Network members activities
Icon bridging-the-retrofit-gap-climate-culture-and-infrastructure-future-build-2022-international-women-s-day

Bridging the Retrofit Gap: Climate, Culture, and Infrastructure | Future Build 2022 | International Women’s Day

Posted on 08-03-2022

Future Build 2022 in London was an inspiring event. While the majority of discussion concerned homeownership tenures, the wealth of expertise available reminded me why housing retrofit is a vital and worthy goal. I was reminded of why my research project to retrofit social housing is an urgent modern problem.   Interestingly, there was a noticeable divide between speakers promoting social value in retrofit (mostly women) and purely technical solutions to decarbonising homes (predominantly men). One of the few mixed-gender panels I attended was the Big Debate: Should we use RdSAP (Reduced Data Standard Assessment Procedure) in retrofit? Andrew Parkin of Stroma said yes, RdSAP is historical and therefore has a plethora of past data for comparison.  It is also future proof; an API (application programming interface) with the BRE Group’s ‘Appendix Q database’ is being developed to migrate external information and data sets into RdSAP. Marion Lloyd-Jones for Manchester Co-op ‘People Powered Retrofit’ said no, strongly arguing that: retrofit should be for the people with a focus on heat loss reduction, and that local knowledge should be amplified because EPC ratings are simply incomparable between varying regional climates.   I am writing this post on International Women’s Day. A day that should serve as a reminder that: women are still not paid equally; domestic and sexual violence, which disproportionately affects women, has increased during the covid-19 pandemic; and women remain responsible for the majority of domestic labour. The world of retrofit and decarbonisation must remember that social value is as important to sustainability as energy efficiency. Social retrofit should be encouraged in tandem with environmental retrofit in order to sustain the health and wellbeing of both the people and the planet.   Here are my major takeaways:   Climate   The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report cemented the UKs carbon target to limit global warming to below 1.5°C, fuelling the Net Zero Strategy – a net zero target by 2050. The National Retrofit Strategy by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) modelled the work required to retrofit the nation’s homes by 2040, a decade earlier than government targets. We can and SHOULD speed up the green transition – particularly in the midst of the current fuel crisis exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine. “Decarbonising Homes” was a widely used slogan at Future Build, used to promote technical solutions to retrofit. Air source heat pumps were frequently discussed, a questionable cure-all solution, gaining popularity.   Culture   Skill shortages are a huge obstacle to low-carbon retrofitting – no one seems to know what to train people in yet, and in-house retrofit employees are relatively new because employers worry that post-training, they will leave. A possible solution to this is to borrow apprentices from within the construction sector to upskill. The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 declares the minimum weighting on all government projects that should be applied to social value is 10%. The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund has pledged £3.8 billion by 2030. How to access the funds and get residents on board: Have a clear message for social value and EDI (Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion), and get it right! Prepare the project into a ‘package’ to send with your funding bids. Resident engagement in social housing retrofit should occur at multiple stages: pre-bid, mobilisation, and post occupancy (POE). Engage non-profit organisations to interact with residents, independent from local authorities and housing associations (aka tenants’ landlords). Wellbeing outcomes from retrofit and a reduction in fuel poverty include increased physical health, increased mental health, improved educational outcomes, and decreased levels of crime. Quantifying the cost savings of these outcomes on public services such as the NHS could find retrofit leads to a return on investment.   Infrastructure   Digital Twins are a necessity to improve social housing. Tenants can flag an issue online (accessibility should be maintained by Housing Associations and Local Authorities for those without access to digital twins) and modelling social housing typologies can determine the impact of energy efficiency improvements. Complete dwelling assessments as soon as possible – defects must be fixed before retrofit can begin. While new build development continues to benefit from 20% price reductions, according to Sam Balch – Policy Advisor for the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – VAT exemptions for retrofit remain under consideration. Homes England have updated the Building Regulations (BR) as follows: Part L – 31% reduction in emissions compared to current standards, Part F – increased ventilation in new dwellings, Part O – overheating in new residential buildings, and Part S – electric vehicle charging points. This is in preparation for the introduction of the Future Homes Standard (due 2025). It will demand homes produce at least 75% less carbon emissions than currently allowed under the BR. SAP 10.2 will be released later this year, and RdSAP will consequently improve. The output of SAP is EPC ratings, which are highly controversial, at times unreliable, and often not comparable. But changes are coming to RdSAP including improved air tightness measurements and ventilation risk assessments. I believe RdSAP should produce new sets of comparable outputs alongside EPC ratings.   I encountered many illuminating approaches from Future Build – clearly there are overlaps between climate, culture and infrastructure – but these strands should be brought into closer dialogue with one another. My project aims to bridge this gap.   References   (BEIS) Department for Business, E. & I. S. (2021). Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund: Competition Guidance Notes.   Cabinet Office. (2021, March 29). Guidance: Social Value Act: information and resources. GOV.UK.   Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. (2021, December 15). Collection: Approved Documents. GOV.UK.   IPPC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). (2021). Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. In Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Author: S.Furman (ESR2)


