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Saskia Furman

ESR2

Saskia Furman is an Architect with an avid interest in social and environmental sustainability. Her range of practical experience includes residential, listed buildings, community buildings and low-carbon retrofit of existing homes, contributing to the ongoing European funded project, Homes As Energy Systems (HAES). She continues to investigate community-led cooperative housing design through her collaboration with the Greater Manchester Commoners Cooperative (GMCC).

  After completing a Bachelor of Architecture at the Manchester School of Architecture, Saskia studied for a Master of Architecture at Liverpool University, where the investigation into both the pragmatic and societal results of automation led to a new housing typology and the award-winning thesis - Automonument.

  Saskia’s international study includes: London workshop How Do We Live?; Hello Wood design-build project Caravanserai, Hungary; Erasmus exchange, Germany; and investigation into the social, political and cultural context of the Inhotim Institute, Minas Gerais, Brazil, where she immersed herself in Brazilian culture and language. Based in Barcelona, she will be investigating how to adapt European social housing stock to meet the needs of modern and emerging households. 

Research topic

Updated sumaries

September, 07, 2023

November, 20, 2022

March, 18, 2022

September, 15, 2021

Upgrading social housing to meet the socio-economic needs of today’s dwellers: A framework for sustainable retrofit

 

European social housing peaked in the post-war period. Predominantly designed and constructed by top-down stakeholders—including architects, planners, engineers, and policy makers—the deregulation of building standards, poor maintenance, and lack of investment, has led to disrepair. Poor insulation, poor energy performance, thin walls, cold, damp, and mould all contribute to the desperate need for retrofit. Residents have little to no autonomy (and often lack the financial means) over repair and maintenance and top-down decision-making by building owners is favoured. Yet this method of retrofit neglects inclusive stakeholder engagement in retrofit processes, imposes living standards and conditions onto marginalised groups including women and other groups at risk of vulnerability without integrating their needs, and generates outcomes unfit for purpose.

 

Residents are experts in the way they live and should be key stakeholders in the co-design of retrofit plans. Non-energy benefits are more important to residents than energy-related benefits, particularly social housing residents who also require pragmatic solutions that differ from homeowners. Despite this, the prioritised method of deep energy retrofit (DER) favours three technical improvements: (1) enhancing the building fabrics thermal properties; (2) improving systems efficiency; and (3) renewable energy integration. However, performance gaps can be as high as five times the predicted energy consumption, driven by the rebound effect, the prebound effect, occupant behaviour, improper installation, and simulation uncertainties. Integrating residents’ perspectives in retrofit design, alongside expert input, can help achieve holistic sustainable outcomes – social, environmental, and economic – by increasing energy performance, affordability, health and wellbeing, quality of life, and user empowerment, simultaneously closing the performance gap.

 

The focus of this thesis is to develop a new process for socially inclusive, holistic retrofit to engage with stakeholder groups. Reflexivity, power relations, relative privilege, and my outsider status will all be considered to socially position myself as the researcher in relation to participating stakeholders, thus framing the investigation with strong objectivity. In this way, inclusive participatory action research will empower women and underrepresented groups to engage in retrofit processes.

 

The following questions will be addressed: Could the participation of people living in social housing improve retrofit solutions more than end point performance targeted retrofit? How can social housing retrofit be safeguarded for future tenants? Is Deep Energy Retrofit (DER) the best approach for holistic sustainability? What do inhabitants include as important in retrofit, that is not included in the retrofit energy process?

 

Through the exploratory case study methods umbrella, I will investigate different processes of social housing retrofit. I will investigate the following questions with two high level stakeholders (policy makers and designers) guiding the retrofit process: How did retrofit occur? Why did retrofit occur this way? Who was involved in the retrofit process? What were the objectives? And what role do residents play in decision-making processes? I will also conduct research with inhabitants to explore how resident satisfaction, health and wellbeing, and quality of life have been impacted by retrofit decisions.

 

The project will discuss the sustainable upgrading of existing social housing stock in line with the triple bottom line of sustainability, prioritising social and environmental improvements and touching on the economic. From the results, I will develop a good practice guide for high level stakeholders to engage social housing residents in retrofit decision-making.

 

 

Keywords: Social Housing, Retrofit, Social sustainability, Environmental sustainability

Upgrading social housing to meet the socio-economic needs of today’s dwellers: A framework for sustainable retrofit

 

Construction of social housing in Europe peaked in the post-war period and was predominantly designed and constructed in a top-down fashion by stakeholders including architects, planners, engineers, and policy makers. Through the deregulation of building standards, poor maintenance and lack of investment, social housing across Europe has fallen into disrepair. Poor insulation, poor energy performance, thin walls, cold, damp, and mould all contribute to the desperate need for retrofit. However, top-down decision-making continues to neglect inclusive stakeholder engagement in retrofit processes that often lead to outcomes not fit for purpose.

