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North Wingfield Road social housing complex.

Created on 17-05-2022 | Updated on 25-11-2022

The North Wingfield Road social housing complex consists of 11 similar affordable family houses developed on a rural exemption site within the Derbyshire Green Belt at the eastern edge of the village of Grassmoor, Derbyshire, England. The design of the project drew inspiration from the surrounding rural environment, especially farmsteads and crew yards – clusters of buildings around large farm buildings – which are an essential feature of the local identity. Homes, amenities and landscaping are organised around the central common space to create a friendly environment that provides a sense of containment, safety and immersion in the surrounding natural landscape.

Through its energy efficiency rating (energy performance certification rating B, with a potential to be A), responsible use of material and reduced impact on the surrounding natural environment, a maximum score of 12 green points was given to the development in its Building for Life 12 assessment. In 2021, it received the Housing Design Awards (a UK-based competition) in recognition of good practice in social housing development.


Grassmoor, Derbyshire, East Midlands, England, United Kingdom (53°12'13.40"N, 1°23'59.64"W).

Project (year)

Construction (year)
February, 2020

Housing type
multifamily housing (Semi-detached house)

Urban context

Construction system
Timber frame



a) Design philosophy

According to the Housing Design Awards, the design of the North Wingfield project took a contemporary design approach, combining the features of local vernacular architecture - as adopted from local farms - with the developer's vision and requirements for flexible, sustainable and innovative housing (HDA, 2021). The architectural office DK -Architects explains that this fusion is represented by massing the morphology of the project, traditional architectural elements (e.g. Dreadnought brick (roof), Janinhoff brick (walls)) with modern elements such as large glazing and aluminium cladding. This combination of materials not only provides an aesthetically pleasing appearance, but also helps to capture heat, ultimately reducing heating energy consumption for at least seven months of the year (DK-A, 2021). In addition, several innovative features have been adapted, including the well-planned use of space and the clear conceptual plans that extends beyond the interior spaces to the shared courtyard, which serves as a social gathering place for the tenants.

The inspiration for the courtyard was derived from the local identity, the farmstead and the crew yard (HDA, 2021). At the same time, the use of a see-through fence, which extends the sightline into the rural surroundings, provides a calming splash of green colour in each residential unit. The semi-raised upper massing extends the courtyard and provides a semi-enclosed space that enhances the feeling of safety and security (DK-A, 2021). Meanwhile, the buildings in the front row clearly stand out from the surrounding buildings through the use of colours and materials and also serve as an entrance gate to the project (DK-A, 2021; HDA, 2021). Each dwelling has its own mini agricultural space, which has proven valuable for the well-being of the residents.

b) Construction process

The skeleton of the building utilises an off-site timber frame method of construction, adopting a semi-modular design principle (Davies & Jokiniemi, 2008). This construction method provides a structure with a superior thermal envelope that requires minimal maintenance and is a 'fit-and-forget' solution for the lifetime of the building. In addition, both labour and material costs were significantly reduced due to less reliance on craftsmanship and multiple suppliers. This is in line with the UK government plans to revamp construction regulations to encourage bold, creative and sustainable construction methods (Davies & Jokiniemi, 2008; Sterjova, 2017).

The construction process started with ground treatment, followed by the casting of the foundations on site. Meanwhile, the timber frames were manufactured off-site at the supplier's factory, which helped to reduce construction work and thus carbon emissions. The frames were then transported to the site for fixing and external treatment, and all the construction work ran in parallel (Wheatley, 2020). The overall process can be seen in Figure 1.

c) Sustainability integration

At the sustainability level, the project worked on several areas to maximise the adaptation of sustainability features and minimise the impact on the natural environment (HDA, 2021).

Creating sustainable buildings

  • Through sustainable design and layout (e.g. orientation, maximising daylight, optimising solar gain).
  • Creating high quality outdoor environments (e.g. public and private open spaces that provide shade and shelter and consider flood retention and multi-functional green spaces to protect wildlife).
  • Use of sustainable water management techniques (e.g. use of sustainable drainage systems and consideration of surface water run-off).
  • Use of sustainable waste management facilities for private and communal use (through the appropriate provision of waste and recycling bins).
  • Focus on reducing the use of non-renewable energy.

Reduction of carbon emissions

  • The project has been designed in accordance with the highest level of building regulations and sustainability standards, in line with the Government's 10-year timetable for all new homes to be carbon neutral by 2016.
  • Water recycling techniques (such as grey water and rainwater harvesting).
  • Sustainable Transport (reducing reliance on the private car, incorporating practical and accessible sustainable transport patterns).

d) Energy performance

One of the tools to assess building energy efficiency in the  UK is the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), which is defined by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities as:

A rating scheme that summarises the energy efficiency of buildings; it includes a certificate that gives a property an energy efficiency rating from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient) and is valid for 10 years (DLUHC, 2014).

The EPC is produced using the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP), which is defined by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy as follows:

The method used to assess and compare the energy and environmental performance of properties in the UK [...] it uses detailed information about the property's construction to calculate energy performance (DBEIS, 2013).

The North Wingfield project has successfully achieved a (B) rating - equivalent to 84 out of a maximum possible 100 points with a high potential for an (A) rating equivalent to 95 points (DLUHC, 2021). This score is the result of

  • The use of high-performance materials with very good thermal transmittance properties (walls: 0.20 W/m²K, roof: 0.11 W/m²K, floor: 0.09 W/m²K).
  • Well-designed ventilation system that achieves a good air tightness indicator (air permeability 4.9 m³/h.m²).
  • Low consumption of primary energy of 94 kWh/m2.

