When designing for the poorest in society, the challenge and the sense of duty intensify. With their mantra of always doing the most with less, Lacaton & Vassal advocate creating the "best". The simplicity, both in concept and design, of the extensions of their winter gardens makes them easily accessible to residents. By sticking them on the facades of dilapidated housing blocks (an obvious move now that it has been made), they also demonstrate that ideas born from conversations with specific customers can grow and benefit the masses. Tested and approved at Maison Latapie, their first project, the premise of "luxury in simplicity" has gained resonance once realized on a grand scale and has not yet realized its true potential.
Social housing, in all its complexities and contradictions, is a difficult subject. There is a small drawback to the story, that fleeting episode on the 20th century timeline in which "social housing", as a term, as an idea and as a right, was loaded with meaning; when governments recognized the priority of providing homes to those most in need. Today the concept has been confused. There is no strict definition, especially not on a global scale. In this issue, we have chosen projects and practices as case studies to help us understand the broader ideas, from the funding models that made them possible, to the innovations they are trying to foster. A newly built building on the small island of Formentera enthusiastically demonstrates, with the incongruous use of posidonia, that even with very limited budgets, architecture can act as an incubator of ideas to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Here in London is the "real popular building" that Peter Barber is so busy, so proud (and rightfully so) that he is resurrecting, slowly populating London's neighborhoods with reinvented vernacular archetypes in characteristic brick, ranging from soft yellow to ivory. Despite this timid re-emergence of social housing, his portfolio traces the ubiquitous shift from housing as the right to housing as a commodity. In both the UK and the rest of the world, the home has become an instrument of financial speculation without its social function. In addition to the need for architectural solutions, designing the spaces we live in has emerged as an urgent challenge for the civic and social imagination.
Cover image and above, by Peter Barber Architects - Coldbath Town in London Clerkenwell is a publicly funded project offering economic properties to around 100 businesses and housing for around 2,500 low-income people. Featuring stepped sun terraces, bow window windows, balconies and colorful front doors, it forms a beautiful urban neighborhood.
This article is present in the issue AR July / August on AR House + Social housing
Translated article: https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/letters-from-the-editor
17 July 2019 by Manon Mollard