the estate comprised 1,212 dwellings, of which 1,020 were owned by the council and 192 were privately owned, bought under the right-to-buy scheme (Southwark Council, 2023).   However, other sources tally an even more pessimistic outcome: only 212 homes will be affordable (80 per cent of the local market price) and 79 socially rented (Cathcart-Keays, 2015). One can wonder why there is such a mismatch between the figures but what is more concerning is the net reduction of social housing in either scenario. In the case of the Aylesbury Estate, the council has followed a very similar modus operandi in its ongoing regeneration. The estate consists of 2,402 homes let by the council and 356 homes sold under the right to buy. They will be replaced by 4,900 homes in various tenancies, of which 1,473 will be social housing (Hubbard & Lees, 2018). Again, this will represent a foreseeable change in the socio-demographic make-up of the local area in the medium- to long-term. As a result, we would not only fail to provide more affordable homes in well-connected and serviced areas of the city, but also reduce the already insufficient housing stock.   To consider social value at the heart of a regeneration project becomes central to avoid the above mentioned scenarios. It is now ten years since the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 came into effect in January 2013. A legislation that requires those commissioning public services to consider, generate and demonstrate wider social, economic and environmental benefits to the community. The Act encourages commissioners to work with the community and local stakeholders to design and shape the services to be provided, having a great implication for the built environment sector because of the inherent impact it has on society. Social value should therefore be thoroughly discussed when it comes to regeneration. Since the passage of the Act, social value has become relevant, particularly for housing providers, to provide evidence of the added value of their operations. This momentum has been catalysed by the publication of several metrics and frameworks intended to benchmark and standardise the sector's approach (See Samuel, 2020; UKGBC, 2020, 2021). However, challenges have been identified in assessing the social outcomes of projects, particularly those serving disadvantaged communities. As is so often the case with sustainable development, it is more straightforward to demonstrate economic gains or environmental breakthroughs than social impact.   Someone has to pay for it   During the Summer School, we had the opportunity to talk to a wide range of stakeholders who are shaping the cityscape of London and Reading. Examples ranged from developers of build-to-rent schemes to housing association-led regeneration projects. They allowed us to reflect on the crucial role of housing providers, developers and architects in adding real value by providing the homes we need and targeting the populations that have been left out of the market and who need it most. Conspicuously, the panorama is dominated by large-scale redevelopment projects, driven by an eminently commercial interest, which are instrumentalised to cross-subsidise social housing, in many cases not even built as part of the scheme. "Someone has to pay for it" has become the new mantra used to justify this approach. Perhaps it is because of government inaction that this is now our most powerful and effective tool for creating affordable and social homes today in many cities across Europe. However, it is unlikely that the supply gap can be bridged let alone met at the current rate in the foreseeable future. In the case of the UK, we are talking about 10% being earmarked for affordable housing in any major development (Barton & Wilson, 2022). This, of course, overlooks the real issue of affordability: Affordable housing (remember: a rent of up to 80% of the market rent) is virtually unaffordable for a large swathe of the population in cities like London. The term affordable housing is becoming an oxymoron for Londoners. Approaches such as the Building for 2050 project and Clarion's strategy for regeneration were then discussed and analysed with a view to future prospects. As Paul Quinn from Clarion pointed out, regeneration should put residents at the heart of the process, choosing to preserve livelihoods and avoid disruption as much as possible. The retrofit of the current housing stock in the hands of housing associations and local councils should always be considered as a first option, but for this, we still need decisive support from decision-makers. We need more social and affordable homes and housing associations have both a huge responsibility and opportunity to accelerate and scale up regeneration by treating housing as a fundamental right, not a commodity, while increasing its social value.   References Barton , C. and Wilson, W. (2022) What is affordable housing? - House of Commons Library, What is affordable housing? Available at: (Accessed: 12 July 2023).   Cathcart-Keays, A. (2015, February 16). Report: London loses 8,000 Social Homes in a decade. The Architects’ Journal.   Hubbard, P., & Lees, L. (2018). The right to community? City, 22(1), 8–25.   Lees, L., & Hubbard, P. (2021). “So, Don’t You Want Us Here No More?” Slow Violence, Frustrated Hope, and Racialized Struggle on London’s Council Estates. Housing, Theory and Society , 39(3), 341–358.   Lees, L., & White, H. (2019). The social cleansing of London council estates: everyday experiences of ‘accumulative dispossession.’ Housing Studies, 35(10), 1701–1722.   Samuel, F. (2020). RIBA social value toolkit for architecture. Royal Institute of British Architects.   Southwark Council. (2017, April 20). Regeneration at Elephant and Castle and Affordable Homes. Southwark Council.   Southwark Council. (2023, February 14). Elephant and Castle Background to the Elephant Park development site. Southwark Council.   UKGBC (2020). Delivering social value: Measurement.   UKGBC (2021). Framework for defining social value.

