Network members activities
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The wave of participation: bottom-up and top-down

Posted on 28-07-2022

Last month I had the chance to participate at the conference 'Nature for inclusive Urban Regeneration' organised by URBINAT in Milan. I was very pleased to present my working paper ‘Commoning (in) the Neighbourhood, Righting the City’ and discuss a definition of the Right to the City (R2C) through commoning and the role of the state in this discourse, looking at the case of Lisbon.   The first formulation of R2C dates back to 1960’s Henry Lefebvre (1996), but since then it has been a highly discussed topic and one of the main ideas reclaimed by emancipatory practices and practitioners, including the urban commoners. So, while the definition of the R2C through bottom-up commoning activities in the neighbourhoods clearly entails representations of collective struggles of communities to reclaim the urban value (Borch & Kornberger, 2015), there is a debate among theorists on the role of the state in these negotiations. In other words, the question that emerges is: Can the R2C and commoning be seen in terms of existing state and market principals? Possibly oversimplifying Huron’s (2018) analysis of two antithetical positions by anticapitalists on the one hand and institutionalists on the other, the response would be ‘no’ and ‘yes’ respectively.   Yet, exploring what lies between binary responses, I would argue, can also reveal radical alternatives. This consideration arose in my research explorations already since our RE-DWELL very first training activity back in September 2021, namely the Lisbon Workshop. There, during a highly engaging open discussion on participatory processes among Early-Stage Researchers, supervisors and representatives from our non-academic partners, Miguel Brito from the Municipality of Lisbon illustrated the notions of bottom-up and top-down initiated participatory processes as a wave. I spent days reflecting on the strength of this expressive image. What does it offer to conceptualise top-down and bottom-up initiated participation, or in extrapolation other emancipatory practices, such as commoning and the R2C, as a wave and what does this meeting serve?   The urgency for this encounter relates to the transformation of knowledge from static, siloed and self-referential that contributes to the preservation of the existing power structures, to dynamic flow between grassroots informal urbanisation and top-down formal urbanisation that can produce new strategies in research and practice. In this way, as Melanie Dodd (2019) explains, in one direction we must consider the ways in which urban activism can transform institutional structures and produce new kinds of institutions; on the other direction, ways that institutional resources can reach disadvantaged sites and transform unhealthy norms ingraining creative intelligence in informal dynamics.   Arguably, these knowledge flows need to be curated until the two notions reach a balance, in which communities remain committed to practicing their R2C and formal urban planning allows for real synergies and transformations to emerge. Until then, a great challenge remains. How to facilitate such dialogues without abandoning one’s radical values or serving unintentionally co-optation agendas?     References   Borch, C., & Kornberger, M. (2015). Urban commons: Rethinking the city. Routledge.    Dodd, M. (2019). Spatial practices: Modes of action and engagement with the city. Taylor & Francis.   Huron, A. (2018). Carving Out the Commons: Tenant Organizing and Housing Cooperatives in Washington, D.C. 1 edn. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press.   Lefebvre, H. (1996). The Right to the City. In E. Lebas, Elizabeth, Kofman (Ed.), Writings on Cities (Vol. 53, Issue 2, p. 260). Mass, USA Blackwell Publishers.

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)

Conferences, Reflections, Workshops

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It's Pride Month! Let's talk about queering housing economics

