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Marmalade Lane

Created on 06-06-2022 | Updated on 08-06-2022

Marmalade Lane is a pioneering cohousing scheme in Cambridge, England. Completed in 2018, this award-winning project is the first of its kind built in the city and has received great coverage and attention due to its development process, design features, community involvement and management organisation. Originally outlined as part of the Orchard Park masterplan, a housing-led mixed-use development in the Cambridge northern fringe, it remained unbuilt after the developer, originally chosen by the council, pulled off due to the 2008 financial crisis aftermath. The K1 plot, as it was labelled initially in the plan, would be later on allocated to a cohousing group, favoured by the initiative of the local council to support self-build housing developments.   
The community is composed of 42 homes that range from one to five-bedroom housing typologies, including terraced houses and apartments. The scheme is arranged around a pedestrianised lane that gives the name to the community and a courtyard reserved only for residents. Likewise, the common house, a fundamental piece that articulates the social and shared life of Marmalade Lane’s inhabitants, is placed in one of the corners of the courtyard; a design decision that facilitates its connection with the rest of the site and interweaves the overlapping levels of privacy of the immediate urban fabric.
This project is an inspiring example of collaboration between a local authority, socially engaged developers and an empowered group of people that embarked on an unorthodox pathway to produce an energy-efficient housing scheme that fosters neighbourliness and cooperation as a key aspect of everyday life.

Mole Architects, TOWN, Trivselhus

Cambridge, United Kingdom

Project (year)
2015 - 2017

Construction (year)

Housing type
Cohousing, 42 homes (houses and apartments)

Urban context

Construction system
Industrialised timber-framed closed panels




An aspect that is worth highlighting of Marmalade Lane, the biggest cohousing community in the UK and the first of its kind in Cambridge, is the unusual series of events that led to its realisation. In 2005 the South Cambridgeshire District Council approved the plan for a major urban development in its Northwest urban fringe. The Orchard Park was planned in the area previously known as Arbury Park and envisaged a housing-led mix-use master plan of at least 900 homes, a third of them planned as affordable housing. The 2008 financial crisis had a profound impact on the normal development of the project causing the withdrawal of many developers, with only housing associations and bigger developers continuing afterwards. This delay and unexpected scenario let plots like the K1, where Marmalade Lane was erected, without any foreseeable solution. At this point, the city council opened the possibilities to a more innovative approach and decided to support a Cohousing community to collaboratively produce a brief for a collaborative housing scheme to be tendered by developers.

Involvement of users and other stakeholders  

The South Cambridgeshire District Council, in collaboration with the K1 Cohousing group, ventured together to develop a design brief for an innovative housing scheme that had sustainability principles at the forefront of the design. Thus, a tender was launched to select an adequate developer to realise the project. In July 2015, the partnership formed between Town and Trivselhus ‘TOWNHUS’ was chosen to be the developer. The design of the scheme was enabled by Mole Architects, a local architecture firm that, as the verb enable indicates, collaborated with the cohousing group in the accomplishment of the brief. The planning application was submitted in December of the same year after several design workshop meetings whereby decisions regarding interior design, energy performance, common spaces and landscape design were shared and discussed.

The procurement and development process was eased by the local authority’s commitment to the realisation of the project. The scheme benefited from seed funding provided by the council and a grant from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). The land value was set on full-market price, but its payment was deferred to be paid out of the sales and with the responsibility of the developer of selling the homes to the K1 Cohousing members. Who, in turn, were legally bounded to purchase and received discounts for early buyers.

As relevant as underscoring the synergies that made Marmalade Lane’s success story possible, it is important to realise that there were defining facts that might be very difficult to replicate in order to bring about analogue housing projects. Two major aspects are securing access to land and receiving enough support from local authorities in the procurement process. In this case, both were a direct consequence of a global economic crisis and the need of developing a plot that was left behind amidst a major urban development plan.

