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The case study decoder

Posted on 28-10-2021

Case study analysis. These are the three most confusing words – at least for me. Although being an architect has taught me the meaning and principles of case study selection and analysis, I still face difficulties with grasping the true benefits of the case study, specifically from the social sciences point of view. Therefore, in this blog post, I aim to clarify what the case study is, the history of the case study, and the different methodologies for investigating the case study.   The ‘case study’ as a case study ‘There are two ways to learn about a subject: One may study many examples at once, focussing on a few dimensions, or one may study particular examples in greater depth.’ Gerring, 2016   Let’s start with the basics and ask, ‘How does one define case study?’ Let’s break this concept up into its relevant pieces. Firstly, case means, ‘A particular situation or example of something.’ This situation may be comprised of states or state-like entities (regions or municipalities), organisations (firms or schools), social groups (race or age), events (revolutions or crises), or individuals (a biography or profile). Secondly, study, means, ‘The activity of examining a subject in detail to discover new information.’ By merging both of these meanings, a broad definition of case study is reached: A comprehensive investigation of a particular case (or cases) within a specific context, both of which are determined by the investigation interests (Gerring, 2016). When investigating the meaning of a case study, several associated terminologies arise, such as argument, observation and sample. An argument denotes the focal point of study and is defined as the theory, proposition or hypothesis driving the analysis. As observations govern the behaviour and use of variables in a case study, an observation can be said to define the strict boundaries of the units of analysis. Lastly, a sample is the data that are subject to analysis, which can either be singular or a collection of data (Gerring, 2016).   The origin of the case study The debate around the origin of the case study continues. One school of thought suggests that the case study as a form of research is an ancient concept and has been used throughout recorded history. Another theory states that the case study as a method of education was invented in the 1880s by Christopher Columbus Langdell, who was the Dean of Harvard Law School between 1870 and 1895. Yet another group suggests that the case study as a methodology originated from French economist, engineer and sociologist Pierre Guillaume Frédéric Le Play around 1829, when he used this methodology to test his theories before publication. I am sure you have noticed the differences within these groups: the case study as a form of research; the case study as a method of education; and the case study as a methodology (Harrison et al., 2017). Even though there are different uses for case studies in these designations, all of these groups agree that, by the mid-to-late nineteenth century, case studies had become the norm as teaching tools for developing new theories and hypotheses. By the start of the twentieth century, industrialists began looking at using the case study to develop their own theories on efficiency, manufacturing, supply lines and so forth (Carter, 2018, Gerring, 2016, Harvard, 2016). Despite the different opinions on its origin, the use of the case study spiked in the 1970s and has only continued to grow since (figure 1). This is mainly because of the increase in attention to its approaches, including the development of several new approaches. This is in conjunction with a noticeable increase in the use of case studies in publications, both in the social and applied sciences, as case study research is considered a primary methodology in testing and proving new theories and hypotheses (Gerring, 2016).   The types Case study as a form of research has many different forms, with each dictating different approaches and deploying different instruments. Discussing all of the types would result in a very dense list, so the main four types are discussed below (Harrison et al., 2017): -  Descriptive (illustrative) case study: used to examine a familiar case in order to help others understand it. Its primary method is the description of the variables. -  Exploratory case study: used to identify research questions within real-life contexts and situations. It is often deployed before large-scale investigations, making it is very popular in the social sciences, particularly political science. -  Cumulative case study: used to gather information on the topic at hand at different times. This type is widely used for qualitative research. -  Critical instance case study: used to determine the causes and consequences of an event, and investigates one or more phenomena. A critical instance case study can also be used to test a universal assertion.   So far! In summary, it is safe to say that the case study is a method of analysis that is no longer confined to just developing theories and hypotheses. It is a technique of research that also makes a case for coming up with solutions for given problems. It is worth noting that, unlike most of the statistically-based studies, the main goal of creating a case study is to look for some new variables while you are conducting research. Simply put, the case study looks to the characteristics of the past and present to make sense of the future. Choosing which case study to analyse is usually the most important and difficult task in this research process. Therefore, a systematic framework that defines the research problems, questions and objectives needs to be created so as to make it easier to find the relevant case study that can address the research needs of the project.   References CARTER, A. 2018. The History of the Case Study – Why It’s Important [Online]. Available: https://www.improveyourwebcontent.com/the-history-of-the-case-study-why-its-important/ [Accessed]. GERRING, J. 2016. Case study research: Principles and practices, Cambridge University Press. HARRISON, H., BIRKS, M., FRANKLIN, R. & MILLS, J. Case study research: Foundations and methodological orientations.  Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 2017. HARVARD. 2016. The Case Study Teaching Method [Online]. Harvard Law school Available: https://casestudies.law.harvard.edu/the-case-study-teaching-method/ [Accessed].