Posted on 05-06-2022

It’s pride month and we queers get to celebrate our identity. That is, unless we are in one of the 71 countries that still criminalise homosexuality. In fact, in 11 of them not being straight can get you executed. But hey, you don’t need to go to Uganda to get killed for being gay, just going out with your friends can end up with you getting beaten to death as it happened to a 23-year-old last year in my home region. [1]   At least our cheesy teenager romcoms are better, just like Hearstopper on Netflix has proven to the whole world once again. That being said, I’m not here to (just) shame all the straight readers and celebrate queer culture alone. I have something to say about housing economics. Because economics is queer. This is not only because Keynes, the father of macroeconomics whose birthday is today, was a queer himself (and a Gemini) but because economic inequalities affect sexual minorities harder.  But enough about Keynes's hook-up list which proves that gay sex was already ubiquitous even before Grindr. [2]   I want to draw your attention to some facts. The charity AKT reports that as many as 24% of young (aged 16 to 25) homeless people in the UK are LGBT+. This is a more than worrisome figure given queers are less than 10% of the population. Abuse, poverty and exclusion are still the daily realities of many a queer youth. Please have a look at their latest report here. [3] [4] [5]   However, the discrimination of queer people is not only tangible in homelessness but permeates housing provision tout court. According to research by Freddie Mac, the government agency tasked with expanding the secondary market for mortgages in the US, LGBT ownership lags behind the general population. 49% of LGBT community members are likely to own a home, considerably lower than the current national rate (64.3).  Gays and lesbians are the most likely to own (52%) “while LGBT African-Americans (30 per cent) and LGBT Millennials (23 per cent) were the least likely to be homeowners.” [6]   Homeownership has come to occupy a central role in wealth building and welfare provision, particularly for the middle classes and those well-off. This is a direct result of a set of housing policies, including mortgage interest deduction and lack of capital gain tax, often enacted by governments across the political spectrum. Problematising the distributional impact of these policies on queer households is paramount to the reformulation of housing provision.   You can now go click on Keyne’s hook-up list, which together with his latest biography by Zachary D. Carter is not to be missed.    [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Author: A.Fernandez (ESR12)


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Novel approaches to participation in planning

Posted on 11-05-2022

During my recent secondment at the University of Reading, School of Architecture I was lucky enough to participate in the Urban Room, part of the Community Consultation for Quality of Life (CCQoL) research project in the UK.[i] The ongoing research project is taking place during the development of four pilot projects in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and brings together community groups, academic researchers, industry partners and local authorities, with the aim of improving the process of community consultation (CC) in planning. In Reading, it was a great opportunity to see how the issues mentioned above were being tackled “on the ground” so to speak, where local community groups were given a real space to meet and discuss important local issues.   During my experience of the Urban Room, I found the process of mapping social value combined with face-to-face engagement particularly important tools placed in the hands of citizens as much as experts in understanding and enhancing social value when undertaking processes of community consultation. The co-design of maps emphasises how people can have their say in creating a resource of local knowledge aimed at revealing the hidden attributes that benefit communities. As the map began to be populated with responses, I noticed how people’s feelings, now spatially strewn across different parts of the city, became a process of learning about and connecting with each other. Concurrently, the opportunity for people to casually meet in physical space has proven that face-to-face encounter still is incredibly necessary.   Both processes have indicated how important it can be to have control and power to take decisions collectively, rather than individually, as other researchers have noted.[ii] In focus group discussions, it has been made clear by community representatives that in real community consultation processes the community needs to there from the beginning as much as possible, pointing to the need for transparency, and for taking the “peoples’ pace”, highlighting the need for patience. These observations come in a time of rapid technological innovation and adoption of digital mediums both in data collection, consultation, design and visualisation, related to planning decisions that influence the development of quality of life in housing and neighbourhoods.   Recently, public-private partnerships in the development of housing and neighbourhoods seem to be growing but the methods of participation in planning that focus on the needs and aspirations of communities are just beginning to be updated. The processes of collaborative decision-making by involving communities directly and from the early stages have become increasingly important in the built environment disciplines. Yet, physical, technocratic design concerns seem to be dominant and perhaps easier to evaluate than the accumulated complexity of interactions that make social value at the neighbourhood scale. The integration of a set of social participation- with design-oriented guidelines is necessary.   A growing interest is observed in Urban Living labs (ULLs) as a physical setting and a methodology, with more emphasis placed on real-life settings of experimentation and collaboration between different stakeholders. Collaborative knowledge production and citizen-driven innovation in urban sustainability transitions is often prioritised. ULLs focused on innovation in urban planning processes, are being defined by the term City Labs.[iii] The influential research currently underway on community engagement in Urban Rooms is an exciting and promising trajectory for innovation in participatory planning that shares aspects of the ULLs/City Labs by involving communities, built environment professionals and local councils in collaborative and interactive arrangements. Perhaps the ULLs/City Labs approach, as an extension of the Urban Room concept, presents the opportunity of placing more emphasis on experimentation, involving new tools and methods that enhance participation and lead to co-creation of social value at the neighbourhood level.           [i] [ii] [iii] Scholl, C., & Kemp, R. (2016). City labs as vehicles for innovation in urban planning processes. Urban Planning, 1(4), 89-102.