Summer schools, Reflections

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Creating impact through transdisciplinary housing research

Posted on 17-05-2023

To hear about the impact on society that academia and research are bringing about is becoming commonplace in discussions held by researchers in school meetings and doctoral conferences. The sector is evolving rapidly and donors increasingly want to see tangible evidence of the results and outcomes achieved by the projects they fund. It can be argued that this can bring undeniable pitfalls. This can inadvertently put pressure on universities to work, produce and compete in a field that increasingly resembles one of companies dominated by strict or rather unforgiving quantitative metrics presented on a spreadsheet in an annual report. The reality is that when researching complex societal issues, articulating the impact we create is almost as important as finding the perfect research question or formulating the best five-minute elevator pitch to explain what your contribution to knowledge is.   Providing affordable and sustainable housing in Europe is a research endeavour that requires a kaleidoscope of lenses working together in unison. This network intends to do so, and the secondments are the vehicle that links the lecture hall with the field, the idea with the end product, and the research question with the answer. We could argue that, in this context, they play a pivotal role in creating an impact on society.   My secondment in Clarion Housing, the largest provider of social housing in the UK with more than 125,000 homes across the country, began four months ago with a determined aim: to leverage the access granted to expertise, secondary data and, perhaps most valuable to my research, to the inhabitants of the housing estates. My project aims to interrogate the impact of housing design decisions on people's quality of life in the form of social value. As many researchers can attest, accessing and recruiting research participants can pose a colossal challenge to surmount to keep pace with the research plan.   Housing associations hold a privileged middle-ground position between tenants and local authorities. By definition, they have an abiding commitment to their beneficiaries as long-term stewards of the homes. Their social function should characterise and define the operation and management of the existing stock as well as the provision of new developments. This role enables housing associations to have a profound impact on people's lives, not only on those they serve directly, but also on the functioning of the wider community in which they operate. In this context, the degree of engagement with housing practice and the contribution that the research project can gain from the collaboration with Clarion can never be equated with research conducted within the strict confines of a mono-disciplinary enquiry.   Several practitioners at Clarion and partner organisations were interviewed about their approach to creating social value and the methods they use to measure and assess their impact on communities. At the same time, participant observation and interviews were conducted with the inhabitants of the estates to triangulate and obtain a comprehensive picture from the top-down and bottom-up. All of this has a particular interest in the long-term impacts of regeneration and development and the intangible outcomes associated with residents' well-being. But it is not just researchers who benefit from collaborating with industry partners. The position of a research secondee allows you to have something that sometimes becomes scarce in 'real-world' practice -time. Time to analyse, time to problematise and time to construe.   A researcher's inquisitive lens can help mentors see things from a different angle. Often practitioners' embeddedness in the real world prevents them from seeing the obvious, and sometimes the obvious is also the hardest thing to prove. Both the mentor and the mentee need to display a range of transferable skills to navigate changing contexts and engage in meaningful discussions with the variety of stakeholders involved. This is where the knowledge transfer takes place. These experiences are the bottom line of transdisciplinary housing research projects such as RE-DWELL, where it is first crucial to develop a comprehensive and shared appreciation of the problem at hand in order to come up with actionable innovative solutions. This is often referred to as the development of common ground between investigators, a must-have for the co-production of knowledge.   These reflections stem from the experience of conducting research in such a context and underpinned the course of the investigation while on my secondment at Clarion. The support of Dr Elanor Warwick has been fundamental to navigating this new scenario. Her extensive experience in deconstructing the boundaries between practice and academia, and the fact that she has been very much involved in the evolution of my PhD helped to make my time with the organisation highly productive. Broadening my understanding of the practical aspects of research in industry and the intrinsic constraints and demands of the sector.   Currently, data collection is still in progress. The journey has been bumpy and is likely to continue to be so. This is part of the contingent nature of fieldwork. As some experienced community consultation researchers within the RE-DWELL network avow, delving into the confines of people's lives and experiences is an undertaking that requires tact and dexterity, rightly conferred by experience and perseverance. In the meantime, I will wear a pair of field boots of stubbornness and determination and continue to try to uncover the lived experience of life in between the buildings.  