Another indicator is the Environmental Impact Score (EIS), which shows the impact of a building on the environment through the estimated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions calculated at the time of the EPC assessment (DLUHC, 2014). The higher the score, the lower the building's impact on the environment: like EPC labels, the environmental impact score is graded from A to G (DBEIS, 2014). The project generates 1.4 tonnes of CO2 annually. This is less than a quarter of the 6 tonnes emitted by an average household. By improving the EIS rating to A, CO2 production will be reduced to 0.3 tonnes, which will distinguish the project as one of the most environmentally friendly projects (DLUHC, 2021). Figure 2 shows the EPC and EIS breakdowns of the properties.

Alignment with project research areas

RE-DWELL research framework is based on the interrelationship of three areas: Design, Planning and Construction, Community Participation and Policy. This case relates primarily to design, planning and building and is most evident through:

  • Green Building: The analysis of this case has provided insights into the design of green buildings and their development processes, while helping the researcher to understand the principles of industrialised construction. In addition, this case is a 100 per cent social housing development that requires compliance not only with building regulations but also with higher sustainability standards such as the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) and Home Quality Mark (HQM).
  • Sustainable design: This case helps to understand UK sustainability policy through the applicable codes, standards and guidelines produced by planning and sustainability agencies such as the Building Research Establishment (BRE).
  • Inclusive design: The results of this project are considered an example of inclusive design as tenants play an important role in maintaining the sustainability of the community and the environment.

All of the aforementioned made this project a good example for an in-depth study and helped to capture the practice of social housing design and construction in the UK.

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

Although this is a small-scale project, a close examination of the relationship with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) shows that the project is well aligned with several of the goals:

  • Good health and well-being (particularly target 3.4), not only through the architectural characteristics and features but also the social aspects and interaction with surrounding communities, which proved its effectiveness during the last COVID-19 lockdown.
  • Affordable and clean energy (targets 7.1 and 7.3). One of the most important features of this project is its high energy efficiency rating, achieved through the integration of innovative construction methods such as high-performance insulation, increased use of natural light and the use of environmentally friendly materials such as locally produced timber frames and bricks.
  • Sustainable cities and communities (targets 11.1, 11.6 and 11.7). As part of the larger urban fabric, the project contributes to the overall sustainability agenda of the surrounding districts. Affordability is also one of its distinguishing features, where all of the homes are under the affordability scheme of the local council.


Davies, N., & Jokiniemi, E. (2008). Dictionary of architecture and building construction: Routledge.

DBEIS. (2013). Standard Assessment Procedure. December, 2021. Retrieved from

DBEIS. (2014). Annex B: Energy Performance Certificate data. (URN 14D/192). UK: Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Retrieved from

DK-A. (2021). North Wingfield Project. Retrieved from

DLUHC. (2014). Energy Performance of Buildings Certificates: glossary. Retrieved from

DLUHC. (2021). Energy performance certificate (EPC): Breakdown of property’s energy performance. Retrieved from

HDA. (2021). North Wingfield Road, Description of the design. Retrieved from

Sterjova, M. (2017). Timber framing – A rediscovered technique for building a home. Retrieved from