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)

Reflections

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WS1: The First Brick Has Been Cast

Posted on 07-10-2021

Finally, it happened! The long-waited RE-DWELL ITN Lisbon Workshop, organised by ISCTE-UL, took place over three days between 22 and 24 September 2021, where there was a range of structured activities and lectures to keep attendants busy. More than 35 RE-DWELLers attended the event, including ESRs, supervisors, speakers and partners, and all were ready to engage and collaborate with one another and exchange their immense knowledge of affordability and sustainability in housing from a transdisciplinary perspective.   Day one: Getting started As expected, the opening session was well organised and very motivational. It began with the welcoming address, which was followed by an information-exchange session between the ESRs and supervisors in which ideas were exchanged and important concepts discussed. Naturally, posters and abstracts were involved! Myself, Andreas Panagidis and Dr Krzysztof Nawratek teamed up and engaged in very elaborate discussions about our projects. This was where, for the first time, I was able to understand the aims of the other ESRs at a detailed level, and I can now say with confidence that I can see the whole puzzle clearer. It is thrilling to see how our projects work together on the path to delivering affordable and sustainable housing. Although the workshop was quite motivational, the highlights of the day were the introduction of the concept of BIP/ZIP and the tour to Eco Bairro of Boavista. “BIP-ZIP is a non-bureaucratic participatory budgeting model that invites citizens to develop and implement actions themselves in their neighbourhoods, which reinforces the social and territorial cohesion of the Lisbon municipality” (UA, 2018). Essentially, BIP/ZIP is a programme designed to get more citizens’ input into the construction of cities. The tour to Eco Bairro of Boavista marked the end of the first day, with dozens of important questions answered about its planning, design, and the strategies used in achieving these goals. As a picture is worth a thousand words, Figure 1 has been included to explain this information.   Day two: It only gets better A roundtable and the subsequent open debate were the highlights of the second day. A group of experts, researchers and academics (Prof. David Clapham, Prof. Gilles Debizet, Prof. Doina Petrescu and Prof. Ashraf Salama) discussed the meanings, concepts and methods of transdisciplinary research for affordable and sustainable housing from different perspectives. According to Prof. Salama, different backgrounds is one of the reasons behind the current difficulties, as he says, “When we sit with people of different disciplinary backgrounds, the first thing we say is, ‘This is not how we do things,’ and once you say that, you establish… boundaries between us and other people… Transdisciplinarity is the notion of triangulation: looking at affordability, sustainability and lifestyles together” (Salama, 2021). During the second half of the day, several important topics were discussed in a series of lectures delivered by the Casais Group: From the concepts and role of circular economies fostering sustainability and the necessity of digital transformation, to the use of building information modelling (BIM) and the industrialisation of construction leading to effective resource management. During the tour of one of Casais’s projects, we witnessed the transformation that takes place in construction, from the pencil and block through to the use of BIM and modular design principles.   Day three: Ethics is the name of the game The third day marked the end of the workshop. Focused and dynamic lectures were delivered by Prof. Karim Hadjri and Dr Krzysztof Nawratek. Everyone engaged in a hands-on workshop to understand the role of personal qualities and self-management in developing a successful project and, ultimately, a good PhD thesis. Ethics and data management were the hot topics during the session, for which a grounding principle was presented and clarified, which helped to shape our understanding and clarify the ways in which ethical and successful projects can be achieved. And, as usual, the day ended with a tour, this time to Marvila, where the role of innovation in social housing was demonstrated.   Bacalhau à Brás Although this seems like a complicated technical term, it’s a traditional dish made from cod fish that you must try when visiting Lisbon, as I assure you that it is very delicious! So much so that it was the most popular dish at the event. So, on day three and after many dishes of Bacalhau à Brás, our first workshop came to an end. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped in organising or presenting at the event and to thank those who attended this amazing event. See you very soon at Nicosia!       References  SALAMA, A. 2021. Transdisciplinarity Research for Affordable and Sustainable Housing. Research Methodologies and Tools (Rmt1 Course). Lisbon workshop. UA. 2018. BIP-ZIP, Citizen Participation Mechanism [Online]. Lisbon: Urban Alternatives. Available: https://urbanalternatives.org/map/lisbon/bip-zip/ [Accessed October 2021].

