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Interior complex: Design standardization in London’s housing

Seyithan Özer (2021)

A thesis submitted to the School of Architecture of the Royal College of Art for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
London, June 2021

Abstract. This thesis studies design standardization in London’s housing, understood as an interrelated set of standards and conventions that shape design outcomes towards specific forms. Working iteratively between theory and data, the thesis threads broader issues in housing – housing design, design governance, design quality – with an empirical study of housing designs in London at the dwelling unit scale.
Integrating literatures on housing policy and regulation, real estate, state-market relationships, architectural practice, standards and conventions, the thesis conceptualizes design standardization. The empirical focus of the thesis is London’s housing stock and its residents’ experiences and practices of home. To this end, the thesis draws from a mixed methods research that consists of a descriptive statistical analysis of the spatial patterns in a sample of unit plans from inner London’s housing stock (n=3,438), visual analysis of comparative floor plan matrices, an online survey with people living in London on their experience and use of their homes (n=234) and follow-up semi-structured interviews with some survey participants (n=22).
Built largely over the last two hundred years, London’s housing stock contains a variety of housing typologies. While new housing typologies designed for changing needs have emerged, older housing stock has been modified, subdivided, and converted. The research shows that existing housing interiors, in aggregate form evidence processes of standardization. Dwellings built in the past forty years, since the 1980s, show a high level of repetition in their dimensions and interior layouts. I argue this as the result of on the one hand a high-pressure housing market, a perpetual housing shortage and high land prices that all lead the market to function with strict design conventions, and on the other legislations, regulations, codes, and guidelines central and local governments introduce to sustain quality, affordability, and access. Dwellings from the older housing stock – terraced houses – show a wide variety of interior layouts. Despite this, however, there are spatial and organizational directions that emerge at the intersection of the architectural affordances of terraced houses, social change, asset-based welfare and permitted development.
Based on a study of residents’ experiences and domestic practices in relation to design patterns observed in London’s housing, the research also found that existing housing does not sufficiently meet current needs, preferences and occupancy patterns. The assumptions of use and home underlying standards and conventions fail to acknowledge changing domestic needs.
The thesis, studying London’s housing at their intersection, makes original contributions to architectural design, housing studies, infrastructure studies, and material geographies by developing a design standardization framework that incorporates standards and conventions, by constructing a novel dataset of existing housing stock and providing up-to-date data on the housing designs, by analysing residents’ domestic experiences and practices in London, and by analysing home alterations from a socio-technical perspective.

Extract: “This section of the thesis outlines the conventions of market-driven and creative stakeholders and discusses their interaction with standards. Drawing on the empirical studies conducted on different stakeholders involved in housing design, in this section I outline the conventions in housing design and development and their impact on design outcomes. In framing the conventions in housing design and development, studies in the Economics of Convention provide useful methodological approaches by recognizing the plurality of normative values. In particular, the works of sociologist Luc Boltanski and economist Laurent Thévenot on the role of conventions in economic decision-making and justification are of interest. Boltanski and Thévenot study collective cognitive forms that stakeholders use to coordinate, ‘criticize, challenge institutions, argue with one another, or converge toward agreement’.56 These collective cognitive forms, conventions, are essential not only because they help the process of coordination when formal standards and other institutionalized arrangements fall short or require interpretation, or where outcomes are uncertain, but also because actors base their critique of standards and institutional arrangements on them.” (p. 37)

Re-invent Yourself! How Demands for Innovativeness Reshape Epistemic Practices

Ruth I. Falkenberg (2021)

Minerva. Online first. Open access.

Abstract. In the current research landscape, there are increasing demands for research to be innovative and cutting-edge. At the same time, concerns are voiced that as a consequence of neoliberal regimes of research governance, innovative research becomes impeded. In this paper, I suggest that to gain a better understanding of these dynamics, it is indispensable to scrutinise current demands for innovativeness as a distinct way of ascribing worth to research. Drawing on interviews and focus groups produced in a close collaboration with three research groups from the crop and soil sciences, I develop the notion of a project-innovation regime of valuation that can be traced in the sphere of research. In this evaluative framework, it is considered valuable to constantly re-invent oneself and take ‘first steps’ instead of ‘just’ following up on previous findings. Subsequently, I describe how these demands for innovativeness relate to and often clash with other regimes of valuation that matter for researchers’ practices. I show that valuations of innovativeness are in many ways bound to those of productivity and competitiveness, but that these two regimes are nevertheless sometimes in tension with each other, creating a complicated double bind for researchers. Moreover, I highlight that also the project innovation regime as such is not always in line with what researchers considered as a valuable progress of knowledge, especially because it entails a de-valuation of certain kinds of long-term epistemic agendas. I show that prevailing pushes for innovativeness seem to be based on a rather short-sighted temporal imaginary of scientific progress that is hardly grounded in the complex realities of research practices, and that they can reshape epistemic practices in potentially problematic ways.

Extract: “In this paper, I explore in how far valuations akin to the project order as described by Boltanski and Chiapello can be traced in researchers’ discussions on demands for innovativeness in the current research landscape. However, I do not treat this framework as a blueprint to be applied to the sphere of research. Rather, I trace comparable tendencies in researchers’ narratives without attempting a full-fledged analysis of how the project order can be found in the academic world. Therefore, I developed, in dialogue with my empirical material, the notion of a project-innovation regime, to denote tendencies comparable to those identified by Boltanski and Chiapello in their analysis of management literature, but to foreground the particular focus on innovativeness that I adopt in this paper.
My conceptual approach is thus situated somewhere between studies that have applied pre-defined orders of worth (Boltanski and Thevenot 2006) as a framework to be traced in different societal spheres (e.g. Sharon 2018; Thévenot, Moody, and Lafaye 2000), and approaches that have empirically reconstructed regimes of valuation (Fochler, Felt, and Müller 2016) or registers of valuing (Heuts and Mol 2013) in a bottom-up manner (Dussauge, Helgesson, and Lee 2015; Helgesson, Lee, and Lindén 2016; Stark 2009). While I applied the lens of the project order, I also traced how it concretely played out in my empirical material, as what I call the project-innovation regime. Moreover, I investigated how valuations of innovativeness are related to, potentially in tension with, and being aligned with different value regimes that I identified to be of importance to the researchers I talked to in a bottom-up manner in the process of data analysis. For my analysis, I employ the notion of regimes of valuation, rather than repertoires or registers, since this concept most strongly highlights the discursive, material, and institutional embedding that concrete evaluative principles draw upon (see Fochler et al. 2016).” (p. 5)

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