Wheatley, P. (2020). New Build Homes, Grassmoor, Chesterfield. Retrieved from

Related vocabulary

Building Decarbonisation

Social Housing

Sustainability Built Environment

Area: Design, planning and building

Decarbonisation, a term which echoes through the corridors of academia, politics, practical applications, and stands at the forefront of contemporary discussions on sustainability. Intricately intertwined with concepts such as net-zero and climate neutrality, it represents a pivotal shift in our approach to environmental sustainability. In its essence, decarbonisation signifies the systematic reduction of carbon dioxide intensity, a crucial endeavour in the battle against climate change (Zachmann et al., 2021). This overview delves into the multifaceted concept of decarbonisation within the context of the European Union. Beginning with a broad perspective, we examine its implications at the macro level before homing in on the complexities of decarbonisation within the realm of building structures. Finally, we explore the literature insights, presenting key strategies that pave the way toward achieving a decarbonised building sector. From a broad perspective, decarbonisation is an overarching concept that aims to achieve climate neutrality (Zachmann et al., 2021, p.13). Climate neutrality means achieving a state of equilibrium between greenhouse gas emissions and their removal from the atmosphere, preventing any net increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration (IEA, 2022). From an energy decarbonisation perspective, however, in a document provided by the Economic, Scientific and Quality of Life Policy Department at the request of the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee, Zachmann et al. (2021) explain that energy systems require a fundamental shift in the way societies provide, transport and consume energy (Zachmann et al., 2021). In the construct of decarbonisation, as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the focus lies on strategic directives aimed at reducing the carbon content of energy sources, fuels, products and services (Arvizu et al., 2011; Edenhofer et al., 2011). This complex process involves the transition from carbon-intensive behaviours, such as fossil fuel use, to low-carbon or carbon-neutral alternatives. The main goal of decarbonisation, therefore, is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, which are closely linked to the growing threats of climate change (Edenhofer et al., 2011). Hoeller et al. (2023) explain that decarbonisation efforts within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) focus on harmonising economic growth, energy production and consumption with climate objectives to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change while promoting sustainable development (Hoeller et al., 2023). From a pragmatic perspective, however, according to the OECD Policy Paper 31: A framework to decarbonise the economy, published in 2022,  progress on economic decarbonisation remains suboptimal. This raises the urgent need for a multi-dimensional framework that is not only cost-effective but also inclusive and comprehensive in its strategy for decarbonisation (D’Arcangelo et al., 2022). D’Arcangelo et al. (2023) add that such framework should include several steps such as setting clear climate targets, measuring progress and identifying areas for action, delineating policy frameworks, mapping existing policies, creating enabling conditions, facilitating a smooth transition for individuals, and actively engaging the public. From an academic perspective, Weller and Tierney (2018) provide an explanation of decarbonisation, defining it as a twofold concept. Firstly, it involves reducing the intensity of fossil fuel use for energy production. Secondly, it emphasises the role of policy in mitigating the negative externalities associated with such use. They argue that decarbonisation is a politically charged policy area that needs to be 'just', while also serving a means to revitalise local economies (Weller & Tierney, 2018). Kyriacou and Burke (2020) expand on this definition, highlighting decarbonisation as the transition from a high-carbon to a low-carbon energy system. This transition is driven by the need to mitigate climate change without compromising energy security. Boute (2021), on the other hand, emphasises the long-term structural reduction of CO2 emissions as the core strategy of decarbonisation. Boute adds that the effectiveness of decarbonisation must be measured in terms of a unit of energy consumed across all activities. In the economic context, the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies concludes that decarbonisation aims to reduce the carbon intensity of an economy. This reduction is quantified as the ratio of CO2 emissions to gross domestic product (Henderson & Sen, 2021). Addressing methodological concerns, Buettner (2022) added that decarbonisation is often misused as a generic term. Moreover, Buettner highlights the diverse levels at which decarbonisation occurs, ranging from carbon neutrality (focused on reducing CO2 emissions), to climate neutrality (aiming to reduce CO2, non-fluorinated greenhouse gases, and fluorinated greenhouse gases) and, finally, to environmental neutrality (which reduces all substances negatively impacting the environment and health) (Buettner, 2022). The debate on the decarbonisation of the construction sector revolves around similar issues. The report on Decarbonising Buildings in Cities and Regions, published by the OECD in 2022, defines the concept as reducing energy consumption by improving envelope insulation, installing high performance equipment, and scaling up the use of renewable sources to meet the energy demands (OECD, P24). Another definition comes from a working paper by the OECD Economics Department, Hoeller et al. (2023) contend, it is necessary to consider direct emissions from household fossil fuel combustion and indirect emissions from the generation of electricity and district heating used by households (Hoeller et al., 2023). The comprehensive study “Decarbonising Buildings” published by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) in 2022, defines the term as transforming the building sector to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Achieving this goal requires various technological solutions and behavioural changes to decarbonise heating and cooling, such as energy-efficient building envelopes, heat pumps and on-site renewables (CAT, 2022). Gratiot et al. (2023) consider decarbonisation as the process of reducing or eliminating CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change from a building’s energy sources. This involves systematically shifting buildings from carbon-intensive energy sources (e.g., gas, oil and coal) to low-carbon or carbon-neutral alternatives (e.g., solar, wind and geothermal). This process includes improving the energy efficiency of buildings through better insulation, lighting and appliances (Gratiot et al., 2023). Blanco et al. (2021) consider the decarbonisation of buildings and operation of buildings. This includes enhancing the energy efficiency of buildings and minimizing embodied carbon from building materials and construction activities of greenhouse gas emissions from the construction and operation of buildings. Achieving a decarbonised building sector is a multifaceted endeavour that demands extensive efforts in several key areas, such as energy sources, building envelope, building policy and transformation funds. The objective of the energy transition is to shift from reliance on fossil fuels to clean or renewable energy sources, primarily used for heating and cooling, such as heat pumps, district heating, hydrogen (Jones, 2021). Decarbonising the building envelope, on the other hand, involves improving the energy efficiency of buildings through better insulation, lighting and appliances. It also necessitates minimising embodied carbon from building materials and construction activities (CAT, 2022; D’Arcangelo et al., 2022). Incorporating effective policies into building construction is crucial. This includes adopting of performance standards and building codes that regulate the energy use and emissions of both new and existing buildings. These regulations directly impact the extent and pace of decarbonisation (CAT, 2022; Jones, 2021). Additionally, it is essential to establish a clear vision and climate targets for the buildings sector and operationalise them with a comprehensive policy mix that encompass emissions pricing, standards, regulations and complementary measures (Jones, 2021). The most significant challenge lies in financing the transition to a decarbonised sector. Therefore, it is imperative to mobilise finance on a large scale and collaborate with industry stakeholders. This collaboration is vital to facilitate the transition, overcome barriers, and manage the costs associated with deploying low- or zero-carbon technologies (D’Arcangelo et al., 2022). In summary, the overarching concept of decarbonisation primarily targets the reduction of carbon dioxide in economic and industrial activities, with a focus on energy production and distribution systems. At the building level, the emphasis lies in integrating low-carbon or carbon-neutral systems to minimise both direct and indirect emissions. Nevertheless, the literature examined indicates that other societal aspects, including social and behavioural factors, have not been thoroughly researched. This gap in knowledge could challenge the realisation of the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and underscores the need for further studies in these areas.