Innovative aspects of the housing design

Spatially speaking, the housing complex is organised following the logic of a succession of communal spaces that connect the more public and exposed face of the project to the more private and secluded intended only for residents and guests. This is accomplished by integrating a proposed lane that knits the front and rear façades of some of the homes to the surrounding urban fabric and, therefore, serves as a bridge between the public neighbourhood life and the domestic everyday life. The cars have been purposely removed from the lane and pushed into the background at the perimeter of the plot, favouring the human scale and the idea of the lane as a place for interaction and encounters between residents. A design decision that depicts the community’s alignment with sustainable practices, a manifesto that is seen in other features of the development process and community involvement in local initiatives.

The lane is complemented by numerous and diverse places to sit, gather and meet; some of them designed and others that have been added spontaneously by the inhabitants offering a more customisable arrangement that enriches the variety of interactions that can take place. The front and rear gardens of the terraced houses contiguous to the lane were reduced in surface and remained open without physical barriers. A straightforward design decision that emphasises the preponderance of the common space vis-a-vis the private, blurring the limits between both and creating a fluid threshold where most of the activities unfold.

The Common House is situated adjacent to the lane and congregates the majority of the in-doors social activities in the scheme, within the building, there are available spaces for residents to run community projects and activities. They can cook in a communal kitchen to share both time and food, or organise cinema night in one of the multi-purpose areas. A double-height lounge and children's playroom incite gathering with the use of an application to organise easily social events amongst the inhabitants. Other practical facilities are available such as a bookable guest bedroom and shared laundry. The architecture of its volume stands out due to its cubic-form shape and different lining material that complements its relevance as the place to convene and marks the transition to the courtyard where complementary outdoor activities are performed. Within the courtyard, children can play without any danger and under direct supervision from adults, but at the same time enjoy the liberty and countless possibilities that such a big and open space grants.

Lastly, the housing typologies were designed to recognise multiple ways of life and needs. Consequently, adaptability and flexibility were fundamental targets for the architects who claim that units were able to house 29 different configurations. They are arranged in 42 units comprehending terraced houses and apartments from one to five bedrooms. Residents also had the chance to choose between a range of interior materials and fittings and one of four brick colours for the facade.

Construction and energy performance characteristics

Sustainability was a prime priority to all the stakeholders involved in the project. Being a core value shared by the cohousing members, energy efficiency was emphasised in the brief and influenced the developer’s selection. The Trivselhus Climate Shield® technology was employed to reduce the project’s embodied and operational carbon emissions. The technique incorporates sourced wood and recyclable materials into a timber-framed design using a closed panel construction method that assures insulation and airtightness to the buildings. Alongside the comparative advantages of reducing operational costs, the technique affords open interior spaces which in turn allow multiple configurations of the internal layout, an aspect that was harnessed by the architectural design. Likewise, it optimises the construction time which was further reduced by using industrialised triple-glazed composite aluminium windows for easy on-site assembly. Furthermore, the mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) system and the air source heat pumps are used to ensure energy efficiency, air quality and thermal comfort. Overall, with an annual average heat loss expected of 35kWh/m², the complex performs close to the Passivhaus low-energy building standard of 30kWh/m² (Merrick, 2019).

Integration with the wider community

It is worth analysing the extent to which cohousing communities interact with the neighbours that are not part of the estate. The number of reasons that can provoke unwanted segregation between communities might range from deliberate disinterest, differences between the cohousing group’s ethos and that one of the wider population, and the common facilities making redundant the ones provided by local authorities, just to name a few. According to testimonies of some residents contacted during a visit to the estate, it is of great interest for Marmalade Lane’s community to reach out to the rest of the residents of Orchard Park. Several activities have been carried out to foster integration and the use of public and communal venues managed by the local council. Amongst these initiatives highlights the reactivation of neglected green spaces in the vicinity, through gardening and ‘Do it yourself’ DIY activities to provide places to sit and interact. Nonetheless, some residents manifested that the area’s lack of proper infrastructure to meet and gather has impeded the creation of a strong community. For instance, the community centre run by the council is only open when hired for a specific event and not on a drop-in basis. The lack of a pub or café was also identified as a possible justification for the low integration of the rest of the community.