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)


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Rebuild 2022 Madrid | The foundations are set for a promising construction industry

Posted on 03-05-2022

In a rapidly changing world where the world’s urban population is increasing by 200,000 people per day and the global carbon emissions of the construction sector are 30%, there is a pressing need to provide an affordable and sustainable housebuilding industry. The integration of modern innovative techniques in the construction sector can allow the rise of productivity and a higher democratisation of the built environment, having a direct impact on global economic, environmental, and societal issues. The Rebuild 2022 Conference that took in Madrid was an exciting event centred in how to boost the construction industry through innovation, circularity, and private-public investment. I found interesting to see the varied perspectives from different stakeholders of the construction business from construction companies, suppliers and fabricators to public entities, developers, architects, and software designers. All of them showed their particular response to the challenges the sector is undergoing from their own experience. Nevertheless, their different approaches converged in the necessity to increase the optimisation of processes, the required collaboration between all stakeholders and the need to embrace a full digitisation of the construction industry. The main topics discussed during the three-day conference were industrialisation, digitisation, and sustainability.   Industrialisation In order to meet the demand that the construction industry requires, we cannot continue building in a traditional way. An industrialisation of the business is needed to achieve the scalability of solutions and the adoption of lean construction methods. It is necessary to unify the architecture design with the constructive process from the initial stages. The selection of the MMC (Modern Method of Construction) and the logistics will have an influence on the design. Therefore, it is essential to invite the contractor, engineers and fabricators to collaborate with the developer and design team from the beginning to allow for an integrated project delivery and to optimise the manufacturing process. Most of the companies working in the housebuilding industry agreed that a system based on 2D components prefabricated off-site was the most effective currently, as it allowed for greater flexibility while at the same time reduced the construction time and minimised errors, keeping the transportation costs lower than with 3D elements. A few companies advocated that the use of 3D elements was beneficial when the room was a very compact one (e.g. bathrooms) and there were a high number of identical instances (e.g. hospitality industry).   Digitisation The fourth industrial revolution has accelerated dramatically the productivity in other industrial sectors, as the automotive, naval or aerospace, while in the construction sector the levels of automation are generally still low. In these industries, the use of the digital twin is the main driver of development and continuous learning. Several industry professionals pointed out that the lack of digital implementation in the construction industry has been one of the reasons why industrialised construction has not been broadly implemented in multi-family housing yet in Spain. Construction has always been a collaborative practice but without an adequate digitisation, it will remain fragmented. New innovations in technology should be implemented into the housebuilding industry as an added value to the sector and to the user. Some examples that could help in the digitisation of the industry would be the use of digital twins, allowing for traceability and monitoring throughout the design and construction process, increasing precision and minimising waste; the use of BIM as a design tool, data collector and collaborative environment, being able to give precise quantities and pricing from initial design stages, avoiding important price variations; or the introduction of automation and robotics to substitute manual labour in repetitive and dangerous activities.   Sustainability Decarbonization, net-zero buildings, and the use of wood as a circular material were some of the hot topics on the sustainability agenda. Likewise, the evaluation of LCCA (Life Cycle Cost Analysis)  and LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) have become vital to be able to make the right choices from the beggining. Sustainability, innovation, and technology are essential to overcome obsolescence, but to do so it is necessary to monitor the consumption throughout the entire building’s lifespan. In the race against climate change, wood is gaining greater support in the Spanish construction industry. A sector that has been for decades strongly defined by its concrete production, is starting to become aware of the advantages of building with circular materials. The industry has not only recognized that wood is a renewable material that retains heat, absorbs CO2, lasts longer, and can be recycled, but as well that it has a positive effect on the user’s physical and mental health, improving their wellbeing. Important housing developers are planning to reduce the CO2 emissions by 80% in their ongoing projects by using hybrid construction in wood, by increasing their level of industrialisation, and by improving their digitisation. Construtech companies are offering end-to-end services using platforms that integrate through technology all the stakeholders in a sustainable supply chain.   The construction sector has opened their eyes to realize what architects have been pursuing for a century. A user-centric approach where the wellbeing, passive design criteria and the planet are key in the decision-making. With the difference that today we have the technology and innovation to accept these challenges in an efficient way, monitoring and measuring our progress to take firm steps towards a more environmental, societal, and economic sustainability.   The Rebuild 2022 Conference showcased that the construction sector is in an exciting moment of transformation. The industry has laid the foundations to progress into a more industrialised, collaborative, efficient, and technological sector, to be able to offer sustainable and democratic quality housing at an affordable price.