Created on 06-11-2023

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)


Area: Policy and financing

A universal definition of social housing is difficult, as it is a country-specific and locally contextualised topic (Braga & Palvarini, 2013). This review of the concept focuses on social housing in the context of the UK from the late 1980s, which Malpass (2005) refers to as the phase of ‘restructuring the housing and welfare state’, to the early 2000s, known as the phase of the ‘new organisation of social housing’. In response to previous demands for housing, such as those arising during the Industrial Revolution, and recognising the persistent need to address the substandard quality of housing provided by private landlords in the UK (Scanlon et al., 2015), the primary objective of social housing has historically been to enhance the overall health conditions of workers and low-income populations (Malpass, 2014; Scanlon et al., 2015). However, this philanthropic approach to social housing changed after the Second World War when it became a key instrument to address the housing demand crisis. Private initiatives, housing associations, cooperatives and local governments then became responsible for providing social housing (Carswell, 2012; Scanlon et al., 2015). Social housing in the UK can be viewed from two perspectives: the legal and the academic (Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). Along these two perspectives, social housing is often analysed based on four main criteria: the legal status of the landlord or provider, the tenancy system or tenure, the funding mechanism or subsidies, and the target group or beneficiaries (Braga & Palvarini, 2013; Carswell, 2012; Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). From a legal perspective, social housing maintained its original goals of affordability and accessibility during the restructuring period in the late 1980s. However, citing the economic crisis, the responsibility for developing social housing shifted from local authorities to non-municipal providers with highly regulated practices aligned with the managerialist approach of the welfare state (Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019; Malpass, 2005; Malpass & Victory, 2010). Despite the several housing policy reviews and government changes, current definitions of social housing have maintained the same approach as during the restructuring period. Section 68 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, updated in 2017, defines social housing as low-cost accommodation provided to people whose rental or ownership needs are not met by the commercial market (HoC, 2008; 2017, pp. 50-51). The Regulator of Social Housing, formerly the Homes and Communities Agency, has adopted the earlier definition of social housing and clarified which organisations provide it across the UK. These organisations include local authorities, not-for-profit housing associations, cooperatives, and for-profit organisations (RSH, 2021). In contrast, the National Housing Federation emphasises the affordability of social housing regardless of the type of tenure or provider (NHF, 2021). From an academic perspective, Malpass (2005) explains that during the restructuring phase, social housing was defined as a welfare-supported service – although it did have limitations, which meant that funding principles shifted from general subsidy to means-tested support for housing costs only, which later formed the basis for the Right to Buy Act introduced by the Thatcher government in the early 1980s (Malpass, 2005, 2008). The restructuring phase, however, came as a response to the housing 'bifurcation' process that began in the mid-1970s and accelerated sharply from the 1980s to 1990s (Kleinman et al., 1998; Malpass, 2005). During this phase, the role of social housing in the housing system was predominantly residual, with greater emphasis placed on market-based solutions, and social housing ownership concerned both local authorities and housing associations (Malpass & Victory, 2010). This mix has influenced the perception of social housing in the 'new organisation' phase as a framework that regulates public housing intervention for specific groups and focuses on enabling non-municipal providers (Malpass, 2005, 2008; Malpass & Victory, 2010). Currently, as Carswell (2012) explains, social housing plays an important role in nurturing a variety of initiatives aimed at providing ‘good-quality’ and ‘affordable’ housing for vulnerable and low-income groups (Carswell, 2012). Oyebanji (2014) sees social housing as any form of government-regulated housing provided by public institutions, including non-profit organisations (Oyebanji, 2014). Additionally, Bengtsson (2017) describes social housing as a system that aims to provide households with limited means, but only after their need has been confirmed through testing (Bengtsson, B, 2017 as cited in Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). To a great extent, social housing in the UK can be seen as a service system that is intricately linked to the welfare state and influenced by political, economic, and social components. Despite being somehow determined by common factors and actors,  the relationship between social housing and the welfare state can sometimes be complex and subject to fluctuations (Malpass, 2008). In this context, the government plays a vital role in shaping and implementing the mechanisms and practices of social housing. While the pre-restructuring phase focused on meeting the needs of the people by increasing subsidies and introducing the right to buy (Stamsø, 2010), the aim of the restructuring phase was to meet the needs of the market by promoting economic growth (privatisation, market-oriented policies and reducing the role of local authorities) (Stamsø, 2010; Malpass, 2005) . The new organisational phase, on the other hand, works to meet and balance the needs of all, with people, politics and the economy becoming more intertwined. Welfare reform legislation passed in 2010 aims to enable people to meet their needs, but through 'responsible' subsidies, leading to a new policy stance that has been described as 'neoliberal' thinking (Hickman et al., 2018). However, there are still no strict legal requirements for the organisation and development of social housing as an independent service system, and most of the barriers to development are closely related to the political orientation of the government, rapid changes in housing policy and challenges arising from providers' perceptions of existing housing policy structures (Stasiak et al., 2021).