Marmalade Lane residents have been leading a monthly ‘rubbish ramble’ and social events inviting the rest of the Orchard Park community. In the same vein, some positive impact on the wider community has been evidenced by the residents consulted. One of them mentioned the realisation of a pop-up cinema and a barbecue organised by neighbours of the Orchard Park community in an adjacent park. Perhaps after being inspired by the activities held in Marmalade Lane, according to another resident.

Alignment with project research areas

This case study predominantly resonates with two of the research areas of the RE-DWELL project, i.e., ‘Design, planning and building’ and ‘Community participation.' Nonetheless, the ‘Policy and financing’ aspect was relatively significant during the procurement and commercialisation stages:

Design, planning and building (Highly related)

  • Collaboration between stakeholders permits the generation of synergies from the procurement and planning phases to the construction and management of the scheme
  • Architecture and landscape design aligned with strong sustainability criteria, targeting the reduction of embodied and operational carbon emissions.
  • Emphasis on the human scale experience and pedestrian flows over car-oriented urban design
  • The ‘Slack’ spaces, adaptability and flexibility in the design allow the inhabitants to shape their environment and accommodate different uses for private and common spaces.
  • Affordability is targeted through a rationalised design that privileges simple forms and the use of a prefabricated panel system to make construction less expensive. 

Community participation (Highly related)

  • The K1 Cohousing community participated from the inception of the project, closely collaborating with the local authority in the creation of the brief that developers would have to realise. At this point, sustainable living and community building were at the heart of the community members' ambitions, an aspect that was reflected in the design brief.
  • After the appointment of the developers, the community continued involved throughout the different stages of development actively participating in design meetings with architects and developers.
  • After the project was sold the ownership of land and common assets was transferred to the Cohousing group, which is responsible for managing the property.
  • The community has a non-hierarchical structure, each household has a representative and a stake in decision-making. Additional funds for the management and maintenance of shared spaces and community initiatives are funded by the group that works as a membership body.

Policy and financing (Moderately related)

  • The project received seed funding from the local council and a grant from the HCA.
  • The council allowed the deferral of the purchase of the land to be paid out of the sales revenue as units were handed over to the K1 Cohousing members, assuring the execution of the brief and aiding the cash flow of the operation.
  • Early buyers received a discount.

Design, planning and building

Community participation

Policy and financing

* This diagram is for illustrative purposes only based on the author’s interpretation of the above case study

Alignment with SDGs

1. No poverty: End poverty in all its forms everywhere (Target: 1.4)

The community secured access to and ownership of the land and property and is responsible for its management. (Moderately related)

2. Zero Hunger: Promote sustainable agriculture (Targets: 2.3; 2.4)

A parcel of the courtyard is dedicated to communal farming. (Moderately related)

3. Good health and well-being: Promote well-being for all at all ages (Targets: 3.4; 3.9)

The community fosters intergenerational shared living, encouraging people from different age groups to join, especially ageing population.

Air quality and thermal comfort through state-of-the-art ventilation systems. (Highly related)

7. Affordable and clean energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all (Targets: 7.1; 7.2; 7.3)  

Energy efficiency achieved is through construction methods, and operational and energy systems. (Highly related)

11. Sustainable cities and communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (Targets: 11.1; 11.3; 11.7; 11.B)

Sustainable living and community involvement with climate action. Initiatives like the community’s shared electric car and a cargo bike. (Highly related)

12. Sustainable consumption and production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns (Targets: 12.5; 12.7; 12.8)

Sustainability was a crucial part of the ethos of the design brief, guiding the procurement process. The community is fully engaged in encouraging sustainable living practices. (Highly related)

13 Climate action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (Targets: 13.2; 13.3)

Awareness-raising activities like the monthly ‘rubbish ramble’ organised by Marmalade Lane’s residents along with members of the wider community. (Highly related)


Bullivant, L. Marmalade Lane: cohousing for shared living in Cambridge. Urbanista. Retrieved 18 March 2022, from

Dove, C. (2020). Radical Housing: Designing multi-generational and co-living housing for all (1st ed.). RIBA Publishing.

