Equal by design

A film exploring how ideas from the past can inform current debate on social housing has been launched online.

A collaborative research project between the University of Aberdeen and University College London, it has brought experts in architecture and housing charities together with philosophers and academics to take a fresh approach to the issue.

The project team have created a 25 minute film entitled ‘Equal by Design’ that shows how the ideas of a 17th century philosopher who linked ‘human flourishing’ to equality connects to architectural thought.

Dr Beth Lord from the University of Aberdeen has led the project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

She said: “Baruch Spinoza has a unique concept of equality that is as relevant today as when he wrote his theories more than 300 years ago.

“Inequality in housing is a major issue and a better understanding of Spinoza’s concept can help us to think about how we can improve wellbeing through the design of social housing.”

As part of the project the team examined some of the UK’s most controversial social housing schemes including Sheffield’s Park Hill flats and London’s Alexandra Road estate.

Dr Lord continues: “Although these schemes have been blighted by poor maintenance in recent years, we can see that planners did get certain things right in the 1960s.

“The mandates around space standards are preferable to what we have today. We see looking back to the design ideas of these new estates that wellbeing was very much at the heart of the process.

“Looking back further to Spinoza we can see that certain ideas about ratio, equality and difference enable us to consider the issue of providing high quality social housing from a wider perspective.”

The film features contributions from figures at the leading housing charity Shelter and from the Equality Trust. It is free to view at www.equalbydesign.co.uk