This project is an exercise in reflection on what builds a home. On which are the essential elements on the definition of domesticity. On how to give a flexible enough response to an undefined user. On what contribution does the intimate home space to the outdoor shared street. All this within the conditional framework of a public promotion in compliance with current regulations. This project is an exercise in reflection on what builds a home. On which are the essential elements to define.
Loft Study House is an initiative of the Housing Department of the Basque Government.
Within the public housing stock owned by the Department of Territorial Planning, Housing and Transport of the Basque Government, there are more than one hundred unused premises located on the ground floors or mezzanines of existing buildings in various municipalities. The Vice-Ministry of Housing through its Housing, Land and Architecture Directorate promotes the study of reconversion of these empty premises within the program called Loft Study House.
These facilities originally were conceived for retail use in compliance with current urban planning regulations. The studies of strategic areas for commercial use and the approval of regulations for the conversion of these premises into housing in some municipalities have opened up the possibility of recovering these closed spaces in certain areas.
Fading street fronts with empty or boarded up business premises are common in our cities The successive crises, the change in commercial behavior and the total confidence in an uniform and extended solution of high-rise block growth with commercial ground floor have resulted in urban areas with an excess of spaces that the lack of intensity of commercial demand has doomed to its abandonment.
In this context, the initiative contributes to the supply of social housing, while serving as a reflection on a series of urban issues such as the revitalization of the streets, the need to reuse what has been built as an alternative to incessant growth, the attention to diversity or the need to include different user profiles in our communities.
The beginning of the program consists of a GUIDE and the execution of a PROTOTYPE as an example of good practice. It is estimated that this initiative can provide up to forty new homes for public rental in twenty actions spread over different locations. Currently another five actions totaling 22 homes are in different stages of development.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context
The Basque Government, aware of the potential of the disused heritage as the ground floors of public developments that remain empty today, promotes the Loft Study House program. A clear nod to John Entenza’s initiative that promoted research on housing modernization in the North American context in the 50s - 60s. For some time now there has been a general reflection from different perspectives on the revitalization of urban areas.
The project works on the regeneration of our neighborhoods. Socioeconomic reasons, lack of the planning foresight, evolution of our uses and customs show us in many Spanish cities situations of provisionality and uncertainty through closed fronts that deny the street.
The solution of transforming the provisional walls and closed shutters into inhabited fronts through the reuse of premises on the street level is a contribution to the revitalization of the shared public space. It is a microsurgical operation that makes a very timid contribution to the enrichment of the public housing stock. But the impact is evident in the street shared space.
Through this initiative, the Basque Government's Department of Housing transforms the current economic charges of these unused properties into investments reverted to the society. Following the inertia of sustainable growth, the current guidelines of regulatory frameworks for urban rehabilitation and regeneration, it is appropriate to reuse existing real estate and encourage the consolidation of our urban areas.
This program is promoted from the regional public initiative for a responsible use of the existing public assets. The initiative also serves as an example for other organizations or private initiatives interested in working in the same direction.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context
The executed PROTOTYPE enables three social dwellings in the city of Bilbao in the neighborhood of Santutxu. This prototype serves to implement the concepts studied in the recommendations GUIDE. It is a materialized example that turnes tangible the analyzed issues of construction of the home intimacy, the definition of confort or the response to the condition of security for a room on street level.
The emphasis that the project places on design issues that might seem accessory has to do with the importance given to the definition of the domestic concept. The program returns to the basic questions of the definition of housing. On those regulated by law, like dimensions or program as well as efficient construction. But also on those others, perhaps more subjective ones, that define ‘one’s home’. Loft Study House aims to contribute to the reflection on inclusive definitions of housing. A consideration of design as a complementary tool to the regulation of minimums in favor of the universal use of the house. Flexible enough, enough equipped, capable of serving as a space for personal growth for anyone.
The rounds forms, the minimization of sharped edges, the use of color result in an enveloping aesthetic, outside a range of specific temporary style, somewhat ambiguous that wants to overcome the inertia of the previous inhospitable ground floor.
The aesthetic definition works both for the intimate domesticity and for the street optimism. The color is an important tool used for the integration of the new dwellings in their context in terms of harmony with the preexistences.
The project is a manifesto about the value of the aesthetic definition as a healthy measure, understanding ‘healthy’ in its positive aspect, as physical and psychological state definable with the ambiguous but forceful ‘feeling well’. A positive contribution to the emotional development of the residents. It is about injecting maximum optimism for the users and as an echo, for neighbors and walkers
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context
Given its condition of social housing, universal design is encouraged. The layout of the program, of the house components, the definition of the thresholds, pursue through the design that there is no clear limit between an ‘adapted’ and a ‘non-adapted’ home. There will always be specific needs for specific users, but the aim is to define a user-friendly base with no sacrifice in the construction of a cozy domestic atmosphere.
Living at street level in a very dense neighborhood as the prototype site, can be challenging.
Sunlight, ventilation, lighting, noise become determining factors that need a priority response. The constructive definition of the prototype works to include the answers to these conditions in a coherent way. To prioritize lighting and natural ventilation wide glazed openings are defined on which the interference of security elements also function as regulators of sunlight in exposed facade but allow as much natural light on non-exposed facades. To preserve the views and the visual contact with outdoor space some filter spaces are incorporated. These filter spaces function as outdoor covered terraces and can house vegetation. The vegetation is also consider as one more layer in the definition of the facade. Over the transparent, translucent and blind closure a wood frame is superimposed with sufficient depth to house gardening. As final exterior protection the crossbow shutter as a popular element.