Icon decoding-new-housing-paradigms

Decoding 'new' housing paradigms

Posted on 13-01-2022

Several attempts to elicit guidelines that holistically respond to the issue of understanding and creating an adequate built environment have been produced, especially since the second half of the previous century. Some of them are recognised and elevated as fundamental readings for urbanists and architects alike. However, the principles of what makes a good public space or the ideal spatial configuration of a housing complex, or the adequate allocation of open spaces and communal areas to recognise the needs of children; keep being ignored or at least relegated to theoretical scenarios held in academic setups or one-off experimental works.   Buildings can be studied from a range of tenets, and through history there has always been a dominating paradigm. For Vitruvius, for instance, the ruling qualities that any architectural work might embody were compiled in three, i.e., firmitatis, utilitatis, venustatis, or stability, utility and beauty, those would be detailed in his influential book De Architectura. In the XX century, in full swing of the modernist movement, Le Corbusier portrayed what would become one of the most ground-breaking books in architecture, vers une architecture (1923), enunciating a new way of living and inhabiting, which in turn was followed by a series of principles that dictated the key elements to accomplish ‘good’ architecture with a particular fixation on residential buildings[1]. Form follows function, was one of the maxims that spearheaded modernist architecture and depicted the decided break up with the past, ornament in buildings would then become unnecessary and anachronic. The zeitgeist of each era fluctuates to respond to the most demanding needs inherent to that moment in time.   From housing standardisation to adaptation   The housing design that follows flexibility and adaptability tenets is not a novelty in architecture, a feature that can be traced in Mies van der Rohe’s Weissenhofsiedlung (1927), or even more than a decade before that with Le Corbusier’s modular prototype the Maison Dom-Ino (1914); the concept has been re-introduced by few contemporary authors like Jeremy Till and Tatjana Schneider, as a response to current housing struggles. According to them, flexible housing should be at the forefront of the contemporary housing agenda. By avoiding the obsolescence that comes with the short-termed mono-functional housing design, and replacing it with a long-term capacity to re-adapt to evolving needs and accommodate multiple ways of life, flexibility by design renders a solution that equates with sustainable practices very much needed in the housebuilding sector.   Nowadays, climate degradation and the urgency of reducing carbon emissions have catapulted sustainability as a term that become part of the everyday jargon in a wide array of fields, an acute issue that has been at the forefront of the international debate in the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow in 2021. Architecture and the built environment are not exempt from this trend[2]. It has been argued that sustainability cannot be attained solely by using energy-friendly technologies, or incorporating labels like LEED or evaluation protocols like BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method). The triple bottom line of sustainability asserts a social dimension, and other interpretations go even further considering a fourth cultural variable attached to it (see the circles of sustainability). In that specific and often neglected niche, that of social and cultural sustainability, this study purports to focus on the housing domain.   Perhaps one of the most harmful practices of the housebuilding sector is the fact that, akin to a tech company, the products, in this case, dwellings, are planned for obsolescence. Numerous examples of designing housing for obsolescence are portrayed by Till and Schneider in their seminal book Flexible Housing (2007). They contend that such a mindset, mainly enforced by developers and architects during the design stages of a project, is the culprit of major disturbances in the urban layout in cities nowadays. Energy poverty, speculation, gentrification, spiralling land cost and urban segregation, could be attributed, at least to some extent, to poor planning practices and an impossibility, deliberate or accidental, of thinking of housing as the most important asset in our cities. This implies bearing in mind the whole life-cycle of a project and the consequences that go beyond the handover of a housing unit. Thus, a dwelling must be seen as an activity rather than seen as an object. And similarly perceived as a social asset rather than as an economic asset from a consumerism perspective. A rather complementary vision to the one contended by John Turner already in 1976 in Housing by People: Towards Autonomy in Buildings Environments. Whereby, though in a totally different context, the barriada or informal settlement in Peru, he recognises housing as a process in which the users are directly implicated.   