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)

Workshops

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Unmethodical foreplay

Posted on 05-10-2021

“Theories become clear and “reasonable” only after incoherent parts of them have been used for a long time. Such unreasonable, nonsensical, unmethodical foreplay thus turns out to be an unavoidable precondition of clarity and of empirical success”. (Feyerabend, 2010: 11)   Invaded by mass tourism, divided by social and economic inequalities, it is easy to forget that at one point, Lisbon was the San Francisco of Europe. In fact, the Portuguese were the first European traders to reach India and held the monopoly of trade with Japan during the 16th century. Indo-Portuguese art, such as the sculpture depicted on the left is a window into a prior phase of global exchanges, one motivated by discoveries, commercial expansion and European colonisation. Today, syncretic artistic expressions drawing from Hinduism and Catholicism allow historians to re-trace a complicated past.   However, what does this tell us of research on housing affordability and sustainability? This sculpture is an example of an earlier form of world complexity, readable, in this case, through art forms and religious dogmas. It is a concrete embodiment that confounds paradigms that place top-bottom, North-South, European vs other, critical-rational divisions over our current world. In short, it muddies the clear waters of preconceived frameworks that place Christianity in a White-European context.    It is in the muddy waters that theorising gains importance. To borrow from Feyerabend, we need to fight against the method, any method. In urban studies, preconceived ontologies, conceptualisations of the world, stifle research creating what Tonkiss (2011) calls Template Urbanism. The danger of template urbanism is becoming reified, a set of common tropes that act as places for encounter but simply fall flat when confronted with social realities.   Flows of ideas and commodities, the creation of intercontinental networks, and ever-increasing complexity were a reality in the regional world of the 18th century. In the 21st, visiting Lisbon, we’ve seen informal settlements in the “Global North”, the consequences of a fascist regime that, like its Spanish counterpart, created a country of homeowners, all of that even before neoliberalism went mainstream with Thatcher and Reagan. This doesn’t fit into the one framework. These phenomena demand engagement with theories and disciplines of their own, not a one-size-fits-all approach.   Maybe just on this particular point, both sides of the spectrum in urban research, critical researchers (Brenner et al., 2011) and urban data scientists (Kandt & Batty, 2021) see theorising as key in producing meaningful research. Empiricism in the urban environment is frown upon because of its naïveté, it refuses to engage with the messiness Feyerabend talks about. On the contrary, we ought to engage with messiness to find the theoretical tools allowing us to produce meaningful scientific outputs.    References Brenner, N., Madden, D. J., & Wachsmuth, D. (2011). "Assemblage urbanism and the challenges of critical urban theory." City, 15:2, 225-240 https://doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2011.568717 Kandt, J., & Batty, M. (2021). "cities, big data and urban policy: Towards urban analytics for the long run." Cities, 109. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2020.102992 Tonkiss, F. (2011). "City analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action. Template urbanism Four points about assemblage" in City analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action.  15(5), 584–588. https://doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2011.60902

Author: A.Fernandez (ESR12)

Workshops

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We might think we are helping, but [Through Sustainability Lens] we might not!

