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s1 {font-kerning: none}The difference between house and home seems a simple and well known differentiation for many people; home is a physical object, a structure that establishes the framework put in place by architects, engineers and other professionals so that the dweller can create their home inside it. Some might say that home is more of a feeling towards the spaces inside formed by the objects inhabiting it, the experiences and memories built inside it, all put in place by the person/people living in the house. The consequence of this can be a strong connection towards the space and a sense of comfort and belonging anytime a dweller resides or returns to the place they call home. This essay will be delving into the relationship between a dweller and their dwelling places and how increased user involvement in the design process of a house might impact this relationship. I will also be looking at how this might change the role of an architect through this process.

Will this reduce the importance of architects or will it result in a closer more personalised relationship between architects and their clients?To begin with I want to look at the relationship between architects and their designs. Juhani Pallasmaa writes ‘In our role as architects we aspire for a meticulously articulated and temporally one dimensional environment, whereas as dwellers ourselves, we prefer a more layered, ambiguous and aesthetically less coherent environment’. One might say this is hypocritical because an architects aim is to please a client or make their designs desirable for potential inhabitants so would it not make sense to design spaces with this sense of ‘home’ in mind that is so important to so many people.

However, ones sense of home is personal to them so how would it be possible for the architect to build a home without the inhabitant present or even at all? This is where the discussions begins about how user involvement could affect the design process of a building because above all you could say an architect is an artist who wants to make striking, eye catching designs creating these ‘meticulously articulated’ structures that Pallasmaa writes about. So this crossover between an architects artistic views and a users desires for their living space could be a complicated process but could at the same time result in very successful examples of housing like ones we have seen all over the world already.One of the first examples I will be talking about is Vrijburcht located in the Amsterdam, it is a community lead co-housing project not far from the city centre on an artificially made island called Steigereiland. It provides 52 owner-occupied dwellings as well as a creche, a cafe, work spaces and many more services making it possible for the residents to live and work on site (of which a diagram can be seen below, Fig 1). This is one of the more extreme examples of an architect and his users coming together during the process of designing as the architect, Menno Vergunst, is in fact also a resident of this project.

He has guided the process since 2000 after a group of activists engaging in social urban transformations wanted to create their own housing community in Amsterdam with the aims of building their own houses while sharing a rich social life. Previously I wrote about the aspects that might make a house a home touching on how experiences and memories in a space can form a connection between a person and that space. In an interview Vergunst talks about the elements of this project  that attracted him to working on it where he gave examples like ‘it would allow me to build my office on the ground floor, live upstairs with my family and bring my children to the crèche built in the same block.

‘ and ‘I also wanted to develop strong ties with my neighbours because nowadays, this kind of social interactions is barely nonexistent in urban districts.’ this tells us that a strong aspiration for this project was to build a steady community within the residence and for him personally it seems he also wanted to settle and see his children grow up their which could possibly be said for the other residents too. This gives us evidence to show that this project was designed and built with the aim of creating a home where people would make their life, of which the outcome is now a friendly community who have been quoted saying ‘It feels like we live in a little village.’ formed through a number of meetings between the residents and an equal input between the architect and the other users of this project. This has been a very successful example of increased user involvement within the design process of a housing structure but it is possible that this success has come from the architects increased personal involvement in the project and his relationship with the other residents because all of the people participating were on an even ‘playing field’ so the feeling around the housing would’ve been based on an already existing feeling of agreement and a unified goal and rather than the architect just interpreting what was being said by a client for example he was also part of that client base giving a sense of mutual ownership over the design.

 Moving onto a different example I will be looking into The New Ground Co housing Project, a scheme creating ’25 customised homes and a shared ‘co-house’ clustered around a walled garden.’ for a group of 20 older women who are pioneering  different way for women to grow old by establishing there ideal community on a site in Barnet. The women set a very clear brief and worked alongside the architects (Pollard Thomas Edwards) to eventually create the T-shaped layout surrounding communal facilities and gardens ( A drawing can be seen below of the shape of the building, Fig 2).This project is different to my previous example as the architects involved in the design project would not be personally living in it. However the way the group of architects and their clients moved through the process together was very similar to that of Vrijburcht because they worked very closely in building the layout and plans of the building and outdoor spaces. It is also comparable by the women’s aim to model a site fit for their desired community which seems to be becoming a trend through these examples, this relates perfectly to some of the previously mentioned conditions that make a house into a home like experiences and memories being formed in a space for example. Following on from that point, forming relationships with people; from starting romantic relationships to watching your children grow up to forming friendships with housemates can also form very strong bonds between people and their surrounding spaces.

