Social housing – and the architecture and design behind it – is a sensitive and important topic for those both inside and out of this industry.
The limited resources mean that architects are faced with hefty monetary and logistical constraints and challenges when it comes to designing social housing for low-income residents that is cost effective, easily maintainable and perhaps most importantly, free of the components that create the social housing aesthetic stigma.
In what was obviously a sensitive topic for many reasons, our previous social housing exploration sparked debate as to the various reasons that truly contribute to the stigma associated with social housing. While these reasons are all valid, there is no questioning the power of aesthetics in contributing to, or decreasing, the stigma associated with social housing.
Spanish architectural firm ACXT is looking to break the stigma with its social housing development in Salburua. It is overwhelmingly clear that this building does not share the same traits that characterises dated social housing developments. In short, it does not look like a development for low-income residents.
The shining bright red building has a modern symmetrical form that stands out from its neighbouring buildings as it is reminiscent of a designer apartment block or commercial space.
The building’s aesthetic vibrance, however, is arguably its least impressive aspect. In a move that is as clever as it is logical, the apartment complex produces energy in excess of what it needs to run.
This is made possible through a mix of green technologies and the implementation of passive design. The use a co-generation plant means the building has the ability to run extensively off grid, even selling back excess power when it is over produced. The complex’s U-shape allows for optimum sunlight exposure so that natural lighting takes precedence over electric lighting during the day.
Not only have the architects created a building that is modern and encompasses designer appeal both inside and out, they have also taken the high cost of on-grid electricity costs out of the equation. In creating a building for low-income residents that allows them to live within their means, ACXT’s development encompasses the social aspect of a holistic sustainability model and nurtures a lifestyle that is maintainable.
These elements, however, do not mean that social housing issues will simply evaporate. The fact that there are a high number of apartments present (242) means a high mass of low-income residents will be grouped together, which has been shown to bring with it social issues. Also, the fact that building is so ostentatious and does stand out could perhaps work in its disfavour, bringing with it notoriety rather than positive recognition.
There are always two sides to the coin and there is no suggestion that an attractive, out of the box building could simply eradicate social housing stigma, or the reasons behind the need for low-income residential developments to begin with.
The fact that the building is sustainable, however, takes energy cost pressure off of residents and encourages a lifestyle that is maintainable. Could sustainability break social housing stigma? The point is debatable, but continuing to design, develop and run these buildings in the traditional manner will reap only the same negative results. For this reason, the architects should be commended for joining the ranks of other designers who are offering to take a different approach to social housing projects.