The process or the housing pathway derived from the housing practices as Clapham suggests (2002), evidence that the evolution of a housing development, along with people's housing careers, continues very much after dwellings have been sold or rented; and therefore, there must be a different approach towards housing design and production. As Till and other authors argue, flexibility and adaptability do not mean that architects are no longer relevant or that every design decision is passed to the users. Architects, according to these precepts, work more as enablers or facilitators, a veritable different approach from the controlling and godlike paradigm that accompanied architectural practice in the XX century, especially during modernism. A good design goes beyond the moment a project is handed over, the life-cycle of a housing scheme must be fully considered from the initial stages of design. A good design is one that recognises that needs change over time and that users are not static, families are formed, grow and reduce. As opposed to what Andrew Rabeneck has called ‘tight-fit-functionalism’, that is the design that follows specific requirements and that can only accommodate determined uses designated by a type of furniture layout. This attitude condemns the typology, and by extension the building, to obsolescence. That is a house that can only accommodate a family-type, a default user. Lifestyles are more fluid than ever before, the way people live has evolved especially in multicultural setups. It is no longer possible to make generalising assumptions over people needs and expectations. In other cultures, the notion of a house might have different connotations than in a traditional north European scenario. Yet, housing solutions seem to fail to respond effectively to a myriad of ways of life and aspirations. These challenges are not new and as it has been established, these debates were held decades ago. Nevertheless, the same question that Marcus and Sarkissian made in their book Housing as if people mattered: Site design guidelines for the planning of medium-density family housing (1986),  four decades in the past, still remains: “If research on people-housing relations now exists, why are the design professions not using it?” (p.5).   The empirical research that my thesis is pushing forward purports to give equitable significance to what happens inside, outside and in-between dwellings, and that is the reason that supports the intertwining of Marcus and Sarkissian’s work with the one of Schneider and Till. Marcus and Sarkissian put it clearly when insisting:   “A particular program, and the resulting built environment, may be well conceived to cope with the current daily needs of, say families with young children, but what happens when the children become teenagers or when half of the original nuclear families become single-parent families or grouping of unrelated adults? Design flexibility is often recommended, but an ambiguous space in year I is often equally ambiguous (and leads to equally ambiguous serious problems) in year 15.” (p.7)     One of the main misconceptions that as many authors cited before this research aim to address, is the idea of housing seen as a disposable commodity. People should not have to move out when their personal circumstances change, because their dwelling is not suitable anymore. Such a capitalist view of real estate, especially housing, is not socially responsible let alone environmentally sustainable. Housing provision seen through the lenses of affordability and sustainability goals must incorporate POE, social value and flexibility whether it intends to holistically respond to current concerns. When carrying out Post-occupancy evaluation of a regeneration project there are a series of tenets that shall be permanently referred to during the data collection: User participation, Flexibility by design, Affordability by design and sustainability. Then it will be clear what makes a regeneration project succeed and what aspects are crucial to monitor. This is where the responses and data collected can come in handy. As an analogue research endeavour to that carried out by Marcus and Sarkissian, this research can possibly deliver an updated roadmap for generating social value through regeneration schemes to be further applied, in this case by Clarion in other ventures. Likewise, any housing association, social landlord or non-profit investor that is actively involved in regeneration schemes, can consider these aspects as part of its comprehensive social value approach.   [1] In Les cinq points de l'architecture moderne (1927), Le Corbusier along with Pierre Jeanneret, would compile their recipe of the modern architecture : The Pilotis, Roof gardens, Free plan, Ribbon windows, and Free façade. The Unité d'habitation in Marseille (1952) represents the epitome of these principles applied to residential architecture, a formula that would be further implemented in other sites in the years on.   [2] Especially knowing that at least 8% of global emissions are produced by the cement industry alone without considering other unsustainable building techniques (Ellis, et al. 2020).   References   Clapham, D., 2002. Housing pathways: A post modern analytical framework. Housing, theory and society, 19(2), pp.57-68.   Ellis, L.D., Badel, A.F., Chiang, M.L., Park, R.J.Y. and Chiang, Y.M., 2020. Toward electrochemical synthesis of cement—An electrolyzer-based process for decarbonating CaCO3 while producing useful gas streams. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(23), pp.12584-12591.   Le Corbusier, 1946. Towards a new architecture. London: Architectural Press.   Marcus, C.C. and Sarkissian, W., 1986. Housing as if people mattered: Site design guidelines for the planning of medium-density family housing (Vol. 4). Univ of California Press.   Rabeneck, A., Sheppard, D. and Town, P., 1973. Housing flexibility. Architectural Design, 43(11), pp.698-727.   Rowland, I.D. and Howe, T.N. eds., 2001. Vitruvius:'Ten books on architecture'. Cambridge University Press.   Schneider, T. and Till, J., 2007. Flexible housing. Architectural press.   Schneider, T. and Till, J., 2005. Flexible housing: opportunities and limits. Arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, 9(2), pp.157-166.   Till, J. and Schneider, T., 2005. Flexible housing: the means to the end. ARQ: architectural research quarterly, 9(3-4), pp.287-296.   Turner, J., 1976. Housing by People: Towards Autonomy in Building Environments. Marion Boyars Publishers.

