Rethinking the "Living unit" - Domestic architecture and forms of life in changing demographic and labor conditions
By 2030 about 300.000 new residential units need to be built in Flanders in order to meet the demands of changing demographic conditions such as the rising population, the increased number of small households (single or two people inhabitants) and the blurring boundaries between living and working. Moreover, demographic trends and further projections are forecasting a migratory tendency of part of the population from rural areas to the more urbanized ones, therefore presenting the need for an urgent reassessment of what living in the city means and how to deal with the huge amount of housing stock that will remain vacant in rural areas. Facing these changing conditions, traditional forms of housing and planning policies are being proven ineffective. In light of these considerations, it therefore becomes crucial to interrogate the type of housing that should be built, how to address the needs of social groups that are excluded by the rationality of the current housing market and how to provide adaptable spaces where new forms of activities, forms of labor and cooperation can be accommodated. The aim of the research program is to discuss the current architectural impasse of the “housing project” when asked to provide adequate living spaces, by questioning one of its fundamental and most ambiguous architectural concept: the “living unit”. Through historical research, mapping analysis and critical discussions, the aim is to test the actual capacity of current housing typologies to accommodate contemporary needs and forms of life, and to argue for possible alternative scenarios to meet new pressing demands of the Belgian socio-economic context. Domestic space is the ground where a continuous process of negotiation and reformulation of political and economic agendas takes place as well as a tool to give form to unstable and ever-changing social relationships. By highlighting the historical instrumentality of domestic architecture to promote habits and organize social production, the goal of the project is to rethink the general forms of housing provision to make it able to accommodate current demands and programs. In light of these reflections, three aspects are considered crucial in the attempt to question the validity of contemporary housing models, challenged by demographic and labor shifts: 1. affordability, as a mean to rethink the “exchange value” of the domestic commodity; 2. flexibility, as a concrete, spatial quality that allows to accommodate the ever more blurred distinction of productive and reproductive activities; 3. use, as category that allows to question ownership as predominant form of tenure and possibly rethinking the basic relationship between subjects and the space they inhabit. By analyzing the pragmatic formation of the Belgian housing ethos as a mean to support political and economic agendas, discussing examples of alternative forms of dwelling that have been proposed in Flanders and Europe, and rethinking the fundamental qualities that housing should provide nowadays, the research goal is to outline the possibilities through which a new scenario can be imagined. The overall argument is that an alternative domestic project for Belgium is possible, and it must start with a sharpened understanding of housing forms as the blueprint for a wider urban and territorial reassessment. The ground on which such a condition can rise is the realm of above-mentioned structural transformations and shifted interests that are investing the domestic space and its inhabitants. The local conditions given for redemption are the pitfalls of liberal deregulation, the ruins of the huge urban and suburban housing stock built in the last 70 years and the inability of recent regulations and planning activities to promote alternative models of living. Considering the wider territorial scale as an active palimpsest, on which housing “fragmentary adventures” unfold, the aim is to test models of affordability in their concrete environment, taking into account the bigger frame of urban transformations and territorial management.