Created on 17-06-2023

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)


Area: Design, planning and building

Sustainability of the built environment The emergence of the contemporary environmental movement between the 1960s and 1970s and its proposals to remedy the consequences of pollution can be seen as one of the first steps in addressing environmental problems (Scoones, 2007). However, the term “sustainable” only gained wider currency when it was introduced into political discourse by the Club of Rome with its 1972 report “The Limits to Growth”, in which the proposal to change growth trends to be sustainable in the far future was put forward (Grober, 2007; Kopnina & Shoreman-Ouimet, 2015a; Meadows et al., 1972). Since then, the use of the term has grown rapidly, especially after the publication of the 1978 report “Our Common Future”, which became a cornerstone of debates on sustainability and sustainable development (Brundtland et al., 1987; Kopnina & Shoreman-Ouimet, 2015a). Although the two terms are often used indistinctively, the former refers to managing resources without depleting them for future generations, while the latter aims to improve long-term economic well-being and quality of life without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Kopnina & Shoreman-Ouimet, 2015b; UNESCO, 2015). The Brundtland Report paved the way for the 1992 Earth Summit, which concluded that an effective balance must be found between consumption and conservation of natural resources (Scoones, 2007). In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly published the 8 Millennium Development Goals (UN, 2000), which led to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) published in 2016 (UN, 2016). The 17 SDGs call on all countries to mobilise their efforts to end all forms of poverty, tackle inequalities and combat climate change (UN, 2020; UNDP, 2018). Despite the rapidly growing literature on sustainability, the term remains ambiguous and lacks a clear conceptual foundation (Grober, 2007; Purvis et al., 2019). Murphy (2012) suggests that when defining sustainability, the question should be: Sustainability, of what? However, one of the most prominent interpretations of sustainability is the three pillars concept, which describes the interaction between the social, economic and environmental components of society (Purvis et al., 2019). The environmental pillar aims to improve human well-being by protecting natural capital -e.g. land, air and water- (Morelli, 2011). The economic sustainability pillar focuses on maintaining stable economic growth without damaging natural resources (Dunphy et al., 2000). Social sustainability, on the other hand, aims to preserve social capital and create a practical social framework that provides a comprehensive view of people's needs, communities and culture (Diesendorf, 2000). This latter pillar paved the way for the creation of a fourth pillar that includes human and culture as a focal point in sustainability objectives (RMIT, 2017). Jabareen (2006) describes environmental sustainability as a dynamic, inclusive and multidisciplinary concept that overlaps with other concepts such as resilience, durability and renewability. Morelli (2011) adds that it can be applied at different levels and includes tangible and intangible issues. Portney (2015) takes Morelli's explanation further and advocates that environmental sustainability should also promote industrial efficiency without compromising society's ability to develop (Morelli, 2011; Portney, 2015). Measuring the built environment sustainability level is a complex process that deploys quantitative methods, including (1) indexes (e.g. energy efficiency rate), (2) indicators (e.g. carbon emissions and carbon footprint), (3) benchmarks (e.g. water consumption per capita) and (4) audits (e.g. building management system efficiency) (Arjen, 2015; Berardi, 2012; James, 2014; Kubba, 2012). In recent years, several rating or certification systems and practical guides have been created and developed to measure sustainability, most notably the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) introduced in the UK in 1990 (BRE, 2016) and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) established in the US in 2000 (USGBC, 2018). In addition, other overlapping methodologies and certification frameworks have emerged, such as the European Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) in 2002 (EPB, 2003) and the European Framework for Sustainable Buildings, also known as Level(s) in 2020 (EU, 2020), amongst others. The sustainability of the built environment aims to reduce human consumption of natural resources and the production of waste while improving the health and comfort of inhabitants and thus the performance of the built environment elements such as buildings and spaces, and the infrastructure that supports human activities (Berardi, 2012; McLennan, 2004). This aim requires an effective theoretical and practical framework that encompasses at least six domains, including land, water, energy, indoor and outdoor environments, and economic and cultural preservation (Ferwati et al., 2019). More recently, other domains have been added, such as health and comfort, resource use, environmental performance, and cost-benefit and risk (EU, 2020). Sustainability of the built environment also requires comprehensive coordination between the architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical and environmental systems of buildings in the design, construction and operation phases to improve performance and avoid unnecessary resource consumption (Yates & Castro-Lacouture, 2018).

Created on 24-06-2022

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)


Related publications

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

Posted on 23-06-2024




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A Transdisciplinary Peek Behind Secondment Scenes & Common Challenges to Housing Associations in England

