This essay will look at how council housing in the UK should be adaptable to improve the liveability of the occupant in a socioeconomic standpoint. Schemes such as the Right to buy, the precedent study of Ern? Goldfinger and Alejandro Aravena will be debated. This will incorporate the im-portance of the clienteles input in the design and how the regeneration of buildings could be viewed as a benefit. This being supported by Hassan Fathy, Architecture for the poor. ?
Improving the quality of life in social housing through architecture
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This essay will be researching why home ownership is important to occupants within social housing in terms of domesticity in the UK.
It will be discussing how there is a lack of personalisation within social housing along with the stigma attached to council housing through social classes made aware to in chapter 7, ‘Households and Socioeconomic Differentiation’ of Archaeology of Domestic Architecture and the Human Use of Space.
There are current schemes which have been put into place to make owning homes more accessible. This essay will look into ways to make home owning more attainable to people in a precariat social class. Furthermore, it will incorporate the thematic of socioeconomics relative to people being able to buy their own homes and why the client should have input within the design of a space as suggested by Hassan Fathy in ‘Architecture for the poor.’ This manifesto will be debated with the precedent of Ern? Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower (London, 1967 ).
Opportunities to buy within housing schemes
Within the UK, there is a prominent issue of a lack of homeowners due to the cost of houses, especially for the precariat social class. This social class has the lowest household income with a direct correlation to the employment rates. Schemes have been put into place, such as the right to buy, with the intention to create opportunities to own a home. The right to buy scheme provides the ability to buy council housing at a deducted rate if eligible. This suggesting that there will always be a demand for more houses to be built increasing the need to connect with professionals like architects to come up with more efficient vernacular buildings or manipulating current space. These discounted rates are dependent on your location, for example main cities such as London can have “a discount of up to ?110,500” however, other areas may have lower discounts. The right to buy scheme could give occupants within social housing the opportunity to get on the property ladder, setting up security and a future for not only themselves but also family members.
Although the right to buy scheme has many benefits, as explained above, it does have some downfalls. “The number of new affordable homes built each year can’t keep pace with the amount sold.” This raises to me the question as to why we are knocking down timely council housing instead of regenerating them or other spaces that have potential. In the book ‘Architecture Without Architects’ it suggests that certain buildings are suited to specific functions , but architects have the knowledge to recreate this space for something else, this would make architecture the science of reorganising space relative to function. It could benefit the occupants in line for social housing by it being a speedier process and therefore allocating occupants to these council houses in a much shorter time scale. However, depending on the conditions of the property it could be costlier to repair the dwelling than to start over entirely. Several social housing sites in London are earmarked to be knocked down or already have been; all of which are brutalist buildings, an example of this is the Heygate Estate. Surely these are just the “blank canvas.” In the current state these dwellings aren’t necessarily fitting the needs of the occupant in aesthetic terms. But why are these dwellings being left in such a poor state?
Personalisation, and stigma within social housing
Kahn describes a way in which we can express ourselves through the redesigning and/or remodelling space by saying that “the wall enclosed us for a long time until the man behind it, feeling a new freedom, wanted to look out. He hammered away to make an opening.” Personalisation within a home is an important concept for the majority of occupants. It’s the way in which you portray your personality into a physical form, making a home individual to you as a person. As Kahn said, “To express is the reason for living.” Whether this is through materiality, how a room or space is arranged, even just a distinct coloured front door. Therefore, displaying what makes you defined from others around you. Owning a house gives you the freedom to make your space individual, this could benefit you when selling the dwelling due to the unique quality of the building. As a result, the buyer could view this adaptation of the house and consider how they themselves would customise the structure to suit their needs. The idea of personalisation could be of huge importance to those in social housing as they have been already put into a social class category. Which leads on to the next point.
From my understanding, it could be seen that there is a social stigma around those living in social housing. Those who belong to the upper classes seem to view social housing in a more negative way. Not only because of the social status but also the fact they don’t own the home. But why is this? Why do those who are of a higher social status seem to view occupants within social housing in this way when economically it makes sense for them to not own the house. This negative viewpoint could be an added financial pressure on the social housing occupants. Furthermore, the occupants may not take as much care of the social housing due to the condition and look of the dwelling. Perhaps because they don’t feel like the house/ flat is necessarily theirs.