 

The large scale retrofit of residential building stock must defend the need to house people in accessible, inclusive homes they can afford. Housing associations, local authorities, large housing providers and other stakeholders need to be convinced that inclusive, bottom-up retrofit is a necessary economic decision. This is because it will facilitate a long-term return-on-investment through lower maintenance costs, reduced crime rates, positive educational outcomes, and improved mental and physical health and wellbeing of residents.

 

While energy retrofit can occur as deep, partial, or overtime, the prioritised method of deep energy retrofit favours high energy performance targets through airtightness, mechanical systems, thermal insulation, and renewable energies. As social housing is usually state owned and managed by municipalities and third sector housing associations, a top-down approach to retrofit often occurs because residents have little to no autonomy (and often lack the financial means) over repair and maintenance. Yet this method of retrofit imposes living standards and conditions onto marginalised groups including women and other groups at risk of vulnerability without integrating their needs.

 

The focus of this thesis is to develop a new process for socially inclusive, holistic retrofit using feminist methodologies to engage with stakeholder groups. Reflexivity, power relations, relative privilege, and my outsider status will all be considered to socially position myself as the researcher in relation to participating stakeholders, thus framing the investigation with strong objectivity. In this way, inclusive participatory action research will empower women and underrepresented groups to engage in retrofit processes.

 

By revisiting the retrofit process using feminist methods to engage with stakeholders, I will investigate how inclusive retrofit can lead to positive outcomes for residents’ health and wellbeing alongside environmental benefits. The use of feminist methodologies leads to better, more inclusive results because multiple underrepresented groups are explored through the lens of women, including children, the elderly and the less able-bodied. When the results are better from using feminist methodologies, this immediately will empower women. The following questions will be addressed: Could the participation of people living in social housing improve retrofit solutions more than end point performance targeted retrofit? How can social housing retrofit be safeguarded for future tenants? Is Deep Energy Retrofit (DER) the best approach for holistic sustainability? What do inhabitants include as important in retrofit, that is not included in the retrofit energy process?

 

Through the exploratory case study methods umbrella, I will investigate different processes of social housing retrofit. I will investigate the following questions with two high level stakeholders (policy makers and designers) guiding the retrofit process: How did retrofit occur? Why did retrofit occur this way? Who was involved in the retrofit process? What were the objectives? And what role do residents play in decision-making processes? I will also conduct research with inhabitants to explore how resident satisfaction, health and wellbeing, and quality of life have been impacted by retrofit decisions.

 

The project will discuss the sustainable upgrading of existing social housing stock in line with the triple bottom line of sustainability, prioritising social and environmental improvements and touching on the economic. From the results, I will develop a comprehensive multi-criteria framework that suggests what type of renovations should occur, how they should occur, and identify the multiple actors and stakeholders that should be engaged in the process, along with a good practice guide.

Upgrading social housing to meet the socio-economic needs of today’s dwellers, and the environmental needs of the planet: A framework beyond retrofit.

 

Despite the disparity between their meanings the term social housing is often used synonymously with affordable housing. Alongside the increased commodification of housing, this shift in language has facilitated a wider paradigm shift away from the welfare state and towards individualism. The project will discuss the sustainable upgrading of existing social housing stock – initially built as state-provided housing for different groups – in line with current sustainability targets including the triple bottom line of sustainability: social, environmental, and economic.


Increased resident satisfaction is a vital agenda for sustainable social housing renovation, and a multidimensional challenge: social, economic, and environmental. The socio-economic characteristics of social housing dwellers, the surrounding infrastructure including access to amenities and transport, and building energy performance, all converge to impact satisfaction with quality of life.


The necessity to low carbon retrofit housing is a widely accepted agenda throughout the construction industry, policy, and beyond. Retrofit schemes such as the EU’s Renovation Wave aim to combat climate change and assist in the post COVID-19 economic recovery by creating jobs. However, a major obstacle for all housing providers outside the luxury market remains: how to complete retrofit while maintaining affordability?


Commodification of housing has facilitated the migration of social housing over to the private sector, leaving mixed-tenure ‘pepper-pot’ buildings that make retrofit decisions difficult to agree. Meanwhile, the current state of affordable housing is not affordable for all socio-economic groups. Whilst we are currently transitioning to low carbon housing, the large scale retrofit of residential building stock must defend the need to house people in homes they can ‘afford’, rather than upgrading existing social housing stock and selling it to the private market. Housing associations, local authorities, large housing providers and other stakeholders need to be convinced that large scale retrofit is a necessary economic decision that will facilitate a long-term return-on-investment through lower maintenance costs, reduced crime rates, positive educational outcomes, and increased mental and physical health and wellbeing. Long term affordability must be considered throughout the renovation to deter gentrification.


