New Social Housing Models Needed for the Global Poor

The wealth divides are deepening and the base of the pyramid is feeling the greatest strain. In cities across the developing world, evictions of the poor are becoming more commonplace and the local authorities are unable to find solutions that address long term housing problems at the bottom of the pyramid. The evictions are becoming increasingly brutal as the nouvea riche in the developing countries are increasingly viewing the poor as a nuisance and an “embarrassment” to their well laid out lives. In Africa and many Asian cities, the situation is set to get bleaker as more people migrate to the cities leading to overcrowding and the stretching of resources.  These cities will double in size in the next 20 years and no contingency plans have been made to expand services and increase access to affordable housing. In poorer countries, the situation is exacerbated by poor land laws and regulations, corruption, and a nonexistent or poor synergy between the private and public sectors.

Current market trends not favourable for social housing

The response to this housing crisis has been wanting. In the developing countries, many under-resourced NGOs have been making social investments to bridge the gap but it is a pitiable drop in the ocean. Even in the developed markets, lack of affordable housing has pushed many to homelessness.  Austerity measures in most Western countries have seen many governments and local authorities cut down on budgets for public housing projects.  Local authorities are off-loading public housing schemes to the private markets so as to expand revenue base.  Many government initiatives that were traditionally aimed at social housing providers are now attracting the big real estate developers further diminishing the potential of the social housing market.

Meeting the Challenge for Social Housing

Meeting the challenge for social housing requires a very multi-pronged approach. There is a need for synergy amongst the disparate players-real estate developers, social landlords, financiers  and policy makers so as to meet the housing challenge for the poor. Some of the players have deployed a hybrid approach towards this problem. For example, some social landlords are diversifying into private rented sector and reinvesting the profits back to the social housing market to ensure sustainability. This mixed business model can be profitable and sustainable but the social landlords must have good knowledge of the private market.  Many large commercial real estate developers are also diversifying into the social housing market.

Funding for Social Housing

Social housing initiatives have traditionally relied on grants to invest in their communities but there’s a need for a paradigm shift and new business models. Can social housing  companies pursue new investment and funding channels and still remain profitable? The social landlords must improve their capacity and learn to compete in a tough financial climate.  Greater partnership is needed with local authorities, and other partners in the industry to develop longer term investments in the communities.  The onus is on social housing providers to increase efficiency and emphasize the importance of their work to gain greater support from key partners.

The 2010 Shanghai World Expo to be Redeveloped into a green business district

The 2010 Shanghai World Expo Centre hosted one of the largest expos with the theme “Better City-Better Life” and attracted some 73 million visitors. Three  years later, the glitter of the pavilions is long gone and most of the pavilions have been dismantled but the centre is about to get a fresh lease of life with a new redevelopment program which will transform the expo centre into a sustainable and green business district.

Dubbed the “Green Valley”, the project will see several buildings being converted into green office spaces, public parks, gardens and lots of vegetation. The Green Valley is once again designed by Danish architect Schmidt Hammer Lassen, who designed the Shanghai Expo Centre. The new development is located next to the iconic Chinese Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.  You can check it out below:

Chinese Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo

Chinese Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo

Much of the detail regarding the new redevelopment plans are available on Lassen’s website but from a quick glance, it will involve the creation of restaurants, office spaces and parks and the redevelopment initiative certainly adheres to the Shanghai Expo theme of sustainability.  The site has the advantage of a highly developed infrastructure, park system and promenades which provides a great base from which to build the site into a more permanent business centre. The center’s green spine will form the heart of the new green business district. It has lots of greenery, soft landscaping and buildings on either side and will guide the redevelopment on either side.  This is a good example of utilizing event areas long after the events are over. There are hundreds of underutilized little “ghost towns” around the world which could borrow from this example and breathe some life into the areas with a little innovation.

Urban Renewal Project in Duisburg

Duisburg was once a booming industrial town in the German industrial heartland but a series of economic shocks in the 80s, unemployment and the flight of the young talent had seen the town go through several decades of decay.  That was until recently when a new urban renewal program has given the town a fresh lease of life. The project has involved an inner harbour development by Forster and Partners to connect the city to the old waterfront.  The new harbour redevelopment has seen the company put up a penthouse and apartment buildings. The company has also created public spaces and rebuilt the neighbourhoods so as to encourage the footloose residents to stay longer and build their lives in Duisburg.  This will also encourage new businesses to come up in Duisburg and help in the urban renewal of the city.

Duisburg Inner Harbour Development

Duisburg Inner Harbour Development

The project is not only employing creative urban planning and development but also beautiful architecture to keep the residents in. And the results are already trickling in. New businesses are coming up in Duisburg including a new restaurant that was recently launched in the redeveloped area.  There is a local market, several events being launched in the city, and lots of socials attracting residents of all age groups. The neighbourhood currently has a total of 13 restaurants. From the 80s low when Duisburg inland harbour supported some 200 jobs, the town currently supports up to 4000 jobs thanks to the urban renewal program.

How the Ruhr was Reclaimed

The renewal project in Duisburg and other post industrial towns in the Westpalia were initiated by the Land of Westphalia. The authorities established the International Builders Exhibition (IBA), a think tank composed of planners, architects, government representatives and created new institutions,forums, and seminars to explore new ways of reviving Ruhrgebiet’s old industrial towns. These forums and exhibitions generated lots of ideas many of which have been applied in towns like Duisburg with considerable success.  The IBA ideas have been used to create several mixed-use communities in the former Ruhrgebiet and have been a core part of the urban regeneration program in these cities and towns.

