“Planners and politicians should also stay away from housing standards in terms of unit sizes, unit mixes, etc. Here too the market has the best chance to discover the most useful, productive and life/prosperity-enhancing mix. The imposition of housing standards protects nobody, they only eliminate choices and thus make all of us poorer”1
With these words Patrik Schumacher, architect and leading partner of Zaha Hadid Architects, addressed the audience of the Berlin World Architecture Festival in 2016. Proposing an eight-point manifesto for total privatization of cities, elimination of social housing, and complete trust in the intelligence of the market. Are downsizing and deregulation the way to pursue housing affordability and ultimately reduce inequalities?
Actually, these seem the ‘natural’ tendencies of the market economy since industrialization. While the market proposes increasingly larger houses as assets for homeowners, the private rental sector opts to increase the value of the minimum living space. The withdrawal of the state praised by Schumacher has actually taken a long way starting from the neo-liberal impulses of the 1980s. The below-the-standard living unit has been an architects’ brain puzzle since the early international gatherings as the CIAM.
The present dissertation addresses housing as a crossing point between politics, economy, and technology.
The political context of the last century promoted the identity homeownership=stability. While the value of properties skyrocketed globally to become the first asset class in terms of volume, the increase in mortgage finance allowed buyers to keep the pace of housing prices. The pressure of markets and the quest for individual living space made the micro and the compact living formats desirable, but often unaffordable.
The housing crisis is in most cases a synonym for rent crisis. In fact, ‘generation rent’ describes a privative condition —the condition of those who are not able to own.
Chapter 1 –Why Do we Rent?– sets the theoretical framework of the dissertation. As rent is marginalized as a housing tenure, the housing crisis stems not only by a reduced supply, but also by the political construction of the property-owning democracy as the dominant model. Therefore, the housing crisis mainly affects the private rental market. Furthermore, following the retreat of the state from housing provision, most of its control is in the hands of families or property managers searching for higher profits. In this context, the ‘housing question’ posed by Engels in 1872 may still be a valid argument to evaluate the current crisis. Finally, this chapter highlights how the increasing privatization of land corresponded culturally to an individualization of the self and the legitimation of the individual quest for living space in the city.
Federico Coricelli is an architect and PhD candidate at Politecnico di Torino. Currently, he is a research fellow at FULL.