The objective of this research is to develop a matrix for mid- to large-scale housing renovation to deliver affordable and sustainable housing. Organised under broad categories, including urbanity, sustainability, social, connectivity and more, the framework will identify key issues to be improved, such as the building envelope, internal layout, social mix, safety, and energy efficiency. I will then analyse and inform the set of criteria against several case studies and precedents to assess the successes and failures of existing social housing stock. Chosen precedents for investigation will be partly renovated post-war European social housing. Deeper case studies will be identified alongside consultations with INCASÒL and Housing Europe to determine an optimal set of criteria and provide rich data sets for further analysis during secondments; these include post occupancy evaluation, energy performance data, and access to stakeholders for interview.


The following questions will be addressed during case study analysis: How long should evaluation of each case study take place? What problems were identified by renovations and how were solutions found? What did the renovators want to achieve? How do the renovations align with sustainability agendas such as the SDG’s? How has renovation impacted residents’ lives, post occupancy?


From the results of the matrix, I will originate a comprehensive multi-criteria framework that suggests what renovations should occur, why they should occur, and identify the multiple actors and stakeholders that will benefit, along with a best practice guide for easily digestible information.

Reference documents

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Research Plan Diagram and Summary

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Adapting European Social Housing to meet the Socio-Economic needs of Today’s Dwellers, and the Environmental needs of the Planet: A Framework for Renovation

 

Despite the disparity between their meanings the term social housing is often used synonymously with affordable housing. The project will discuss the upgrading of existing social housing stock – initially built as state-provided housing for different groups – to affordable (still a contested term) and sustainable housing, in accordance with the current Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s)

 

When renovating existing social housing we must address the socio-economic characteristics of today’s dwellers, the surrounding infrastructure, and energy efficiency standards.  

 

The objective of this research is to develop a matrix encompassing the multiple dimensions and issues to consider in a mid- to large-scale renovation programme. Organised under broad categories, including urbanity, sustainability, social, connectivity and more, the framework will identify key issues to be improved, such as the building envelope, internal layout, social mix, safety, and energy efficiency. I will then analyse the set of criteria against a number of case studies to assess the successes of existing social housing stock and areas to be improved. The chosen case studies will be post-war European social housing that has been partly renovated since construction. Consultations with INCASÒL will help determine an optimal set of criteria, as well as provide a rich data set for further analysis during my secondment.

 

The following questions will be addressed during case study analysis: How long should evaluation of each case study take place? What problems were identified by renovations and how were solutions found? What did the renovators want to achieve? How do the renovations align with the SDG’s?

 

From the results of the matrix I will originate a comprehensive multi-criteria framework that suggests what renovations should occur, why they should occur, and identify the multiple actors and stakeholders that will benefit.

Reference documents

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Leinefelde Haus 07, Germany. Retrofit by Stefan Forster Architekten

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Retrofit and Social Engagement | We can do better

