How Architecture Helps Sustain Communities



Revolutionary Building Projects That Transform The World Around Them

People’s lives can be improved with projects that use architecture at the heart of innovation. Find out how buildings can sustain local communities.

19 million people in the UK don’t earn enough money to cover essentials such as food, electricity and rent according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. On top of not being able to afford these basic necessities, this category of people has little hope in replacing old clothes, shoes and buying birthday presents for their loved ones. Around 4.1million of these people live in social housing throughout England and Wales, with the standard of accommodation varying dramatically but often comprising unattractive tower blocks that do little to raise the spirits of the surrounding community.

Elsewhere, in the wealthiest parts of London, foreign investors are buying up residential and commercial properties in areas such as Kensington or Mayfair that are worth millions. This gap in the class system can be seen as damaging to the aspirations of poverty-stricken communities who want to forge a better life for themselves. Yet, across the world there are uplifting examples of how architecture is used in a positive way to improve communities.

Chilean Half-Houses

A Chilean architect called Alejandro Aravena won the 2016 Pritzker prize for his revolutionary work in transforming social housing in his home country. The initial brief was to provide accommodation for 100 families who had been illegally squatting in the centre of Iquique. Unfortunately, the government’s subsidy at the time was around £5,200 per family, which would not have been nearly enough to buy the land and build a home for each of them. Instead, it was proposed that it would cost much less to relocate each family out of the area, meanwhile removing these people from their existing jobs, friends and other family members – an undesirable outcome for all concerned.

Aravena stepped in and proposed instead that if the government didn’t have the money to build each of them a house, why not build them each half a house, and let the occupiers then finish off the rest of the property themselves. Each of these social housing experiments included a concrete structure, with kitchen, bathroom and roof. It was then up to the families to do the remainder of the building work, find the materials and stamp their own identity on the property. The project was so successful that it has been rolled out several times in Chile as well as globally, providing hope and pride to those who want to live in a proper home.

UK Eco-Town

Another example of how architecture can sustain communities can be found at Whitehill Bordon, a former army site in Hampshire. 100 hectares of space were left available when the army moved to a new location in December 2015, which provided the chance to transform this sizeable space into an eco-town. Although the entire architectural project won’t be complete until 2030, the plan is for 3,350 new homes to be created along with 5,500 jobs, a leisure centre, health facilities and public service hub. Creating an eco-community from the ground up is only possible by consulting with architectural drafting services and creating a vision which puts the people of Whitehill Bordon at the heart of the development.

Winston Churchill once commented “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us”. Forward-thinking as ever, the country’s former leader couldn’t have been more accurate. By creating architecture that we’re engaged with, local communities can’t help but feel part of something bigger than themselves, which is essential for society to thrive.