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)


Icon understanding-the-differences-between-architects-and-the-rest-of-us

Understanding the differences between architects and the “rest of us“

Posted on 16-12-2021

As a social scientist with a background in economics and environmental science, I have received a training to question the current state of things and look at problems holistically. I will not dwell on the term holistic but in general, it requires different stakeholders from many disciplines to work towards the same context, each contributing with a unique point of view. On the other side, if I think of architects as engineers, I would presume they face specific problems, approaching them with exact solutions, following industry standards, checklists etc. But where I see the challenge, and what this project is trying to achieve is to create a dialogue between architects and the “rest of us“ in problematising sustainable and affordable housing. I use the term the “rest of us“ simply because I cannot at this point define architects as non-social scientist. Here is the brief logic behind my understanding of architects.   I have some architects in my family, but I never stopped to think if they were social scientists, engineers, artists or something else? Even now after a quick Google search for „are architects social scientists“, I am still not convinced in the results as no result can either fully confirm or deny it. For example, one blog post (Wood, 2015) with a title “Architecture as Social Science?” states different explanations, however, most significant is that architects are not social scientists. Literature however does clearly divide architects and social scientists (Lewis et al., 2018). Even more so, understanding from this paper is that a word “home” would probably trigger different perspectives for architects and social scientists. By joining Re-Dwell project, I started to really interact with fellow ESRs with the architectural background, and for the most of the time, we (social scientists) speak a different language.   I am sure if I ask my ESR architect colleagues, I would receive a clear answer, but that was not the point of this blog. The point was to offer an angle of a non-architect towards problematizing sustainable and affordable housing, and to highlight the need of multidisciplinary approach towards formulating a problem, especially as wicked as housing. One cannot say architects are detached from social science simply because their ideas and design can include (or exclude) human interaction and influence how people use buildings or public space. Social scientist on the other side cannot problematise sustainable and affordable housing without architects either, as it has much to do with engineering, materials used, safety, accessibility etc.   Thus, bringing together architects and social scientists who are most willing to interact and learn from each other in a project like Re-Dwell provides a safe environment and a good platform to question each others point of view and communicate towards finding solutions to different components of the problem. So far, formats such as interactive workshops and round tables gave us the opportunity to express our opinion and understand where we come from in terms of sustainable and affordable housing problem formulation. I can only hope that this type of dialogue will reach even higher level in the years to come.   Literature Lewis, C., May, V., Hicks, S., Costa Santos, S. & Bertolino, N. (2018). Researching the home using architectural and social science methods. Methodological Innovations. 2018;11(2). doi:10.1177/2059799118796006   Wood, A. (2015). “Architecture as a Social Science?”. Architecture and Education [accessed online 13 December 2021]