Posted on 13-07-2023

That’s it. The final summer school of RE-DWELL has officially been and gone. This year saw input not only from my cohort of ESRs and supervisors, but we were joined by industry partners to test the first iteration of RE-DWELL’s ‘Serious Game’ – which will be coming to a city near you. ‘Serious Game’ combines academia and industry to help all housing stakeholders navigate complex questions regarding holistically sustainable housing. Through the game, transdisciplinary discussion promptsaction through tools and methods within policy and finance; design, planning and building; and community participation – the benchmark of RE-DWELLS investigations. This output will form a part of the transdisciplinary framework based on the ESR’s PhD’s.   One turn of the 'Serious Game' took our group from the solution “new tools to tailor make housing solutions”—through exploring methods including urban rooms, workshops with critical action research, transdisciplinary collaboration, and grant of use models—to an answer: “could the participation of people living in social housing improve retrofit solutions more than end point performance targeted retrofit?” Funnily enough, this question is identical to one of my research questions.   Working on my PhD in social housing retrofit with tenant engagement, has put the terms “retrofit” and “social sustainability” on the tip of my tongue. Constantly ready to listen, learn, and discuss these concepts, I see blind spots everywhere. Tom Dollard from Pollard Thomas Edwards revealed a stunning environmentally sustainable scheme, even attempting some socially sustainable effort on the Blenheim Estate greenfield site in Oxfordshire but drew attention to the ethical grey area of building on a greenfield. Paul Quinn from Clarion revealed plans for regeneration that prioritise the Right-to-Return but is often not taken advantage of. A good way to keep the existing community together, Quinn says, is to build new environmentally sustainable housing on the same plot, decant the existing tenants into this housing, then retrofit the rest. Of course, this only works if the plot allows new buildings, and often buildings with retrofit potential are still cited for demolition and rebuild.   85-95% (European Commission, 2020) of buildings will remain standing in 2050, in the UK this extends to 80% of all dwellings (Pierpoint et al., n.d.) and they desperately need retrofitting for the climate crisis and for inhabitants. There are residential buildings in London designed for 40% occupancy. These leave 60% of those homes empty, acting as safety deposit boxes called “foreign investment”. Do we need to build more? Or do we need to re-enforce existing building stock and insist on full occupancy? When asked about retrofit, “we could do better” is a common reply from architects and housing associations. So why aren’t we doing better? It’s true that retrofit incurs more upfront cost that new build—in part because new build in the UK is exempt from tax, while retrofit is not—but the opportunities for long-term returns are enormous. To name a few: embodied carbon savings; new supply chains; opportunities to upskill unemployed tenants in a field with huge skills gaps; upskilling construction workers who fear a dwindling construction sector; physical and mental health and wellbeing implications; and integrative, iterative learning from the tenants who are experts in the way they live.   During the RE-DWELL visit to London, I visited the Building Centre exhibition Retrofit 23:Towards Deep Retrofit of Homes at Scale*. The exhibition (which I highly recommend) displays examples of retrofit from around the UK. The questions identified in the exhibition read “how do we fund retrofit and leverage the benefits? How best can deep retrofit be scaled up locally across streets and neighbourhoods to meet the net zero goals?”. It states that improving performance brings environmental, economic, and social benefits. Environmental benefits are easily displayed through energy performance statistics, economic benefits are displayed in terms of financial cost, but social benefits remain a struggle to translate beyond technical measures such as quantifiable indoor air quality and temperatures. The lack of quantifiable social benefits can be a huge barrier in tenant engagement because of the need to justify the extra expense, especially in social housing. But this is where engagement is most needed. In homes where residents are already disempowered by the knowledge that changes to their homes are not their decision to make. Noble efforts of community engagement displayed on a handful of case studies in the Retrofit 23 exhibition include: meetings with installers, on-site training, and one example of a resident design group where tenants had some real design impact.   Deep Retrofit comes with a specific restriction: to reduce energy consumption by 60-90% of pre-retrofit levels (Fawcett, 2014; Femenías et al., 2018) and therefore immediately places the focus on environmental sustainability and economic viability, consequently deemphasising social sustainability. So I ask the question: can deep retrofit lead to holistic sustainability? Mostly, engagement efforts are systems motivated, attempting to teach residents the correct use of technical systems, at times nominating technical agents from within the building to help transfer this knowledge to the others.   The biggest success of the Retrofit 23 exhibition must be the message board. Full of answers to the question “how can the challenge of retrofitting homes be made easier?”. Answers included: more grant money; increased low-carbon incentives; neighbourhood scale solutions; increase supply chains; increased education and training; upskill; knowledge sharing with children, schools, and communities; and attention to detail to avoid costly mistakes. My personal additions included cut tax on retrofit, extend funding spending deadlines, and legislate social engagement processes.   Often, social housing residents don’t want costly mechanical interventions, they want people to listen to their input and learn from the way they occupy their homes. Not that technical solutions don’t have their place, of course. But there are plenty of energy savings to be had with passive solutions, education, and conversation.   Let’s do better.     *Retrofit 23: Towards Deep Retrofit of Homes at Scale is a free exhibition held at the Building Centre in London until 29thSeptember 2023.     References European Commission. (2020). A Renovation Wave for Europe -greening our buildings, creating jobs, improving lives.   Fawcett, T. (2014). Exploring the time dimension of low carbon retrofit: Owner-occupied housing. Building Research and Information, 42(4), 477–488. https://doi.org/10.1080/09613218.2013.804769   Femenías, P., Mjörnell, K., & Thuvander, L. (2018). Rethinking deep renovation: The perspective of rental housing in Sweden. Journal of Cleaner Production, 195, 1457–1467. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.12.282   Pierpoint, D., Rickaby, P., & Hancox, S. (n.d.). Social Housing Retrofit Toolkit MODULE 3: Housing Retrofit Policy Summary.

Summer schools, Reflections

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ISHF 2023: “At the end of the day, we are all here for the same reason. And we have to look out for each other”