Posted on 22-10-2023

Written by Aya Elghandour Reviewed by Natalie Newman     The Housing Crisis, Cost of Living Crisis, and Climate Change Crisis are undoubtedly critical concerns of the general public. The three crises are interrelated. Please take a moment and think, how many disciplines are involved in those crises? Do you think investigating solutions by first understanding the complexity of any housing-related crisis, can stem from a mono-lens? Needless to say, end-users rights might get lost in ongoing debates. For instance: Hello! Do you see as critical in this debate the future of residents' health and wellbeing living in affordable housing properties?     That is why I joined the South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) for a secondment!   Transdisciplinarity in research has been widely recommended to tackle complex situations influenced by various stakeholders. It is all about mutual learning and exchanging knowledge between disciplines and actors to understand complex issues and produce new knowledge comprehensively. This is what I have been doing for the last three months in the South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) while joining the Development and Asset Management team! As an architect-researcher and prior to joining SYHA, my perception was limited to housing associations and architects as key decision-makers whose decisions have the greatest impact on the house quality and as a result the health and wellbeing of future residents. However, being at SYHA's headquarters expanded my horizons and gave me new perspectives on the various factors and stakeholders influencing those decisions. This broader perspective now guides my current research.     Behind the Scenes of how did it all start!   Six years ago, Miranda Plowden SYHA's Business Development Director planted the seed for my research project in collaboration with my supervisor, Professor Karim Hadjri. She emphasized that Life Cycle Costing (LCC) should be one of the critical pillars guiding SYHA's partnership with RE-DWELL. That's why I have spent three months in SYHA to understand their workflow, decision-making process, who are the key stakeholders in the design stages and what initial costs of construction and future costs of maintenance they are responsible for.   During the secondment, I conducted two learning sessions to initiate discussions with the team and gauge their receptiveness to adopting new approaches in constructing and operating houses over their life cycle that could contribute to residents' health and wellbeing. For instance, using sustainable materials with thermal and acoustic insulation properties in construction. Additionally, I showcased an example from the British Council of Dudley, where Internet of Things (IoT) devices were installed in council houses to monitor indoor temperature, humidity, and air quality for residents' awareness. The team shared past incidents where residents had turned off similar devices due to concerns about their lighting. These discussions proved to be highly informative and shed light on aspects that I had not previously considered in my research.     Scene of Life Cycle Costing in SYHA   Life Cycle Cost (LCC) is all about estimating the costs of something over its entire lifespan. For SYHA, their commitment and ambition to LCC covers the entire life of a house.   Currently, SYHA's LCC approach gives a high-level overview, making initial assumptions about construction and future repair costs before seeking planning permissions for housing projects. However, it hasn't fully integrated expenses like estimated energy and water bills that future residents will incur, which is a common practice in existing literature.   My research aims to develop an LCC framework that prioritizes the health and financial wellbeing of households during the design stages of new houses. SYHA's involvement spans from architects' procurement, land selection, and design briefs to evaluating design proposals, obtaining planning permissions, hiring contractors, overseeing construction for quality assurance, and finally, renting out the house or selling it for shared ownership. They also manage and maintain the properties while learning from past challenges to make better future decisions.   SYHA is open to innovative approaches, such as constructing two homes using Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) like the WikiHouse project. This helps them assess whether these methods can reduce construction time, lower maintenance costs, and deliver better quality for end-users.   While the use of LCC isn't common in affordable housing provision, it's a top priority for SYHA. They rely on LCC to understand the long-term financial implications of their decisions.     The Sneak peek on common challenges of housing associations   From day one and from SYHA's reputation, their care for residents' health and wellbeing can be seen in their adoption to people-first approach. The approach is adopted in designing their housing schemes to provide a beautiful, safe, and affordable place to call home. This approach leads to some challenges for housing associations in England to keep high standards with lower than market rent.   My secondment observations and discussions, as well as the ongoing interview conversations revealed some of the challenges facing the provision of an affordable and healthy house, for instance:   The emergence of technologies without the existence of a reliable supply chain for long-term house maintenance. For instance, with SYHA's 50-year presence in the British market, they prioritize relying on trustworthy providers who can ensure the longevity of house maintenance. If a new technology is considered sustainable and beneficial for residents but is not widely adopted in the UK or lacks a reliable provider for long-term support, the adoption process becomes a complex decision as every penny carries a responsibility.   The continuous rise in construction costs after they have secured funding, for a certain price to deliver a certain quality. This hinders them from accomplishing the full quality they are aiming for.   The fact that housing associations' rent is lower than the market price poses future financial risks and stress on affordable housing providers. Let's see SYHA's initial feasibility study  for a new housing scheme that aims to offer units with affordable rent. The process involves several key steps:   Step 1. Identify what type of  housing to build and its specific location.   Step 2. Research and determine the average market price for similar properties in this location.   Step 3. Set the affordable rent at 80% of the market rent.   Step 4. Assess the affordable rent by asking: Would it exceed 33% of the household income?   Step 5. As an ethical provider, If the rent exceeds the 33% threshold, a decision has to be made either to reduce the rent, or not prioritize homes in that location and reconsider the whole project or recognize that a higher rent is the only way these type of homes would be built in a given location.     Housing associations need a certain level of rent to be able to build good homes in the first place and to maintain them to a high standard. In the context of affordable rents, it becomes more challenging to balance. They need to set rents at a level that allows them to construct and maintain quality homes while keeping them affordable for residents over time. This involves choosing suitable locations and constructing quality housing, which already can lead to higher land and construction expenses. Moreover, affordable rents make it take longer for housing associations to recover their construction costs through rental income, especially when compared to the private sector!     Housing associations are currently the primary providers of affordable homes in England! So, it can be seen that the quality, sustainability, energy-efficiency, and location of an affordable house is so far up to housing providers decisions and the robustness of the national building regulations and support!     So what support housing associations need to provide more affordable houses that is healthy, sustainable, and energy-efficient on the long-term? Land price discount maybe to start with? What else would you add to the list?     Some awesome links! Miranda Plowden's Blog on the Wikihouse:    

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4)

Secondments, Reflections

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A Culture of a British Housing Association