Author: C.Martín (ESR14)


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Bridging research and practice during secondment at Clarion

Posted on 08-04-2022

One of the main objectives of transdisciplinary research is the collaboration between academics and practitioners in trying to solve societal issues. This approach is particularly welcome in the field of fuel poverty[1], as the key role of housing associations generally remains overlooked while a significant share of their tenants cannot afford domestic energy services. In addition, the body of scholarship on fuel poverty measurement has grown rapidly, but its use in practice has hardly been addressed (Bouzarovski, Thomson, & Cornelis, 2021). During my secondment at the research department of Clarion, the UK’s biggest housing association, I have tried to explore and combat these mismatches.   Ever since Brenda Boardman (1991) wrote her famous work on fuel poverty, the UK has been at the forefront of the policy agenda (Middlemiss, 2017). It also has the longest tradition of relevant research with almost a third of scientific publications up to date authored by UK scholars (Xiao, Wu, Wang, & Mei, 2021). In my view, this knowledge advantage is also reflected by the fact that professionals in all walks of the organisation were fully acquainted with the term and Clarion’s predecessor Affinity Sutton had already developed its first ‘fuel poverty vulnerability indicator’ back in 2013. Together with my peers, I examined whether and, if so, how the vulnerability indicator could be aligned and adapted to the latest scientific findings, recent regulatory changes, and daily operations.   Encouraged by my supervisor Dr Elanor Warwick, I started my secondment reaching out to as many new colleagues as possible. This resulted in dozens of very engaging informal conversations that helped me a lot, not only in my investigation for Clarion, but certainly also in my wider academic exploration. I believe these practical insights will steer my research trajectory to a more impactful course. Field visits to Wisbech and Tonbridge, where Clarion’s whole house retrofits are co-financed by the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Demonstrator, introduced me to day-to-day operations on the ground. The measures consisted of applying triple glazing, external wall and loft insulation, as well as environmentally friendly technologies such as air source heat pumps, solar panels and centralised mechanical ventilation. Besides reduction of carbon emissions, the upgrade will save tenants between £300 and £500 on fuel bills each year (savings will be much higher with the current price peaks).   After six weeks of informal interviews with professionals about the targeting of retrofits, practical barriers in home improvement and energy advice for tenants, I felt that I reached a satisfactory degree of saturation. Gradually it had become clearer that although the vulnerability indicator was very holistic, methodologically innovative, and had provided valuable insights into the fuel poverty experienced by tenants in 2013, its use in practice was limited. In my view, there are various possible explanations for this, amongst which the following: 1.) the used formula was not exactly intuitive and understandable for the end-user, which could have impeded take-up; 2.) heavy weighting of some variables was difficult to justify due to data quality concerns; 3.) low-scale results (preferably building block level) were not easily accessible.   