Posted on 16-06-2023

Last week marked the fourth edition of the International Social Housing Festival (ISHF) and unlike last year in Helsinki, I didn’t spend the entire week in my hotel room with coronavirus. HURRAH! In fact, I was able to sleep in my own bed, because this year the festival came to my current hometown, Barcelona.   More than 1,800 international social and affordable housing providers, policymakers, city representatives, urbanists, architects, researchers, NGOs, and activists celebrated social housing over three days of activities: seminars, lectures, workshops, exhibitions, and site visits.   I was fortunate to help facilitate transfer of knowledge through seminar, exhibition, workshop, and live blogging, in collaboration with multiple social housing actors: RE-DWELL (academic), where I am an Early Stage Researcher; Housing Europe (European Federation), my current secondment in Brussels; and the Agència de l'Habitatge de Catalunya AHC (Regional Government Organisation), my previous collaborator on the HOUSEFUL project.   Read on to find out more.     RE-DWELL | Exhibition and Seminar   RE-DWELL designed and facilitated a participatory workshop in Helsinki, regarding our network’s three key research areas: Design, Planning, & Building; Community Participation; and Policy & Finance. RE-DWELL expanded with two key contributions in Barcelona: an exhibition of network-wide output – vocabulary entries and case study analyses; and a collaborative seminar with Housing Europe titled “Mass renovation of Affordable Housing: Industrial and Social Innovations”, investigating how social policies align with environmental policies and whether environmental housing policies are socially just, or bring tenants further burdens. Key takeaways include: we must retrofit en masse, industrialise the renovation process, avoid creating segregation, deploy organisational transformations to allow social innovation to emerge, value design by employing architects, and ensure socially just quality of life improvements.    The challenge is to consider behaviour to reduce the rebound effect and increase quality of the works and supply chain. Industrialisation could help, but for residents, CO2 reduction is a co-benefit to retrofit. The main benefits and desires are improved quality of life, summer comfort, vegetation, and new local business.     Housing Europe & AHC | Retrofit Workshop My secondment at Housing Europe enabled my involvement in “Resident Engagement Practices in Energy Efficient Social Housing”. The event began with presentations exploring sustainable projects: positive energy neighbourhood Syn.ikia EU by Incasòl, which I was fortunate to visit in Santa Coloma De Gramanet; and retrofit projects Green Deal ARV by Ajuntament De Palma and HOUSEFUL, 4RinEU, PLUG-N-HARVEST, and RELS by AHC. I then facilitated a workshop using a game of cards to explore different methodologies and tools to engage marginalised tenants in the retrofit process*.   Some results from the discussion:   ENGAGEMENT Engagement should occur at the beginning of a project to give tenants options. When occurring at the end of the project, it’s hard to engage people. Tenant engagement should be factored into the programme at every stage of the project.   Tenants with little time and money are more difficult to engage. For example, elderly and very low-income residents. Children and parents are easier to engage, however, and we can offer incentives such as childcare and food.   METHODS OF PARTICIPATION  Overall, the most useful methods chosen in the workshop were sensory and/or tactile. Videos showcasing previous retrofit projects helps engagement, encouraging groups to come, join, and share the experience before facilitating a discussion. A demonstration house where people can attend and interact with the architects and products can be used – but only if designs are finalised. Expectations must be managed if it is subject to change. A challenge to consider: Is there room for a demo-house as a decision-making tool?   TIMING AND TRANSPARENCY Timing is a typical problem for housing associations. Everything should be discussed with all stakeholders to ensure everyone is on board and minimise time delays. If delays occur, transparency and honesty are key to cultivating trust – tenant updates should occur throughout the process.   LONG TERM Tenant partnerships with construction projects are a great way to increase sense of ownership, upskill, and create jobs.     Housing Europe | Blog Throughout the event, I was live blogging for the Housing Europe website, alongside four colleagues. This was a fantastic way to stay consistently engaged and distil the most important aspects of the events I visited – despite the cramp in my hand from typing so fast!   1. THE CARDBOARD FACTORY, FÁBRICA DE CARTRÒ BY INCASÒL Fàbrica de Cartró, an old cardboard factory in Sant Joan Despí, Catalonia, is being investigated for retrofit and reuse by Incasòl. The aim is to create mixed-tenure housing, with a focus on sustainability, including social rental housing, affordable rental housing, cooperative spaces, and private ownership, considering the local community's participation. Desired features include prefabricated systems, renewable energies, a new public space linked to the river, increased dwellings, and common spaces for social value. Incasòl is exploring a public-private partnership model for a long-term lease, ensuring sustainability standards. The retrofit will be a long journey. The structure needs improving to hold more storeys, the basement needs reinforcement. But the space is ethereal, and the façade is beautiful; it could always be removed and reused – an idea already under investigation.   Who will win? Retrofit, circularity, or demolition?  We'll have to wait and see.   2. RENT CONTROL, RENT CONTROL! The war in Ukraine has led to a 30% increase in construction costs, exacerbating the housing crisis amid growing urban migration. Insufficient housing supply results in vulnerable individuals living in subpar accommodations. The head of the EU office of the International Union of Tenants, Barbara Steenbergen calls for rent regulation and caps, while cautioning against landlords exploiting furnished apartments to evade rent control laws.   3. HOW FINLAND AVOIDS EVICTION In 2002, a house fire caused by five people addicted to drugs prompted Finland to establish a proactive service aimed at preventing crises before they occur. Instead of relying on treatment, focus shifted to prevention. Housing Advisors, available to all residents regardless of tenure, offer housing advice to avoid evictions and serve as intermediaries between residents and social services. This approach helps individuals facing issues such as gambling addiction retain their homes and access the appropriate support services. Finland's high salaries and robust public social services do give it advantages over other states. But, consider this, the cost of a single eviction for housing companies is €10,600. Saving three people from eviction, therefore, covers the salary of one Housing Advisor. Simple, yet effective. 4. ISHF TALKS ON PARTICIPATION, POLICY, RETROFIT, AND ENGAGEMENT Montserrat Pareja, a housing researcher from the University of Barcelona, facilitated quick fire presentations of innovative academic research on social housing, covering topics such as tenant participation, policy, retrofitting, and engagement.     I end by quoting an insightful social housing tenant in the documentary about their new home: Casa Bloc: Rehabilitació d’una idea’ (Casa Bloc: Retrofit of an idea) – “At the end of the day, we are all here for the same reason. And we have to look out for each other”.   *Game cards were based on the results of an investigation into people-centred energy renovation processes by Broers et al. (2022).     References and Further Reading   The full Housing Europe live blog can be found here.   Read more about the documentary Casa Bloc: Rehabilitaciód'una idea   Broers, W., Kemp, R., Vasseur, V., Abujidi, N., & Vroon, Z. (2022). Justice in social housing: Towards a people-centred energy renovation process. Energy Research and Social Science, 88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2022.102527  