Posted on 20-07-2023

  On the top floor of their building, where green trees peeked through houses that covered one of Sheffield's seven hills, a farewell party was held. It marked the end of an 11-year journey for Miranda Plowden, the business director of South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA). During this heartfelt and humble gathering, Juliann Hall, her close friend, teammate, and co-director of Care, Health, and Wellbeing, shared Miranda's story and her visionary approach to cultivating a unique "culture" within SYHA. However, this was not your typical notion of culture.   Miranda envisioned A Culture of Joy and Right to Beauty, encompassing every decision and detail at SYHA. This culture went beyond their housing schemes and influenced their daily work environment and attitudes. It stemmed from a people-first approach, firmly believing that happy and compassionate employees would naturally deliver homes that inspire happiness.       The Culture and Residents’ Health and Wellbeing   SYHA is keen to spreading joy and promoting the right for everyone to experience beauty in their housing schemes. Their strategic plan focuses on providing affordable homes where residents feel happy, healthy, and proud. This is exemplified in the elegant and modern design of their properties, such as the recent North Wingfield Road social housing complex and the Wikihouse project.   The culture of promoting beauty extends beyond housing schemes to the surrounding landscapes for residents to have beautiful views and shared spaces. SYHA actively participates in creating vibrant meadow-like landscapes in urban areas, which serve as habitats for pollinators and require less maintenance. Through careful selection of plant species, they demonstrate how urban spaces can be transformed into visually appealing and environmentally friendly areas.   The culture of joy also encompasses care for residents' health and well-being, which is evident in various initiatives. For instance, they care to conduct co-design focus groups with residents to update design briefs for future projects. They maintain good communication channels through their customer experience team. Workshops with customers are held to continuously improve their services.   An interesting insight from one of SYHA's co-production workshops is the residents' dislike of jargon. They find terms like "fuel poverty" aggressive and prefer simple language that allows them to understand and feel in control of their decisions without being stigmatized. Similarly, the term "heat pump" can cause frustration, as residents desire clear and accessible language.   SYHA's Livewell department is dedicated to supporting residents' health and well-being. They provide mental health and wellbeing support and assistance in overcoming daily challenges, regardless of whether someone is a SYHA customer or not. They also have staff members focused on helping individuals find employment and integrate naturally into the community.       A unique work Culture, deviating from usual corporate work style   As an architect, I cannot overlook how SYHA implemented their culture of joy and right to beauty in the workplace as well as in their homes and services. Working closely with the interior designer, they ensured that every detail reflects this culture. Miranda's quote describes it best:   “People expect Google to have beautiful offices, but not a charitable organisation in Sheffield. The feedback from our teams shows that design and beauty in places where they are least expected can have a positive effect on wellbeing and make people feel valued. At South Yorkshire Housing Association, we believe that everyone has a right to beauty and joy, especially people who didn’t expect to experience either.”    As cited in SYHA’s interior designer: 93ft website  (accessed on 17/07/2023)   What amazed me was SYHA's boundary-less workplace. There were no individual offices, walls, or closed doors between departments and team members. They have a bookable rooms for meetings and workshops with teams and residents. If you just want to disconnect in peace, there is a room for prayer and meditation regardless of your belief. During her speech at the farewell party, Miranda emphasized the importance of maintaining the joy at work, smiling at one another, opening doors for one another and caring for both colleagues and customers. It's the small gestures that make a lasting impact.   At SYHA, everyone, from newcomers like myself to the CEO Tony Stacey, worked together in the same open space without assigned desks. On my first day, I sat at one of the long tables alongside Miranda (the business director), Natalie (the team's head), and my new colleagues. On the same table on the next day I sat with other directors and team leads and was able to schedule an interview with them within minutes. This setup promotes collaboration and easy access to discussions. It also harnesses a sense of collaboration and support beyond hierarchies. Being physically present in this open environment allowed me actively to engage in conversations, observe ongoing discussions, and receive immediate responses to my inquiries. What better setting could I had for my Transdisciplinarity based research?       SYHA’s Culture and my Research Secondment   Understanding SYHA's core values and culture assured me that I am in a fitting workplace aligned with my research. Their belief in enabling individuals to settle into a welcoming home, live well, and achieve their full potential resonated deeply with the core motivation behind my research on Health and Wellbeing. My study aims to incorporate Life Cycle Costing into the design stages to prioritize the health and well-being of residents. Working in an environment that not only embraced meaningful slogans but also genuinely believed in and implemented them proved to be an invaluable experience for me.   As part of my Marie-Curie research project, I embarked on a three-month secondment with SYHA's Development and Asset Management team, under the guidance of Natalie Newman, the head of the team, who served as my secondment supervisor. Throughout our discussions, she openly shared her opinions, provided critiques, offered feedback, and provided guidance in approaching individuals and gathering necessary data. Likewise, my regular supervisor, Matteo Martini, supported, encouraged, and ensured my seamless integration within SYHA.   The knowledge and insights I gained during these three months at SYHA would have taken years to acquire independently. The colleagues at SYHA, with whom I discussed my topic, showed great enthusiasm and generously answered any doubts I had. They also expressed their willingness to continue supporting my research even after the end of the secondment.   By the end of secondment and being part of an association working hard to realize this culture, I felt hopeful and now eagerly look forward to contributing to the day when the belief in the Right to Beauty and Joy becomes the normal for all humans and for the betterment of our planet.       More interesting readings: How SYHA started and the influence of Cathy Come Home movie SYHA’s history and the founders mission and vision. A beautiful low-maintenance landscapes of Pictorial meadows. How did SYHA communicate their business purpose through their workplace design. 93ft sharing SYHA's interior design.    

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4)


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Sustainable developments in social housing, a secondment at South Yorkshire Housing Association.

