The need for adaptive and inclusive housing – Thoughts after the Alvar Aalto Symposium 2018, pt. 2

This autumn, four researchers from DAC had the great privilege to present their work in the 14th International Alvar Aalto Symposium in Jyväskylä. The Symposium, held every three years, provided a good forum to communicate and share information about the challenges and possibilities of urban housing development.

The theme of the Symposium, ‘New housing solutions for cities in change’, was well chosen. Our societies are facing challenges from climate change to aging populations, and at the same time, our lifestyles are becoming more diverse. Residential spaces need to respond to the changes happening on the macro level of urban societies, as well as those on the micro level of the everyday lives of dwellers. Following the first Alvar Aalto Symposium 2018 blog Poetics of true sustainability, this blog continues the discussions on the themes of new housing solutions for cities in change.

Eyes on change

The symposium speakers underlined that firstly, to answer the multi-level socio-cultural change, we need a richer variety of housing solutions. In addition, to produce housing stock sustainable in the long run, we should pay attention to spatial forms that allow for adaptation. The latter point was particularly supported by two DAC and Tampere University of Technology (TUT) based presentations. Jyrki Tarpio presented a collection of means that allow flexibility and dweller inclusion in housing. Sini Saarimaa urged architects to embrace a facilitative role towards dweller-driven changes in the context of multi-apartment buildings by introducing an analysis framework on the topic.

Jeremy Till stated that in Britain especially, the notion of housing as a commodity prevents the development of adaptable housing. Photographer Maija Holma, Alvar Aalto Foundation.

Jeremy Till, architect, educator and theorist from Central Saint Martins and University of the Arts London raised many challenges concerning the realization of flexibility in residential buildings. According to Till, housing markets thrive on situations where people need to move to new apartments every time their life situation changes.

Thus, one major question of future housing is, how to introduce flexible and adaptable housing solutions into mainstream housing production?

Crossings of private and common

The growing number of small and one-person households is a global phenomenon, and often linked to aging. Also, enabled by the latest waves of technology, we might soon be able to take care of most of the issues of daily living in a virtual way and from one’s own dwelling. This together with other societal shifts entails a growing risk of dweller isolation. In the Symposium it was emphasized that by spatial design we can counteract: create spaces that support spontaneous encounters.

Many symposium speakers joined this debate. For example, Stephen Bates, a founding partner of London and Zürich based Sergison Bates architects presented an investigation of typology for collective domesticity in a big house, with many rooms that can provide a setting for a contemporary exploratory way of life. Still, the issues of communal living require a degree of balance on many levels. Both privacy and communality are needed, and Bates noted well, that besides a new aspiration for collective living, there is also a growing demand for greater personal autonomy.

Thus, any new solutions should be able to respond to both of these requirements. Katja Maununaho, a researcher of TUT who also works in the DAC-project, added that a community should not be taken as a nostalgic image of living in harmony in a homogeneous social setting. In multicultural urban contexts, differences are inescapable.

For the future urban housing development, we should search for a wide range of ways to negotiate and include diversity.[

Typological renewal as a response

The Symposium again highlighted that societal changes call for a purposeful search for new housing typologies. Many Symposium speeches stressed, that this search is – at its best – context-specific. In Jyväskylä discussions it was extensively emphasized, that typological innovation often emerges from the uniqueness of the site and its context.

Antti Lehto from Serum Architects underlined the importance of early and strong designer involvement in the development of housing that through inventive typologies may respond to context-specific challenges. Photographer Maija Holma, Alvar Aalto Foundation.

Nevertheless, the processes of creating new typologies today ask for new skills from architects too: designers should prepare for the diverse forms of user-centric housing re-creation. DAC group, for its part, contributes to this challenge by creating knowledge and multi-level cooperation between various housing actors.

Katja Maununaho & Sini Saarimaa

Tampere University of Technology