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Social housing? An asset to be preserved

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The Canadian design magazine Azure’s September/October issue takes an in-depth look at the phenomenon of redeveloping social housing to avoid evictions, displacement and demolition, an approach already been tried and tested in North America. How about Europe?

With public investment dwindling, putting urban renewal into the hands of private developers has meant tearing down buildings and council houses, displacing residents and tenants and erasing the memory of a community. The same pattern is spreading throughout North America and Europe. But a different approach toward redevelopment is possible and involves preserving social housing and embedding it in a renewed urban fabric. Change is well under way, affirmed Alejandro Aravena when he appeared at Milan’s recent “supersalone” Lecture. The Chilean architect described the origins of the project that led to the 2021 Venice Biennale and answers the event's basic question: “How will we live together?” How can the Mapuche people and the Chileans, who have clashed over land rights for years, live together? The solution lies in architecture: building künü (places to get to know each other) and koyaü-we (places to parley).

Azure Magazine looks at a phenomenon that is becoming a sustainable way of reimagining a city’s built heritage. Example abound: Saia Barbarese Topouzanov Architectes (SBTA) of Montreal took a preservationist approach to redeveloping the Benny Farm area and Habitations Saint-Michel Nord in Montreal. ERA Architects also specialise in social housing rehabilitation and has put together a guide of best practices in this field, starting with the question: "How can a building be rehabilitated with residents still living in it?". There are concrete examples of this "holistic" approach: Ken Soble Tower in Hamilton and Toronto’s Lawrence-Orton social housing projects, in collaboration with LGA Architectural Partners. Altgeld Gardens in Chicago, renovated by KOO, featuring the new Family Resource Center, is another example of social housing preservation. Things are moving in Europe as well, as the article in Azure reminds us. "When Paris firm Lacaton & Vassal received the 2021 Pritzker Architecture Prize, it cemented its preservationist philosophy within the architectural canon”. It affirmed to the world that to renovate and revive well is to practise design at the highest level." A few examples? The work on the Grand Parc housing complex in Bordeaux. "The French duo’s body of work — and their “never demolish” ethos — is now an axiom for the climate crisis and for architects’ role in it", comments Azure, adding that "… transforming the architect from a design visionary into a steward of community and culture, it is as radical a change as any".

 

 

Credits

Original article: Stefan Novakovic and Tura Cousins Wilson

Photos: courtesy Azure

Magazine: Azure

Publisher: Azure Publishing Inc.

Read the article

29 September 2021