Conferences, Workshops

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Retrofit and The Social Agenda

Posted on 08-05-2023

Imagine you are standing at the top of a residential block in a large open park, slightly raised above the ground, with playground equipment catering to various age groups: climbing frames, monkey bars, zip lines, swings… the lot. Walking down the pedestrianised centre of the road, lined with benches and trees (not the norm in arid Barcelona), you arrive at a nine-storey residential building occupying the triangular corner plot. The surrounding buildings occupy a lesser height, so the yellow façade is immediately visible, seamlessly rendered over cork SATE (external wall insulation). Approaching from the street, this is what you would see: at eye level, a west-facing facade with natural limestone wrapping the entire first two storeys; tilt your head upwards, you are looking at yellow-render on the top right two-thirds of the remaining wall, terracotta brick on the top-left third, and the edge of the apartment’s balconies; next, walk around the chamfered the corner, the first two storeys of limestone continues, but, glancing upward again, full balconies are visible on both sides, in the centre of the wall is a central panel of unobstructed glass, and the rest of the wall is terracotta brick; continue your stroll around the building, you are now looking at the south-west facing wall, you see the same material pattern as the west-facing facade, but mirrored. The building is tonally harmonious and the effect is soft and warm—accentuated by the sunshine outside.    The building is called Bloc Els Mestres (The Teachers Block). It was built around 1956 to house the teachers of the adjoining school. The school, the teachers’ residencies, and the expansion of two housing estates were some of the first buildings to occupy the sparsely populated Sabadell Sud location. The site is near Sabadell Airport. By 1984, the expansion had caught up to Bloc Els Mestres and it was no longer isolated between fields but surrounded by residences to the North, West and East. By the year 2000, it was nestled in at all sides. By 2018, however, Bloc Els Mestres sat vacant, neglected, and in major need of renovation.    Today, two structurally sound wings fan out either side of the bright central stairwell, with two approximately 100m² four-bedroom apartments per floor —one in each wing (1st – 8th floor). The ground floor belongs to the community. The south-east building orientation allows light to stream through the square windows that punctuate the longest façades; slightly cantilevered balconies also benefit from this orientation. The apartment interiors are a simple white, giving tenants a wide scope to personalise and redecorate.   HOUSEFUL: Innovative circular solutions and services for the housing sector   The Catalan Land Institute—Institut Català del Sòl (Incasól) are the main landowners and developers of social housing in Catalunya. But while they own the land, the buildings themselves are managed by their sister organisation—Agència de l'Habitatge de Catalunya (AHC). Social housing retrofit—or rehabilitación in Castellano—is therefore overseen by the AHC. A lesson I learned quickly after starting my secondment in social housing retrofit… at Incasól. Graciously, introductions were made at the AHC, the owner (unusual) and manager (usual) of Bloc Els Mestres and partner in the HOUSEFUL project.   Bloc Els Mestres has undergone a major retrofit as part of the EU funded HOUSEFUL project (2018-2023) – integrating innovative circular solutions and services into the retrofit of four pilot projects in Spain and Austria. More information can be found here. An ambitious project in sustainable retrofit, physical building upgrades have been combined with smarts systems, reuse, and tenant inclusion through technical systems operation learning and feedback sessions, enhancing social sustainability by ‘consultation’ (Arnstein, 1969) and ‘collaboration’ (Oevermann, 2016). It is now occupied by social housing tenants, who rent the homes directly from the building owner (AHC) at a discounted rate.   I attended two site visits to Els Mestres during my secondment at Incasòl, one included a feedback session with key stakeholders: AHC, Aiguasol, WE&B, Sabadell Council, Saneseco, the Social Association, and Fundació EVEHO – a group who temporarily place young people in HOUSEFUL to aid in their move to Spain.   Bloc Els Mestres feedback session takeaways:   Barrier 1: How to visualise the benefits of the HOUSEFUL solutions. Solution1: Create a report to present the solutions to building owners, manager, and public authority. Place an information board at the building entrance (outside) and inside the building, with a QR code taking people to the website with constantly updated information.   Barrier 2: Language – not all residents were raised in Spain, and therefore speak and read Spanish or Catalan. Solution2: Consider different dimensions of accessibility. Audio translations, an instruction manual for technical components that is easy to comprehend, beautiful, and visual.   Barrier 3: The water system needed a lot of space and maintenance; constant analysis of the treated water was also needed - the tenants association asked for removal. Solution 3: It was finally agreed with the tenants’ association to install the water system temporarily, in order to evaluate it.   Barrier 4: A “circularity agent” should be allocated to teach tenants how to use complex technical systems. Solution 4: A ‘president’ of the residents could be trained to take this role, in-house expertise and earning a social place in the building.   Barrier 5: Safeguarding future tenants use of technical systems. Solution 5: Contract states the obligation for new tenants to receive technical training regarding how to use the dwelling.   Going forward with my own research, it is important to keep in perspective that conflicts will arise when tenants are involved in decision-making processes. As a result of this, it is important to foresee these potential conflicts, plan possible solutions, and manage expectations.   A huge thanks to Pere Picorelli at Incasòl and Cristina Cardenete, Esther Llorens, and Anna Mestre at AHC for their help, time, access, and guidance.   References:   Arnstein, S. R. (1969). A Ladder Of Citizen Participation. Journal of the American Planning Association, 35(4), 216–224. https://doi.org/10.1080/01944366908977225 Oevermann, H., Degenkolb, J., Dießler, A., Karge, S., & Peltz, U. (2016). Participation in the reuse of industrial heritage sites: The case of Oberschöneweide, Berlin. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 22(1), 43–58. https://doi.org/10.1080/13527258.2015.1083460

