1: Housing Pedagogies

Urban housing today demands architects to take a stance. Since market dynamics have taken over housing production, the architect’s protagonism within this system has weakened. Architects operate in the urban fabric and work within its rules, thus should be equipped to challenge them. In today’s context, like in any other moment of political inflection, the status quo has to be discussed; Housing design—both policies and buildings—is a public affair.

Housing studios are part of every architecture school’s curriculum. These studios contain residual thinking; much of contemporary domestic design is still intrinsically functionalist — an inheritance of modernist thinking. Qualities such as the greenery, the distance, and the views, inherited from the Modernist city seem to be as pervasive as ever; they have become valuable assets that almost any housing design cannot do without .  Preconceived notions of spatial efficiency, programmatic and private versus public segregation are other modernist inheritances that should be questioned.

fig1 How do we Live healthily and economically 1926 Bauhaus
Click to enlarge

The Bauhaus film Wie Wohnen wir Gesund und Wirtschaftlich? (How to Live Healthily and Economically?) of 1926 incited our interest in housing pedagogies1. If a century ago architects raised the question “how do we live?”, today, should urban housing still be addressed from a design perspective? Can the discipline question and ultimately impact the status quo of housing production? In order to face these questions, “How do We Live?” discusses this topic by fragmenting the current debate on housing design into three themes:

Language – Politics

In the real-estate framework, housing has become a commodity or an investment. Therefore, beyond functionality, advertisement plays a decisive role. Through the lens of advertisement it is possible to see how a particular type is construed as a metropolitan lifestyle. The program proposes to reutilise the language of advertisement in two ways: to analyse the perception of the type and to produce an argument.

Crisis – Method

For these program, the notion of “crisis” is used as an operative term. “Crisis” is understood as a turning point, a time when a difficult or important decision must be made. The term forces to recognise certain design “problems” so as to propose design “solutions”. Although this approach might sound obvious and is simplistic, it pushes designers to: engage and defend a particular position (“I” designed this and not that) and envision anew (this design is “better” because of this and that).

The question for designers is: what defines the housing crisis of cities today? By forcing the notion of crisis as a methodology, existing housing types may be questioned and designers can propose alternative solutions.

Types – Context

Housing design never starts afresh; housing design operates through variation, iteration, and/or mutation of prior examples.

“How do we live?” ventures into a typological investigation, with the expectation that types can provide a framework to deal with complex urban variables.

By understanding the particulars in the production of a housing type, the architect can manipulate and reorganise—invent.

1. The film was commissioned by the Bauhaus’ director Walter Gropius and the Humboldt GmbH production company for promotional and educational purposes—it was premiered in the inauguration of the new Bauhaus building in Dessau in December 1926.

2. London / Santiago / Shanghai-Suzhou
London / Santiago / Shanghai-Suzhou

Housing types offer a lens into lifestyles and urbanities. They are the resource by which housing is designed. This four year research project looks closely at the housing landscape of three cities, examining from banal to exemplary residential buildings currently on the market. We look at Santiago (6.54 million people – 641 km2), London (8.78 million people – 1,569 km2) and Shanghai (24.15 million people – 634 km2). These cities have been randomly selected and offer a panoramic view into today’s housing production.

The project discusses today’s banal housing types2, exemplary of a particular city in its making. By looking at the market offer, the goal is to observe, analyse, participate and hopefully interfere in the production system of the urban.

Rather than dismissing examples of the current housing offer as “bastard” architecture, it is assumed that these housing types portray specific subjects, their living and urban conditions; the politics, policies, and socio economic factors that lead into developing a particular urban setting.

Housing —the sort that is massively repeated, not the one-of-a kind client-tailored house— is the stuff cities are made of. As housing is the primary occupation of architects, re-thinking housing studios and their design outcomes should have an impact in society. As housing studios are part of every architecture school’s curriculum, they are the perfect environment to question preconceived notions of spatial efficiency, programmatic, private versus public segregation, and other modernist inheritances. Nowadays, when metropolitan 

lives have changed significantly, has housing in the city followed these changes? The analysis of an existing housing type, its critique, and reformulation through an eloquent argument that addresses all stakeholders will allow to re-establish design authorship and bring the disciplinary discussion back into the public sphere.

The question of how to design housing has accompanied the discipline throughout the last century, yet many paradigms remain.

Cities house housing. Housing house lives. Lives have changed significantly. Has housing in these cities followed these changes? Regardless of location, price range, or target lifestyle, the current repertoire portrays a relentless similarity between housing types across the globe.

Collaborators: José Ángel Hidalgo, Cristián Izquierdo, Camilo Meneses, Max Nunez  

2. Buildings that look similarly, related to one another in terms of outer appearance, program, scale, price, intended users, and the settlement pattern they produce.

3. COVID 19 Housing Performance and Home-Working during Lockdown and beyond

This project examines how Covid-19 lockdown measures have impacted the use of our homes during lockdown, and how this might influence our housing preferences and working – living conditions within our homes after the immediate emergency. It investigates the appropriateness of London’s housing stock for intensive 24-hour occupancy, and for a future likely to include a much larger element of home-working and other activities. 

Home working and schooling (as well as care for the sick and elderly) has become a quasi-permanent feature of many people’s lives and influenced long term patterns of housing uses and preferences. Automation, corporate restructuring and newly flexible work models have all played parts, of course, but Covid-19 has accelerated change. The project asks (a) how this experience has changed the use of our homes and (b) examines their ability to adapt.

Prior to lockdown 14% of the workforce in the UK worked from home (ONS 2014) a figure that went up to 49% (ONS April 2020) during the pandemic. Surveys now suggest that 88% of those who experienced working from home wish to continue to do so after the pandemic. In this pre- liminary phase we will observe, compile and catalogue how Covid-19 lockdown measures have impacted the use of our homes. By observing what happened in private and communal spaces we will assemble a repository of ad-hoc spatial reorganisation and invention in homes and estates. Our sources will include visual information from the public domain from social media, TV features, advertising, the British Library voice history archive as well as mainstream reporting of life under lockdown.

Lockdown conditions in 2020 created a previously unforeseen need for the re-ad- aptation of the housing stock in London and other metropolitan areas in the UK. The framers of British housing standards certainly did not envisage the intensified use of dwellings of all sorts, flexibility, and the changes that may be needed for radically changed patterns of urban life. The extraordinary conditions of 2020, however, generated a rich variety of responses – both emotional and practical – which taken together form a rich resource for further inquiry and innovation.

The outcomes of this research will target professionals involved in design, development and construction of  housing and well as policymakers who set current standards, and  laymen such as new home-buyers and homeusers. Conventional academic publications will follow but probably not before archives and libraries re-open and site visits again become possible.

Collaborators: Prof. Simon Pepper, Henry Lyle, Maxime Turner