To improve interpretability across the organisation, I suggested to differentiate the vulnerability indicator into two different ones: one easy-to-understand binary indicator based on income and energy efficiency and thus aligned with the LILEE indicator of the Department of BEIS (2022), and one more holistic scale indicator that would also take into account socio-demographic and health characteristics. The results of the binary indicator would be suitable for monitoring and external reporting but could also inform retrofit decision-making, especially when bidding for public funding schemes. On the other hand, the scale indicator promised be an appropriate tool to flag specific households for interventions from the energy guidance team and neighbourhood response officers or for extended support during retrofit works.   To enhance reliability, I recommended the research team to include an indicative proxy question on fuel poverty in the next annual survey. During my secondment I conducted statistical analyses on data from the last conducted survey, and found that the question “How easy do you find it to keep your home at a comfortable temperature?” came closest. However, a more unequivocal alternative would be the question asked to respondents all across Europe by Eurostat (2021): “Can you afford to heat your home?” This way, the response relates directly to affordability, and cannot be interpreted differently (like the user-friendliness of the thermostat). While surveyed responses in the context of fuel poverty remain culturally biased (Thomson, Bouzarovski, & Snell, 2017), comparing the results from both indicators with the perception among those tenants would increase their validity. Together with other qualitative techniques this would also advance the understanding of lived experiences of tenants in fuel poverty.   To conclude, I think the secondment component is one of the greatest things about MSCA-ITNs, because they smoothly blend research and practice together. My future research direction has altered for the better because of my experiences at Clarion, and at the same time I have been able to share academic insights early on in my doctoral programme. Therefore, I am delighted to keep working with Clarion on these topics in the coming months and years, as I will be assisting the team in drafting an updated fuel poverty strategy and will return to London later this year for a comparative focus group study.   [1] Since the term ‘fuel poverty’ is common in the UK, I prefer to use it in this context. Across mainland Europe the term ‘energy poverty’ is increasingly used.     References   BEIS. (2022). Methodology handbook LILEE with projection. Retrieved from   Boardman, B. (1991). Fuel Poverty: From Cold Homes to Affordable Warmth. London: Pinter Pub Limited.   Bouzarovski, S., Thomson, H., & Cornelis, M. (2021). Confronting Energy Poverty in Europe: A Research and Policy Agenda. Energies, 14(4). doi:10.3390/en14040858   Eurostat. (2021). Can you afford to heat your home? [Press release]. Retrieved from   Middlemiss, L. (2017). A critical analysis of the new politics of fuel poverty in England. Critical Social Policy, 37(3), 425-443.   Thomson, H., Bouzarovski, S., & Snell, C. (2017). Rethinking the measurement of energy poverty in Europe: A critical analysis of indicators and data. Indoor Built Environ, 26(7), 879-901. doi:10.1177/1420326X17699260   Xiao, Y., Wu, H., Wang, G., & Mei, H. (2021). Mapping the Worldwide Trends on Energy Poverty Research: A Bibliometric Analysis (1999-2019). Int J Environ Res Public Health, 18(4). doi:10.3390/ijerph18041764

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)


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Community participation in the provision of affordable and sustainable housing | discussing inclusion/exclusion