Posted on 05-10-2021

Countless examples can reflect this title, right?   But today, I will write about a story of a woman living in a deprived area in Portugal.   Joana Pestana Lages, who is an architect and urban researcher in ISCTE, shared this story with us in the latest Lisbon Workshop. The story might sound simple and common, but [Through Sustainability Lens] it is mind-stimulating. Along with other inspiring guests’ speeches, this story deep inside me reemphasized my research goal to design social housing based on occupants’ needs and different lifestyles. In addition, to continuously communicate these needs to architects in practice. At the end of the day, the final product - [The House] - where people live, grow, cook, eat, rest, read, sing, play, cry, celebrate, heal and [recently work!] is designed by architects.   However, housing studies are commonly dominated by economists, as discussed in the workshop roundtable. That’s why our Re-Dwell transdisciplinary research is bringing economics, politics, and architecture to work together to tackle the ongoing housing issues in Europe.     So, just one minute ago in my introduction, I mentioned two things that we need to question:   The first one: Did it only happen [recently] that people work from home?   The second one: Do architects design all houses?   The answer to both questions is No.     No, for many reasons that differ depending on location, politics, finance, occupation, personal preferences, etc. In this blog, I will look through the lens of self-produced places ‘Slums’ where the story happens and where it is [The Time and People] who design and build! No architects, engineers, or contractors … These were some of the words Joana Lages referred to before telling us the story. The story of a woman from Cape Verde who lived in a deprived area in Lisbon for many years. In her small house with a simple slow-paced lifestyle, she washes and reuses plastic wastes and knits it into plastic bags. She plants and raises food animals, securing work, revenue, and food from only one place [Her House]. Her life condition might be judged as insecure, informal, and particularly unhealthy when raising animals in a densely peopled area. Though from another perspective, it is more sustainable than many of us living in adequate residential areas. For instance, she uses minimum energy and transportation and produces minimum waste. In this regard, Joana Lages raised a very interesting question: What would happen to this woman if she had to move to an apartment in a building which is, from our perspective, better for her? We would be ruining her lifestyle, her work, her income, and we would be creating her new financial obligations to pay for energy and transportation, etc.   We need to be aware that it is not just a house that costs a certain amount of money. It is not just a group of people to be re-allocated from one place to another. It is people’s lives.    It is a global issue. For instance, in Europe, there are more than 30 million slum dwellers. No one can deny the urgency of the various efforts and strategies used to tackle this issue or to upgrade substandard areas to incorporate their communities in the city gradually. But before doing so, it is important to listen! And to bear in mind an inclusive and participatory approach to tackle this. We need to think: how can we give these communities a secure space to speak, care and express their needs? How should we listen to find creative solutions that respond to these various and challenging parameters?   It is not going to be easy, but it is possible.       References   https://www.dinamiacet.iscte-iul.pt/research-team/Joana-Pestana-Lages?lang=en   https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190208-tackling-slums-by-making-them-better-places-to-live-in   https://www.dw.com/en/inside-europes-slums/a-18011677   https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/05/21/185763979/african-cities-test-the-limits-of-living-with-livestock?t=1633387048627

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4)

Workshops, Reflections

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Chega de Saudade, see you next time!

Posted on 29-09-2021

The RE-DWELL Lisbon workshop was a particularly challenging experience for me. It was the very first time that the entire cohort of ESR's would summon, several lectures and guest speakers would come to complement and enrich the variety of perspectives on the issues that interest us the most. The three-days programme seemed an utterly refreshing event that would inspire us to take off in this research journey. Lisbon was the perfect scenery, with its distinctive pleasant weather, sinuous alleys full of history and architectural enchant. But also with an acute housing crisis that demands immediate solutions.   All of this sounds quite positive, so you might be wondering why it ended up being so challenging. Well, simply because I was the only one that couldn’t make it to Lisbon. That’s right, the Coronavirus post-pandemic world kept stubbornly making my life difficult and what in other times would entail a really simple trip from London to Lisbon, now meant the possibility of going back to quarantine afterwards. So, I had to catch up with the team in activities that were clearly designed to be carried out within the classroom, hands-on, organic and open to, perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of (on site)-human interaction, unpredictability. The unpredictability that leads to opportunities, the doses of chaos that make workshops a fruitful encounter. And inevitably, Microsoft Teams became my best ally to plough through the 985 miles* that were separating me from the vivid tête-à-têtes that my colleagues were having those days.   However, it was not always difficult to engage during the sessions. The open roundtable with guests experts discussing transdisciplinary research on housing rendered a very refreshing debate on how to apply transdisciplinary principles and theories, and common pitfalls and opportunities when researching sustainable and affordable housing. It was the demonstration of the evolution that these ideas have had in time and an urgent call to truly consider transdisciplinary and participatory practices in decision-making boards and academia. The importance of devoting comprehensive efforts to develop the field of housing studies, assembling not only economists but also architects, urban planners and other professionals involved in the production of the built environment; and to bring about a real research culture at the heart of architecture schools, are some of the takeaways I got from this stimulating debate.   Now that the workshop is done, and after witnessing my fellow ESR's having such a prolific time there. I only have to say that I won't miss the Nicosia summer school for anything in the world! So see you in Cyprus from the 15 to 19 Nov!             *1,585.76 km. (For the ones that, like me, are still trying to get used to the odd imperial system)   