Marmalade Lane - Cambridge’s first cohousing community. Retrieved 18 March 2022, from

Marmalade Lane Cohousing Development / Mole Architects. ArchDaily. (2019). Retrieved 18 March 2022, from

Merrick, J. (2019). Building study: Marmalade Lane cohousing by Mole Architects. The Architects’ Journal. Retrieved 18 March 2022, from

Mole Architects. Marmalade Lane - Mole Architects. Mole Architects. Retrieved 18 March 2022, from

South Cambridgeshire District Council. Orchard Park Design Guide. Retrieved 18 March 2022, from

Stephenson&. (2019). Marmalade Lane [Video]. Retrieved 18 March 2022, from

Stockley, P. (2019). Designing our own homes and building our own streets? This ambitious new-build housing model exists — here's how it works. Retrieved 18 March 2022, from

TOWN. Marmalade Lane CAMBRIDGE’S FIRST COHOUSING COMMUNITY.. Retrieved 18 March 2022, from

United Nations. THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development. Retrieved 18 March 2022, from

Wainwright, O. (2019). Marmalade Lane: the car-free, triple-glazed, 42-house oasis. the Guardian. Retrieved 18 March 2022, from

Related vocabulary


Community Empowerment

Participatory Approaches


Area: Community participation

In a broader sense, co-creation means the joint effort of bringing something new to fruition through acts of collective creativity (Sanders & Stappers, 2008) which can be manifested in both tangible (making something together) or intangible (learning something together) outcomes (Puerari et al., 2018). Recently, the concepts of co-creation or co- production have been applied to describe the processes of participation in urban planning and design. Both terms place particular emphasis on the partnerships formed between citizens and the public sector, in which a high level of citizen involvement is pivotal. Participation has been defined through its different levels of citizen involvement, ranging from non-participation to greater degrees of citizen control (Arnstein, 1969) indicating the different levels of influence a participant can have on a participatory process. From the perspective of urban planning, citizen participation is beginning to be described as co-creation when citizens’ roles become more prominent, presenting aspects of self-organisation, increased commitment and a sense of ownership of the process (Puerari et al., 2018). Recent research is exploring new methods of urban planning in which citizens, the municipality and private organisations co-create new planning rules (Bisschops & Beunen, 2019). However, co-creation along with co-production and participation, often used interchangeably, have become popular catchphrases and are considered as processes which are of virtue in themselves. Furthermore, while there is substantial research on these processes, the research conducted on the outcomes of enhanced participation remains rather limited (Voorberg et al., 2015). This highlights the ambiguity in terms of interpretation; is co-creation a methodology, a set of tools to enhance and drive a process, or a goal in itself? (Puerari et al., 2018). There have often been cases where participation, co-creation and co-production have been used decoratively, as a form of justification and validation of decisions already made (Armeni, 2016). In the provision of public spaces, co-creation/co-production may specifically involve housing (Brandsen & Helderman, 2012; Chatterton, 2016) and placemaking: “placemaking in public space implies engaging in the practice of urban planning and design beyond an expert culture. Such collaboration can be described as co-creation.” (Eggertsen Teder, 2019, p.290). As in participation, co-creation requires the sharing of decision-making powers, the creation of  joint knowledge and the assignation of abilities between communities, while urban professionals and local authorities should draw attention to the active involvement of community members. Furthermore, co-creation does not take place in a vacuum, but always occurs within socio- spatial contexts. This points to the objective of co-creation as a tool to influence locally relevant policy through innovation that is “place-based”. To conclude, co-creation can be perceived as a process that is both transdisciplinary in its application, and as a tool for achieving transdisciplinarity on a broader scale through a systematic integration in existing standard practices in urban planning, housing design and architecture. Despite the persisting ambiguity in its definition, co-creation processes can provide more inclusive platforms for revisiting and informing formal and informal knowledge on sustainable and affordable housing.