Posted on 05-04-2022

The third RE-DWELL network-wide activity took place in Budapest, at the Centre for Social Sciences. Each one of the network activities falls under a specific thematic, indicating where the focus of each of our common activities would be. The first two - the Lisbon workshop and the Nicosia summer school-, were revolving around the area of ‘design, planning, and building’ while the next two - Budapest's workshop and the upcoming Valencia summer school- will focus on ‘community participation’.   Community participation in housing provision is pursued by communities eager to build housing that fits their needs, values, and desires. This can manifest itself in material terms, understanding housing as a physical space that should meet economic demands, long-term affordability, or spatial configurations that address the needs of their dwellers. Parallelly, through the active participation of the communities, broader concepts are also being addressed, such as environmental and social sustainability. The entanglement of those two concepts has to be defined by each community, encompassing their habits, practices, and modes of living and having as a final aim their individual and collective wellbeing.   We participated in a roundtable about “Community participation in the provision of affordable and sustainable housing” with experts from the field, Jenny Pickerill, professor of environmental geography and head of the department of geography at the University of Sheffield, and Richard Lang, professor of social enterprise and innovative regions at Bertha von Suttner University in Austria. The discussion revolved around cooperative housing in  UK and Austria. Both countries are considered to be at the forefront in the provision of cooperative housing in Europe. However, they are different contexts of study, in terms of socio-cultural, political, and legal frameworks. Austria appears to have a more supportive institutional environment compared to the UK, coming from a long tradition of accommodating different groups, such as immigrants, into the cooperative housing schemes.   A central issue within this field is the question of the inclusion of cooperative housing schemes and their institutionalisation. Are these models accessible for people with fewer resources (economic, social, cultural) or are they reproducing the existing power configurations (economic and social status), silencing inequalities, and excluding certain social groups? To arrive at conclusions, it is important to understand how cooperative housing emerges in different contexts, which are the objectives and motivations behind it? Who ends up living in these places? and most importantly, do they finally provide an affordable alternative to housing for the local population of a specific area?   We encounter two broad categories for the creation of cooperative housing; the first refers to self-initiated groups that make decisions based on consensus, adopting often self-built approaches. The initial group could either have a ‘closed’ composition, maintaining its homogeneity, or reach out to the local population for joining the cooperative. However, a recurring question is: does anyone have the same right to access these groups of housing co-creation? Another question is if different groups receive the same recognition, institutional support, and security regarding their housing conditions, or if when entering the institutional framework certain groups are being favoured at the expense of others.   The second category refers to the promotion of cooperative housing that is being intermediated by organisations, such as housing or non-profit associations. These foster and facilitate communities to actively participate in forming and self-managing their housing. The intermediate organisations facilitate the processes by supporting the groups in diverse ways, such as finding potential members, providing legal and managerial support, etc. Thus, understanding whose voices are been heard each time in both trajectories of cooperative housing provision is a way to assess how inclusive they are.   Typically, members of the cooperative groups often appear to have a certain social, cultural, and economic status; groups of white, well-educated people with social capital and skills. Many groups struggle with that as they are socially conscious and want to reconfigure the power dynamics and inequalities in accessing housing. However, as the challenges of social justice are more complex to address, many cooperative projects end up focusing on environmental goals that are easier to meet than the social and economic inequalities. Therefore, it is important to realize: Who is excluded from cooperative housing processes? Who has been excluded intentionally or unintentionally?   The term reflexivity was often mentioned in the discussion, referring to collective practices of self-reflection about the participants' positionalities, authorities, verbalisation skills, experience, and values. As people often come with different resources in the process of co-creating cooperative housing, a way to take this into account is to create various levels of participation, making it less demanding for people that do not have the same time or economic capacity. In this way, the collaboration factor would be present, being aware of the importance of redistributing knowledge and resources.

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

Workshops, Reflections

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Energy efficiency renovation of buildings in Croatia