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)

Workshops

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Lisbon as an all-round learning experience

Posted on 29-09-2021

When trying to contemplate the first RE-DWELL workshop in the Portuguese capital, the first thing that comes to mind is that it was such an all-round learning experience. Not just because our joint programme included round-the-clock activities, but mainly because we touched upon so many different subjects, perspectives and case studies. At one moment a philosophical debate arose about flat ontologies, while seemingly the next moment the practical applicability of Building Information Modeling (BIM) would be the subject of discussion.   The more philosophical debate took place during a Roundtable - not pictured on the left, which was a leisurely lunch on our first day - with Professor Clapham (University of Glasgow), Professor Debizet (University Grenoble Alpes), Professor Petrescu (University of Sheffield) and Professor Salama (University of Strathclyde). These renowned academics gave their views on the concept of transdisciplinary research for affordable and sustainable housing, which helped us to grasp the concept even better. But besides a clarification, in a way the speakers also challenged us.   As Clapham (2018, p. 176) puts it: “there is scope to design a theory of housing that may be drawn partly from existing concepts that fit the housing context, as well as through the design of concepts that emerge from the specific nature of housing itself. Although the production of a specific, transdisciplinary theory of housing is not practicable at the current state of knowledge, it should be a major priority to derive and test out the specific concepts that are needed to build the theory.” This is where the RE-DWELL team should pick up the gauntlet, try to overcome monodisciplinary paradigms, work together to redefine key concepts interdisciplinarily and eventually build these up into universal transdisciplinary knowledge.   An important element of a transdisciplinary approach is the integration of non-academic stakeholders, and this first workshop in Lisbon immediately demonstrated how valuable this is. Field visits and guided tours make a research project come alive and inspire you in ways that scientific articles are not capable of. But first and foremost, conversations with practitioners, policymakers and in-house researchers can help ESRs to design their methodology in a way that could truly address societal challenges.   A good example is how a municipality official (affiliated with the pioneering BIP/ZIP programme) contested the notions of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ governance, and explained by means of obvious examples how this dichotomy is not found in practice. These conversations are instrumental in transdisciplinary research and make us all look forward to our secondments even more.   Reference Clapham, D. (2018). Housing theory, housing research and housing policy. Housing, Theory and Society, 35(2), 163-177.

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)

Reflections

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Lisbon IRL, Transdisciplinarity is Now Real

Posted on 26-09-2021

  It was the first time for all of us. We finally met in real life (IRL) at the Lisbon Workshop. In the three days of lecture sessions, discussion groups and case study trips a lot was accomplished. Apart from the valuable new insight on a wide spectrum of housing issues and perspectives, the transdisciplinary aspects of the Re-Dwell programme were beginning to come alive IRL! Meeting my fellow Early Stage Researchers, every discussion and every interaction was infused with the communication nuances and beautiful little moments we know to be true (and take for granted) only when being in the same space with another person. This personally felt very important and extremely different from the digitally-enabled interactions we were up to now used to as a group.   I am convinced that people and physical space assign meaning to each other. They form a co-constitutive state of socio-spatial complexity that the digital world simply cannot recreate accurately, and transdisciplinary research may be in fact dependent upon such IRL-ness.   Social media slang aside, real life is perhaps inherently based on transdisciplinary interaction. Transdisciplinarity became expressed in the when and how of voicing opinions, in the excitement in our voices and in the way we critically and selectively chose what to say when in a big group or one to one. This is maybe the point of research on housing matters that are most definitely not going to be addressed by researchers in academic vacuums. When I saw us as a group in the lecture room, turning towards each other in a spontaneous moment of heated debate, we were directly engaging with each other, stretching and testing conceptual and philosophical boundaries.   Similarly, walking, seeing, listening and then talking about our environment was an emotional learning process during the social housing visit of the Marvila district that was directly engaging with certain boundaries. I remember feeling a strong sense of awareness of being an outsider, a researcher with a purpose but somewhat distant from the daily routines of peoples' lives that we were casually observing. The boundaries that we were crossing were now not so much disciplinary, but spatial, physical and perhaps more personal. What does housing mean for the people living in it, how is it performed and by whom is it shaped? We were now in the results of previous accomplishments and failures, not above them. We are beginning to splash “in the murky waters and messiness of local struggles and conflicts” (Kaika, 2018) and perhaps this is where transdisciplinarity is necessarily practiced.       Kaika, M. (2018). Between the frog and the eagle: claiming a ‘Scholarship of Presence’for the Anthropocene. European Planning Studies, 26(9), 1714-1727.

