From Utopia to Youtopia

When there is sufficient money, a middle class family in the U.S. usually opts for a home of around 80 square meters. Poorer families depend on state subsides for their housing. The conventional way to support them is to design what is in essence the same house chosen by those who can afford it, but to make it smaller, and to build it outside the city, where land is cheaper.

Architect Alejandro Aravena decided to reframe the problem: instead of thinking of 40 square meters as a small house, he thought of 40 square meters as half of a good house.

The key question then was, which half to build. With public money he decided to do the half that a poor family would never be able to achieve on its own.

Aravena thought that just as with other property, the value of social housing should increase over time. Location being the factor that most affects the value of the house, investments should be made in delivering half of good houses on well-situated plots instead of large houses on the outskirts.

According to Aravena, a key condition for the economic development of low-income families lies in the existence of a space where an ”extended family” may develop. In social housing it is therefore important to introduce a collective space, where the extended family can take place. Along with improving structure and scaling, as well as user participation, these factors can significantly change social housing.

Once the problem is synthesized to the core, that core tends to be universal. Aravena summarizes that when the initial half is strategically designed, then a generic utopian beginning may be tempered by individual interventions to become pragmatic, deeply human You-topia.

Source: The Urban Age Project by London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank´s Alfred Herrhausen Society