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

Posted on 08-03-2022

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

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Energy Retrofit

Housing Retrofit

Area: Design, planning and building

Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU (European Commission, 2021). Energy retrofit is also referred to as building energy retrofit, low carbon retrofit, energy efficiency retrofit and energy renovation; all terms related to the upgrading of existing buildings energy performance to achieve high levels of energy efficiency. Energy retrofit significantly reduces energy use and energy demand (Femenías et al., 2018; Outcault et al., 2022), tackles fuel (energy) poverty, and lowers carbon emissions (Karvonen, 2013). It is widely acknowledged that building energy retrofit should result in a reduction of carbon emissions by at least 60% compared with pre-retrofit emissions, in order to stabilise atmospheric carbon concentration and mitigate climate change (Fawcett, 2014; Outcault et al., 2022). Energy retrofit can also improve comfort, convenience, and aesthetics (Karvonen, 2013). There are two main approaches to deep energy retrofit, fabric-first and whole-house systems. The fabric-first approach prioritises upgrades to the building envelope through four main technical improvements: increased airtightness; increased thermal insulation; improving the efficiency of systems such as heating, lighting, and electrical appliances; and installation of renewables such as photovoltaics (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). The whole-house systems approach to retrofit further considers the interaction between the climate, building site, occupant, and other components of a building (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). In this way, the building becomes an energy system with interdependent parts that strongly affect one another, and energy performance is considered a result of the whole system activity. Energy retrofit can be deep, over-time, or partial (Femenías et al., 2018). Deep energy retrofit is considered a onetime event that utilises all available energy saving technologies at that time to reduce energy consumption by 60% - 90% (Fawcett, 2014; Femenías et al., 2018). Over-time retrofit spreads the deep retrofit process out over a strategic period of time, allowing for the integration of future technologies (Femenías et al., 2018). Partial retrofit can also involve several interventions over time but is particularly appropriate to protect architectural works with a high cultural value, retrofitting with the least-invasive energy efficiency measures (Femenías et al., 2018). Energy retrofit of existing social housing tends to be driven by cost, use of eco-friendly products, and energy savings (Sojkova et al., 2019). Energy savings are particularly important in colder climates where households require greater energy loads for space heating and thermal comfort and are therefore at risk of fuel poverty (Sojkova et al., 2019; Zahiri & Elsharkawy, 2018). Similarly, extremely warm climates requiring high energy loads for air conditioning in the summer can contribute to fuel poverty and will benefit from energy retrofit (Tabata & Tsai, 2020). Femenías et al’s (2018) extensive literature review on property owners’ attitudes to energy efficiency argues that retrofit is typically motivated by other needs, referred to by Outcault et al (2022) as ‘non-energy impacts’ (NEIs). While lists of NEIs are inconsistent in the literature, categories related to “weatherization retrofit” refer to comfort, health, safety, and indoor air quality (Outcault et al., 2022). Worldwide retrofit schemes such as RetrofitWorks and EnerPHit use varying metrics to define low carbon retrofit, but their universally adopted focus has been on end-point performance targets, which do not include changes to energy using behaviour and practice (Fawcett, 2014). An example of an end-point performance target is Passivhaus’ refurbishment standard (EnerPHit), which requires a heating demand below 25 kWh/(m²a) in cool-temperate climate zones; zones are categorised according to the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) (Passive House Institute, 2016).  