Secondments, Reflections

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'we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us'

Posted on 07-02-2023

An academic secondment developed within the RE-DWELL network represents a remarkable opportunity to expand the boundaries of local academic setups, to foster collaboration and exchange, and ultimately to sow the seeds of transdisciplinary research. In my case, I had the chance to spend these two months at the IUGA, Institut d'urbanisme et de géographie alpine, of Grenoble Alps University. This was not only the perfect excuse for me to finally pick up the diploma of my Master's degree I had done there a few years ago and could not get because of COVID, but also to be once again among geographers and urbanists in this contrasting conurbation, recently awarded green capital of Europe, surrounded by the Alps, traversed by hundreds of kilometres of bike paths and coloured by vivid street art murals.    The time there allowed me to refine but also problematise the conceptual and methodological framework of my research project. Oftentimes this can become one of the most challenging tasks in an investigation, and concepts such as theory, conceptual framework, methodology, etc. can be intimidating and difficult to handle. I decided to use some of the time I spent there and in view of a paper that I had to submit to the RE-DWELL conference, to re-imagine a possible different approach to assessing the social value of housing design through Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE).   In recent decades, architecture geographers have questioned the way buildings and urban spaces are studied. Focusing on their impact on society and on their users, they have used qualitative methods to conduct studies of life and everyday patterns of behaviour within spaces, providing a scholarship and expertise that could be used to better understand the impact of residential architecture through POE. The methodology of researchers such as Jacobs, who see buildings as "occupied performative events" (Jacobs, 2006, p.10), is particularly compelling. They view the process of meaning-making as one that is negotiated through socially mediated practises of everyday life. Accordingly, buildings are not static objects but living entities that are 'made' or 'unmade'. Therefore, a building is understood as such as long as its users and the systems that make it up reaffirm their relationships on a daily basis. Buildings and people are part of an assemblage where time also plays an essential role. In a way, this is not far from what Stewart Brand (1995) wanted to convey with the 'Shearing layers of change'. If buildings are made up of complex systems that are intertwined with their users, the methods needed to study them must be able to capture these intricate relationships, which cannot be explained exclusively from either a social or a technical perspective.   These authors used actor-network theory ANT to formulate their investigations. This methodological approach to the analysis of inhabited spaces allows for a very complex representation of the various relationships that can exist between systems and inhabitants within buildings. The so-called 'building events' are the vehicle used by Jacobs et al. (2010), Lees & Baxter (2011) and Rose et al. (2010) to go about the investigation of the built environment by looking at the feel of buildings, feelings in buildings and feelings about buildings in a very detailed way (Rose et al., 2010), complemented by ethnographic methods and participant observation. These methods enabled them to unpack very revealing accounts of the experiences of housing estate residents, in which architectural features of key spaces within the realm of the housing estate are catalysts for human emotions that transcend the boundaries of physical space. Narratives that provide complementary insights into the territorialisation of feelings and emotions and the impact of places on citizens' quality of life.   The way architects and other professionals involved in design do research on the built environment can benefit enormously by adopting systematic research methods in collaboration with academics. POE can become the backbone of the strategy that allows us to demonstrate the value we co-create and sustain learning loops within the praxis. And as this brief account shows, geographers can open up new avenues of collaboration through research that will hopefully yield a fuller picture of the relationships between people and the places they inhabit.   References. Brand, S. (1995). How buildings learn: What happens after they’re built. Penguin.   Jacobs, J. M. (2006). A geography of big things. Cultural Geographies, 13(1), 1–27.   Jacobs, J. M., Cairns, S., & Strebel, I. (2010). More on “big things”: building events and feelings. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35(3), 334–349.   Lees, L., & Baxter, R. (2011). A ‘building event’ of fear: thinking through the geography of architecture. Social & Cultural Geography, 12(2), 107–122.   Rose, G., Degen, M., & Basdas, B. (2010). More on “big things”: Building events and feelings. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35(3), 334–349.



