Social housing architecture has traditionally been stigmatised and, even though architects have been trying to remove this stigma through varying aesthetic changes and developments, an argument still remains that there are identifying features of low-income housing.
Barcelona-based architecture firm Bailo + Rull is trying to break down this argument with the completion of a social housing project in Santa Eugenia de Bega in Spain named ’18 VPO’. The apartment complex contains 18 separate apartments in a linear, geometric form.
Clever solar orientation planning has been incorporated into the building to allow for natural sunlight exposure and connection to the natural surroundings without enabling extensive solar gain under the hot Spanish sun.
While the architects are to be commended for their socially responsible architectural effort, the building does lend itself to the ‘social housing’ aesthetic. Exposed unpolished concrete, minimalist and identical design elements and perforated aluminium handrails fit into the status quo of low-income housing. Although the designers have included bold colour splashes across the building, there is a subtle lack of warmth. This can be commonplace in social housing facilities due to certain limitations designers face, including tight budgets and the need to create a housing model that is standard and identical through each of the apartments.
This is not to villainize architects undertaking these incredibly socially-important projects but to expose and empathise with the challenges faced when designing buildings of this nature.
One key issue that arises when designing social housing is that the aesthetic creates a stigma and doesn’t allow optimum levels of support from the wider community. In addition to this, the very nature of the social housing apartment block sees a high level of low-income earners living in the same environment, bringing with additional social issues such as crime, and further stigmatisation.
When discussing social housing on an international level, howver, it is important to remember that a lot of countries are starting from the ground up.
Furthermore, if these buildings are not maintained, they will fall into disarray and become the shanties that the residents were moved out of in the beginning. This reduces the pride residents feel in their community or complex.
Buildings of this sensitive nature hold more power than the broader industry seems to notice. However, in Australia alone PIF House and other social housing developments are changing the ways in which society looks at social housing. The development of residential developments of this nature remove the stigma by losing the ‘mass housing’ mentality and spreading low-income housing throughout different suburbs.
The challenge is great for the global industry but it needs to be met. If social housing continues to be designed and run as it always has, then the social problems will remain. This industry has a responsibility to encourage social change, and that may mean re-evaluating how social housing is designed and run.