Created on 23-05-2022

Author: S.Furman (ESR2)

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Area: Design, planning and building

Environmental Retrofit Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy consumption and 36% of carbon emissions in the EU (European Commission, 2021). Environmental retrofit, green retrofit or low carbon retrofits of existing homes ais to upgrade housing infrastructure, increase energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, tackle fuel poverty, and improve comfort, convenience and aesthetics (Karvonen, 2013). It is widely acknowledged that environmental retrofit should result in a reduction of carbon emissions by at least 60% in order to stabilise atmospheric carbon concentration and mitigate climate change (Fawcett, 2014; Johnston et al., 2005). Worldwide retrofit schemes such as RetrofitWorks, EnerPHit and the EU’s Renovation Wave, use varying metrics to define low carbon retrofit, but their universally adopted focus has been on end-point performance targets (Fawcett, 2014). This fabric-first approach to retrofit prioritises improvements to the building fabric through: increased thermal insulation and airtightness; improving the efficiency of systems such as heating, lighting and electrical appliances; and the installation of renewables such as photovoltaics (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). The whole-house systems approach to retrofit further considers the interaction between the occupant, the building site, climate, and other elements or components of a building (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). In this way, the building becomes an energy system with interdependent parts that strongly affect one another, and energy performance is considered a result of the whole system activity. Economic Retrofit From an economic perspective, retrofit costs are one-off expenses that negatively impact homeowners and landlords, but reduce energy costs for occupants over the long run. Investment in housing retrofit, ultimately a form of asset enhancing, produces an energy premium attached to the property. In the case of the rental market, retrofit expenses create a split incentive whereby the landlord incurs the costs but the energy savings are enjoyed by the tenant (Fuerst et al., 2020). The existence of energy premiums has been widely researched across various housing markets following Rosen’s hedonic pricing model. In the UK, the findings of Fuerst et al. (2015) showed the positive effect of energy efficiency over price among home-buyers, with a price increase of about 5% for dwellings rated A/B compared to those rated D. Cerin et al. (2014) offered similar results for Sweden. In the Netherlands, Brounen and Kok (2011), also identified a 3.7% premium for dwellings with A, B or C ratings using a similar technique. Property premiums offer landlords and owners the possibility to capitalise on their  retrofit investment through rent increases or the sale of the property. While property premiums are a way to reconcile          split incentives between landlord and renter, value increases pose questions about long-term affordability of retrofitted units, particularly, as real an expected energy savings post-retrofit have been challenging to reconcile (van den Brom et al., 2019). Social Retrofit A socio-technical approach to retrofit elaborates on the importance of the occupant. To meet the current needs of inhabitants, retrofit must be socially contextualized and comprehended as a result of cultural practices, collective evolution of know-how, regulations, institutionalized procedures, social norms, technologies and products (Bartiaux et al., 2014). This perspective argues that housing is not a technical construction that can be improved in an economically profitable manner without acknowledging that it’s an entity intertwined in people’s lives, in which social and personal meaning are embedded. Consequently, energy efficiency and carbon reduction cannot be seen as a merely technical issue. We should understand and consider the relationship that people have developed in their dwellings, through their everyday routines and habits and their long-term domestic activities (Tjørring & Gausset, 2018). Retrofit strategies and initiatives tend to adhere to a ‘rational choice’ consultation model that encourages individuals to reduce their energy consumption by focusing on the economic savings and environmental benefits through incentive programs, voluntary action and market mechanisms (Karvonen, 2013). This is often criticized as an insufficient and individualist approach, which fails to achieve more widespread systemic changes needed to address the environmental and social challenges of our times (Maller et al., 2012). However, it is important to acknowledge the housing stock as a cultural asset that is embedded in the fabric of everyday lifestyles, communities, and livelihoods (Ravetz, 2008). The rational choice perspective does not consider the different ways that occupants inhabit their homes, how they perceive their consumption, in what ways they interact with the built environment, for what reasons they want to retrofit their houses and which ways make more sense for them, concerning the local context. A community-based approach to domestic retrofit emphasizes the importance of a recursive learning process among experts and occupants to facilitate the co-evolution of the built environment and the communities (Karvonen, 2013). Involving the occupants in the retrofit process and understanding them as “carriers” of social norms, of established routines and know-how, new forms of intervention  can emerge that are experimental, flexible and customized to particular locales (Bartiaux et al., 2014). There is an understanding that reconfiguring socio-technical systems on a broad scale will require the participation of occupants to foment empowerment, ownership, and the collective control of the domestic retrofit (Moloney et al., 2010).

Created on 16-02-2022

Author: A.Fernandez (ESR12), Z.Tzika (ESR10), S.Furman (ESR2)

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Publications

Furman, S. (2022, June). The emergence of affordable housing and its relationship to social housing: The history of housing commodification in England [Conference paper]. Arquitectonics, Barcelona.

Posted on 01-06-2022

Conference

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Upgrading social housing to meet the socio‐economic needs of today’s dwellers, and the environmental needs of the planet: A framework beyond retrofit. [Conference Abstract]

Posted on 30-08-2022

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