Author: M.Horvat (ESR6)


Icon nicosia-the-divided-city

Nicosia: The divided city

Posted on 13-12-2021

Due to Covid-related delays, the first RE-DWELL summer school took place last month at the Cypriot host institution in Nicosia. The week-long activities served to enrich the development of our individual research projects whilst enabling us to build on our connections with fellow Early-Stage Researchers (ESR), the supervising team, and external speakers. Despite Nicosia being the capital city of Cyprus, the urban scale was much more modest than I had expected. The historic area had a village feel, which was mainly residential and generally only built up to 2 storeys high, with many friendly stray cats roaming the streets. Nicosia is in fact Europe’s last divided city, bearing similarities to the German capital Berlin which was divided for approximately 50 years – Nicosia has so far been divided for almost as long. The Turkish-Cypriot border reaches across the island and extends up into Nicosia, neatly dividing the circular Walled Old City into two halves [1]. This week was therefore not only valuable in terms of workshop activities, but also in understanding the political and social situation there, and how it has manifested in the city masterplan and architecture.   The division I began to learn more about the history behind the divide through casual conversations with the locals, including the two ESRs based in Nicosia, as well as with the host supervisors from the University of Cyprus: Nadia Charalambous and Andreas Savvides. At the end of the week, we were given an informative lecture by Athina Papadopoulou, the conservation architect and head of the Greek Cypriot Nicosia Master Plan team since 2010. The official division of Cyprus took place in 1974 and resulted in a Greek-Cypriot south side - occupying around two thirds of the island - and a Turkish-Cypriot north side (Oktay, 2007). This resettlement programme displaced populations of Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, creating refugees on both sides. During our visit we learned about the temporary refugee housing which at the time included tents and brick and mortar homes, the latter of which still exist today. Papadopoulou presented to us the bi-communal initiative to develop a twin masterplan which was funded by USAID through UNHCR & UNDP. This project is based on restoration of individual sites on both sides, such as houses, markets, and historic monuments to name a few. On our visit to the Turkish-Cypriot side of the Walled Old City we were able to visit some of these on a tour with Papadopoulou.   The buffer zone The UN has the responsibility of securing the buffer zone – also known as ‘the Green Line’ – and its checkpoints, as well as facilitating communication between the two territories. As explained by Papadopoulou, the buffer zone itself presents additional issues as houses and buildings left in this strip of land are falling into disrepair, with many at risk of collapse. The buffer is a demilitarised zone that shapes the urban fabric; it is non-uniform, with wide and narrow sections. However, limited access to the area (which requires a UN guide) creates a barrier to efforts to repair any of the buildings located here. Interestingly, I learned from a ESR based in Nicosia that the border also restricts the movement of animals, so for example you cannot visit for the day and casually take your pet dog with you. It seemed strange to me to enforce such restrictions on an island with a single ecosystem where the large populations of stray cats, birds and other small mammals are constantly freely crossing the border.   Planning for the future Whether or not the city and the island are politically unified will undoubtedly influence house prices on both sides. The cost of living and rent is currently considerably cheaper on the Turkish-Cypriot side. Speaking with an ESR, who is also an economist, I was able to get a better understanding of the financial implications to the possibility of reunification. As housing is also considered a financial asset, there is incentive for developers and private individuals to buy properties in the historic centre whilst prices are low, in the hope of the value increasing with reunification. Therefore, capitalist motivations may also inadvertently have a shared interest in reunification efforts - particularly within the Walled Old City.   The summer school ended with the viewing of documentary film ‘Anamones’ followed by a discussion with architect Andri Tsiouti who collaborated on the production of the documentary. The film investigates the sociological impact of designing in starter bars (structural steel rods) protruding from the roofs of homes in Cyprus for “future use”. Interviews with parents who had the starter bars built had ‘speculated’ that their children would want to build an additional floor to live above their parents. This film included some light-hearted and humorous interviews with the young adult generation, the majority of whom expressed that they would prefer to live more independently and have more distance from their parents. This served to highlight the importance of knowing what the end-user needs are in the design process in housing, which is one of the key issues being explored by the RE-DWELL network.   Looking forward to Cyprus’ future, there are hopes for reconciliation with projects for cohesion also taking place in the form of social bi-communal events that include meetings, gatherings, and conversations for peace and reunification. I am keen to see how these architectural, urban, and social projects will be able to reshape the city of Nicosia and the island as a whole in a positive way in the years to come.   References Oktay, D. (2007) ‘An analysis and review of the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus, and new perspectives’, Geography, 92(3), pp. 231–247. doi: 10.1080/00167487.2007.12094203.   Bibliography

