Housing as a Sustainable Common

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, architects were the driving force of progress in developing housing typologies that would enable people to live more socially equitable and healthier urban lives at times of massive social change. These included Garden City homes in response to the overcrowding of cities in the 19th century, mass-produced collective housing with terraces and roof gardens in response to the expansion of tuberculosis epidemics, or high-density, low-rise housing that fostered community relations in response to the destruction of the Second World War.

Today, we are facing a rapid decline in our planet’s health, and the construction of housing is one of the major contributors to our environmental crisis. In Western countries, housing is also unaffordable and increasingly detached from the way people live, and the societal changes that have led to the existence of different types of households. If we are to address these social and environmental challenges, it is imperative that new approaches to housing are developed that are affordable and more caring, with a reduced impact on the planet.

The studio will approach housing as a collective infrastructure of sustainable living by combining commoning with adaptive reuse of an existing building.

Commoning is a practice of sharing and self-governing of resources. It involves relinquishing some of what we have become accustomed to using privately to share with others. In housing, it leads to less overall space and energy being used, more affordable lives and forming bonds between people with shared interests. To be equitable, a housing common today needs to accommodate different types of households such as a group of adults sharing accommodation, a person living alone, blended families, multigenerational families, live-work households, a collective of singles or the elderly, as well as the two-parent family. The opportunity and challenge of such a common is the provision of different scenarios for sharing to ensure the meeting of the everyday needs of different households.

The site of the studio projects will be an existing office building in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. Each student will produce a proposal to transform the building into a housing common that provides a diverse community of 150 persons with a variety of shared living arrangements. The adaptive reuse of the existing building will reduce its embodied carbon and the overall construction cost. Whereas the social question raised by the common will be what are the motives that will attract people to enter into commoning, the formal problem posed by the existing building will be how to provide its future inhabitants with a variety of living arrangements within its uniform structural grid.

The studio will be an opportunity for each student to develop a vision for how we should live together and in a sustainable way, and how architects should anticipate users’ requirements in their absence. We will travel to Paris and Zurich from October 1- 6. The trip will be an opportunity to learn more about the site and to visit exemplary housing precedents in both cities.

The studio will meet weekly on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Farshid Moussavi will meet the studio in person on September 6, 7, 20, 21; October 1-6 (Studio trip), 18, 19; November 8, 9, 29, 30; December 12,13. She will meet the studio via Zoom on September 13, 27; October 11, 20, 25; November 1, 15; December 6. Yotam Ben Hur will be in residence on September 7, 14, 28; October 12, 26; November 2, 16; December 13.