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)

Workshops

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Polyglot researcher

Posted on 30-08-2021

"Clean up concepts, don't leave them in the soft language of ideology." François Jullien, 2017   While working on a collaborative project between the PACT laboratory in France and Michigan University in the United States, I realized that a word doesn’t necessarily have the same meaning in different languages. Worse still, it can mean the opposite, leading to a serious misunderstanding. For example, there is a fundamental difference between the definitions of urban structure in France and the United States. Some terms don’t even exist in the language of one country or the other – despite them sharing the same roots and source.   “A successful researcher must possess the ability to comprehend, dismantle and explain complex ideas.” A researcher’s skills extend beyond processes and scientific dialogues. A researcher must engage with everyone, regardless of their background. Comprehending the meanings of terms in other languages and their own is a vital skill for any researcher. They must know the etymology, differences in definitions, and the origin of the terms. Seeing beyond the obvious meaning is an acquired skill that takes time to hone   Goodwill is not enough "A false but clear and precise idea will always have more power in the world than a true but complex one." Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835   Research is performed by using systematic methods to achieve specific goals and improve our lives. Maintaining trust in the good intentions of research is essential, but it is clear that many researchers today fail to touch people’s lives. Therefore, their work must be considered a failure, even if it achieves its academic objectives.   Have you ever wondered why people don’t enjoy hearing a scientist explain an important topic, such as the impact of climate change or the dangers of desertification? Most scientists use sophisticated and specialist language, with an abundance of facts and dry statistics. As these are difficult to understand, the speakers don’t capture the imagination of the audience.   Meanwhile, a YouTuber with a business degree may succeed in explaining the most complicated aspects of quantum physics and get millions of views in less than a month. (Funnily enough, I only understood the origin of dark matter after watching a 13-year-old YouTuber explaining it.) However, a highly trained and educated physicist might not manage to convince even 20 people to attend their lecture.   It’s not only the visual attraction or presentation techniques that draw people in. It’s also the type of language used, the speaker’s ability to convey meaning clearly and with simple terminology, and the vital skill of being a polyglot researcher in an era when language could either drive us apart or bring us closer together.   In the end, we must keep in mind that thinking from multi-dimensional perspectives is beneficial not only for research but also for life. What you believe to be absolute may change, and accepting those differences is the key to success. We must familiarize ourselves with terminology in related fields, too, as transdisciplinary research is the new norm. And using dictionaries is not old-fashioned!     Watch this (The Power of Words) Read this (Planning language, planning identity…) Think about this: (What does the word suburbs mean in English? And what does périurbain mean in French?)  

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)

Reflections

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Webcams and virtual whiteboards against climate change (and your mental health)

