New Domestic Rentscape

A Critical Insight into Middle-class Housing

New Domestic Rentscape aims to investigate the transformative potential of the existing Italian residential real estate and its capability of absorbing new collective housing models such as co-living.

What spatial and economic limits might a densification process face? What flexibility is there in the real estate of institutional landlords? From a historical perspective, how did the domestic rentscape of the middle classes change in terms of standards and narratives? This dissertation aims to investigate these research questions through the lenses of spatial manipulation. Rather than providing a toolkit of problem-solving scenarios, the main objective of this research is to highlight the paradoxes and consequences of a positivist approach.

The dissertation is structured into two parts. The first part gives a theoretical framework and a review of the social and architectural models developed within the context of private rent and middle-class housing. The second part uses the specific case study of Italy to evaluate a critical insight on the issues of intensification and renovation of private residential real estate.






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Major Western cities are experiencing an increasingly unaffordable private rental market and the diffusion of the single-person household as its typical dweller.

Since post-war times, the constant increase in rent prices has not matched the stagnating trend of salaries. For Engels, this was the inevitable trajectory of capitalist market economy, penalising cash renters that have not found stability in the 70% majority of homeowners in Western democracies.

Looking at the long run of modernisation as the history of privatisation, the enclosures of land initiated in England in the sixteenth century can be observed to be coupled by a cultural process of individualisation of the self in terms of worship, labour and the quest for independent living space.

This shift culminates in the modern industrial home, where a functionalised domestic sphere tends to separate places of privacy from those of social representation. For lower incomes, this distinction collapses in the single living/kitchen room.

In order to combine the quest for privacy with necessary and optional collective spaces, several collective housing formats have been conceived since the nineteenth century.

The hotel is the first housing typology and social technology conceived to host a community of strangers, capable of combining in a single building the generic space of the room with collective and public services.

In the late 1920s, urbanists and thinkers such as Hilberseimer and Teige proposed hotel-like residential models as the most efficient housing form for a future egalitarian city. This would happen with the abolition of domestic unpaid labour through professional housekeeping and the inclusion of services into the building.

In the digital era, co-living combines the principles of the hotel with the logics of the sharing economy, giving place to a hybrid model redefining the typical residential mixed-use building.

This dissertation aims to investigate the transformative potential of the existing Italian residential real estate and its capability of absorbing new collective housing models, such as co-living.

Banks, charities, insurance companies and property companies rent thousands of units in Italy’s main cities, mainly located in central areas. Institutional landlords played a key role during the twentieth century in the simultaneous expansion of the middle classes and the neighbourhoods they inhabited. Distributed across major Italian cities and built between the 1920s and 1980s, these buildings share an ordinary character, as they were designed to embody the values of domestic comfort and self-representation of the modern European middle class. The case studies considered are entire buildings owned by a single landlord – a rare feature in a private rental market almost monopolised by an archipelago of isolated individual-owned units.

Contemporary housing demand in Italy has radically changed from previous generations, both in socio-economic terms and in the cultural understanding of comfort. Major socio-economic shifts have contributed to distancing potential tenants from the available stock, provoking a dual mismatch between demand and supply. Firstly, an overall aging population of 6.3 million of over-65s is currently living alone, often in houses with five or more rooms. Secondly, 66% of the population between 18 and 34 years old still live with their parents.

If data and statistics suggest a mere quantitative solution – namely subdividing further the available stock – this research aims to investigate by means of architectural design and spatialisation the effective potential of the Italian middle-class housing stock.

The hypothesis is that a set of stress tests of downsizing on the residential unit raises several open-ended questions on the architectural limits to flexibility, the financial limits of a ‘micro-unit’ housing stock and the contested status of shared and collective space within the domestic realm.