Alessandro Porotto

PhD ・ Academic Researcher ・ Architect

European Cities: Referential Housing Type

Postdoc Research Project

Period: August 2020 – January 2022

Institution: LOCI Université catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium

Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation Early Postdoc Mobility Fellowship

Budget: 71,650 CHF

http://p3.snf.ch/Project-191681

Major European cities are characterized by an implicit architectural and socio-cultural identity. Today’s urban developments, urban densification, demographic growth, increasing housing demand, and social changes have to negotiate with this implicit knowledge. The main hypothesis of the proposed project is that such specific urban identity can be traced back to the most common spatial forms of the city: its residential spaces. Through a study of these spaces, local uses can also be informed. This project, developed in collaboration with Prof. Gérald Ledent, provides an innovative approach that can investigate and reflect more explicitly on the transformations and identity of European cities.

The new concept of referential housing type, defined as the archetypal and most ordinary residential type in a specific place throughout urban history, is the most suitable tool to disclose the identity of cities. Firstly, it aids the identification of changes to dwellings in a place. Secondly, it can accommodate a series of socio-cultural codes. Thirdly, it can interpret new housing forms and provide new perspectives for future design.

This research project aims: a) to develop a rigorous methodology regarding the concept of ‘referential housing type’, which could be applied to different urban contexts in Europe so as to increase knowledge and architectural, cultural, and social richness; and b) to standardise existing research in Europe in order to gather the most comprehensive picture possible. Correspondingly, it will seek to answer the following research questions: how does housing contribute to and catalyse the process of transformation of urban areas? Can the architectural identity of European cities persist in a time of globalisation and future changes? How can referential housing type guarantee a better understanding of European cities and face future urban challenges?

Specifically, this project aims to focus on the urban area of Brussels and extend the study to several European cities through the collaboration with other European institutions. From a methodological point of view, raw material (local archives, contemporary architects’ archives, interdisciplinarity collaborations with other scholars) will be collected to define essential documents that will set the foundation of the project. New graphic documents will be produced that support this research project’s hypothesis. Based on archival items, selected housing types from Brussels will be re-drawn using CAD software, in order to achieve the highest graphic homogeneity and comparability. A comparison between the standardised housing types will shed light on the specific characteristics and uses of the referential housing type. Through this investigation, a typological genealogy will be developed, which displays changes in characteristics according to the variations in housing type. Thus, for the first time, the concept of referential housing type will provide a systematic relation between housing and social practices.

This knowledge is valuable for both scholars and policymakers to ground their positions in an effective understanding of the built environment. In addition, the results of the proposed project aspire to provide new suggestions to political strategies and housing design, concerning, for instance, urban densification and living quality. In this sense, the investigation of urban identity plays an important role in practice and future design.