An example of council housing is Ern? Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower, along with other residential flats. Balfron Tower was an example of the original social housing framework in place which allowed the occupants to proceed through the right to buy scheme. This could therefore lead them to purchasing their own flat and becoming the full-time owner. Balfron Tower is an iconic brutalist concrete structure along with others emerging around the 1960s onwards such as Robinhood Gardens. Brutalism was a bid to speed up building. This brutalist block (Balfron Tower) of flats will now be undergoing regeneration, however, this regeneration is not for social housing. Balfron towers regeneration and selling of past social housing could also help to reduce the stigma behind living in or owning social houses. Actually, displaying to other classes that these flats/ houses could be a good financial investment for the future and that they could upmarket these dwellings.
Ways of improving quality of life for people in lower social classes
Alejandro Aravena focused on crisis scenarios or people that in desperate needs of housing . Their solution was to build from scratch ‘half sized homes’ that had a plot twice the size of the building. the occupant could expand their home when they could afford it meaning that they could add their personal touch to it . This half-sized house was quicker for the occupant to inhabit due to the prefabricated nature as it’s built to a template. The issue with this idea of a prefabricated house is that they are all the same, the solution they had was to make half of the house adaptable dependant on how the occupant wanted to expand it based on personal preferences. This idea of a half- sized house means that there is a quick build but what if this idea was applied to the UK where there isn’t a shortage of buildings? It wouldn’t be necessary to erect prefabricated houses; we should just use what is already around us.
Ern? Goldfinger’s brutalist block of flats has a socioeconomic value that satisfies the needs of many people on the lower classes such as the precariat class. However, in ‘Architecture for the poor’ Fathy says ‘the contribution of the client makes the design’ this would suggest that we could manipulate any form or style of architecture no matter what framework is provided, with the input from the occupant a suitable dwelling would arise. This suggesting that there would be a correlation with the personality of those clientele. So why aren’t we considering other buildings?
Developing a higher percentage of derelict buildings that are structurally sound could be an actionable option. The use of derelict homes has already started to come into place in locations such as Croydon, this should be introduced all over the UK. Examples of derelict buildings could be townhouses, warehouses, barns etc, not simply just residential homes. These derelict homes could have a similar budget, if not cheaper than building council housing as a whole. In terms of the budget, the client should also work to this as budgeting could help them in the future to be financially stable. By doing this, not only would it reduce the lack of personalisation, but it would also reduce the social stigma that comes along with council housing. Meaning the obligation and need to buy a home, when in social housing, could be reduced. We could allow tenants to personalise their dwelling by bringing architects that have a ‘social conscience’ such as Alejandro Aravena, the client and the authorities together, creating a direct line between each other in the reimagining the dwelling. After this communication has been established it may allow them to obtain the up keep of the entire housing blocks or any other dwelling that has been involved with this process to a comfortable level. This would be then on the back of the occupant which could give them a sense of a duty of care.
This to me could allow us to use architecture to improve not only the quality of life but the structural qualities as well. This means that adaptations can occur, such as building extensions or redesigning the layout of the floor plan; creating a more open plan space or more enclosed/ cosier format, dependent on what is more suited to the lifestyle of the occupant. Social housing would not just be on one estate but instead intertwined with privately owned properties, giving a more communal sense and level society. We could be reducing this pressure on those who already are struggling to afford to be a homeowner and also our government in terms of economically affording to build from scratch these dwelling. Architects already have the knowledge to manipulate an existing space which in turn would benefit the client due to the architect being able to advise them on a design idea fitting to the bureaucratic constraints.
Overall the socioeconomic situation affecting quality of life within social housing could benefit if all these strategies came into play. There are certain situations that can make liveability easier for people with in the precariat and other lower social classes within society. This would be involving everyone in the design process for the occupant as suggested by Alejandro Aravena and Hassan Fathy within social housing. To further this, people in these social classes should be allowed a framework under social housing, in which they can personalise. These not being new dwellings but the existing buildings that have gone to waste on our landscape. Buildings shouldn’t be designed purely by considering the function, for example ticking boxes of does it have a kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. But also, the aesthetic needs of the occupant/s these being expressing the life of the occupant.