Created on 16-02-2022

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9), A.Panagidis (ESR8)


Area: Community participation

Community empowerment appears in the literature of participatory action research (Minkler, 2004), participatory planning (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018), and community development (Luttrell et al., 2009) as a key element of participatory practices, understanding it as a process that enables communities to take control of their lives and their environments (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Many argue that community participation becomes meaningless if it does not lead to, or pass through community empowerment. As the term is being used in diverse and ubiquitous ways, it runs the risk of ending up as an empty definition and a catch-all phrase (McLaughlin, 2015). It is therefore important to specify the perspective through which we will view the term and clarify the nuances.  Since its origins, empowerment has been used in two different ways. Firstly, top-down as the power that had been ‘granted’ by a higher authority, such as the state or a religious institution, and secondly, bottom-up, as a process by which groups or individuals come to develop the capacity to act and acquire power. Examples of the latter can be found in social groups such as feminists working in nongovernmental organizations throughout the global south in the 1970s, who found a way to address social issues and inequalities that enabled social transformation based on women’s self-organization (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). The term was gradually appropriated by welfare, neoliberal, and social-neoliberal agendas whose priority was individual agency and choice. In neoliberal rationality, empowerment is related to efficiency, economic growth, business productivity, and individual rational choice to maximize profit in a competitive market economy. In social liberalism agendas, empowerment is understood as ‘effective agency’, where ‘agency’ is not an inherent attribute, but something that needs to be constructed through ‘consciousness-raising’ (McLaughlin, 2016). A broader definition sees empowerment as a social action process through which individuals, communities, and organizations take control of their lives in the context of changing the social and political environment to improve equity and quality of life (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Rowlands (1997), refers to four types of empowerment: power over, as the ability to influence and coerce; power to, to organize and change existing hierarchies; power with, as the power from the collective action and power within, as the power from the individual consciousness. Using this classification, Biewener & Bacqué (2015), adopting a feminist approach, understand empowerment as a multilevel construct with three interrelated dimensions: 1) an internal, psychological one, where ‘power within’ and ‘power to’ are developed, 2) an organizational, where ‘power with’ and ‘power over’ are strengthened and 3) a social or political level, where institutional and structural change is made possible through collective action. Thus, community empowerment links the individual level, which involves self-determination, growth of individual awareness, and self-esteem, to the collective level, relating critical consciousness and capacity building with the structural level, where collective engagement and transformative social action take place. This view of empowerment, which considers its goals and processes, has a social dimension that is lacking in other approaches that prioritize individual empowerment. Aside from the feminist movements, the philosophy and practices of community empowerment have been greatly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and an advocate on critical pedagogy. Freire proposed a dialogic problem-solving process based on equality and mutual respect between students and teachers; that engaged them in a process of iterative listening-discussing-acting. Through structured dialogue, group participants shared their experiences, discussed common problems, and looked for root causes and the connections among “problems behind the problems as symptoms” (Freire, 1970). The term conscientization, that Freire proposed, refers to the consciousness that arises through the involvement of people in the social analysis of conditions and their role in changing them. This awareness enables groups to be reflexive and open spaces, to enact change or to understand those limited situations that may deter change (Barndt, 1989). Empowerment can be understood as both a process and an outcome (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018). As a process, it refers to “the development and implementation of mechanisms to enable individuals or groups to gain control, develop skills and test knowledge”(Harrison & Waite, 2015) and it entails the creation of new subjects who have developed a critical consciousness and the formation of groups with a ‘collective agency’ ‚ or ‘social collective identity’ (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). Empowerment as an outcome refers to “an affective state in which the individual or group feels that they have increased control, greater understanding and are involved and active” (Harrison & Waite, 2015). This can lead to a transformation of the social conditions by challenging the structures and institutionalized forms that reproduce inequalities. The values and the significance of community empowerment can be further applied in the participatory and community-based approaches of the housing sector. Examples of such approaches in the housing provision are the housing cooperatives, and self-developed and self-managed housing groups. Housing cooperatives aim at promoting co-creation to engage future residents, professionals, and non-profit organizations in all the stages of a housing project: problem-framing, designing, developing, cohabiting, managing, and maintaining. Such organisational models stress the importance and pave the way for community empowerment by uniting individuals with similar interests and ideals, enabling them to have housing that responds to their needs, preferences, and values. The participation of the residents aims to strengthen their sense of ownership of the process, the democratic decision-making and management, and the social collective identity, making community empowerment an integral characteristic of cooperative housing initiatives. With this social perspective, residents can gain individual and collective benefits while contributing to fairer and more sustainable urban development on a larger scale (Viskovic Rojs et al., 2020).