Author: A.Davis (ESR1)

Summer schools, Reflections

Icon links-between-sustainability-and-bim

Links between sustainability and BIM

Posted on 10-12-2021

The Lisbon workshop not only facilitated training activities, but it was also the first opportunity to finally meet the fellow Early-Stage Researchers in person after 3 months of online encounters. During the 3-day workshop we were able to have fruitful conversations and some lively debates ranging from the use of the term ‘vulnerable people’, to how to ethically carry out community-led projects in practice, to intersectionality. Activities included a roundtable discussion, lectures, and site visits to the Boavista eco-neighbourhood and self-build housing in Marvila to name a few. These provided different lenses with which to view a holistic sustainable approach such as more intangible social aspects, as well as ways to digitally support and represent this information.   Discussions about BIM Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a methodology that focuses on emerging technology to parametrically model and operate building information within a digital platform (Love et al., 2013). BIM will play a crucial role in the future of housing to be able to measure and meet sustainability targets through improved energy and resource efficiency throughout the entire lifespan of a building. We had two lectures which focused on BIM, one given by Miguel Pires from construction company Grupo Casais and another by Miguel Azenha from Minho University in Portugal. Grupo Casais’ lecture gave valuable insights into how BIM software is currently being used within industry. Miguel Azenha’s lecture provided a methodological perspective covering standardisation and circularity, according to whom standardisation is affecting BIM and influencing the way people in construction are using information. In addition, circular economy principles are implicit to the concept of BIM and support the feasibility for Design for Deconstruction (DfD). Interestingly, BIM was also described as object-oriented modelling, in which even voids are modelled as objects. This lead me question how can ‘intangible’ social sustainability factors (such as health and wellbeing of residents) also be represented in a BIM environment which is object oriented?   Social sustainability and impact on communities As mentioned, the workshop included visits to neighbourhoods in Lisbon that had incorporated sustainability and affordability into their design, including a visit to Boavista (a new sustainable neighbourhood providing rented social housing) led by architect Miguel Brito from Lisbon municipality [1]. The homes in the completed and inhabited pilot neighbourhood were based on a modular design - though built using traditional construction techniques. Within the project, there was a focus on improving energy efficiency to reduce fuel bills, whilst upgrading and rehousing an existing community previously located only one road away. During the trip we were invited inside the homes on a small tour where we were able to talk with residents and find out what life is like in the new neighbourhood. Importantly, this pilot project provides the opportunity to address any design issues for the roll-out of the planned future neighbourhoods in Lisbon that will be based on the same design.   