The objective is to make it easy for the user to decide how open or closed he wants his home on each occasion depending on the personality, each personal background, each state of mind…
Installations of maximum efficiency are included. But passive functioning is also enhanced. Good lighting, natural cross ventilation, great insulation provide the user with favorable benefits without consumption. Today this condition is a priority for any dwelling, but it is even more so in a social rental, where the user's resources will be limited.
Please highlight how this approach can be exemplary
The Loft Study House GUIDE is a compendium of concepts directly related to the reconversion of ground floor spaces into housing, with its specific conditions associated with the transformation of these premisses not originally designed as dwellings. The effort is centered in the analysis of the challenges these interventions face and how to give them a satisfactory response in its double scale. On the one hand confort for the user and, in the other hand revitalization for the street.
The built PROTOTYPE displays the effect on the urban context. A residual public space, to which the surrounding buildings had turned its back due to its walled-up fronts, becomes a vital plaza. A nice place to cross and a pleasant area to stay in.
This project proposes a microsurgery strategy where interventions one by one are small. Each one is an individual contribution to a global strategy to facilitate access to an affordable home for those who need it. By executing them from the premises defined in the GUIDE, with ambition in terms of relation with the street, with the leading role of design, they become an engine for the revitalization of the street. The reuse of these properties should be considered from the concept of urban repercussion. The rehabilitation interventions consolidate built fronts that today remain provisionally walled. They are in themselves revitalization actions. The built street front and the urbanized space exert a reciprocal influence. The contribution of both consolidates the urban, the sense of belonging of the community and the vitality of the common spaces around the activity.
There is a permeability from the built to the urbanized, and vice versa, which serves as a tool for urban improvement.
The Prototype has change the environment of the urban context where it is housed. The residual urban rear has begun a change process through these new colored facades. The neighbors of the blocks where the new homes are located show their satisfaction with the change. New companions have eliminated the situations of risks and inconvenience that empty premises entered due to misuse. The shared plaza starts to be a nice place to play, chat or pass by.
The experience arouses interest and it has been communicated in mass media such as regional TV or national radio as a good example of positive urban regeneration action.
Please also explain the benefits that derived from their involvement.
Due to the huge rise in housing prices during the Spanish real estate boom, private initiatives appeared spontaneously in search of alternative ways to access to affordable housing. One of them was to refurbish abandoned premises on the ground floors of existing urban buildings. These initiatives executed without reflection revealed the contradiction between the healthy conditions of habitation and the security constraints against intrusion as well as the mistrust of the lack of privacy from both the occupant and the citizen or even the local authorities. Some executed bad examples for the user and for the citizen led to the risk of stigmatization, losing the potential of regeneration of the street that these projects should bring.
The Loft Study House program is conceived as a tool to respond successfully to these reuses so that all the parties involved visualize the scope and possibilities of the rehabilitation of these built spaces. For the local administration in its regulatory function. And also for the ordinary citizen who sees as a neighbor how his borough improves. And for those who will be users, who will have access to decent housing in which negative conditions are strategically integrated and the global design offers a harmonious and optimistic space to live in.
This program is part of the collective initiative, which reveals a concern, a particular interest in an urban aspect that had not been systematically treated until now. The analysis of this social demand has resulted in a tool for the use by anyone who needs to face an equivalent rehabilitation.
One of the main challenges the projects addresses is the evolution of housing as a global concern. The consideration on what needs to change within the current regulations to guarantee adapted housing for all. What factors make a home inclusive. Which elements are inalienables to define our home as ‘healthy’. In this sense, the flexibility, the lack of total specialization and the dimension of certain rooms to be able to accommodate several users carrying out shared tasks are true integrating qualities.
Loft Study House works on the fruitfulness of the design tool to improve citizen life. Aesthetics as a response to our needs. Through aesthetics we are capable to bring together funcional responses with our aspirations. We all need to feel part of the community. By transforming these blocked street fronts into vidid facades, the perception of the street changes. It does naturally for the new resident that sees the surroundings as an extension of views of the inner home. And it does even more for the passersby walker and the close neighbor who feel the company of the new resident and forget about the restlessness that the abandonment imposed on the street. It is proposed as a simple strategy without great demands for urban areas where complexity has not been able to leave its mark.
The problem to which the project responds is not local, nor even regional. There are multiple towns throughout the national territory that have been overwhelmed by the sadness of their neighborhoods. The abandonment of facilities or their loss of opening due to lack of demand has led many municipalities to ask themselves what to do to alleviate this scenario and at the same time how to reuse these vacant premises.
The transformation into housing has already been done. Perhaps in an unsystematic way and with timid results. What Loft Study House demonstrates is that these interventions have a direct impact on the definition of public space. There is a certain suspicion in our country to inhabit the ground floor. Much more in large towns. The project shows that the house resulting from the transformation is just as attractive as any other. Far from presenting a bunkerized dwelling, it is possible to live on the ground floor, at street level, protected without being hidden.
Please provide clear documentation, communication of methodology and principles in this context.
The GUIDE and PROTOTYPE binomial serves as a guideline and example for the series of projects that the Loft Study House program plans to develop. The guide is written precisely in order to serve as an accompaniment in these transformations.
Likewise, the Basque Government makes the conclusions of the guide available to other administrations interested in developing similar urban regeneration strategies. As basic information for the drafting of municipal regulations and as an example of works to come.
Additionally, the program serves for owners of empty premises to know the real possibilities of transforming their assets.
The GUIDE and the built results tell the society the resilience of our towns. The ability to readapt and the enormous possibilities the reusing of the built environment we live at does bring.