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)


Area: Community participation

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, participation is “the act of taking part in an activity or event”. Likewise, it can also mean “the fact of sharing or the act of receiving or having a part of something.” It derives from old French participacion which in turn comes from late Latin participationem, which means “partaking” (Harper, 2000).  References to participation can be found in many fields, including social sciences, economics, politics, and culture. It is often related to the idea of citizenship and its different representations in society. Hence, it could be explained as an umbrella concept, in which several others can be encompassed, including methodologies, philosophical discourses, and tools. Despite the complexity in providing a holistic definition, the intrinsic relation between participation and power is widely recognised. Its ultimate objective is to empower those involved in the process (Nikkhah & Redzuan, 2009). An early application of participatory approaches was the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) which exerted a significant influence in developing new discourses and practices of urban settings (Chambers, 1994; Friedmann, 1994). In the late 1970s increasing attention was paid to the concept by scholars, and several associated principles and terminologies evolved, such as the participation in design and planning with the Scandinavian approach of cooperative design (Bφdker et al., 1995; Gregory, 2003). Participation in design or participatory design is a process and strategy that entails all stakeholders (e.g. partners, citizens, and end-users) partaking in the design process. It is a democratic process for design based on the assumption that users should be involved in the designs they will go on to use (Bannon & Ehn, 2012; Cipan, 2019; Sanoff, 2000, 2006, 2007). Likewise, participatory planning is an alternative paradigm that emerged in response to the rationalistic and centralized – top-down – approaches. Participatory planning aims to integrate the technical expertise with the preferences and knowledge of community members (e.g., citizens, non-governmental organizations, and social movements) directly and centrally in the planning and development processes, producing outcomes that respond to the community's needs (Lane, 2005). Understanding participation through the roles of participants is a vital concept. The work of Sherry Arnstein’s (1969) Ladder of Citizen Participation has long been the cornerstone to understand participation from the perspective of the redistribution of power between the haves and the have-nots. Her most influential typological categorisation work yet distinguishes eight degrees of participation as seen in Figure 1: manipulation, therapy, placation, consultation, informing, citizen control, delegated power and partnership. Applied to a participatory planning context, this classification refers to the range of influence that participants can have in the decision-making process. In this case, no-participation is defined as designers deciding based upon assumptions of the users’ needs and full-participation refers to users defining the quality criteria themselves (Geddes et al., 2019). A more recent classification framework that also grounds the conceptual approach to the design practice and its complex reality has been developed by Archon Fung (2006) upon three key dimensions: who participates; how participants communicate with one another and make decisions together, and how discussions are linked with policy or public action. This three-dimensional approach which Fung describes as a democracy cube (Figure 2), constitutes a more analytic space where any mechanism of participation can be located. Such frameworks of thinking allow for more creative interpretations of the interrelations between participants, participation tools (including immersive digital tools) and contemporary approaches to policymaking. Aligned with Arnstein’s views when describing the lower rungs of the ladder (i.e., nonparticipation and tokenism), other authors have highlighted the perils of incorporating participatory processes as part of pre-defined agendas, as box-ticking exercises, or for political manipulation. By turning to eye-catching epithets to describe it (Participation: The New Tyranny? by Cooke & Kothari, 2001; or The Nightmare of Participation by Miessen, 2010), these authors attempt to raise awareness on the overuse of the term participation and the possible disempowering effects that can bring upon the participating communities, such as frustration and lack of trust. Examples that must exhort practitioners to reassess their role and focus on eliminating rather than reinforcing inequalities (Cooke & Kothari, 2001).

