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Affordable solutions to overcome the challenges in urban housing

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Affordable solutions to overcome the challenges in urban housing

Katarzyna Mazurowska

by Christine Marlet (Eurogypsum aisbl)


Europe is the most urbanised continent outside of the Americas, with 73% of the current population living in urban environments; this is expected to rise to 80% by 2050. The largest challenge for the vast majority of European cities is their capacity to adapt to the evolving needs of the inhabitants who face scarcity of housing with the resultant increase in cost of living.


These trends call for widespread affordable solutions which involves multiple stakeholders, at many levels: municipalities, urban planners, architects, developers, collective housing owners and contractors. 


Eurogypsum wishes to demonstrate solutions to this challenge, by promoting affordable and modern ways to speedily increase available housing, a better quality and more sustainable living, and an optimised cost of investment. The solutions are based around the transformation of the existing building at a significantly reduced cost when compared to the more radical approach of demolition and redevelopment. They rely on modern, lightweight methods of construction.


Eurogypsum held a debate on this issue during the European Parliament Gypsum Forum on 27 September 2017.


Prof. Tichelmann, from the University of Darmstadt, carried out a survey to assess the potential of vertical extensions in cities in Germany. He delivered the results of his research.


In Germany, the housing needs depend on the distribution of the people throughout the countries. Currently, we have 3.8 million houses out of which 3.2 million are vacant. However, those empty houses are in area with little economic growth. In fact 16% of Germany has a real problem of housing densification and those 16% assemble 78% of the population.


What could then be the solution? Today, in dense city area, you can create 1.5 million housing with a fair cost, energy neutral, using the equipment of the existing buildings as  well as the infrastructure.


If you take the housing typology 1950-1990, you will see that the load bearing structures is robust and homogeneous with flat roof. So you can add at least 1 floor and sometimes 2 to 3 floors.


You can also increase housing on secondary buildings like parking houses, schools, etc. in that case, you can reach 4.2 million housing units in urban area. The best way to do it is with lightweight construction (wood, steel structure and insulation and drywall). Using prefabricated partitions, you avoid noise, dust and dirt for the people living in the building in renovation.


Mr. Daniel Dethier from Dethier architecture in Liège, spoke about Increasing Density without impacting on urban Green Space and more specifically on the forthcoming renovation of the tour Brunfaut in Brussels.


For Daniel Dethier, it is important to look at the densification of the cities in a holistic way. We need to have excellent access to public transport, bikes, pedestrian areas, requalify the surroundings of the renovated buildings (public parks, fountains, gardens on the roof of buildings, parking places, etc.) and adapt the housing to the current needs of people. The technical standards (insulation, ventilation, heating) are very important but the sociological phenomenon needs to be looked at (ageing of the population, mixed population, evolution of the families).


Daniel Dethier then explained the project of the Tour Brunfaut. The latter is a tour with 68 social apartments built in 1965. The specificity of the building was that it was calculated in a very strict way (make the most of the available space).


As people were very happy to live in that tower and felt identified with it, the renovation aims at keeping this identity when the people come back after the renovation. Four new floor will be added. The number of apartments will not change but the space of each apartment will be bigger (1 to 4 bedrooms apartments). However, the security of the tower will be significantly improved. Today, the fire protection, acoustic and sound insulation equal to zero. Tomorrow, the thickness of the walls will go from 3cm to 20cm and the partitions systems entirely fireproof. The Belgian Fire brigade required sprinkler system which will be placed.


Mr. Jean-Philippe Vassal, from the cabinet Lacaton Vassal, spoke about building and renovating in a simple way with landscape, people life, air, wind, sun, shadow. Instead of demolishing, cut, destroy, we should add, transform reveal in a gentle manner. We can use the light, keep all the trees inside the house. We can keep all the existing elements in order to come to a situation of pleasure and complementarity with nature.


There is always a possibility to transform the buildings built in the 1960s at a lower cost than demolish and rebuild. In France, 20 Billions euro were spent to demolish 120.000 housing unit and rebuild 100.000 housing unit for a cost of 150.000 euro/housing unit. We lost 20.000 housing units. With a transformation, the costs would have varied between 10.000 to 20.000 Euro per housing unit. So then, why are we demolishing?


With transformation, we have bigger and more comfortable flats with light and winter garden (1+0.5= 1.5). With demolition and rebuild we have the following equation: 1-1+1=1.


For the video report, please click on the link: http://www.europeanparliamentgypsumforum.eu/

Affordable solutions to overcome the challenges in urban housing