For instance a student living in student halls might initially look at the living space in distaste but it is extremely likely that after a year of forming friendships and memories with their flatmates in said flat they will grow very attached to the dwelling. If we think about this idea in terms of Vrijburcht and The New Ground Co housing Project, it is possible that for these two client groups the actual architecture may not have been that important to them because for The New Ground Co housing Project specifically it seems that in terms of the design they were just looking for practicality and relaxing scenery and once that was arranged the only thing that seemed matter was the group of residents continuing their lives in harmony. In an article written a year after the construction of this project about the OWCH (Old Women Co Housing) group they talk about how visitors do appreciate the physical architecture a lot however the writer goes on to quote a member of the group saying ‘What the women have built socially, as a group, is more important than anything else’. This just shows that to this group of women the ‘house’ that was built for them was only made into a home by their own doing and you could probably say the same thing about the residents of Vrijburcht, therefore it is possible to say that the role of the architect during these projects was almost less important because once they met the practical needs of the client there was not much more for them to do and even within that the future residents of these constructions had a lot of say in the design proceedings so really you could say that in these particular cases the positions of the architects was almost insignificant.

Additionally going back to my question about wether it is possible to combine the artistic views of an architect with the desires of a user after this research it is seeming that this merger is if not impossible, certainly difficult and maybe even frivolous to the people concerned, which just further supports the idea that an architects individual artistic views may not be as important in projects with increased user involvement.  The final example I will be looking into a completely self built project in Ashley Vale near central Bristol which started as a plot of land bought by Ashley Vale Action Group (AVAG) a group formed by a number of locals looking to renovate the site into affordable self build housing as well as communal facilities open to the other locals in the area(A Photo can be seen below of a panoramic view of the site of Ashley Vale, Fig 3). this plot of land was originally a scaffolding yard with an office block also on site, it was originally going to be bought by a volume housing builder but the locals wanted to see the site become a more ‘home grown’ answer to the housing problem in the Uk. They were able to arrange training in areas such as construction, sustainable design, renewable energy and other areas meaning they did not need the help of an architect throughout the design process. The project includes many initiatives such as a green village, artist workshops and a community centre all put together by the group and other locals extensive help. This just further pushes the idea that increased user involvement could completely eliminate the role of the architect out of the design journey of proposals like these, there might come a time when communities may not even need architects and would rather build and create their own spaces and homes to better fit their desires.  The use of Self-Build housing is becoming increasingly popular around the world especially in UK where we are slightly behind on introducing this innovative way of helping the housing problem compared to other countries like the Netherlands for example.

It is a more accessible form of housing for people as new technologies are introduced giving people the chance to build the homes they want at a more affordable price. Furthermore, with the problem of climate change and pollution being a widely talked about issue recently the concept of sustainability is also becoming more and more important to the government and individual communities and people alike.There are many examples of self build housing proposals that share these same characteristics like another project based in Lancaster named Forgebank that similarly had a group of locals at the forefront of the idea but dissimilarly did use architects during the design process, however the aim was the same, they wanted to create a community based residential area with sustainability also taking high priority. During the evolution of this scheme, comparable to that of The New Ground Co Housing project and The Vrijburcht project it was a very even discussion between the locals and the architects so the whole design proposal came with extensive input from the users and a very much confirmed desire for the outcome from the future residents.So it seems that it is becoming increasingly popular for communities to band together to build what they would probably say is their perfect homes and in all of these examples the architects seem to be less and less important throughout.

For these two examples it also seems that their ideas for what makes a home are again not related to what the architecture might be, as much as the architects can meet their practical wants and needs and also create attractive physical architecture for visitors to enjoy when it comes to their connections to the housing that comes more with the communities they’ve built themselves. To follow on from that point I want to look at a a project put together by a woman named Lynda Williams, she was a single mother who never thought she would be able to live in her own house and in her own words a house ‘that she could truly call home.’ She had always had the dream to own her own home and when buying became impossible she wanted to buy a plot of land and build her own home. From the beginning she knew exactly what she wanted to make it her own and set out to design the 3 bedroom house herself only contracting professionals to actually build the house for her.