Apart from creating neighborhoods and communities, IBA has also led to the creation of several cultural resources such as museums, events and performance centres and new office spaces which are attracting businesses to these post industrial towns. IBA has managed to preserve the identity of the Ruhrgebiet while recreating it to meet the demands of a modern city.  Between 30-40% of the old buildings have been preserved, refurbished and adapted to modern living and office spaces.  Back to Duisburg, the redevelopment will see 700 new apartments built in the town. The key landmark of Duisburg will be the remarkably designed Eurogate building that will be constructed in the coming years.  The public investment in the project has also seen an injection of a great deal of private capital. Duisburg shows how much can be achieved with a little initiative.


Flexible Building Facades with Soft House in Hamburg

The Soft House is a winning project that seeks to create a very adaptable and carbon neutral living and working environment.  The project was conceived by the KVA Matx Team and exhibited in Hamburg earlier in the year. The Soft House model incorporates a great deal of customization to meet individual user needs. The ecologically friendly housing model allows occupants to reduce their carbon footprints as much as possible while also offering some very innovative features such as a very movable and functional infrastructure to maximize energy savings and the living space.

Hamburg Soft House Model

Hamburg Soft House Model

The exterior of the housing is designed with the energy needs of the occupants in mind. The model harvests as much energy as possible from the sunlight. The interior is also built with a very flexible and movable infrastructure to configure and manage interior spacing. For example, there are smart curtains in the house which help the occupants of the home with the configuration of the space and management of solid-state lighting functionality inside the home. The house is also fitted with a solar-powered technology that allows one to create interior micro-climates.  It is a housing model that optimizes the natural resources such as sunshine, wind and land and ground water to create a very dynamic and self-sustainable urban living space. It is even possible to carry out urban agriculture on the Soft House.

Construction of the Soft House

The Soft House construction makes use of the more traditional spruce-wood materials. The joints are made of wooden dowel and the whole structure can be recycled in case the building is no longer being used. The wood-based construction is further complemented with flexible PV-based solid-state technology which moves in the direction of the sun’s orientation to maximize on the solar radiation. This intelligent design also sees the house casts a shade inside the house during the summers while maximizing light that gets inside the house during the winters.

LED lighting is provided inside the house via the smart curtains.  The smart curtains can also move inside the house to create a Visual Breeze, a great ambient luminous expression.  The smart curtains are programmable and it is possible to create multiple luminous expressions based on a user’s preference .The Soft House is a demonstration on how intelligent technologies can be used to create very flexible and movable urban living spaces through smart urban building management. You can learn more about the KVA Matx’s Soft House on its web page .

Duplitecture: Architectural Mimicry Thrives in Chinese Cities

China’s construction boom is still revving on and the country is expected to add whole cities in the next decade that will be homes to hundreds of millions of people. But as China’s real estate market and construction boom grows in leaps and bounds, one significant characteristic of the Chinese urban expansion has been the scrupulous and in some cases unethical mimicry of the architectural models of several famous buildings, street, neighbourhoods and villages from the West, a practice that has been aptly named “duplitecture”. Chinese duplitecture has seen several functional replicas of Western architectural facades built in China. In some instances, architectural models that are still under construction have been replicated such as the famous Wangjing SOHO design by Britsh architect Zaha Hadid which was replicated by Chongqing Meiquan 22nd Century. The company has even gone ahead to develop the architectural model ahead of the original concessionaire. This is certainly the darker side of Chinese architectural mimicry but Chinese builders have gone to remarkable lengths to import Western architectural facades into China. One of the most popular duplitecture projects is the Shanghai’s “One City, Nine Towns” project where the city is ringed by 10 replica communities, each  representing major European cities ranging from English cities to Dutch, German, Scandinavian, French, Italian and many others with each of the replica communities having the distinctive architectural language associated with those European and to some extent American cities.


The Replica European Cities in Urban China

China is replicating European cities on a very impressive scale. Examples of this include the little city of “Paris” in Tianducheng with its Parisian Boulevards, landscaped gardens, the Arc de Triomphe, a little Eiffel Tower and the Palace of Versailles! Hallstatt is a beautiful Austrian town which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site but the Chinese have also built an exact “functional” replica of Hallstatt based in Guangdong province. A Chinese real estate mogul fell in love with Hallstatt so much that they decided to replicate the city in China!  Other remarkable cases of duplitecture include the Thames Village outside Shanghai and the “Chinese Manhattan” in Yuijapu.

The “Paris” in Tianducheng

The “Paris” in Tianducheng

What drives Chinese Duplitecture?

China has had a long going fascination with West just as many Westerners have had an intense fascination with the Orient but is the remarkable Chinese duplitecture a mere manifestation of this fascination with all things Western? One writer has at least delved deeper into this intriguing phenomenon in Chinese Urban development. In her book, Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China, Bianca Bosker delves deeper into Chinese duplitecture, the people who live in the themescapes and tries to enter the minds of the Chinese  developers who build these massive replica copycat cities and communities.

Skepticism About Housing Recovery: Are We Out of the Woods?

For the last couple of years the Obama administration has been assuring us that economic recovery is imminent, and up until now, most of us have been scoffing at these assertions thanks to continued foreclosures and ongoing unemployment rates. But according to pundits everywhere, the recent bump in the housing market might just be the beginning of the end where the Great Recession is concerned. Of course, popular media outlets haven’t exactly been the paragons of valid information on this front over the last few years, a state of affairs that we probably owe to the 24/7 news cycle and the fact that filler often takes the form of rampant speculation in the absence of actual news to report. But setting that entirely aside, anyone who has been poking around on MLS sites like Zillow and Trulia is probably aware that foreclosures have all but vanished, short sales are drying up, and housing prices are actually starting to increase. The only real question is whether this is going to become a trend or if it’s merely a short-lived anomaly in the ongoing recessi Continue reading