Sustainable Commons: The Function of Housing and Urban Mining (Arles, France Studio Abroad)

In many cities around the world, housing has become unaffordable and designed in ways that are increasingly disconnected from the way people live. The impact of COVID-19 has further emphasized our reliance on our homes, highlighting the need to address its lack of affordability. In addition, as part of our efforts to mitigate climate change, architects must develop models that are not only affordable, but also minimize embodied energy and address the “end-of-life” treatment of construction materials accumulated over the last 200 years. The studio will be based in the town of Arles in the south of France, in many ways the perfect place to address both issues. We will combine urban mining (use of materials that already exist) with housing designed for co-living to address these two urgent concerns.

The studio will use the case of Arles to promote a different approach to housing that focuses on the interdependencies between long-, medium-, and short-term residents of cities, and the resources, and technologies used by them. Instead of accommodating long-term residents, seasonal workers, and tourists in separate types of housing, we will develop proposals for housing as a sustainable common in which the city’s diverse population lives together under one roof, uses less overall space and resources, and lives more sustainable and affordable lives. 

To ensure that its fabric, as well as its organization is sustainable, the site of the block will be an industrial wasteland across the historic center of Arles along the Rhône River. We will reuse an existing steel structure that sits on the site in a dismantled state, as it has near-zero carbon emissions as those emissions have been spent in the first production stage.

Each student will design a block of approximately 10,000 m2 to house around 250 people. They will propose how it should be arranged to create a community where everyone lives according to their rhythm, and yet contributes to maintaining the block as a sustainable common. Each student will produce proposals for the reuse of the existing structure for housing. To weather-proof the structure, the studio will use geo- and bio-sourced materials that store carbon, available anywhere in the world. They will work to advance their vision for how we should live together in a sustainable way, which will include deciding on the number of different types of units, the way they are to be assembled, as well as proposed collective spaces. 

Guillaume Choplain will serve as Teaching Associate.

This studio is offered as part of the GSD Studio Abroad program in Arles, France and is supported by funding through the LUMA Foundation. Enrolled students will be selected through an early lottery process.