Case studies

Contributions to the case study library


Contributions to the vocabulary


Participatory Approaches

Post-occupancy Evaluation

Social Value

Area: Design, planning and building

Affordability is defined as the state of being cheap enough for people to be able to buy (Combley, 2011). Applied to housing, affordability, housing unaffordability and the mounting housing affordability crisis, are concepts that have come to the fore, especially in the contexts of free-market economies and housing systems led by private initiatives, due to the spiralling house prices that residents of major urban agglomerations across the world have experienced in recent years (Galster & Ok Lee, 2021). Notwithstanding, the seeming simplicity of the concept, the definition of housing affordability can vary depending on the context and approach to the issue, rendering its applicability in practice difficult. Likewise, its measurement implies a multidimensional and multi-disciplinary lens (Haffner & Hulse, 2021). One definition widely referred to of housing affordability is the one provided by Maclennan and Williams (1990, p.9): “‘Affordability’ is concerned with securing some given standard of housing (or different standards) at a price or a rent which does not impose, in the eyes of some third party (usually government) an unreasonable burden on household incomes”. Hence, the maximum expenditure a household should pay for housing is no more than 30% of its income (Paris, 2006). Otherwise, housing is deemed unaffordable. This measure of affordability reduces a complex issue to a simple calculation of the rent-to-income ratio or house-price-to-income ratio. In reality, a plethora of variables can affect affordability and should be considered when assessing it holistically, especially when judging what is acceptable or not in the context of specific individual and societal norms (see Haffner & Hulse, 2021; Hancock, 1993). Other approaches to measure housing affordability consider how much ‘non-housing’ expenditures are unattended after paying for housing. Whether this residual income is not sufficient to adequately cover other household’s needs, then there is an affordability problem (Stone, 2006). These approaches also distinguish between “purchase affordability” (the ability to borrow funds to purchase a house) and “repayment affordability” (the ability to afford housing finance repayments) (Bieri, 2014). Furthermore, housing production and, ultimately affordability, rely upon demand and supply factors that affect both the developers and home buyers. On the supply side, aspects such as the cost of land, high construction costs, stiff land-use regulations, and zoning codes have a crucial role in determining the ultimate price of housing (Paris, 2006). Likewise, on the policy side, insufficient government subsidies and lengthy approval processes may deter smaller developers from embarking on new projects. On the other hand, the demand for affordable housing keeps increasing alongside the prices, which remain high, as a consequence of the, sometimes deliberate incapacity of the construction sector to meet the consumers' needs (Halligan, 2021). Similarly, the difficulty of decreasing household expenditures while increasing incomes exacerbates the unaffordability of housing (Anacker, 2019). In the end, as more recent scholarship has pointed out (see Haffner & Hulse, 2021; Mulliner & Maliene, 2014), the issue of housing affordability has complex implications that go beyond the purely economic or financial ones. The authors argue that it has a direct impact on the quality of life and well-being of the affected and their relationship with the city, and thus, it requires a multidimensional assessment. Urban and spatial inequalities in the access to city services and resources, gentrification, segregation, fuel and commuting poverty, and suburbanisation are amongst its most notorious consequences. Brysch and Czischke, for example, found through a comparative analysis of 16 collaborative housing projects in Europe that affordability was increased by “strategic design decisions and self-organised activities aiming to reduce building costs” (2021, p.18). This demonstrates that there is a great potential for design and urban planning tools and mechanisms to contribute to the generation of innovative solutions to enable housing affordability considering all the dimensions involved, i.e., spatial, urban, social and economic. Examples range from public-private partnerships, new materials and building techniques, alternative housing schemes and tenure models (e.g., cohousing, housing cooperatives, Community Land Trusts, ‘Baugruppen’), to efficient interior design, (e.g., flexible design, design by layers[1]). Considering affordability from a design point of view can activate different levers to catalyse and bring forward housing solutions for cities; and stakeholders such as socially engaged real estate developers, policymakers, and municipal authorities have a decisive stake in creating an adequate environment for fostering, producing and delivering sustainable and affordable housing.   [1] (see Brand, 1995; Schneider & Till, 2007)

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)


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: Design, planning and building

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

Created on 22-10-2023

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)


Area: Community participation

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

Created on 16-11-2023

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)



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