Posted on 29-07-2021

What use will we have for our webcams and all the online spaces occupied during the last year and half? As I was looking for an angle for my blog entry on the kick-off of RE-DWELL, I realized that between our recent virtual habits and the return to the “old” normal, one encounters certain areas of tension, especially in an international project like ours. Because ultimately, while we may be tempted to revert to our former patterns of hypermobility once the pandemic is over, one should never forget the impact of our movements on climate change: a crisis that needed to be addressed a decade ago.   The kick-off session showed how far we have come in relation to remote work and learning. The organizing staff managed to bring a bunch of strangers together to start exchanging in creative and effective ways: a most complex task. Breaking down the event into multiple two-hour blocks and mixing formats of interactions kept Zoom fatigue to a minimum. Short personal introductions alternated between live presentations for supervisors and pre-recorded videos for ESRs, creating rhythm and variation. Similarly, to initiate a common reflection on the key concepts of our research, brainstorming sessions rotated between small team discussions and wider plenary reports. These activities build momentum for the project: as we got to know each other’s backgrounds and interests, we could develop a mutual understanding of the goals we wish to pursue as a group. That we could achieve this online is a feat in and of itself. During the event, we used Miro – a virtual whiteboard to create mind maps. At first, I must admit that I was overwhelmed: a dozen mouse pointers moving around my screen to share, change and connect different thoughts and concepts. After the initial shock, I understood its value as a tool that not only underline linkages between concepts and ideas, but also acts as a window into the creative process of my new colleagues. This allowed me to better grasp how they organized their thinking in a way that would have been difficult in a “traditional” setting. Indeed, in a seminar room, a whiteboard can rarely accommodate more than two people writing at the same time, perhaps leading to less spontaneous visual representations. While this may sound like an ode to virtual meetings and online learning, it most definitely is not. Let it be clear: I do not like distance anything. I don’t enjoy seeing my face on a screen, I never know when to speak, and my attention span shrinks significantly. In short, as much as I always loathed talking on the phone, I feel even more awkward in front of a webcam. In “real life”, I love socializing after meetings, seminars, or after a workday. You wish to drink coffee before class? I am there. You want to grab a beer before the weekend? Count me in. But after an online appointment I am consistently relieved to turn off my camera and log out. Here, I could be happy that we are (hopefully) on our way out of the pandemic, that we may return to “normal” sooner than later. I will finally be able to chat with colleagues during the break and be awkward when meeting new people in person rather than in front of a screen. But fleeing back to our old habits without thinking would be a mistake. Indeed, how can we justify our hypermobility when knowing that we can function and connect remotely? When we consider the environmental impact of international travel, this becomes especially true for a project tackling sustainability In the pre-Covid era, while we were aware of greenhouse emissions from business trips, comparatively little was being done. Hopping on a plane to attend a meeting, seminar, workshop, or conference held in a different country was a thoughtless routine. However, we now know that the world will not collapse if we stay put and hang out on Zoom rather than in a conference room. In our case specifically, acknowledging that we could kick-off the activities of our network online relatively painlessly, can we just fly to the first meeting that can be held in person, without weighing the environmental impact? I think this issue links nicely to the discussions we had after the kick-off on the role of ethics in research. I believe that we should extend our considerations of ethics as to broadly reflect on how we conduct our activities. Indeed, as I work in a project tackling sustainability, what should I make of the greenhouse emissions linked to my regular travels? Not so much to look for a definitive answer to this question, I see it more as injunction to weigh the actions I will pose in the next three years and to ponder on how they are in accordance with the values I wish to carry in my research. That the urge to jump on a plane to finally meet my new colleagues in person is also part in contributing to the issues we wish to solve in this project. Ultimately this is all part of the trade-offs we are forced to make: while webcams may help us fight climate change, they are a long way from effectively replacing the physical interactions we all need.

Author: C.Verrier (ESR3)

Workshops

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Here’s why you should watch Real Estate TV Shows…

Posted on 28-07-2021

OK, I’ve got a confession to make: I am addicted to real estate reality TV. The plastic surgery and mansions in Selling Sunset make me live, but it is the prime Airbnb’s from The Worlds’ Most Amazing Vacation Rentals that I die for. I do understand that for many a scholar, these shows may seem too crude. Indeed, they are infused with obscene wealth, flashy cars, and dramatic airborne entrances. These sumptuously designed homes make Hudson Yards look like a Lacaton & Vassal retrofit but more importantly, they remind us what houses are about for a minority of powerful elites.   Having just finished The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, I can’t help but give some thought to the use of houses to display wealth and power, ultimately what are homes for when they are not for dwelling. Before giving free rein to criticising the eccentricities of the 1%, it must be recognised that homes for elites have always been about status. Morality aside, we wouldn’t have a Palazzo Pitti[1] if it wasn’t for Renaissance bankers, nor a Mauritshuis[2] without Dutch mercantilists (and slave plantations in Brazil).   What is it then that makes the contemporary equivalents of the 18th century French Châteaux much more perturbing? I believe the reason is to be found in the unequal distributions of wealth joining the inescapable reality of shared ultimate costs. Earlier examples of wealth extraction took place out of sight, through colonial exploitation, or somehow involved those exploited. That goes to say, even the industrial proletariat in Europe managed to access some of the fruits of their labour not without some struggle. For instance, Ludwig II of Bavaria, best portrayed by Visconti in the 1973 film Ludwig, used the construction of his Schlösser to patron local artists and created a flourishing artisan class. On the contrary, the yachts parked in London’s Saint Catherine’s docks, much like the mansions portrayed on my predilect passe-temps, only rob us, an increasingly impoverished majority, of our present and future.   If you can stomach The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, you’ll witness the severed wings of a Boeing 747 airlifted by a helicopter over Nevada’s desert only to become a “feminine ceiling” on a millionaire’s rural home. While the technical prowess is commendable and the so-called “femininity of the shape” hilariously sexist, the scene is overall off-putting. To me, this has not so much to do with the obvious disregard for money and mounting costs, things that I’m ultimately quite fond of in any aristocrat’s palazzo. My grievance dwells in the claims of sustainability and material upcycling that disregard the carbon embodied in the deranged operation of using a helicopter to build a roof.   The main issue here is that the long-term consequences of the lavish lifestyle of the few are already harming the many. One only needs to look at this month’s deadly flooding across Europe to apprehend this. In the time of quasi-astronaut millionaires, sustainability is only conceivable through wealth redistribution. In the meantime, if you feel like having a cheeky peek at the Swan’s song of the West, all the shows I’ve mentioned are available on Netflix.   [1] Florentine Palace, probably designed by Brunelleschi, and today home to the House of Medici's art collection. [2] Currently an art museum, it was built as a home to Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, governor of Dutch Brazil.