 It seems that Lynda knew exactly what she was looking for in terms of design for her house so never sought out any help from anyone else throughout that particular process which seems to be the case for a lot of people similar to Lynda who cant afford to buy a house and a self build project is more accessible to them, it is also just becoming more popular because it easier to do in recent times and people would rather build their own homes and know the outcome is going to be what they seek rather than hiring a professional to interpret their wants and possibly not even succeed in creating an environment they are comfortable in. This is increasingly evident in Tv shows like Channel 4’s Grand Design where there are more and more people wanting to design and build their own homes. So it looks as if people would rather take it into their own hands to build their new dwellings than trust a stranger to do it for them which makes sense as the only person who can really know what is going to give them that comfort and connection that a person has to their home is them. I have also found that the popular opinion is that the physical architecture doesn’t seem to be of much concern as Edwin Heathcote the architecture critic for the Financial Times was quoted saying ‘The mass housebuilders have done such an appalling job of despoiling the countryside. So from an aesthetic point of view self-builders can’t do any worse and should be encouraged.

‘  which just proves further that the way things are going with increased user involvement during the design process of housing in a variety of circumstances, architects seem to be being pushed out and almost unnecessary to the clients looking for homes.In conclusion, in terms of the relationship between a dweller and their dwelling it is evident that no one can mould that feeling of home and that personal connection to a space more than the dwellers themselves. In all of these examples I have looked into, the communities formed out of the process and from living in these housing schemes together is much more important to everyone than anything else which kind of leaves the physical architecture behind. Furthermore, this bond formed between these groups of people is the aspect that forms the feeling of home between them, and as much as the physical architecture meets their needs and requests during the evolution of the projects it looks to take a back seat in the list of priorities for the client.

This could mean that the role of the architect in projects involving increased user involvement will diminish especially because in these times where there is a large problem with housing being unaffordable to many people, the public want increased involvement in housing solutions in order to make it affordable and also what they are looking for in their own neighbourhoods. Many communities for example want to avoid large unappealing blocks of flats being built in their neighbourhoods that don’t bring much more to the area than an unattractive member of the skyline, they would much rather build housing themselves that meets everyones needs and maybe also brings additional benefits and facilities for the area like community centres and a green village for example. With developing technologies becoming more accessible to the public the idea that dwellers will build their own dwellings themselves is flourishing around the world which leaves me thinking that with more people having the desire and the means to build their own homes, this leaves the architect almost unneeded under these circumstances. ReferencesBBC (2011).

Self-build: Should people build their own homes?. online p.1.

Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14125196 Accessed 28 Jan. 2018.Build It. (2018).

Homes – Build It. online Available at: https://www.self-build.co.uk/home/budget-family-home/ Accessed 28 Jan.

2018.CCH Confederation of Co-operative Housing. (2018). 1,001 co-operative and community-led homes: the housing revolution starts here. online Available at: http://www.cch.

coop/1001co-ophomes/ Accessed 28 Jan. 2018.Edwards, P. (2018). New Ground Cohousing | Pollard Thomas Edwards. online Pollardthomasedwards.co.

uk. Available at: http://pollardthomasedwards.co.uk/project/owch/ Accessed 27 Jan. 2018.Lloyd, M.

, Peel, D. and Janssen-Jansen, L. (2015). Self-build in the UK and Netherlands: mainstreaming self-development to address housing shortages?. Urban, Planning and Transport Research, (2165-0020), p.

2.New Europe. (2018). Co-Housing in Europe #2 : Vrijburcht, Amsterdam. online Available at: https://citiesintransition.eu/interview/co-housing-in-europe-2-vrijburcht-amsterdam Accessed 27 Jan.

2018.Pallasmaa, J. (2018).

IDENTITY, INTIMACY AND DOMICILE. Notes University of Trondheim, Notes on the phenomenology of home. Trodheim.Selfbuild-central.co.

uk. (2018). Ashley Vale Self Build Community, Bristol | Selfbuild Central. online Available at: https://www.selfbuild-central.

co.uk/first-ideas/examples/ashley-vale-bristol/ Accessed 28 Jan. 2018.Sullivan, E. and Ward, P. (2012). Sustainable housing applications and policies for low-income self-build and housing rehab. Habitat International, 36(2), pp.

312-323.together, H. and Saul, H. (2018). How the older women who built their own community found the first year. online iNews. Available at: https://inews.

co.uk/essentials/older-women-built-pioneering-new-community/ Accessed 28 Jan. 2018.


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