Another project which centred on dialogues with residents to foster community participation was informal settlement Terras da Costa (located 10km from Lisbon) presented by architect and urban researcher Joana Pestana Lages (Pestana Lages and Gouveia Braga, 2016). The informal settlement is home to a Cape-Verdean community that has lived in the area for decades. The municipality planned to rehouse the residents in a resettlement project, the social implications of which were discussed by Lages. The new housing solution had the potential to socially isolate residents as well having a negative economic impact, as some residents relied on the land to keep livestock as part of their livelihood. Conventional European housing therefore posed the potential to radically change the lives of the residents that would move into them. The numerous issues raised by Lages in the case of informal settlements and the human right for all to live and thrive in our cities (Harvey, 2003) is relevant across Europe. There are informal settlements in several member states currently under transformation in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including Cuñada Real in Madrid which is Europe’s largest informal settlement.   How to link social sustainability and BIM? Coming away from the workshop, I have been keen to ensure my own research project provides holistic solutions to sustainable and affordable housing in combination with ICTs such as BIM. The importance and challenges of incorporating social aspects of sustainability is represented by a growing body of research in Social Life Cycle Analysis (SLCA). This can be understood as a component of the “Triple Bottom Line” (TBL) model of sustainability which integrates environmental, economic, and social indicators. This can be achieved through using the corresponding methodologies of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) (environmental), Life Cycle Costing Analysis (LCCA) (economic), together with Social Life Cycle Analysis (SLCA) (social). BIM plays a key role in measuring and unifying these holistic indicators. This is important to document during the typical 50 to 60 years of a building’s lifespan to ensure that not only environmental targets are met, but to ensure a high quality of life for inhabitants. This information becomes even more crucial at the ‘beyond building life stage’ when housing is ultimately deconstructed and reused - long after the working lifetime of the original design team. These themes are currently being explored during the forming of my individual research project, in which I am investigating Industrialised Construction in connection with BIM and sustainability.   References Harvey, D. (2003) ‘The Right to the City’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27, pp. 939–941. doi: 10.1111/j.0309-1317.2003.00492.x. Love, P. E. D. et al. (2013) ‘From justification to evaluation: Building information modeling for asset owners’, Automation in Construction, 35, pp. 208–216. doi: 10.1016/j.autcon.2013.05.008. Pestana Lages, J. and Gouveia Braga, J. (2016) ‘There is Africa in Lisbon’, in Embodying difference in the discourse and practices of urban planning. Zurich, pp. 1–11. Available at:   Bibliography Further reading on BIM and object-oriented modelling: Van Nederveen, S., Beheshti, R. and Gielingh, W. (2010) ‘Modelling Concepts for BIM’, in Underwood, J. and Isikdag, U. (eds) Handbook of research on building information modelling and construction informatics: concepts and technologies. IGI Global Publishing, pp. 1–18. doi: 10.4018/978-1-60566-928-1.ch001.

