Written by Hadiya Al-Idrissi
July 4, 2019
The article I specifically looked at was “Calling All Architects: New Approaches to Old Housing,” which featured 3 projects around the world that exemplified inventive design solutions to maintain and improve existing housing stock. Usually, these renovations cost less than half the amount it would to demolish and rebuild. From minimal interventions with maximum impact, to advocacy for policy changes and replicable models, these projects highlight the improvement of livability in social housing from the unit, right through to the neighborhood scale.
There is a growing body of research that demonstrates people with stable, affordable, well-designed housing lead healthier happier lives than those who are rent burdened or precariously housed. Historically, housing has been considered distinct from architecture. Housing was seen as a socio-economic product to be delivered at the least possible cost and mass produced, whereas architecture was considered a cultural endeavour, something more ‘poetic’.
In other words, housing was seen as a commodity, while architecture was a luxury.
The articles and projects featured in this journal highlight the expanded role of the architect as an advocate and activist in the betterment of lives through the built environment, and demonstrate how housing projects and the design processes behind them can be interventions towards greater social equity, fair access to opportunities, and resources for an economically stable life.
Lacaton & Vassal; Frédéric Druot Architecture; Christophe Hutin Architecture
Before (left) and after (right) of the Cité du Grand Parc renovation (Source: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/may/12/grand-parc-bordeaux-lacaton-vassal-mies-van-der-rohe-award).
A simple and elegant update to the repetitive concrete blocks we associate with mass housing, this project also won the 2019 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture. Read more about it here.
2. Central Hill Estate: Alternative to Demolition (2016) – London, England
Architects for Social Housing (ASH)
Proposed Alternative to Demolition Site Plan of Central Hill Estate (Source: https://architectsforsocialhousing.co.uk/)
Political propaganda (left), ASH propaganda (right) (Source: https://architectsforsocialhousing.co.uk/)
ASH reminds us that the existing residents matter as much as the existing buildings. ASH approached this project with a sensitivity to the needs of the tenants, lots of community engagement to inform their design decisions, and advocated on behalf of the residents when scare tactics attempted to coerce public approval of the demolition. ASH remains active in proposing alternative solutions to demolition of estates across London, read more about them here.
3. Tower Renewal (2016) – Toronto, Canada
Conceptual sketch on improving a typical Tower in the Park development (Source: http://towerrenewal.com/)
The Tower Renewal Partnership demonstrates how the architect can take on more of a research role to inform long-term policy-making and design decisions around improving a specific aspect of existing rental housing stock. The lessons learned and best practices from these studies could also be replicable and applicable across the rest of Canada. Read more about the Tower Renewal Partnership here.
Parti diagram of Midtown Housing (2013), Duvall Decker Architects, Mississippi.
Presenting on these projects prompted good discussion on the way we administer Request for Proposals (RFPs) for architects. How do we best facilitate creativity in affordable housing solutions? Are budget constraints considered an inhibitor or motivator for innovative thinking? Could we utilize architecture schools by hosting affordable housing design charrettes to generate fresh ideas? Ultimately, there needs to be a balance between creativity and feasibility.
Housing is architecture.
Design is a tool that shouldn’t be reserved for only those who can profit off of it. Good conscientious design should be applied to every housing project for the betterment of people’s homes (and in turn, their lives), regardless of what rent they may pay. Architects have that power, coupled with a drive for advocacy and activism, it’s about time we use it to redefine how affordable housing looks and functions, and perhaps begin to erase its stigma for good.
Check out the 2018 Architectural Design publication “Housing as Intervention: Architecture towards Social Equity” if you would like to learn more.
Development Project Coordinator
July 4, 2019