Created on 17-02-2022

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13), L.Ricaurte (ESR15), M.Alsaeed (ESR5)


Area: Community participation

Sustainability is primarily defined as 'the idea that goods and services should be produced in ways that do not use resources that cannot be replaced and that do not damage the environment' (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus, n.d.) and is often used interchangeably with the term “sustainable development”(Aras & Crowther, 2009). As defined by the UN, sustainable development is the effort to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations, 1987) and is often interpreted as the strategies adopted towards sustainability with the latter being the overall goal/vision (Diesendorf, 2000). Both of these relatively general and often ambiguous terms have been a focal point for the past 20 years for researchers, policy makers, corporations as well as local communities, and activist groups, among others, (Purvis et al., 2019). The ambiguity and vagueness that characterise both of these terms have contributed to their leap into the global mainstream as well as the broad political consensus regarding their value and significance (Mebratu, 1998; Purvis et al., 2019), rendering them one of the dominant discourses in environmental, socio-political and economic issues (Tulloch, 2013). It is, however, highly contested whether their institutionalisation is a positive development. Tulloch, and Tulloch & Nielson (2013; 2014) argue that these terms -as they are currently understood- are the outcome of the “[colonisation of] environmentalist thought and action” which, during the 1960s and 1970s, argued that economic growth and ecological sustainability within the capitalist system were contradictory pursuits. This “colonisation” resulted in the disempowerment of such discourses and their subsequent “[subordination] to neoliberal hegemony” (Tulloch & Neilson, 2014, p. 26). Thus, sustainability and sustainable development, when articulated within neoliberalism, not only reinforce such disempowerment, through practices such as greenwashing, but also fail to address the intrinsic issues of a system that operates on, safeguards, and prioritises economic profit over social and ecological well-being (Jakobsen, 2022). Murray Bookchin (1982), in “The Ecology of Freedom” contends that social and environmental issues are profoundly entangled, and their origin can be traced to the notions of hierarchy and domination. Bookchin perceives the exploitative relationship with nature as a direct outcome of the development of hierarchies within early human societies and their proliferation ever since. In order to re-radicalise sustainability, we need to undertake the utopian task of revisiting our intra-relating, breaking down these hierarchical relations, and re-stitching our social fabric. The intra-relating between and within the molecules of a society (i.e. the different communities it consists of) determines how sustainability is understood and practised (or performed), both within these communities and within the society they form. In other words, a reconfigured, non-hierarchical, non-dominating intra-relationship is the element that can allow for an equitable, long-term setting for human activity in symbiosis with nature (Dempsey et al., 2011, p. 290). By encouraging, striving for, and providing the necessary space for all voices to be heard, for friction and empathy to occur, the aforementioned long-term setting for human activity based on a non-hierarchical, non-dominating intra-relating is strengthened, which augments the need for various forms of community participation in decision-making, from consulting to controlling. From the standpoint of spatial design and architecture, community participation is already acknowledged as being of inherent value in empowering communities (Jenkins & Forsyth, 2009), while inclusion in all facets of creation, and community control in management and maintenance can improve well-being and social reproduction (Newton & Rocco, 2022; Turner, 1982). However, much like sustainability, community participation has been co-opted by the neoliberal hegemony; often used as a “front” for legitimising political agendas or as panacea to all design problems, community participation has been heavily losing its significance as a force of social change (Smith & Iversen, 2018), thus becoming a depoliticised, romanticised prop. Marcus Miessen (2011) has developed a critical standpoint towards what is being labelled as participation; instead of a systematic effort to find common ground and/or reach consensus, participation through a cross-benching approach could be a way to create enclaves of disruption, i.e. processes where hierarchy and power relations are questioned, design becomes post-consensual spatial agency and participation turns into a fertile ground for internal struggle and contestation. Through this cross-benching premise, community participation is transformed into a re-politicised spatial force. In this context, design serves as a tool of expressing new imaginaries that stand against the reproduction of the neoliberal spatial discourse. Thus, sustainability through community participation could be defined as the politicised effort to question, deconstruct and dismantle the concept of dominance by reconfiguring the process of intra-relating between humans and non-humans alike.

Created on 08-06-2022

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)


Related publications


Alsaeed, M., Hadjri, K., & Nawratek, K. (2024, March). A comparative analysis of UK sustainable housing standards [Conference paper]. 7th Residential Building Design & Construction Conference. Pennsylvania, USA.

Posted on 04-10-2023




Icon the-regeneration-wave-hopefully-not-another-missed-opportunity-to-create-social-value

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

Posted on 15-07-2023

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

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)

Summer schools, Reflections


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