Author: A.Davis (ESR1)

Workshops, Reflections

Icon holism


Posted on 08-12-2021

Holistic has definitely become one of the current slogans in policy, just like “it’s the economy, stupid” was during Clinton’s campaign in 1992. This new mantra of housing studies seems to be about the integration of a certain mix of socio-economic-environmental aspects. In this regard, holism may deliver a satisfactory umbrella term. However, does it really work as a research strategy? Is really the whole larger than its parts? Can we apprehend a whole without understanding its constituents?   Economists love to start academic papers by saying that housing, homeownership, in particular, is both a financial asset (a resource) and a consumption good (directly used by households). Thankfully, humanity has gone beyond neoclassical economics, and that includes economists. In a way, the totality of housing as a fact escapes any discipline since it is always nested in the next. As a house with its built components is incorporated into a market to become an asset, it also acquires meaning by providing ontological security to its inhabitants (Madden & Marcuse, 2016).   In fact, housing systems can be studied from myriad perspectives. As the documentary “Anamones” shows, steel bars protruding from a home can be the longing promise of secure housing and stronger family bonds with your offspring. Similarly, the new season of Netflix’s show Selling Sunset glosses over the social status that comes with real estate, while emphasising the psychological struggle of modern urban life in L.A. Indeed, housing is as much about feelings of safety and community as it is about wall cavity insulation and faux-brick veneers.   As researchers, we do not only perceive reality through various neutral inputs, we actively participate in the construction of our respective objects of study. Naturally, we pay more attention to those elements that are more relevant for our research questions – what some call observer dependency. Opposite to holism, we encounter reductionism, the epistemological position that the whole is nothing but a set of interacting fundamental parts. This is the position taken for example by Epstein and Axtell (1996), together with a series of complexity experts researching how societies work following sets of basic rules. In this vein, awareness of the limitations in our approaches enhances research outputs, does not hinder them. While keeping an eye on the total, let’s not forget that systems are usually made of understandable parts.   Epstein, J. M., & Axtell, R. (1996). Growing Artificial Societies. Social Science from the bottom-up. Brookings Institution. Madden, D., & Marcuse, P. (2016). In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis. Verso.

Author: A.Fernandez (ESR12)

Reflections, Summer schools

Icon croatian-housing-subsidies

Croatian Housing Subsidies

Posted on 04-12-2021

In 2017, Croatia implemented a new housing subsidy programme covering up to 50% of mortgage payments in the first four years, with a total amount not higher than 100.000 EUR. Recent economic evidence points to this policy having increased housing prices while being ineffective at raising the homeownership rate (Kunovac & Zilic, 2021).   Throughout this winter, during a secondment at CERANEO, I have undertaken a series of interviews with relevant stakeholders: civil servants, private financiers and politicians as well as descriptive data analysis from European and national sources to contextualise this subsidy within contemporary changes in the Croatian housing landscape and, more broadly, social policy.   In the short paper I’m currently writing with Croatian colleagues, I’ll mobilise evidence from economics, sociology and political science to address the role of housing in the reformulation of social policy in the Croatian transition.   Kunovac, D., & Zilic, I. (2021). The effect of housing loan subsidies on affordability: Evidence from Croatia. Journal of Housing Economics.

Author: A.Fernandez (ESR12)


Icon the-case-study-decoder

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: [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: [Accessed].

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)


Icon ws1-the-first-brick-has-been-cast

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: [Accessed October 2021].

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)


Icon unmethodical-foreplay

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 Kandt, J., & Batty, M. (2021). "cities, big data and urban policy: Towards urban analytics for the long run." Cities, 109. 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.

Author: A.Fernandez (ESR12)


Icon we-might-think-we-are-helping-but-through-sustainability-lens-we-might-not

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

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4)

Workshops, Reflections

Icon lisbon-as-an-all-round-learning-experience

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)





Conferences (6)

Secondments (5)

Summer schools (2)

Workshops (19)


Articles (0)

Papers (0)

Posters (0)

Other Categories

Case Study (0)

Reflections (16)


Mahmoud Alsaeed (6)

Tijn Croon (3)

Annette Davis (4)

Aya Elghandour (3)

Alex Fernandez (5)

Saskia Furman (2)

Marko Horvat (3)

Anna Martin (0)

Carolina Martín (1)

Andreas Panagidis (2)

Androniki Pappa (2)

Leonardo Ricaurte (3)

Effrosyni Roussou (1)

Zoe Tzika (2)

Christophe Verrier (1)