Author: A.Fernandez (ESR12)

Reflections

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Isolation?

Posted on 26-07-2021

The past few weeks have been some of the most intense, jam-packed and fulfilling of my entire life. Though you may not believe it, during this time I have: completed and passed my final architecture exams, qualifying as an architect after 11 years of study; packed up my home and moved from Manchester to London as a stop-gap on my way to Barcelona; organised a Civil Partnership to my wonderful partner; and started a new job. Honorary mention to the general life admin that comes with moving country and distributing accumulated personal assets (dear plants, I will miss you!*).   Anchoring me throughout this madness has been starting work with the RE-DWELL Consortium’s Kick-Off Sessions. Although I’ve had the constant feeling of one foot in the (virtual) room and one foot out of the door, it only took one group Miro exercise into the definitions of affordability, sustainability and transdisciplinarity to know that I have found my tribe.   Social housing and the politics that surrounds it have been woven into everything I work towards. One of my previous architecture firm directors actually took me aside one day to disclose to me, “you have too much of a social agenda, you need to change your thinking to become more commercial”. I credit this director with pushing me to prove that a social agenda is not un-commercial.   Discussing inequality, neoliberalism and financialisation is party talk to me. But during the kick-off sessions, a world-wide network of multi-generational professionals brought new focus to this conversation through concepts including paradigm shift, circular economy, and sustainable indicators, to name a few.   As Hannah Arendt once said: “Action…is never possible in isolation; to be isolated is to be deprived of the capacity to act”.   And isolated we are not! (Government-mandated 10 to 14 days of self-isolation notwithstanding).   Thus, as I embark upon a holistic journey, striving for transdisciplinarity with 14 of the most committed young professionals I’ve come across in my quest for fair and adequate housing for all, guided by a team of supervisors and specialists from our uniquely qualified secondments, I say … watch this space!   Long Live the Social Agenda!

Author: S.Furman (ESR2)

Workshops

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Greater than the sum of its parts

Posted on 21-07-2021

A few weeks into the RE-DWELL adventure, I find myself more optimistic regarding the challenges our societies face than I have been in a long time. Having to deal with both a climate crisis as well as a housing crisis at the same time can be quite daunting, especially when time is so short. But getting to know talented and dedicated peers, learning from their personal beliefs and disciplinary perspectives while thinking out loud about research opportunities really cheers you up!   The kick-off sessions helped us to draw connections between each other and between the research scopes we envision. I really liked how the break-out rooms enabled us to have discussions in smaller groups, as this gave the sessions a personal and informal setting. And one look at the Miro boards will tell you that even when the issues at stake may sometimes feel fragmented, the opposite is true. We are all focusing on different elements of Affordable & Sustainable Housing but if we collaborate well the pieces of the puzzle will all fall together nicely.   I genuinely believe the RE-DWELL community is in a unique position to contribute to a better understanding of the way forward, because messy and complex real-world problems call for a holistic approach. In that, I must give it to my old pal Aristotle, the whole could indeed be greater than the sum of its parts.

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)

Workshops

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