Posted on 24-03-2022

Around 90% of Croatians are homeowners. Homeownership was catalysed by the “give-away” privatisation in the beginning of 1990s, and it slowly became a part of mainstream investment choices for many Croats. Due to a lack of financialisation and investment incentives, a house or an apartment is seen as a potential investment whose intrinsic value will only increase, and is suitable for passing on to next generations. The potential lack of liquidity of the housing market never hampered the enthusiasm of investment in housing.  However, with ownership comes responsibilities in terms of asset maintenance. Within the HESC project (Quality of living in the Housing Estates of the socialist and post-socialist era: a comparative analysis between Slovenia and Croatia), a survey was conducted among apartment representatives of 353 buildings in four large Croatian cities. Many apartment owners who live in socialist built buildings (built between 1945 and 1990) are overall satisfied with the quality of that building. However, these buildings need substantial upkeep and renovation in terms of energy efficiency improvement, which proves to be costly, whilst many of the residents are not united and willing to bear the cost of renovation.  This was the topic of today's public discussion organised by the HESC project, bringing together the main stakeholders involved in this issue, including the relevant ministry, local administration, funds, academics and agencies from the top and owners representatives from the bottom.  Issues that prevent a large-scale renovation is the lack of funds that is secured by the ministry and a lack of willingness of households to invest their own funds. Funds secured by the government could cater to only 1 in 12 buildings that apply for the grant by the ministry (60% of the total investment), and households who do not get the funding from the ministry often are not willing or do not have sufficient funds to fund the renovation themselves. Moreover, it seems that the general condition of the buildings is sought to be improved by the ministry’s funding programme, not only targeting energy efficiency in terms of energy consumption and emissions.  Some of the proposed solutions by the participants were reducing the bureaucracy of the application process for the funds issued by the ministry, introduction of subsidies for supply side, i.e. construction materials etc., establishment of a national buildings registry, other funding opportunities provided by publicly owned banks, and subsidies for funding the documentation needed to apply for the funds, that needs to be repeated every funding cycle.   

Author: M.Horvat (ESR6)

Conferences, Workshops

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ESRs visit to the Casais Group in Portugal

Posted on 09-03-2022

Blog post written collectively with Aya Elghandour and Carolina Martín   Last month three Early-Stage Researchers (Aya, Carolina and Annette) visited project partners the Casais Group in Braga, Portugal. Casais is an international construction company founded in Portugal with experience in several sectors, including housing. Casais have been integrating Industrialised Construction in the delivery of their projects, which includes the creation of their off-site BluFab factory in Braga.   Casais established BluFab in 2019 and since then they have been optimising their design and manufacturing processes to build more sustainable, precise and cost-efficient projects. Aware of the current affordable housing shortages, they are developing optimisation tools using digital technologies to gradually increase their level of industrialisation to enhance productivity, minimise delays, and improve scalability. The company is invested in improving the sustainability of their projects through training staff in Green Building assessments to monitor projects in-house, as well as using Industrialised Construction methods such as pods and panelisation. Casais aims to automate processes and use the latest tools and technology in a seamless way together with the other stakeholders involved in the delivery of housing.    One of their current challenges lies in finding the best way to utilise ICT tools such as BIM to achieve an effective knowledge transfer between the different design and manufacturing stages. This matter is also tightly linked with the possibility to mass customise housing to attain a personalised and adaptable building stock. We believe the collaboration between the ESRs and Casais will be key in finding the right balance between the level of variety offered and the need to adopt an economy of scale, using Industrialised Construction methods and BIM to provide affordable and sustainable housing solutions.     In the context of Housing Life Cycle Costs, discussions with the Casais team were very fruitful to reveal practical aspects of current construction issues in Europe and their approach to tackle them. For instance, one of the most challenging aspects facing construction in Portugal is the lack of skilled labour, which is expected to worsen in the following years. Another issue is the costs that must be paid to the municipality per day for occupying the street and disturbance around the construction site. Therefore, Casais are working on finding innovative ways to overcome these challenges by industrialising the process. These industrialised solutions, which includes off-site construction of building elements in their factory and transporting them to the construction site, save a lot of time and money and mitigates risks!    With the huge housing demand in Portugal and the need to design and construct sustainably, it is vital for the industry to respond to these challenges in line with the latest research. Therefore, the collaboration between Casais and RE-DWELL’s Early-Stage Researchers aims to contribute to further developing industrialised construction solutions, understanding the market needs, and communicating these with design teams. We look forward to continuing to develop our projects with Casais.

Author: A.Davis (ESR1)


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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)


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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)


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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)


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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)

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