The New Existenzminimum: the Apparent Quandary of Housing Space Standards1
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ABSTRACT (for the AIARG Conference, January 2016)
Dublin City Council (DCC) is proposing a range of substantive measures, which it is claimed will affect a reduction in the cost of constructing housing schemes in order to improve supply. The salient points of the proposals are the creation of a new “studio apartment” category with minimum floor area of 45 sq.m., a reduction in the number of dual aspect apartments (from 85% of units in any scheme to 50%), the ratio of circulation cores to apartments, removal of the ban on north facing units (as long as the unit overlooks an amenity) and an increase in the height of residential schemes from 7 to 8 storeys.
Certain housing policy experts and commentators argue that the council’s current housing standards are pricing out the poorer or even average buyer by creating an “enclave for the wealthy within the city” (e.g. Ronan Lyons (TCD), Village Magazine, 6 Nov. 2014, Eoin Burke-Kennedy, Irish Times, 17 April 2015, et al) - hence the measures are necessary. Other housing experts disagree or at least remain unconvinced (Herne (NUIM), Sirr (DIT) et al).
Irish housing space standards usually followed those of Britain and generally resulted from crises of overcrowding, urban dilapidation or panic by the establishment fearing onerous social demands after wars. The Parker Morris “Homes for Today and Tomorrow” (1961) standards were the required national code until DCC began to improve on these. A brief comparative review of standards abroad and in Ireland based on previous research (Brady / Roche, 2014) will contextualise the development of space standards in Irish housing while arguing that they are not overly generous and are contingent on many other factors. Quality depends on more than size as an exploration of single and dual aspect apartments from built schemes will highlight. In addition the issues of building density, population footfall, cultural attitudes to private/public space and varied fire safety regulations all impact on the quality of housing schemes across Europe but particularly between Ireland / Britain and the rest of Europe.
This research paper will then seek to answer the following questions that are posited by the proposed DCC changes to housing standards:
Does the changing demographic in Ireland and particularly in Dublin justify a 45sq m. unit and could a smaller ‘starter’ dwelling be integral to a new way of living including a sharing of communal facilities (e.g. kitchens, until hitherto the preserve of domestic space) as was envisaged by Karel Teige in his seminal work The Minimum Dwelling.
Could more flexible and adaptable dwellings offer solutions to changing demographics, new ways of living and cost of production?
Can new technologies and prefabrication building systems assist?
What is really behind the changes and what is really impeding supply of new dwellings?
A critical review of exemplars in new housing internationally and examples of students’ housing projects from DSA in recent years will posit the notion that innovative architectural design solutions can contribute positively to solving the apparent dilemma of cost versus adequate space standards?
Roche, J. (2016). The new existenzminimum: the apparent quandary of housing space standards1. AIRG Conference, Cork.
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