Posted on 18-08-2022

It's been a few months now since I completed my secondment with South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) and writing this post is more difficult than I expected. However, before I continue, I need to clarify some of the key terms mentioned so far. Firstly, a secondment is a defined period of time during which an employee is sent to another organisation to gain experience, increase the workforce or share knowledge (Cambridge, n.d.). A housing association is broadly defined as a society, trust or company that provides, builds, improves or manages housing, or facilitates or promotes the construction of housing, and operates on a not-for-profit basis (HMSO, 1985). Its role has recently expanded to include other social services that focus on vulnerable at-risk groups. Against this background, my work at SYHA has been to research and identify the process of developing sustainable social housing and to participate in real projects to measure housing sustainability and to work with housing associations. Background. The story of South Yorkshire Housing Association begins when founder John Belcher set up Sheffield Family Housing Association to help young homeless families after watching the BBC drama 'Cathy Come Home' in 1972. Almost 50 years later, South Yorkshire Housing Association still builds and manages a range of services, including social housing, affordable rented housing, shared ownership housing and other social support services (SYHA, 2021a). In recent years, SYHA has changed its business model to the concept of "The business is more than housing", focusing on and prioritising other important challenges such as the wellbeing and social needs of its tenants and environmental challenges, in particular climate change, energy efficiency and carbon emissions (SYHA, 2021b). Unlike the conventional 'departmental organisational structure' that follows a strict service typology or structures tailored to role descriptions. SYHA has a unique and dynamic organisational structure guided by the principles of goal setting and services defined as continuous strengthening of resources and improvement of staff performance (SYHA, 2021b, Jacobides, 2007). According to SYHA's latest annual report, total assets owned, managed or under construction amount to more than 6,000 housing units. These include flats, terraced houses, detached houses, semi-detached houses and residential communities (SYHA, 2021c). From strategic plan to theory. Housing is a big part of the climate change problem, accounting for 27 per cent of UK carbon emissions and consuming up to 30 per cent of inland generated energy (DBEIS, 2020). In response, SYHA has developed a strategic plan to achieve the UK's 2050 zero carbon target and help mitigate the impact of climate change on people's health, wellbeing and access to housing (SYHA, 2020). The strategic plan is to (1) identify and calculate the current carbon footprint (2) improve the management of asset data, (3) identify the necessary behavioural changes and engage with end users to reduce their impact on the natural and built environment (read Andreas Panagidis post on participation in planning), (4) improve the energy efficiency of existing homes and tackle fuel poverty (read Tijn Croon post on energy poverty), (5) build new homes to high environmental standards and develop future-proof changes to our current design standard, as well as test new approaches, (6) reduce fossil fuel use across all business areas, (7) update the business plan to respond to various challenges. From theory to practice. In analysing several projects, I have found that SYHA has successfully translated strategic plans into practical guidelines for 'best practice', creating several award-winning projects such as the North Wingfield social housing complex. The guidelines include: (1) Spatial requirements by creating a meeting point between building regulations and actual needs and recognising the different lifestyle preferences of end users, (2) The design of residential neighbourhoods taking into account cultural and natural elements, (3) The connectivity and accessibility of projects and maximising the use of existing infrastructure without depleting resources, (4) Sustainable landscaping and drainage to reduce the impact of artificial landscapes and integrate native components into projects, (5) Modern construction methods that enable safe and fast construction with minimal waste generation.. From practice to research. The main aim of the secondment is to engage the researcher in real projects to measure environmental sustainability and develop a framework for affordable, low-carbon homes. To achieve this goal, I was expected to (1) conduct quantitative and qualitative research and engage with local and international partners and stakeholders, and (2) accurately record and analyse data to provide useful insights for other academics, funders, policy makers and practitioners. I used a variety of research methods such as systematic content analysis, informal interviews and observation. The data collected was analysed from an intervention research perspective. From research to practice. The outcome of the secondment was the development of an online platform that overcomes the challenges and risks identified in the analysis; the platform includes, among other functions, the following. (1) Sustainability practices, by clarifying the principles, tools and structure of environmental sustainability that enhance the existing SYHA project flow chart and overall development processes. (2) Reduce misunderstandings about sustainability and social housing by creating a top-down glossary of terminologies that unifies the language within housing association practices. From SYHA to RE-DWELL. At the end of the secondment, I was able to list and explain the processes used by SYHA and other housing associations in the UK to develop sustainable social housing. The process is complicated and requires extensive analysis of building regulations, policy development and project flow charts. More importantly, I have tested and validated my research gaps to ultimately create valid research questions that respond to real-life challenges. The analysis of SYAH practices provided valuable input for my PhD thesis and helped in the selection of exploratory case studies. All in all, the secondment was an important tool that RE-DWELL used to guide and support my research project. Acknowledgement. The three months I spent at SYHA provided me with great theoretical data, but what was really interesting was meeting the people of SYHA. I received tremendous support from all the team members, and so I have to thank everyone at SYHA and especially Jon Walker, Natalie Newman, Eira Capelan and Robert Milne.     References CAMBRIDGE n.d. Secondment definition In: UNIVERSITY, C. (ed.) Cambridge dictionary. United Kingdom.   DBEIS 2020. Energy Consumption in the UK (ECUK) 1970 to 2019 In: (ONS), O. O. N. S. (ed.) National Statistics. London: Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.   HMSO 1985. The Housing Associations Act 1985: Chapter 69. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.   JACOBIDES, M. G. 2007. The inherent limits of organizational structure and the unfulfilled role of hierarchy: Lessons from a near-war. Organization Science, 18, 455-477.   SYHA. 2020. Our Strategic Plan 2020-2023 [Online]. UK: South Yorkshire Housing Association. Available: [Accessed 2021].   SYHA. 2021a. Our history [Online]. UK. Available: [Accessed].   SYHA. 2021b. Our purpose [Online]. UK: South Yorkshire Housing Association. Available: [Accessed].   SYHA. 2021c. Who we are [Online]. UK: South Yorkshire Housing Association. Available: [Accessed].

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)


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The case study decoder

Posted on 28-10-2021

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

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)



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