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23 March 14:00 - 18:30
Organized by: RCA School of Architecture
Royal College of Art Kensington Gore

A discussion on housing design and policy challenges, and new models of public housing.


Public housing is an important part of socioeconomic government policies in support of social welfare, but also social justice, social security, and social mobility. Historically, public housing is associated with the immediate post-war period in western Europe. Housing was central to new social welfare policies in Europe. The housing produced was state-owned, subsidised, for rent, and accessible to a wide section of society. Public housing was effective in reducing housing shortage after the war through a centralised approach to housing design, procurement, and management. It was often characterised by large-scale schemes with high densities.


In the 1980s, an increasing promotion of home ownership in the UK as an alternative to public housing took place. It coincided with a retreat of the state from the provision of housing. Existing housing stock was privatised or sold to non-governmental agents to manage. Increasingly more families were expected to find their housing on the open market. Today, the failure of the market to meet the demands of what is increasingly termed ‘affordable’ housing now, is significant. In Great Britain alone, an estimated 380,000 new homes per year are needed!


While there are many political and economic reasons for the perpetual housing crisis in the UK and beyond, the design guidelines, regulatory frameworks, and policy that have led to aspirational but often ineffective housing standards play an important part in this failure. Housing standards, while typically expressed in quantitative terms, e.g. as space standards, almost always derive from an underlying qualitative idea meant to improve our standards of living and housing. While minimum space and design standards have been important to safeguarding minimum requirements, they often have become a maximum to meet. In addition, little seems to have changed in the spatial reasoning and design of housing for a decade or more, despite fundamental changes in household compositions and demographics. What should future housing standards and ambitions look like?


Today, public housing is largely understood in the UK as social housing, as housing for vulnerable and low-income groups or those with special housing needs that are not met by a competitive housing market. However, looking at public housing from a global perspective, e.g. in post-communist countries, oil-rich and resource rich countries, fast-growing economies, etc, public housing fulfils many different social and political aims, is delivered in many different ways, and serves much larger constituencies. Given then the current problems caused by an over-financialisation of housing and a lack of end-user and local community engagement in their design, there are strong arguments for returning to a new and more diverse public housing model in Europe.


This symposium brings together housing researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders involved in housing delivery and design to discuss today’s housing design and policy challenges and to speculate on new models of public housing.